Collaboration 101_Understanding the Top 4 Collaboration Technologies for SMBs

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A productive and talented workforce is essential for an SMB with ambitious growth plans. Collaboration technology not only ensures productivity across geographies and time zones, it also enables SMBs …

A productive and talented workforce is essential for an SMB with ambitious growth plans. Collaboration technology not only ensures productivity across geographies and time zones, it also enables SMBs to hire talented people wherever they are located and retain their skills.

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  • 1. Collaboration 101: Understanding the Top 4 Collaboration Technologies for SMBs Contents What is Collaboration? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 How SMBs are Using Collaboration to Drive Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Types of Collaboration. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Top 4 Collaboration Technologies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Measuring Return on Investment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Dell: Adding Value to Collaboration Deployments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Brought to you compliments of: A productive and talented workforce is essential for an SMB with ambitious growth plans. Collaboration technology not only ensures productivity across geographies and time zones, it also enables SMBs to hire talented people wherever they are located and retain their skills. Requiring support for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, SMBs are focusing on Microsoft SharePoint, Windows Communicator, Windows phones and Microsoft Exchange to increase productivity while reducing travel time and costs and IT overhead. Collaboration environments, however, must be tailored to an SMB’s business model and organizational structure to achieve return on investment and deliver high value. Dell’s team of experienced technical consultants and a broad portfolio of technologies ensure that collaboration environments meet current goals and can be easily extended to support anticipated growth.©2011 Dell
  • 2. Return to top What is Collaboration? Most corporate jobs require interaction. Marketing writers have to work with product managers and sales executives to create and tune messages and copy. Salespeople have to work with internal resources and external partners to package and turn deals. Even reclusive software engineers have to work together to develop and debug code. The collaboration that occurs inside an SMB isn’t new. Very simply, people have to work together to get things done. However, the ways in which co-workers collaborate are changing. Meetings and phone calls are being replaced by videoconferences, email and text messages. Working sessions that used to occur in reserved meeting spaces at set times now happen via the Internet or corporate networking tools designed to connect remote colleagues. The distribution of workforces, partner networks and customer bases and the constant need to increase productivity have made technology a critical component of collaboration. Technology effectively removes location from the collaboration equation. Team members no longer have to sit near one another or periodically travel to the same conference location to access the same files, coordinate activities, refer to consistent information and even meet face-to-face (or video-to-video). How SMBs are Using Collaboration to Drive Business Using collaboration technology, SMBs are eliminating barriers to productivity and effectively increasing the speed of business by enabling project teams to work faster. Team members who share a single set of files are able to deliver a document, spreadsheet analysis, presentation or website without getting bogged down by version control or duplication of effort. When questions arise during work sessions, team members are able to contact one another without leaving their desk or application. Online discussions are facilitated by communication tools like whiteboarding and desktop sharing. Collaboration becomes part of the workflow rather than an interruption. Just as important, SMBs can also deploy collaboration technology to support personnel recruit- ment and retention strategies. Since they can connect remote workers with one another and central office staff, SMBs are able to bring the best people on board, no matter where they are located. Meanwhile, employees gain job satisfaction because they can live and work where they want while becoming an instrumental part of the company. SMBs gain the competitive advantage of a talented, engaged and committed workforce. SMBs can also measurably reduce travel overhead with collaboration tools such as videocon- ferencing and web seminars, and control IT costs by limiting the transfer and storage of large, duplicate files. While harder to measure, streamlined communication is another immediate benefit to SMBs. Keeping geographically dispersed employees current on business trends, policies, product sched- ules and other important company information is a huge challenge. It’s also difficult for remote workers to get to know one another. Using wikis, blogs, intranet sites and virtual workspaces, SMB managers, executives, management can communicate with employees everywhere in a consistent voice with consistent information. Employees quickly learn who’s who through easily accessible profiles and contact information, and productivity isn’t hampered by dead-end phone calls or ineffective meeting invitations.2 ©2011 Dell
