Working Together Through Technology

Collaboration technologies improve productivity, cost savings

After weeks of trying to coordinate schedules, the work team finally gathers around a conference table, legal pads in hand. An hour later, the meeting is over, and everybody goes back to their desks, ready to start their next task.

That scenario was common 30 years ago, and it still happens today, causing agencies to lose time, productivity and the opportunity to make timely, effective decisions.

Some agencies are finding better ways to collaborate. Using full-featured collaborative tools, team members can work together via voice, video, messaging or with IP-based tools such as whiteboards. And they can do it in real time, no matter where employees work.

These capabilities are important for today’s federal employees, many of whom work remotely. According to a survey from Deloitte, 36 percent of public sector respondents believe face-to-face meetings will decrease, and 66 percent view connected work tools as a positive driver of productivity.

Productivity, in fact, is the main reason agencies are investing in collaboration solutions. According to McKinsey, innovative business collaboration techniques can improve an organization’s productivity by up to 30 percent and reduce the time and expense of traveling to meetings.

The right mix of collaborative tools

Most agencies are using some type of technology to collaborate, typically a combination of PBX or IP telephony, videoconferencing, shared storage or older collaboration suites.

Though better than nothing, these tools don’t provide the functionality and ease of use available with newer collaboration suites that combine IP telephony with video, audio, presence, conferencing, and messaging. Modern collaboration suites also enable desktop sharing, task and workflow management and discussion boards.

These tools can make a marked difference in efficiency, cost savings and productivity due to metrics like reduced travel costs, faster problem resolution, and quicker completion. A study from SCORE found that collaboration tools can reduce the cost of international calls by 90 percent and the amount of travel by 30 percent. The study also found that the typical employee saves 43 minutes per day due to more efficient message management.

Introducing full-featured collaboration tools into an environment can be complicated, especially for groups using collaborative technology that they want to keep. For example, it can be challenging to find ways to integrate existing collaborative technology, such as video or IT telephony, with new collaborative technologies.

“Often, agencies have different types of tools being used by different groups, and they can’t share information with each other. Just integrating existing collaboration tools is complicated, and has to be approached strategically,” says Jim Smid, chief technology officer of Iron Bow, an IT solution provider. “The same is true at an even more advanced level when agencies want to incorporate newer collaboration suites while keeping some of their legacy tools. It can be done, but it’s got to be done strategically.”

Smid suggests that agencies consider moving to an on-demand, cloud-based, hosted collaboration solution. This type of service should provide everything an agency needs for teams to collaborate effectively: IP telephony services like unified messaging and voicemail; video; instant messaging and presence; and the ability to use the service from any device.

Regardless of the technology, Smid cautions agencies to not overlook security. Make sure all systems and tools meet federal standards including FedRAMP and, if applicable, federal cloud mandates, he says.