Collaboration tools come in all sizes

Solutions that help companies make connections to drive growth, says IBM America's Judy Smolski.
Written by Judy Smolski,, Contributor
Commentary - As midsize companies look to broaden their reach, many are seeing the value of collaboration in teaming with suppliers, building relationships with customers, and surfacing new ideas from employees.

Collaboration has become a significant asset on today's smarter planet, where businesses have far fewer technological barriers, far more access to the insights buried in their data, and the ability to go global overnight. This is particularly important for midsize companies who are taking advantage of these trends to solve problems, satisfy customers and innovate ahead of their industry. Their success is dependent on how well they know their stakeholders and how effectively they respond to their demands.

“Inside the Midmarket: A 2011 Perspective,” a global survey of 2,112 midsize companies commissioned by IBM and conducted independently by KS&R, Inc., found that 70% of those surveyed are either planning or currently deploying collaboration solutions to drive innovation, improve employee productivity, and strengthen their customer focus.

Collaboration today means connecting instantly with others – regardless of location or time-zone – to solve problems, reach agreements and unearth opportunities. It's a game changer for growing companies that recognize its importance and incorporate collaboration into their business model.

Collaboration solutions can take many forms, including social networking, office productivity software, web conferencing, crowd sourcing, instant messaging, video chat and mobile applications. These technologies help users more easily connect, create communities, and find information and resources.

Here are a few snapshots of how collaboration can contribute to a company’s growth and success.

Essential collaboration tools
Collaboration tools are essential in helping businesses stay connected with employees, partners and clients. Email has been the choice collaboration tool for years, but there are more options that are readily available. Business-grade instant messaging, Web conferencing and file sharing have increasingly become a necessity as these tools help employees communicate and collaborate even more quickly. Sharing ideas and information in real-time is key in order to move forward in an increasingly connected world.

Holiday Real Estate, Inc., a full-service real estate company in Ocean City, MD., migrated employees in its headquarters and four branch offices to cloud-based email that features essential email, calendaring and contact capabilities, multi-level administration and branded interfaces. Moving off premise to the cloud helped the company lower costs and allowed them to focus on their business, instead of hosting and managing their email.

Office productivity software
In the 2010 report "The Next Wave of Office Productivity," independent research firm Forrester Research, Inc. noted that mobile, cloud and collaboration solutions are leading the transformation of today's office environments. The drivers that are influencing productivity applications mean that tomorrow's products will need to help solve common challenges like finding information, improving creation of dynamic documents in the cloud, and ensuring consistent experiences across devices.

Signature Mortgage Corporation of Canton, Ohio is now using a combination of collaboration tools to enable its clients to complete and sign mortgage applications electronically. Integrated electronic signature services enable organizations to invite their customers, partners, and suppliers to instantly sign documents electronically over the web, while harnessing the power of online collaboration and social networking during the negotiation and pre-signing process. Since Signature Mortgage worked with Silanis Technology to begin using an e-signature solution in October of last year, the company has reduced the time to process mortgage applications from 10 days down to less than 48 hours. This allows mortgages to be closed in less than 25 days compared to the industry average of 45 to 60 days, and ensures Signature Mortgage can deliver on its rate promise to customers. Moreover, the mortgage provider has increased its loan volume by 34%, and decreased processing costs by 85%.

Portal and collaboration technologies can extend the capabilities of a company’s existing core applications. With a portal, companies have a single point of interaction with applications, content, processes, and people across the organization. It allows partners, employees, and customers to customize their user experience based on role, context, actions, location, preferences, and team needs. Real-time collaboration capabilities featuring instant share, skill-tap capabilities, click-to-call integration and IP-based voice and video are available.

VCC, a midsize construction company based in Little-Rock, Arkansas, wanted to empower its project managers with real-time access to the critical information needed to service accounts, build relationships, retain profitable customers, collaborate with colleagues and quickly retrieve client information. VCC found that its team was suffering from vital information that wasn't accessible remotely, limited search capabilities and difficulty sharing information. Working with technology partner iEnterprises, VCC implemented a mobile CRM system to synchronize the company's existing platform with its sales, marketing, executive and customer service teams. Using portal and SOA technologies, the new solution allows project managers to improve decision making, shorten sales cycles and significantly increased new business by making client interactions and client contact information accessible to all project managers through their smartphones. VCC has seen an increase in new clients by 40 percent, up from the year prior, and an average savings of 400 employee hours per month thanks to the ability to more quickly retrieve and utilize client information.

Regardless of a company’s size, industry or business model, collaboration technologies can help. To find out how, start by asking one question – how will my company benefit from improved collaboration? The answers could range from improving productivity and enabling idea sharing to enhancing communication among customers, suppliers, and employees.

And with the variety of tools available – from basic tools and office productivity software to portals – there’s no shortage of ways for growing companies to make the connections they need to be successful.

Judy Smolski is Vice President, General Business Midmarket, IBM Americas.

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