  • 3. Return to top Types of Collaboration Thinking about categories of collaboration technologies makes it easier to understand how they can increase productivity and decrease costs. There are two broad categories of collaboration technology: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous collaboration requires immediacy and interactivity. All members of a workgroup, no matter where they are located or whether they are internal (employees) or external (partners or consultants) to the company, have to access the same information at the same time. Examples of synchronous collaboration activities are meetings (e.g., contract negotiations, staff progress reports or monthly sales forecasts), product demonstrations, sales presentations and work sessions. Synchronous collaboration technologies include videoconferencing, web seminars and simultaneous document creation and editing. Asynchronous collaboration supports information exchange over time. Immediacy is not important. Examples of asynchronous collaboration activity might include posting quarterly sales figures, new corporate policies, personnel profiles and contact information. Work teams might create and edit files asynchronously: for example, someone writes, someone fact checks, someone adds graphics, someone edits and someone proofs, all at different times. Wikis, blogs, intranet sites, directories, and file and application sharing are all asynchronous collaboration capabilities. Top 4 Collaboration Technologies SMBs that deploy both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration technologies achieve the greatest productivity, efficiency and cost benefits. Four collaboration technologies, typically used in combination, are forming new collaboration platforms inside SMBs. Microsoft SharePoint SharePoint combines unified communications with access to familiar Microsoft applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, equipping work teams with a variety of synchronous and asynchro- nous collaboration tools. Team members easily share files rather than maintain their own sets of duplicates. They can see the work done by colleagues, edits that have been made and questions that have been asked. Team members can also share desktops and applications so that work can happen simultaneously. For example, a designer might change an image while the writer looks on and comments. Wikis and blogs can be easily created and updated to keep work groups, departments, locations or the entire company current on important information. Profiles that include job titles, responsi- bilities, calendars, location and contact information help employees find internal resources and streamline the often frustrating task of scheduling meetings. SharePoint adds value to its information-sharing capabilities with optimized search features that help employees find files, people, dates and times. Search also works through portals to outside data sources; SMBs don’t have to re-create information that already exists in another place. Support for internal and external data mash-ups also reduces duplication of effort and files.3 ©2011 Dell
  • 4. Return to top Microsoft Windows Communicator Microsoft Windows Communication extends the SharePoint collaboration environment to include synchronous technology such as text, chat and videoconferencing. End users are able to trigger file sharing, application sharing or VoIP inside an application to make collaboration part of the workflow, rather than an interruption. Whiteboarding features allow collaborators to work on files at the same time or share ideas through both text and drawings. It’s easy to see how these tools save time. Say a business analyst is using an Excel spreadsheet to create revenue projections based on the last six months of performance, marketing promotions, sales forecasts and a new product announcement. He has a question about the sales forecast spreadsheet that his work team created last month. Windows Communicator can show him which team members are currently online so he can ask a question via text, chat or voice without leaving the spreadsheet or trying to schedule a meeting via email. Windows Mobile phones As workers become more mobile, their ability to access files and people from any location has become more important to productivity. Mobile devices often force end users into different, incompatible operating systems and applications than those they use at work, which requires time-consuming workarounds. Windows Mobile phones, in contrast, equip employees with a work environment that matches their laptop. They access the applications, files and services they use in the office. Employees are able to engage in asynchronous and synchronous collaboration no matter where they are, without having to boot up or even carry a laptop. Microsoft Exchange Even with significant advances in collaboration technology, email continues to be the primary channel for asynchronous collaboration. Co-workers use email to send files, share ideas, make announcements, schedule meetings and simply stay in touch. Microsoft Exchange is the email and messaging platform for a majority of SMBs. Beyond email functionality, Exchange facilitates meeting scheduling and file sharing. Exchange 2010 supports unified messaging and provides larger mailboxes so that end users spend less time cleaning and sorting and have less chance of deleting an important message or attachment; users have access to voice, videoconferencing and desktop sharing from inside Exchange. Adding other collaboration channels to email makes Exchange an even more powerful collabora- tion tool. Let’s say a product manager emails information to the marketing manager in charge of promotions for a new product. The marketing manager opens the attached information and contacts the product manager, who happens to be online, for clarification on several points. Together, they make changes to the attachment to avoid potential confusion. That’s far more efficient than prolonged email conversations and attachment trading.4 ©2011 Dell
  • 5. Return to top Measuring Return on Investment While IT managers can easily explain the utility of collaboration technologies to executives, it’s more of a challenge to show how investments will yield returns. IT budgets remain tight, and sound business management favors technology that pays for itself. SMBs can quickly recognize collaboration return on investment in three areas: • Reduced travel – Videoconferencing and desktop sharing don’t eliminate every business trip, but collaboration technology can significantly reduce travel time and costs. Collabora- tion technology offers a substitute for centrally located on-site meetings that force remote workers to travel. Even people outside the organization – customers, business partners, consultants – can take advantage of web seminars, whiteboard sessions and videoconfer- ences, allowing sales representatives to make deals without buying plane tickets. SMBs should be able to tally clear travel savings by documenting routine travel events that have been replaced by collaboration technology. • Reduced IT overhead – Collaboration technology encourages the sharing of files that are stored in central locations rather than local and central storage of duplicate files. With fewer files in play, storage, backup and other management requirements are reduced. By documenting storage and backup trends