Collaboration tools are the entry level of digital transformation

In a perfect world, workplace communications would always be smooth and free of silos and red tape, and would be smoothly integrated into the digital world to reap the benefits of keeping up with today’s digital world. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works for all organizations. These two things—collaboration and digital transformation—are more tightly linked than you might think. Here, I’m going to lay out the connections and make an argument for adopting unified communications and collaboration tools as an easy first step toward digital transformation.

The Importance of Digital Transformation

Some organizations are digitally mature, they already put the customers at the centre of their decisions, they innovate and they are cost-efficient. Most importantly, they are agile, meaning they adapt more easily to market conditions, consumer behaviours and other disruptors. A recent survey from Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management shows that approximately 85% of business leaders agree that “being a digital business is important for the success of their company.”

That same survey highlights that a good 34% are at an early stage and they have not evolved from that stage for the past 3 years. They may be small, medium or large with respect to revenue, number of employees, market share and so forth. These groups do not adhere to the core principles of how to be a digital mature organization. They are the ones that need to transform so they don’t simply die.

As organizations grow their revenues, the number of employees grows and silos start to form as processes become more complex. Big organizations pay the price for their success: as they grow, problems with communications, knowledge management and collaboration can hamper their continued success.

The Digital Marketplace is Rapidly Evolving

Twenty years ago, being digital meant having a website. Later, it meant you needed an ecommerce website, and later still, that meant having electronic forms with databases in the back-end to reduce paper. Today it’s another story, even though many businesses still lack these basic foundations. According to Deloitte’s Connected Small Businesses study for Google, roughly half of small and medium businesses don’t even have a mobile-friendly website, when the entire planet uses mobile devices.

Many studies or surveys about digital transformations often come back to a common theme: organizations that are lagging behind and have not started their journey carry a huge risk. They are often the same ones that have not broken their communication silos. According to the same Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management survey, “breaking down functional silos and focusing on cross-functional collaboration is considered crucial to success in digital environments. More than 70% of digital maturing businesses are using cross-functional teams to organize work and charging them with implementing digital business priorities”. 

That is why I strongly believe that unified communication and collaboration (UCC) tools and technologies are key to instilling digital transformation. They are the easy starting-points that can kick off the real transformation. Having a mobile-friendly website alone will not help change a corporate culture. Change has to start from within.

UCC is Key to Digital Transformation

Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) tools offer integrated voice, video and chat to an increasing number of mobile and remote workers, office workers and geographically distributed teams, as well as customers. So it’s natural that organizations look at unified communications as their entry point into digital transformation. Moreover, UCC sets the foundational infrastructure for the new age of communication (VoIP, video, chat, file sharing, and so on).

Blow up the silos! That’s basically the intent of unified communications and collaborations. They make it possible to be more effective, more efficient, more productive and more collaborative. Since 2000, in all the large and small organizations I’ve worked at, I have seen the benefits of UCC in connecting people—employees, customers service providers and more. More importantly, UCC is the new foundation of an organization’s telecommunication infrastructure, because in order to use collaboration features, you need the network bandwidth as well as storage facilities (on premises, in the cloud or both). These are easy, tangible first steps from which the entire organization will benefit.

UCC is a culture changer. When the technology is installed in any organization, suddenly the employee who was designing processes alone now has access to others through email, instant chat and videos. Employees can get support and instant feedback from anyone. Communication that is often seen as top-down becomes lateral or even bottom-up. UCC is at the heart of digital transformation because it affects the way people work and relate to each other, moving from a traditional hierarchical communication chain to a fluid and nimble conversation. It gets easier to collaborate and get things done.

Large organizations will see the benefits right away. But of course they have to be careful of transforming a company’s culture from silos to anarchy, with every employee or group creating their own standards and conventions. Introducing these technologies requires strong change management, policies and guidelines to make sure simplicity and efficiency prevail.

Companies like Quonex, a French organization has successfully been working with Alcatel Lucent Enterprise, and have figured out how to effectively transform their business to digital by investing in unified collaboration across its organization. This, in turn, has made for improved customer service, reduced staff transportation costs and higher productivity.

UCC Helps Small Businesses Think Big

You might think small companies could get away without transforming their business to digital, but I would say that it’s even more critical for them to fully embrace unified communications and collaboration technologies, as this will drastically reduce their costs and improve their digital maturity.

For me, the only way I was able to create my own company from scratch, and work with international clients and a diverse international team, was by fully embracing unified communications. For instance, I have put all my team members on the same instant messaging application, and I use cloud-based web conferencing technology and cloud-based file sharing systems. With these tools, signing documents, holding meetings and collaborating with people across multiple time zones is easy.

From a cost point of view, I could not ask for better. From an efficiency point of view, we don’t waste time because we have simple processes. And when I go on vacation, I can use my mobile phone to access applications and bring my entire office suite with me. One thing that hurts is roaming fees, but this impacts organization of all sizes. One of the challenges I am beginning to see is that as I grow my business, I need to think about unifying the technology stack I’m dealing with. As the company grows, I will need to select a single vendor and put guidelines in place.

As you can see, for organizations large and small, UCC is really a cornerstone in building a digital transformation or even simply in being digital-friendly. The key differences between small and large organizations are change management and cost.

While small companies can choose one tool and impose it on their employees, larger organizations have to manage changes. Through acquisitions, larger companies may end up with various technology stacks, and unification across organization must be carefully managed.

Weighing the Costs of UCC

From a cost point of view, when considering capital, implementation and operational costs, small organizations like mine tend to go for affordable solutions. Larger organizations, on the other hand, may have a higher price tag, but that’s not necessarily the cost of UCC; rather, some industries require compliance and security features in addition to the costs of change management. Regardless of the size of a company, cost should not be the main factor considered in adopting UCC or engaging in digital transformation. Many companies have reduced their costs but still gone out of business because they were not able to adapt to today’s digital world.

In conclusion, digital transformation is a complex process and many organizations will try various approaches. But one thing is certain: a change of culture to a true collaboration based environment is an important first step on this long journey.

Karima-Catherine Goundiam

Karima-Catherine is the founder and general manager of Red Dot Digital, which she launched in 2014 with the aim of bringing greater efficiency and diversity to the world of digital and social media. She brings 16 years of international integrated marketing, campaign and project management experience to the firm. Before Red Dot, she managed digital and social media for Deloitte Canada and directed social media for Ford.