The following advice, which has been paid for many times and therefore has value, is based on 24 years of consulting within the conferencing industry. The recommendations offered are not magic and may seem very simple. What is amazing is the number of organizations who do not consider these suggestions when implementing collaborative conferencing or decide to overlook these recommendations.
Answering the following four questions will make your adoption of collaborative conferencing easier and more worthwhile to your organization.
• What is our benchmark for success?
• Why are we implementing these technologies?
• What are they going to do for us?
• What will we do with the technologies once they are installed?
Recommendation 1: Determine Your Benchmark For Success. Generally, someone within an organization gets the idea it is time to install one or more collaborative conferencing technologies. Usually, they approach a telecom or computer person and ask them to implement the technology. Before any steps are taken, the following question should be posed of the person making the request: “What is your benchmark for success?” In other words, how will you know if you have accomplished your job?
Too often no one bothers to ask this question. As a result, technology is installed without any thought to how it will positively impact the bottom line of the organization. Collaborative conferencing is not a telephone. It is not an intuitive instrument everyone needs to use. Rather, it is more like those telephones with all the fancy features that no one understands how or why to use. It is time to make collaborative conferencing a necessity. Not only must it be easy to use, but people need to know why they should bother using it at all. One way to start the process is to establish a benchmark for success at the beginning.
Examples of benchmarks include:
• Increasing communication with non-corporate sites by holding conferences once a month
• Getting a specific product to market more quickly using collaborative conferencing technologies to shorten the manufacturing cycle
• Training a larger number of end users, who are scattered at multiple sites, in a shorter timeframe.
Recommendation 2: Assess Your Needs of your organization. Doing so in a structured way allows you to (a) select the right technology to meet specific user needs, (b) identify individuals who will champion the project because they have a need, (c) cost justify the project, and (d) provide data for growth in all areas of collaborative conferencing.
Many people, especially those selling you equipment, shy away from conducting a needs assessment. They wrongly believe that the process takes a long time, costs too much, and may convince you to buy someone else’s equipment. In reality, a needs assessment can be accomplished, on average, in a 2-4 week period. The value of the data in selecting the right technology and ensuring its usage far outweighs the cost to the user and the vendor. In fact, in many instances those who conduct a needs assessment are better prepared to purchase more equipment in a shorter timeframe than those who did not conduct a needs assessment. A needs assessment also helps you uncover unique applications for the use of collaborative conferencing technologies (i.e., using conferencing for review of legal documents, interviews for potential employees prior to having them fly in for a meeting, marketing campaign for a new product, etc.).
Recommendation 3: Calculate the Return On Investment. Understanding the value obtained by implementing collaborative conferencing technologies helps management understand why the technologies should be viewed as a necessity, not just a nicety. While many view the benefits of these technologies to be measured with soft dollars, in reality those who have identified useful applications have had no trouble developing a return on investment to justify both their initial capital expenditures and their ongoing recurring costs.
By calculating a return on investment it is easier for management to see the value of collaborative conferencing and, thus, understand the need to continue growing the usage of the technology. Without understanding this value what often happens is that when one champion of the technology departs another is not easy to find. When value is understood, everyone wishes to claim the deployment and usage of collaborative conferencing as their idea. Types of ROI calculations for collaborative conferencing include travel cost savings, increased productivity, and time efficiency.
As an example, one company found they achieved a return on their investment after only 67 days because they paid for their equipment by not traveling. Another company increased productivity to enable them to get a product to market three months sooner, thus saving millions of dollars.
Recommendation 4: Share Success Stories. To ensure successful, ongoing use of collaborative conferencing technologies, it is important to have a variety of applications in mind and others waiting to be tried. In addition to wanting to find champions for the systems, it is important to develop and report on applications for the technologies so others learn and can generate their own uses for collaborative conferencing. Writing case study experiences and sharing them with others is key to ongoing success with these technologies.
The future for collaborative conferencing is bright. Dynamic changes in the global communications environment – decreasing network and equipment costs and the need for businesses to compete in a global economy – will propel the adoption of collaborative conferencing at a rapid rate. It will be important for organizations to develop a plan to efficiently and effectively adopt collaborative conferencing technologies and ensure their successful and ongoing usage. This can be done through attention to detail including establishing a benchmark, assessing your needs, determining a realistic return on investment, and developing a variety of applications.