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Ritu Madbhavi

"Collaboration 101 "

Ritu Madbhavi
Draftfcb Ulka group
As a SVP with the Draftfcb Ulka group (Which is among the top five agency groups in India), Ritu manages the complex task of bringing order in an industry that loves disorder.Precision, logic and order define Ritu. Not surprising when you learn that she studied statistics and graduated at the top of her class from Delhi University. Ritu took her passion for mathematics further and did her master’s in applied mathematics from Carlton University – Canada. Over the past twenty years Ritu has applied this precision and mathematicians logic in all the assignments that she has handled. Starting from her first stint at TCS, followed by teaching and analytics engagements at NIIT and then at Datamatics.

At DraftFcbUlka she bought alive the term frugal computing by making IT solutions possible at costs that were unheard off. Not by negotiating harder but by planning smarter.

Collaboration has been a buzz word for a number of years. With travel costs-rising and crunch in availability of talent in one location, organizations looking at collaboration to be solution to future business success. It has been long recognized that it is a critical component in creating a lasting impact on organization performance. The optimal use of organizational talent to give the company a competitive edge is possible only if the people in an organization collaborate.

Unfortunately, most CEOs/ CXOs think that if they just buy collaboration technology, a miracle will happen, and they will become collaborative organizations and CEOs/ CXOs think that ensuring collaboration in an organization is the responsibility of the CIO.

But it does not work like that. Organizations need to develop their collaborative capabilities before implementing collaboration tools.

Unfortunately, most organizations find themselves in a position where they have implemented an expensive collaboration solution but it is not really by the users.

It has been observed that usage drops after the initial excitement. After about 3 months the actual usage drops to as low as 10%. What many organizations do not realize is that collaborative tools also need a lot of data and discipline. The open ended collaborative processes before automation seem easier and less binding. The trick is to develop a system that is fluid and does not stifle collaboration with too many rules, checks and balances.

While speaking to various Ciaos / CXOs across organizations I discovered that there are several similar road blocks across organizations in building a collaborative platform. These range from technology barriers to people beliefs. Typical barriers are as follows:

· Difficult to give up on standard ways of working

· The Collaborative solution does not reflect benefits to the end users

· Fear of losing control – Whats in it for me

· Organizational silos driven by specialization

· Lack of beliefs resulting in cynicism or insecurity

· Goal misalignment or lack of shared goals

· Lack of collaborative tools or low familiarity with tools

How can a CIO help resolve these issues and create a platform that not only helps people collaborate but also puts in place a road map for collaboration and better co-ordination between teams?

CIOs must learn to understand the foundations that drive successful collaboration.

This helps in dissolving the most crucial barrier of getting acceptance to the concept of using collaborative tools. Even then it has been found that it still is a challenge to get people to actually start using it. Human nature forces people to resist the unknown. When organizations do not have tools you find people clamoring for a platform which will make it easier to share and collaborate. They want meeting places (real or virtual) access to data ( Knowledge portals) and a quick way to get feedback.

Some possible solutions to make collaborative experience successful and ensuing that the business benefits from such actions are as follows:

1. Identify the Collaboration project” and project benefits

Understanding the business drivers of collaboration will help any CIO make technology decisions that are better aligned with organizational business goals. Collaboration is not a business end in itself. It is a means to an end. And that end is better business results. For this the CIO needs to be in sync with the business leaders on the project scope. CIOs need to liaise with the business leaders and identify projects which will have the biggest impact on achieving business results. These are typically those parts of the business where there is lots of dynamic information, where decisions are complex and where those decisions have far-reaching consequences.

2. Develop a prototype to ensure that the mechanics are clear to the business leaders.

This will be a clear demonstrator of what technology can do. Depending on the requirement and the IT policy, CIO needs to arrive at the ideal collaboration tool .

3. Ask the business leaders to identify the business owners

Theproject is successful only if the users within the organization take ownership and act collaboratively. It should be the responsibility of each user to support collaborative working wherever it is appropriate. Business owners need to ensure that their teams act collaboratively. This will achieve better business results.

4. Train the organization

It is important to get people to see the “benefits” of collaboration and get their buy-in. These are the actual users who will make it a success and it is important to get them to rise above their insecurities and show that eventually it will be a win-win situation

5. Get people to upload information

No collaborative tool is of use unless there is enough information residing in the repository. This is a continuous exercise and is easier said than done. Even if one has bought into the benefits of the collaboration tools, users tend to “postpone” uploading their info/ feedback due to their day to day pressures and tight deadlines.

6. Incentivize the users to share information

a. Create an incentive program to condition expectations

7. Use competition as a trigger

a. Another way to trigger change is to create competition among users

Technology enabled collaboration is a trend that is gaining momentum. A classic case I business travel which because of rising costs is on the decline. This has been fueled by better video conferencing solutions which are growing 30% annually. Gartner predicts that by 2012 Video conferencing will replace 2.1 million airline seats per year.  Add to this the power of face to ace contact as opposed to audio conferencing and you see the potential that video conferencing alone has to make a difference in how an organization works.

As a result collaboration not just connects talent and scarce people resources but it also dramatically cuts travel costs and also helps a company conserve capital.

However technology can never replace human intent. The best laid plans and the most elaborate solutions will come to naught if the teams have not fully absorbed the goals. Modern collaborative tools do provide for time shifting and place shifting flexibilities but the very speed of such solutions means that you can self-destruct without adequate training and preparation.

Collaborative tools are now becoming open source and in an age of transparency moving into the public domain. Crowd sourcing, social networking driven collaboration solutions have already started making an impact in organizations that are brave enough to open themselves to the world.

The whole world will one day move to one large collaborative organism. Right now we need to take the first baby steps to discover how to operate in a world where everyone and everything is connected.