Collaborative technologies: Use ’em or lose ’em

It’s easy for your collaboration efforts to “die a slow death” if the systems aren’t utilized by employees, according to Roman Coba.
The CIO of McCain Foods Ltd. spoke at Cisco Systems Inc.’s Cisco Plus event in Toronto on Wednesday.
Ensuring staff use collaboration technologies like Telepresence, messaging and presence, and getting buy-in from the executive suite are key to a successful initiative, Coba said in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada.
Several factors drove McCain to implement its collaboration strategy.
“We were looking to bring global teams together,” Coba said. Additionally, the company wanted to save on travel, since it was spending about $45 million. And that amount was about to go up with an SAP implementation being rolled out to the company’s 110 branch offices and seven larger regional offices. The company wasn’t keen to be flying employees and the systems integrators working on the project all over the world every week.
The project began with replacing traditional phone and voice technology with voice over IP and complementary tools like presence and instant messaging. “It was the easiest ROI we could find,” Coba said, taking about $3 million to $4 million of the company phone bill.
The evolution of McCain’s Telepresence intiative mirrored Cisco’s own road map. First, nine of the larger offices were equipped with full Telepresence suites. Then, as Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] rolled out smaller, cheaper and more flexible end points, those were rolled out to other offices, as was the Jabber desktop client. “Our infrastructure is a Cisco infrastructure,” Coba said. That decision was made early on, he said, on the basis of the platform’s stability, global reach, and ability to manage not only communications but also content.
“That comes potentially as a future risk,” he said. It leaves McCain reliant on “the Microsofts of the world” to open their doors to third-party systems, an openness Cisco has to embrace, too. “We’re seeing a little bit of the greying of the space,” Coba said, with companies playing their proprietary cards close to their vests. That’s the wrong approach, he said. “At the end of the day, not one company has the solution for everything.”
While the proposal for the program was driven by Coba and the IT department, after sign-off, the executive suite took ownership of the role of distributing the message of its value and enforcing its use. At the same time, IT launched a program of continuous reinforcement and education of users regarding the collaboration tools available to them. IT devised a five-stage maturity model (Stage 1 begins with being able to use the features of the IP phone; by Stage 5, collaboration is linked with Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint and social media feeds. McCain has feet on the ground worldwide responsible for raising awareness with weekly tips-and-tricks messages and by challenging people to use different collaboration options. That’s important if a collaboration effort is going to succeed.
“Showcase the capabilities and continually look for opportunities to reinforce the capabilities,” he said, or usage will wither. “People just get comfortable,” he said.

According to Cisco vice-president and cloud computing CTO Lew Tucker, 91 per cent of all network traffic will be video in two years.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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