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Three Ways to Make Virtual Connections Count for Business and the Planet

- April 26, 2017 - 1 Comment

This article also appears on Sustainable Brands.

Authors:

  • Paul Dickinson, Executive Chair, CDP
  • Heidi Rhodes, Workforce Experience Specialist, Digital Transformation Group, Cisco
  • Darrel Stickler, Global Environment Lead, Corporate Affairs, Cisco

Since the introduction of Cisco Telepresence in October 2006, Cisco has studied how the use of our technology impacts corporate travel. The early days were exciting; Cisco set our first travel reduction goal in 2006! Reducing travel via collaboration technologies had benefits for our business (cost reduction, productivity improvement), employees (work-life balance) and the planet (greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions).

Execution, however, invariably focused on travel reduction. The recurring savings from less travel recouped the upfront investment for telepresence systems, so less travel was the metric that mattered. However, harnessing the full benefits of this technology is complicated and requires looking beyond travel reduction.

Cisco and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) have partnered to explore how to implement a virtual collaboration platform that maximizes this broad range of benefits. CDP will be expanding their use of collaboration technologies, using substantially more Cisco Telepresence in addition to their longtime use of Cisco WebEx.

The goal of this project is to make integrated use of Cisco Telepresence and WebEx a mainstream form of collaboration throughout CDP and beyond—and the act of remote collaboration routine for all CDP employees.

“CDP has spent over fifteen years connecting the world’s largest organizations to the very important theme of climate change. To achieve our goals over the next fifteen years we will need to network worldwide like no organization has ever done before. Cisco video communications makes that possible.” – Paul Dickinson, Executive Chair, CDP

CDP presents an excellent test bed for understanding best practices in optimizing collaboration technologies, as the organization is relatively small yet geographically dispersed, supports thousands of external interfaces, serves a single business mission, is comprised of a relatively young workforce, and has an inherent focus on environmental sustainability.

The journey is just beginning for CDP. On a weekly basis, their connected external partner network grows and collaboration improves, with the added benefit of a reduction in costly and unnecessary international travel, happier and more productive employees, and fewer GHG emissions that are at the core of CDP’s mission.

Has high-definition video solved your sustainability, productivity and travel reduction challenge? What can Cisco share about our own journey to harness virtual collaboration technology to benefit business, people, and the planet?

Strategically approaching the use of collaboration technologies such as instant messaging, video conferencing, screen and document sharing, can offer multiple benefits for businesses, employees and the planet.

Who owns adoption?

Problem: Your company now has the gear. Congratulations on your purchase! However, who owns the adoption and use by your employees? Corporate Travel provides a seamless employee experience at the lowest cost. IT supports high-quality video and audio. Corporate Real Estate and Facilities ensure your company has the right mix of meeting spaces for the employees housed. Sales and Services are responsible for revenue and customer satisfaction and are likely the heaviest travelers. Sustainability represents an important perspective but isn’t a business owner. Reducing travel just doesn’t have a natural owner.

How you can respond: Focus on collaboration and the employee experience. Functional business leaders should jointly discuss the required policy, culture, and technology infrastructure needed for a faster and more vibrant company that leverages digital solutions to compete and win in the global marketplace.

What about my budget?

Problem: Because IT invests in the gear, and Facilities funds the required building space, travel reduction often becomes a proxy for budget battles. Sustainability is a care-about in common, but probably not enough to rally a consensus.

How you can respond: Frame the conversation around scaling teams, becoming faster and more agile, and serving the customer better. Working virtually with a customer over modern collaboration tools, instead of in face-to-face meetings, means quicker decisions, better relationships through increased opportunities to connect, and more value when you do meet face-to-face. By better utilizing collaboration technologies, budgets can be optimized to maximize the total benefit from travel reduction, faster decision-making, improved productivity, more successful employee recruitment and retention, and increased sustainability.

Is meeting in person necessary?

Problem: High-quality video and audio for a good virtual meeting is a given. However, what if the high-quality video meeting was never required in the first place? Travel for non-revenue-generating meetings presents the biggest opportunity.

Teams of knowledge workers are usually outcome-based, meaning they have to work together to meet a goal in a set timeframe. Agile teams are the pinnacle of modern business. Fast workflow relies on continuous team collaboration and the ability to connect on each iteration of a project.

If your business relies on a global team of employees and external partners, travel is not only an unwanted cost, but also means that team members are “on hold” while traveling. Instead of dozens of solution iterations and refinement, your potentially winning idea might fail, because collaboration could only move at the speed of an airplane.

Cisco Spark Board enables presenters to share, draw and converse with meeting attendees in-person and virtually

How you can respond: Map your workflows. Look for “moments that matter” that lead to a decision to travel vs collaborate virtually. Use that insight and understanding to create the right infrastructure for your teams. One size doesn’t fit all and applying a mix of collaboration products that fit your business or team will result in the most effective outcome. For example:

  • Initial Cisco Telepresence units were based in remediated rooms and supported meetings of 6-18 people over three side-by-side screens, replicating the experience of sitting around a large conference table.
  • Regular-room-based units were introduced next to reduce installed cost while increasing video penetration throughout the organization. Spatially aware, dual cameras were added to track and zoom in on individual speakers, improving the interaction between different locations.
  • Desktop video like the DX80 were added for individual use in home offices and in breakout spaces at work. Software solutions such as Jabber, Spark and WebEx desktop conferencing can be used anywhere—in the office, at the customer, on the road, or at home.
  • Cisco Spark Board was recently introduced, because drawing, sharing, seeing and conversing are natural behaviors in all effective collaboration.

Providing flexible and simple collaboration experiences enables employees to embed collaboration into their work processes. For field or remote workers not tied to an office, it’s easy to be virtually anywhere.

CDP and Cisco are together developing a simple process—reaching out to partners around the world through Cisco collaboration. With the installation of Cisco Telepresence of all shapes and sizes and Cisco WebEx, CDP has already achieved a significant reduction in travel costs—and GHG emissions—and improved relationships with CDP’s global network of governments, companies, and partners.

“We wanted to make a product that is easy to use and does everything you need…That product doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t existed until today.” – Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Cisco Systems (January 2017)

Replacing business air travel with remote collaboration requires more than just installing technology. Companies must adapt business processes, management practices, and culture to take full advantage of virtual collaboration technologies. By doing this, boosting your business and saving the planet is something everyone can do today.

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1 Comments

  1. Darrel, Thanks for your interesting blogpost. You might be interested to know that webex is also being used for another similar purpose - to connect listed companies with institutional investors interested for annual meetings on their sustainability performance. www.SRI-CONNECT.com has been hosting annual 'sustainability performance updates' for major investors and blue-chip from around the world for about five years now... ... and we use webex to do this. Many thanks PS - as well as reducing the carbon footprint, the technology also saves companies huge amounts of time as they can talk to all analysts at SRI ratings firms at the same time - rather than answer every questionnaire individually. PPS - There are two such calls happening in the next few weeks - one by a forestry company and one by a bank ... and other calls planned by miners, energy companies, pharma companies etc.

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