Cisco’s enterprise collaboration strategy begins at home

The networking giant’s senior vice-president of IT communications and collaboration discusses what’s worked for her and her team at a recent conference in Toronto

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Collaboration is the IT investment of the decade. It’s a bold statement, but that’s the belief of Sheila Jordan, Cisco’s senior vice-president of IT communications and collaboration, who spoke at Cisco Connect in Toronto last week.

Collaboration is one of those buzzwords that are hard to define, since it means many things to many people. From Cisco’s perspective, it’s a combination of the “big five”: video, social, mobile, business apps and content.

Obviously, Cisco is a pretty big organization. And Jordan is responsible for the IT needs of 70,000 employees across the globe. For such a large organization, the benefits of collaboration — such as the ability to videoconference between an office in Toronto and one in Hong Kong — are pretty obvious.

But how important is collaboration to smaller companies? Many feel they can’t afford the big five, or at least not all of them at once. Each of these components requires an investment of money, time and people, not to mention the dreaded change management process that consequently follows.

But you don’t have to tackle all of these areas at once. You do, however, have to think about a converged infrastructure — and have a plan going forward. And if you think about video, you have to think about mobile, because down the road video and mobile won’t be separate entities.

The whole notion of collaboration is much bigger than technology. Jordan says it’s really about transforming the way we work.

Take mobile, for example. When we think of mobile, we spend a lot of time thinking about devices. Should we support iOS, Android and BlackBerry? Should we allow employees to bring their own devices to work?

What we should really be thinking about is how we can use those devices to make employees more productive — and then design a converged infrastructure to support measurable business objectives, Jordan said.

When it comes to social business, often the discussion is around whether to allow Facebook at work. But social business is a lot more complicated than photos and status updates. At the same time, it has to be something that’s compelling enough for employees to actually use.

Cisco is, not surprisingly, using its own product, WebEx Social, for social business, which combines social networking, content creation and real-time communications.

The key to making it work, says Jordan, is personalization and relevancy. Social business should span across traditionally siloed areas of the organization — from the salesforce to finance to HR.

Making it personal and relevant (perhaps through presence and location-based services — areas where we’re just starting to scratch the surface in Canada) means creating content that employees actually care about, whether that’s blogs, forums or communities.

If you’re just shifting and lifting content, don’t waste your time, says Jordon. Social business requires a different way of thinking — not doing the same thing you’ve been doing for the past 10 years on a brand-new platform, but thinking about how you can use these newer technologies to actually improve on workflow, business processes and employee productivity.

It doesn’t matter if you have seven employees or 70,000. The future will bring with it a convergence of video, social, mobile, business apps and content. Small or large, you’ll need to start thinking about how those paths will eventually converge in your organization.

Collaboration often requires new tools, but it’s also important to consider what we want to use those tools for. As Jordon suggests, think of it less as a technology project and more of a business transformation strategy.

Learn more about Allstream’s Hosted Collaboration Solution by registering for a Webinar on June 12.

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