Justifying investment in collaboration technology

Having listened to a lot of vendors and advocates talk about the rationale for investment in technologies that enhance collaborative working, it is amazing how much the word ‘innovation’ comes up. The premise for adoption of everything from unified communications to Enterprise 2.0 (business oriented social media solutions) is so often to ‘unlock the potential of your people’, allowing them to get their heads together and come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things that take the business forward. As part of the discussion, it is common for an emphasis to be placed on new business models, improved processes, and similar.

While the consideration of how improved collaboration facilities can enhance innovation is completely appropriate (provided you are clear on the type of innovation you have in mind), it is important not to lose sight of how enhancing collaborative working can drive straightforward efficiencies within existing processes and models. In fact, improving workforce efficiency is a more common driver for investment.

The key here is appreciating that many business processes in place today already rely on interactions between people that can’t necessarily be captured in predefined workflows. Whether it is moving a deal forward in a sales context, resolving a customer support issue with input from different departments, or agreeing budgets across cost centres for the next financial year, such activities often involve a lot of paper and email flying around in an unstructured manner, not to mention phone calls, meetings, etc. And a similar set of interactions is evident when we look at more project oriented work.

There is a lot to be gained by greasing the wheels of all such activity through improved communication and collaboration facilities that can translate to direct and measurable benefits to the business, without getting into the whole innovation thing that is so difficult to translate into a tangible return when putting together a business case.

So, as a tip, particularly if you are looking to justify a collaboration related investment in these difficult times, centre your case on the efficiency angle. Depending on the environment, the benefits from enabling innovation may be significantly greater, but if you can’t pin down the return, getting approval to spend is going to be much more difficult.

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