Rapid product cycles, increasing globalization and recent sudden disruptions in global and local supply chains like tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes have all contributed to volatility in business. Consequently, they have all required sudden changes to product, service and business cycles, and required information technology to keep pace and help them deal with these transitions effectively. Collaboration tools are needed like never before. There are a number of traditional online collaboration tools that are still proving effective, and new social media has joined their ranks. Here are ten best collaborative tools for aligning business and IT in their goals:
- Online collaboration portals: Online collaboration portals like Microsoft SharePoint and open source content management systems like Drupal are proving to be very useful in promoting collaboration. Companies like Accenture and HP have more than a hundred thousand users each on SharePoint. They use them for creating discussion forums that anybody in the company can participate in. For specific groups of people, free flow of opinions, observations, problems and solutions enable collaboration between business and IT easy, structured, and open. Companies like Ferrari and Starbucks Coffee have extended these portals even to their customers!
- Video conferencing/telepresence: Cisco saved $100M, cutting their domestic and international travel expenses in 2010, through the concerted use of their own telepresence products. Videoconferencing has made it convenient to collaborate more, and often, because of its inexpensive nature. It’s not a substitute for periodic face to face meetings, but if business and IT are distributed, it sure comes in handy to have virtual versions of them periodically. Telepresence conference rooms use state-of-the art room designs, video cameras, displays, sound-systems and processors, coupled with high-to-very-high capacity bandwidth transmissions. Video conferencing systems are less expensive versions but still need dedicated special equipment at all ends.
- Instant Messaging: Traditionally, instant messaging platforms like Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Google Chat and Skype have been used by organizations for a variety of informal, rapid exchanges of information. They have been used to communicate status of tasks within business, IT, or between them. Organizations needed closed versions of such systems for use only within their own networks. That has led to products like Siebel Systems’ Yammer, SalesForce.com’s Chatter, Cisco’s Pulse, Tibco’s Tibbr, etc,. In addition to the security of an enterprise-only instant messaging system, they also have automatic archiving of all exchanges as required for compliance (like Sarbanes-Oxley).
- Blogs: Sometimes collaboration may need to be accomplished over multiple expository articles soliciting discussion, other viewpoints, clarifications and inputs from a large group of stakeholders within the organization. Blogs are the best way to do this when other mechanisms here are not appropriate. They are also excellent vehicles for business to educate IT about broad trends in the marketplace they operate in. They may not be pertinent to any one specific project, but IT may need this information to be aligned with business goals better.
- Wikis: Wikis are perfect for business and IT to create, validate and keep a shared body of knowledge updated with inputs from all quarters. The nice thing about a wiki is that it can grow organically over time. However, curating this shared body of knowledge and making sure that it is updated promptly, is crucial. What is being shared in a wiki needs to be correct, moderated and up-to-date.
- Surveys and results: Easy-to-use online surveying tools like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang are available for Business and IT to do surveys and sharing the results with the whole organization. They are especially useful in assessing how useful the other collaboration tools are to all the stakeholders. You can figure out which ones are useful in your organization so that others can be discontinued.
- Web Conferencing; Webex, GoToMeeting and some newer Web conferencing services like DimDim and Join.me are useful when a teleconference is not enough and you need to share presentations, documents or online demos of software between business and IT. Web conferencing is also useful in communicating interactively with external stakeholders like suppliers, service vendors, clients and end customers. External stakeholders may not have videoconferencing facilities but Web conferencing may be feasible because all it needs is a computer and a higher bandwidth broadband connection.
- Twitter: Twitter’s power within organizations is as a real-time notification and distribution mechanism of links to information, articles and news that is online. There are also instances of Twitter being used by IT to inform Business of interim releases of software or version changes as they happen. Twitter can also be helpful in informing everyone if there is a new blog entry or addition to wikis. A tweet can inform members of an organization when there is anything new in a blog or wiki. This way they don’t need to periodically check a blog or a wiki.
- Facebook: Facebook’s usage as a collaboration tool is fairly new for organizations. Organizations have used Facebook to get input about alternative approaches and also to share short videos, pictures or screenshots for which they would like to receive feedback. The advantage of Facebook as a collaboration tool is that almost everyone internal or external to an organization may have an account already.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn members-only groups are very useful for business-IT collaboration. They are also good for selectively inviting external stakeholders to discussions and information sharing sessions.
Social media is quickly changing the nature of collaboration within organizations, especially between business and IT. It is joining the increasing usage of older technologies like wikis, video-conferencing, Web conferencing, blogs and instant messaging, to make communication between internal and stakeholders more rapid, elaborate and meaningful. These mechanisms are useful as long as everyone within business and IT is on board and the available information is current and accurate.
For a comprehensive resource on social media, see Social media: A guide to enhancing ALM with collaborative tools.