Capitalize on emerging collaboration options

Foregoing licenses in favor of emerging alternatives will free funds to train employees to collaborate effectively

Messaging vendors have long been packing their wares with features in hopes of providing an all-encompassing platform that fulfills every enterprise’s collaboration needs. Rather than shell out far too much again this year for seldom or inefficiently used capabilities, why not consider emerging alternatives as a way to assemble a collaboration environment suited to your particular budget and needs?

Most organizations are aware they can save money foregoing big-vendor licenses for e-mail. But when it comes to setting up meetings, the free/busy scheduling capabilities of associated calendar software are hard to beat. CalDAV (Calendar Distributed Authoring and Versioning), a standard for interoperable calendaring, aims to change that. And if CalDAV-compliant servers and clients take hold, many enterprises will find money spent on Exchange licenses can be put to better use elsewhere, such as toward a workflow app, freeing employees from having to use

e-mail as an ad-hoc workflow substitute, as is the case at many companies.

Kelly Phillips, director of IT at OC Tanner, says much of the money spent on intranets and portals in the name of collaboration is wasted. “We invested in an intranet only to find that the lack of collaboration tools and vibrant content has rendered it useless,” Phillips says. “Too often intranets end up as internal brochure-ware with a phone book, a cafeteria menu, and maybe some pockets of good activity in sales support or HR. In some ways, the more content we add, the more useless it gets.” Instead of defining a centralized spot for everything, Phillips suggests investing in an enterprise search solution to create an index of resources.

For all its hype, blogging remains underused as  a collaboration tool. Those on board, however, often spend too little setting up an environment that encourages responsible blogging. Train employees to be smart and effective. Good employee bloggers can be the marketing department’s best friends. Poorly trained ones can be a company’s worst nightmare.

Blogging software can also replace most mailing lists, which tend to clog inboxes, handicapping productive use of e-mail. Moving low-priority messages to a blog with an RSS feed — and encouraging use of feed readers — can increase productivity inexpensively.

Knowledge management systems may be another cost overrun in 2007. Steve Fulling, CIO for Sento, a multichannel contact center, considers wikis a worthwhile alternative. “If resources weren’t an issue, I’d love to have an expensive knowledge management solution,” Fulling says. “But wikis have filled that need for us admirably — freeing up money for other, more pressing needs.”

The most important line item for improving collaboration, however, doesn’t involve tools. Whether it’s poorly planned phone conferences or e-mails that pile up unread, you lose productivity assuming people know how to use the tools you give them. Don’t be one of those companies that spends too little on training in 2007. Facilitators, coaches, and trainers can prove pivotal in helping people collaborate effectively.