Opinion by James Gorry - Business Unit Leader for IBM Collaboration Services - IBM Australia and New Zealand
One of the problems is that the myriad of technologies at our disposal that help us to collaborate and find information often work in isolation rather than together. There's email and voice mail, instant messaging and text messaging, as well as conferencing with voice, video, and Web varieties. We can also blog, friend, tag and tweet - 500 million of us will be doing that by 2012.
Take email for example. As the most dominant mode of business communication, email has done wonders for the workplace over the past 20 years. But today, with ever growing in-boxes, we need to make sure that we are using it effectively. Earlier this year, Galaxy research conducted a study amongst Australian office workers and found that nearly half of the 600 workers polled find irrelevant and unanswered emails are contributing to workplace stress. Although 97 per cent of respondents use email every day, it is often overwhelming or used in the wrong way.
Perhaps more worrying, the majority of respondents admitted that they have deliberately chosen to hide behind email, with nearly two thirds acknowledging they have sent an email when a phone call or a face to face meeting would have been more appropriate. Over half of respondents admitted to this kind of evasion on more than one occasion. This is a worrying trend; we need to be sure that we are not losing ourselves in email and other technologies, but rather that technology is helping us to work smarter.
Fortunately there is a better way. Unified communication and collaboration (UC2) is not a technology itself, it is an approach. UC2 centres on delivering a unified experience for the user, allowing them to communicate and collaborate seamlessly within the context of their daily work. People don't have to bounce around between applications to find and collaborate with the people they need to get the job done.
The tools - voice, text, video, presence and so on - are embedded in all of types of applications from email to portals and websites and business processes that are unique to their industries. And, these applications are available from PCs, Macs, Blackberries, iPhones, Androids, or whatever the next great device may be. This is critical because if people can't find collaboration tools or easily figure out how to use them, they keep doing business the way they always have. If people don't have easy access to the tools, the anticipated savings from using a soft-phone instead of mobile devices on international trips, or the reduction in travel costs promised by the video conferencing vendor will never materialise.
One solution which embodies a unified approach to collaboration is social software. These applications can offer a whole host of collaborative tools in one package, including instant messaging, wikis, blogs, profiles, file sharing and group calendars. The key advantage this solution brings to employees is real-time access to the people and expertise they need within the organisation - rather than getting buried in email trails. Empowering people in this way can help to more dynamically tap into the good ideas or collective intelligence amongst your people and build stronger working relationships which in turn will lead to more day to day innovation. Put simply, collaborating in the right way can solve business problems faster - real-time communication cuts down on wasted time, by connecting and communicating with the right people at the right point to make the right decisions which keep the business moving.
Furthermore, as younger generations enter the workforce, there will be an expectation that they can use the kinds of Web 2.0 collaboration tools they have used in their personal lives - think Facebook and YouTube. Rather than leading to lost productivity, a common fear amongst businesses, enterprise grade social software can actually help increase employee morale and efficiency by giving them more options and improving work/life balance.
One organisation which has embraced the benefits of social software is the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As an early adopter of technology, the ABS recognised that much of today's innovation is occurring online in social networking channels, and it quickly moved to UC2 for its employees. ABS strongly believed this social collaboration solution would help its people to be more productive, efficient and effective, streamlining their ability to communicate and innovate.
For example, the organisation wanted to move its employees to solving business problems in dynamic collaborative environments such as blogs or activities rather than email. Since implementation, its employees have embraced the technology and have never looked back.
Changing how we work and the tools we use can be challenging, but we all need to evolve and change, particularly as the pace of business gets faster, and our workloads continue to expand. We have a unique opportunity to take control of the technology and leverage a new generation of smarter approaches and tools, which will work with us and for us, rather than overwhelm us.
James Gorry is a Business Unit Executive, Lotus Software, IBM Australia and New Zealand