prior to collaboration technology deployment and then reductions in requirements over months, IT can calculate savings that contribute to ROI. • Increased productivity – Most SMBs immediately recognize that collaboration improves productivity, but associated ROI can be difficult to calculate. Businesses rarely have a baseline metric for pre-collaboration productivity. Employees and managers can provide anecdotal evidence for time saved on, for example, meeting scheduling and file creation. In many cases, collaboration technology replaces meeting time — something everyone agrees is a major productivity improvement. Evaluating the areas in which collaboration can yield ROI can help IT decide which technologies to implement. How to implement collaboration technology While there’s little doubt that most SMBs would benefit from all of the collaboration technologies outlined above, it’s the rare IT budget that will support their simultaneous deployment. Setting an implementation strategy requires IT to work with department managers to determine which individuals or work groups would benefit most from collaboration support. Which employees are already taking advantage of mobility that’s in place? Which work groups are hampered by travel requirements or slowed down by inefficient file sharing? Once end-user groups have been identi- fied and their current work processes understood, IT can begin to specify the technology that will bring the greatest benefit. Next, IT has to size the investment by assessing current data center and end-user resources. Will the server and storage architecture provide the performance, reliability and availability that collaboration technology and end users demand? Will end-user laptops and smart phones support the enhanced communications — whiteboarding, application sharing, videoconferencing — with requisite speakers, cameras, display size and quality? It’s very possible that organizations won’t5 ©2011 Dell
  • 6. Return to top realize collaboration benefits without some changes to the data center (which may or may not include the purchase of new servers and storage arrays) and end-user computing resources. Agreeing on areas of anticipated benefit will help IT and other executives identify metrics that will allow ROI tracking and even help set policies for collaboration use. What types of meetings will happen via videoconference instead of central meetings that require travel? How will the geographically dispersed marketing team save time on the creation of collateral pieces through file and application sharing? How will a single, centralized product development and release schedule ensure on-time delivery and support revenue projections? That thought process will also guide phased implementations of collaboration. For example, if the company determines that SharePoint, Windows Communicator and Windows Mobile phones can significantly reduce the cost of an expanding remote workforce, human resources will be free to recruit and hire the best candidates no matter where they are located. Assumptions about shorter sales cycles made possible with web seminars and streamlined negotiations, for example, can support plans for the addition of a new sales region. An implementation strategy that outlines the end users and groups that can take the greatest advantage of specific technologies now and that also anticipates future expansion of collabora- tion throughout the organization will allow IT to make sound investment decisions. Dell: Adding Value to Collaboration Deployments Even with a plan in place and an understanding of the types of collaboration technology avail- able and specific products and their capabilities, the options for collaboration implementation can be daunting. Matching organizational needs with available applications, hardware and configurations is difficult and time-consuming. Dell offers IT managers a single collaboration vendor relationship. With one point of contact, IT managers can streamline their decision, procurement and deployment processes. Imple- mentation is faster and focused on delivering specific benefits. Dell Services consultants and technicians help IT evaluate and assess your company’s current infrastructure and then design configuration changes that will support the collaboration technology selected. Experienced in SMBs engagements, Dell consultants know that every company is different; business models, strategic plans, end-user communities and the current IT landscape are all taken into consideration. Tools such as the Dell Unified Communication Customer Readiness Assessment helps SMBs and their Dell consultants evaluate options as they relate to current conditions and future plans. Focused on collaboration implementations that will provide the greatest short-term benefit and scale to meet anticipated requirements, Dell consultants are able to outline phased implementa- tions, allowing IT to budget for and schedule collaboration expansion. Through their Dell relationship, SMBs have access to a wide range of end-user devices, including Windows Mobile phones and laptops designed for mobility and configured for collaboration. Servers and storage arrays are designed for the performance and reliability demanded by real- time collaboration. All devices are configured and tested before shipment for out-of-the-box deployment and faster ROI.6 ©2011 Dell
  • 7. Return to top Conclusion The compelling benefits of collaboration technology — including less travel, reduced IT over- head, access to a talented labor pool, employee satisfaction and increased productivity — have caught the attention of SMBs. Thoughtful implementation of new and maturing collaboration technologies adds efficiency to asynchronous file and information sharing and real-time work sessions. Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Windows Communicator, Windows phones and Microsoft Exchange are four technologies that are delivering real collaboration benefits through shared workspaces, blogs, wikis, meeting scheduling, profile publication and unified commu- nications. To realize the benefits of collaboration and the associated ROI, SMBs have to craft implementation plans that identify anticipated benefits, the specific technology that will be deployed, and individuals and work groups that will use the new technologies. Working with Dell, SMBs can take advantage of experienced service teams and a broad portfolio of applications, hardware and configurations, ensuring successful collaboration deployments.7 ©2011 Dell