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Collaboration is Not Automatic

Effective use of collaboration tools means a change in behavior and new habits for those using the tools. The objective is to get users to want to use the collaboration tools, not feel they have to use the tools.

Goals for Collaboration
Before introducing collaboration tools, enterprises must answer the most basic question of why they're doing it. We have read a lot of hype about Unified Communications (UC) and its set of communications and collaboration tools. There are several possible goals for UC:

* Increase productivity
* Reduce costs
* Improve employee retention
* Reduce employee stress
Increase the pool of employees that can contribute to a project and improve a business process
* Increase customer satisfaction and loyalty
* Generate greater trust among remotely located users (a benefit of video conferencing)

The goals should be prioritized based on their value to the organization. Start with the goals that are both most beneficial but are also easily attainable. Do not strive to satisfy every goal with the initial offering of UC tools; start with only one or two goals. Set some metrics for the goals so that there will be criteria for measuring their success.

Some examples of metrics include reduced travel costs, more frequently meeting project deadlines, lower employee turnover etc. The metrics should be quantified so that there can be a comparison between the costs of offering the UC tools and the effect on the business budget and profit. Just stating that some improvement has been delivered is not enough.

Training to Encourage
We have all attended some type of training in our organization. Since the introduction of the UC tools can have a profound effect on the users, one or more C-level managers should introduce the UC training. It can be a pre-recorded video that introduces the organization's commitment to pursue the implementation of the UC tools. This emphasizes the role of UC in the organization.

A PowerPoint presentation is not good enough for training. The training should include not only the knowledge to use the UC tools, but also how the tools make the work easier, less stressful, and faster to deliver. There should be multiple video scenarios that show how to use the tool, an example of the tool in use and finally the benefits for using the tool. Not all users will have the ability to imagine the tool's use and its benefits. The training should be focused on changing the behavior of the user and producing new communication habits that encourage the tool's use.

One Step at a Time
I have attended classes where I learned too much and then needed to select those items that seemed best for me and ignore the rest of the information. This is not the way to introduce UC.

Select one tool of UC, possibly one that is already in partial use by the organization, that is easy to learn and easy to convince others to use. Remember, collaboration takes two or more users to make it work successfully. I may use the UC tool well, but if those on the other end of the collaboration consistently fail to use it effectively, then I will stop using the tool myself.

The success or failure of a UC tool should provide lessons about how to introduce the next UC tool. The success can also be used to justify the expenditure for implementing the next tool. Even though the IT implementers believe that the entire tool set has value, do not become too ambitious in the introduction of collaboration tools. Success with the first tool will encourage user acceptance of additional collaboration tools.

Monitoring and Measuring Success
Measure the success of the UC tool. The ability to generate tool use metrics and their value may be part of the UC offering, or you may have to procure a third-party measurement solution or use a cloud service. Some of the benefit information may have to be obtained from existing business processing systems.

Just because a tool is used more does not mean its use produces measurable benefits to the organization. It is up to the UC tool implementers to relate tool use to improved business metrics that show how the collaboration tool met one or more for the goals set for its adoption.

People like numbers. Create a presentation for management showing the business process before the introduction of the collaboration tool use. Then measure the same business process at about 3 to 4 months into the tool use. Show how the tool use generated the improvements. Use this to justify the further introduction of collaboration tools and create user buy-in for the introduction of additional new tools.

Behavior Can Limit Collaboration Success
A user may have a favorite tool such as Instant Messaging (IM) and use it exclusively, avoiding other collaboration tools. While monitoring IM traffic, an organization found a user that sent about 4,000 IMs a month while the average user in that organization sent 300 IMs a month. The heavy IM user rarely used his desk phone (calls seemed to always go to voice mail), video, or wanted to be part of conferencing sessions.

This means that others are forced to use the IM tool exclusively when they communicate with this user and cannot avail themselves of other collaboration tools. This behavior placed the collaboration control on only one end of the communications. This behavior severely limits the values and benefits of collaboration tools and should be discouraged. Collaboration requires two or more participants selecting the best tool for collaboration, not just one user insisting on just one tool.