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Understanding the Changing Role of Collaboration in IT

Those responsible for collaboration planning, implementation, and operations used to have a fairly clear-cut deployment process: Identify business need for technologies, evaluate options, determine the best option, deploy the selected option, ensure that it works, and then move on to the next project.
Today, it’s not so simple. The role of a collaboration leader within IT is drastically changing thanks to three primary drivers: a redefinition of success, a focus on workflows, and the shift from collaboration technologies to application platforms.
Redefining Success
Success for IT professionals used to mean “does it work?” with “work” being defined by management metrics such as uptime and performance metrics like mean opinion score, latency, and jitter. IT leaders considered the rollout of a new technology such as VoIP, videoconferencing, or IM to be successful if nobody complained, or if they met goals like five nines of availability (of course the old joke is that the nice thing about VoIP is that nobody can call to complain when it goes down… at least before cell phones).
A few years ago, in our research, we began to note that IT leaders were increasingly looking at utilization as the defining metric for evaluating success. The idea was that if people are using the new technologies or applications, then the deployment was successful. Thus, organizations began, and still are, investing in management tools that provide insight into adoption and utilization, as well as performance.
Now, we’re seeing another shift as IT leaders are charged with not just “does it work” and “are people using it,” but “what is the business impact of the deployment?” As a result, deployment success is judged on factors like cost savings, new revenue gained, improvements to customer satisfaction and retention, and/or process improvements that increase organizational efficiencies.
This new paradigm for measuring success means that IT teams must not simply focus on the technologies that they’re deploying, but rather they must have sufficient business insight so they can determine opportunities for improvement. IT can no longer exist as a shared service that provides a set of applications; instead it must be a partner in digital transformation efforts designed to leverage emerging technologies for demonstrable business benefit.
It’s All About the Workflows
As this transformation occurs, collaboration leaders must work hand in-hand with lines of business to understand roles and workflows, and tailor solutions to improve them. Consider the old way of doing things in which a collaboration team would roll out a new team collaboration application simply by pushing the client out to user desktops. In the new approach, success would come from not only rolling out the app, but also by working with individual users, workgroups, departments, and lines of business to optimize workflows by integrating the team collaboration application within them.
This could mean, for example, that an insurance adjuster’s process is optimized by automatically creating a team workspace when a new claim is submitted, enabling anyone involved in claim processing to work together around forms, customer information, and any other data needed to process the claim. Here, the opportunities are limitless to deliver tangible business value, but success requires collaboration leaders to be focused on understanding the capabilities of emerging technologies and how they can positively impact the business.
It’s All About Development
Collaboration vendors are already supporting this new operating environment by delivering rich APIs and off-the-shelf plug-ins to enable integration of collaboration tools with other business apps to optimize workflows. Communications platform-as-a-service vendors have for the last few years offered services via API to support digital transformation efforts, enabling customers to add capabilities like SMS messaging to business apps.
Uptake of such capabilities remains low, with just 6.7% of the more than 600 participants in Nemertes’ “Workplace Collaboration: Research Study 2019-20” currently taking advantage of APIs to integrate collaboration and business applications. However, another 27.3% plan to do so by the end of 2020. More importantly, 28.4% have hired, or plan to hire, developers to work within their collaboration teams by the end of 2019. Alongside the increase of development capabilities comes a shift toward Agile approaches that deliver measurable benefits fast, while using continuous improvement methodologies to quickly increase capabilities.
The growing reality is that for organizations to remain competitive, they must rethink how they approach collaboration. Gone are the days when IT could just focus on rolling out general-purpose applications for calling, conferencing, and file sharing. In today’s rapidly changing environment, IT leaders must be change agents, focusing on how collaboration applications can deliver tangible improvements to business metrics by optimizing existing workflow or delivering new capabilities. And, they must quickly develop expertise that leverages Agile to deliver rapid value to their organizations.