The temperatures are soaring into the mid-90’s here in Scottsdale, but that’s not the hottest topic at Cisco’s annual CIO Summit, an exclusive forum for top CIOs. Collaboration continues to be a burning topic – one that was discussed at the breakout session I led earlier this week.
In introducing the session, I started with my premise that “collaboration is the IT investment of the decade.” To underscore the effectiveness of collaboration technology, my team presented a “collaboration in action experience,” demonstrating how we at Cisco use Cisco Quad (our collaboration product), instant messaging, TelePresence, mobile devices, business applications and video.
I’m pleased to report that it resonated well with our audience of about 20 CIOs – one of whom called it “a very impressive demo.”
Moreover, while the CIOs are in varying degrees of deploying a wide array of collaboration technologies, several agreed with the premise that collaboration is indeed the IT investment of the decade.
One CIO for a major U.S. corporation told the group that, in fact, his collaboration investment was “huge.” He told us that collaboration was one of his company’s four strategic imperatives and was viewed as a primary enabler of innovation – that is, if you can’t get people working together, they won’t be as innovative.
Yet another CIO reported that his company is actively engaged in merger and acquisition activity and collaboration is critical for this purpose. CIOs whose companies are global in nature also view collaboration as imperative to enable global teams.
CIOs that use video for collaboration were quick to say that video – which appears to be growing in usage – was “an easy ROI,” showing value in terms of travel savings.
We also heard about the many challenges of collaboration technologies. Here are just a few:
- Collaboration tools are taking off in an uncontrollable fashion – a key issue for CIOs today is how to get control. With the advent of “bring your own device,” and all types of collaborative tools such as IM and social media, employees will find ways to use them. What’s the right degree of standardization vs. innovation in the kinds of tools you use? One executive commented that collaboration was the IT investment of the decade not because of ROI – but because companies need to get control and avoid mass confusion.
- Be prepared to deal with the myriad of choices. One CIO commented on the array of different tools “that pop up everywhere in a company our size.” So, it’s not only controlling the collaboration technologies but being able to select from those available that provide the right solution.
- Different employee groups work in different ways. Two cases in point: Sales and Engineering. Old ways die the hardest, so when you ask employees to change the way they work, there is resistance. The key for CIOs is to find a collaboration solution that successfully fits they way they work.
- Resistance from senior executives in selling the investment aspect. One CIO commented: “There is no way I can sell my company on this.” One of his peers then explained how he had success: find a champion. In his case, it was the company CEO who had kids engaged in social media and consumer technology, so it was easy for the chief executive to “get it” when it came to collaboration technology.
- Incorporating legacy systems. All agreed that whatever collaboration solution used, it had to be able to interoperate with IT systems already in place.
- Collaboration is not just for employees inside one company – it’s for those strategic partners outside the organization as well. A collaboration solution that can integrate with outside partners is also critical.
And finally, the last takeaway from our discussion was for collaboration providers like Cisco: collaboration developers must be extremely agile. They have to deliver rapid-fire features and functionality so their solution gets better and better to ensure they are the platform of choice. And eliminate any barriers to entry, particularly because there are significant costs to just getting started.
So, all in all, some really great input from the CIO community.