Collaboration tools prove valuable for global corporates

Cisco Systems and Procter & Gamble are benefitting from wikis and other tools

Managers at Cisco Systems and Procter and Gamble and Cisco Systems say their managers have a variety of options, ranging from high-definition videoconferencing to instant messaging and wikis, for quickly bringing together people and their ideas. P&G and Cisco have been sharing information and technology for seven years in their separate efforts to roll out a variety of collaboration tools – from both Cisco and other firms. Using the tools has brought both companies the expected cost savings on travel and less wear and tear on their workers. And as a bonus, both companies have been able to discover ideas and intellectual property previously hidden in cubicles in cavernous office buildings, the managers recounted during a roundtable discussion using telepresence technology. "We connect in clicks, with video anywhere and work everywhere, so work is not a place but something you do," Laurie Heltsley, director of global business services at Cincinnati-based P&G says. "The ultimate IP we have is [our] people and the collection of their expertise and everything associated with their identity." With 138,000 workers in 80 countries, P&G finds collaboration tools to be a vital part of the business, she says. "It is an absolute necessity to be able to collaborate every day. We have a mandate to brainstorm, to listen, to innovate, where competition is fierce." P&G found years ago that its product research and development teams could benefit from tapping expertise spread throughout the company, Heltsley says. "We've found we achieve more together than we achieve alone." Heltsley says the ability to detect the presence of another worker through an internet connection – and to find out if they are available for an IM or phone chat or via other modes such as a video conference – has become the most important feature of collaboration tools for P&G. "It is not chat that is so important, although that is still central to this whole collaboration process," she said. "It is knowing someone is available and having the mechanism to know somebody is there and you can contact that person." P&G is eager to expand collaboration capabilities, she notes, and the company wants to try out a new enterprise collaboration platform from Cisco when a beta version is released later this year. Cisco CEO John Chambers has declared that he wants Cisco to be the leader in collaboration software in coming years, noted Sheila Jordan, vice president of communication and collaboration IT at the networking firm. In fact, she says, Chambers has begun using a video blog to communicate, while Cisco posts thousands of videos on an internal channel it calls "C Vision." In addition to offering insight and information, the videos and collaboration tools help Cisco create a great sense of community within the ranks, something that is essential to success but hard to enumerate, says Rick Hutley, vice president of Cisco's internet business solutions group. Hutley tallied Cisco's total savings from using collaboration tools during fiscal 2008 at US$691 million. Hw agreed with P&G's Heltsley about the ability of collaboration to bring internal experts together. "We have virtual experts, because we don't have enough experts to be in enough places enough of the time," he says. "There is a huge opportunity to leverage skills and expertise you already have in your company, but the problem is finding it." Part of Cisco's approach to collaboration includes building online self-help tools that can be accessed from anywhere over the internet. For example, he noted that internal Apple Macintosh users created a Mac Wiki to provide fellow internal Mac users with information on fixing bugs and other information. Using the internal Mac expertise has saved the company an estimated $4 million it would have had to spend on hiring Mac experts to help with problems, Hutley estimates.

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