Facing the challenges of our comapny (mounting pressure, weak & uninterested governance, lack of centralization) our team realized that no singular solution could tackle the problem in its full complexity.
We have created a four-stage concept to answer sub-segments of the problem, and suggest standalone technical solutions are deployed for each of them that can be later interlinked. We have named the four stages CONNECT, COMMUNICATE, COLLABORATE and SHARE.
The story of the challenges we face in our company is nothing extraordinary, but the way we tackle them is nothing short of it. Being a leading telecommunication’s company, we have created our stronghold throughout Europe mainly by acquiring controlling interest in privatized national telecommunications providers, or through mergers with smaller competitors. As a result, each country still enjoyed a relative operational freedom, and central governance remained strategic and financial.
With mounting pressure from regulators and competitors –both old and new- in recent years we came to realize that we must enhance collaboration in order to stop declining revenues. The “silo walls” that enabled countries to operate on their own terms as long as the y kept paying their dues must be demolished. As with all change, this has been tried and failed on a gradual level. After a year, realization came that without strong central governance, not much is happening the walls cannot be dismantled brick-by-brick.
Another problem is, that the home country creates a greater chunk of the overall revenues, thus regional interest is pushed down to a secondary level. Central governance is often more interested in creating a solution for the problem of the home country, and than ‘exporting’ that to the rest of the world. So whilst the need to work closer and act as one single entity on the regional market grows stronger in the provinces, resources are spent on solving the problems of a singular market.
The third problem arouse form the complexity of the governing structure of the companies that from the group. Since each company retained operations to itself, the technical possibilities of group-wide, centralized communications and collaborations were not established.
In the first part of the concept our idea is to focus on connecting the people with each other. This in our view is a key founding principle because even the strongest group of individuals needs the organizational capacity to connect to one and other to create business value. Similar to how our brains operate, the individual brain cells are worthless without synapsis, and more ‘connected’ we are, the smarter we as a company become.
In order to have a reliable and secure platform within the company to create and enrich these connections, we have set out to establish a social-networking platform on which colleagues can find contact information, connect to each other and freely establish groups to share interest or information.
In the second part, we focus on work in the traditional sense, and looked at how project and organizational work could be assisted. At this point, it became clear to us, that professional collaboration support tools -that enables workflows, multi-user access and version controlling- needs to be a separate system from the social-networking one for two reasons. The first is, that technically the tools we have surveyed did not provide a full-service – they had a strong side on either networking or collaboration, and treated the other as a bonus feature. The other, more important reason, is that people treat their connections, even if there are work-related on a much more personal level, than their daily work.
Therefore the best solution is to provide a full-service collaboration tool, that enables the creation of separate ‘workplaces’ (like each one for each project, or organizational unit), and only the access to the workplace and the user-related information is shared with the social-networking system.
The third part focuses on communication between the employees, especially on a one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many personal communication. As a telecommunications company, we have a filed advantage in providing the best possible tele- and video conferencing systems to our customers, so all we need is to apply those same practices in-house. Fortunately the technology is available already, that can create the feeling of being in the same room with your colleagues, but it has its price obviously. Yet when time is of the essence, even smaller scale solutions with and HD web-camera and quality headset paired with an integrated instant-messaging/softphone application or web-based conferencing client can provide much better results, than the usual anonymity of the conference-calling.
We found, that the best solution is the one that is integrated with the users email system (so all contact information is stored centrally), and is preferably available from multiple platforms, including mobile. Giving the users the freedom to choose from a wide range of communication possibilities (email, IM, phone, video) in one integrated client enhances their productivity, as they can figure out for themselves what is the most comfortable and appropriate way of communication in a given situation.
The fourth part is often neglected, but in the Web2.0 era keeping knowledge available, easily accessible and searchable is of outmost importance. In a globalized world, many of the markets and countries face the same problem on a daily level, and establishing a wide and accessible tube of information for the employees can save tremendous amount of redundancies. This knowledge sharing initiative builds heavily on part one and two (CONNECT and COLLABORATE) and utilizes the collective knowledge sharing over social networking, as well as access to active (in-production) ‘workplaces’ and archived ones, that enable that lessons learned through a project can be utilized in the next similar one. Knowledge sharing can be flexibility expanded through the internal use of other Web2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis and even tweets about important news.
In our view, the best solution is the use of an aggregated content-management system, which provides a singular interface towards the users. Most common way, is through the intranet portal, and the willingness (and happiness) of the users increase, as more and more content is available to them from multiple sources and with the use of simple searching.
We believe that instead of searching for a holy-grail solution that fixes all problems at once, using a mixture of dedicated tools in a user friendly effort creates more value. It also has the advantage of enabling a gradual build-up, and has no need for a big-bang style of disruptive change.
Also, it must be said, that today’s employees are no fools. If no internal platform is provided for them to fill their needs, they will seek an easier, more flexible solution on the web. Therefore if we didn't embrace the new possibilities we will soon find ourselves in a situation where employee collaboration and communication is done through channels out of our control.
“Build it, and they will come” – this is true here as well. If the new age of management provides a mixture of dedicated, user-friendly tools, the employees will be more motivated and efficient in working together, which will result in increased creation of business value.