The definition of collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” This action is vital to businesses, who by and large, aim to bring the best minds together to innovate and push their key initiatives forward. But what happens when the team members charged with this are located in different offices regionally, nationally or even around the globe?
That’s where technology comes in. There’s a greater need today than ever before to remove the geographical divide and bring teams together in real time, no matter where they’re located.
Applied Technologies is your partner to make this happen. We have best-in-class technology resources and the strategic skills you need to develop a collaboration platform that will help propel your business forward. Today, we share our discussion with Matt Emrick, Solutions Architect, who has been working with clients for more than ten years on their collaboration initiatives. He has witnessed the industry evolve along with client needs and goals for communication, and offers his insight.
In the technology world, what is collaboration?
Matt: The world of collaboration is so vast, that it can be challenging for people to wrap their minds around the possibilities. Put quite simply, collaboration is a way for colleagues to connect, communicate and share information in the type of work environment that’s typical today. It’s a fact of business that we don’t all work in the same office. We’re spread across time zones, and have remote work forces in greater numbers than ever before. The business world needed a solution to bring these people together through technology, allowing them to co-create, complete tasks and reach goals.
In many cases, this can be achieved with the implementation of one application. This could be anything from instant messaging to video conferencing, or online meeting places like Webex. In other cases, collaboration is achieved with a longer-term and integrated strategy developed for how a company’s teams need and want to interact. This can involve multiple tools and end points for communication, such as your phone or video conference device, or meeting spaces where everything is combined from chat, project documents, and more. There are many tools and technologies available to help teams be more efficient and effective regardless of their physical locations.
Why is collaboration important in today’s business environment?
Matt: Collaboration allows businesses to develop and maintain a competitive advantage. Customers, supervisors, fellow team mates, vendors and everyone involved in a project want and need immediate answers and access to information. Collaboration allows you to connect and share information as quickly as possible. The longer it takes, the more opportunity your competitor has to respond to a customer request, and to mobilize a team to address a customer’s needs.
It’s also important because it’s no longer 100% feasible to physically be present for every meeting or work session related to your projects. The world moves too quickly. In the hours it takes to fly from place to place, your team could have completed many projects and provided service for many customers or stakeholders. All of this is done in a much more efficient and cost-effective manner. Your frequent flyer miles may not be quite so high, but your productivity and profitability will skyrocket.
How does Applied Technologies help companies with their collaboration needs?
Matt: First and foremost, Applied Technologies provides the technology needed to implement collaboration. We partner with Cisco, one of the leaders in collaboration technology who provide a vast suite of tools to enable connectivity from anywhere on any device. Cisco offers many end-point solutions in terms of video conferencing, chat, instant messaging and huddle spaces that allow for a very in-person feel to the conversation. We can help companies create a plan for what they’ll need to meet their objectives, and integrate the hardware and software to bring it all to life.
For some companies, it’s a relatively straightforward solution, and for others, we’re called upon to develop a long-term collaboration strategy incorporating all tools and end points into the overall vision. In these cases, the customer relies on our experience to help them understand what’s available, where the industry may be going, and help them create a plan for what infrastructure must be put in place to make the collaboration they want possible.
How has collaboration changed over the years?
Matt: When I started in this industry, much of the required infrastructure was located on-site. This represented a big investment for the company in terms of hardware purchase, installation and management. Today, much of the collaboration technology is in the cloud, so that investment isn’t necessarily required unless there is a specific reason that a company would need it on-site. We can help them determine the most effective and appropriate solution for their situation, specifying the infrastructure plan needed to implement collaboration. This remains a big piece of what we do.
The other change I’ve seen is company and employee acceptance and demand for collaboration tools. Ten years ago, pieces of the collaboration puzzle were either simply “nice-to-have” perks, or, companies were just dipping their toes in. Now that people have had time to grasp what collaboration means and what it can do for their business, they want more. They’re hungry for more ways to connect and make their businesses run more efficiently. We’re either adding new layers to our customers’ collaboration platforms to expand their capabilities, putting those operations in the cloud to reduce their hardware maintenance needs, or streamlining things into a single interface to simplify management if it is on site.
What is important for companies to know about collaboration?
Matt: In general, the possibilities with collaboration technologies are nearly endless. We live in a world where you don’t have to be in the same room to work together. Tools such as Webex Teams help drive communication and sharing, putting everything in one space. You can quickly find project documents, start a conversation, answer questions or update information in real time. You don’t have to pick up the phone, start a meeting, or email documents. Information is shared in one tool.
There’s also a great deal of power in your VoIP system tied to a contact center solution. VoIP allows for truly unified communications, and provides automation which allows your customers to quickly receive answers to their questions. It ties to all other forms of collaboration for a fully integrated experience.
What does the process of implementing collaboration look like?
Matt: We begin the process by assessing the customer’s infrastructure to ensure it meets the hardware needs to support their collaboration goals. We’ll identify whether they are best suited for on-premise equipment, and develop the plan for putting hardware and communication lines in place. The Applied team will look at issues surrounding the network. Is everything up to speed to ensure quality of service? Do they have the appropriate internet or WAN setup? Or, does it make sense for their particular situation to have their collaboration system be cloud-based?
Our planning process and the set of recommendations we provide enables us to make the implementation and use of the system as easy as possible for the customer. The systems we deploy are very user-friendly, and require very little training.
What are the ultimate cost savings of collaboration?
Matt: Aside from the efficiency benefits, there are many cost savings associated with collaboration. Travel expenses are greatly reduced, and video conferencing technology allows for people to feel that they’re in the same room. There is a savings on hardware costs, especially where phone systems are involved, because much of the technology relies on “soft phones.” This means you don’t have to have physical phones on desks. You can initiate calls on any device that’s connected to the system – your laptop, your cell phone, or tablet can work as a phone. Also, having these tools in the cloud reduces your hardware needs, as well as the cost associated with purchase and maintenance.
Ultimately, many companies will point to their operational efficiencies which are much harder to quantify. People are freed up to perform valuable work because they’re not spending their time traveling. Plus, they’re accessible so customers can get a hold of them more quickly. And with a contact center solution, calls can automatically be routed to the appropriate person (or another member of the team if that person is unavailable) for a seamless customer experience with enhanced satisfaction.
Perhaps the key thing we learned from Matt is that through collaboration, virtually anything is possible. The Applied Technologies team has not only the vast catalog of technology from Cisco to draw upon, but also the experience and vision to create a solution that will meet the customer’s goals. Whether it’s an on-premise install or a cloud-based system, Matt and his team will make it easy to give you and your team the collaboration you need and help you envision where you may need to go in the future. Please reach out to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636.274.8000 with any questions you may have.