The business case for mobile collaboration

You hear a lot these days about two topics: mobility and collaboration. Unified communication and collaboration (UCC) is getting promoted by vendors ranging from Microsoft and IBM to Cisco, Avaya and Nortel.

And mobility is front and center on everyone’s minds. Most IT folks I talk to expect an exponential increase (more than 100 per cent) in the number of mobile-enabled workers in their organizations over the next 12 months.

The gotcha? How to cost-justify the investment in mobility and collaboration. Mobility is particularly expensive — the average cost per mobile employee is around $2,200 per year, including hardware, software, services and support. And in this day and age, something so expensive doesn’t get implemented without a solid ROI.

Here are some tactics for creating that ROI for mobility and collaboration.

First, remember two key points: The primary benefit of mobility is that it speeds things up. That is, employees don’t need to wait until they’re back in the office to access information. The primary benefit of collaboration is that improves overall context — employees have a better and more targeted information base from which to make decisions.

So when you’re looking to make the case for mobility and collaboration, look for scenarios in which improving the timeliness and accuracy of a process can net clear rewards. This usually involves business processes in which employees are working away from their desks — out in the field, in front of customers, or helping patients in hospitals. (Often, these are employees that don’t have a desk in the first place).

Once you’ve outlined a handful of potential case studies, look closely at how these folks are working. Pay special attention to how they handle record-keeping, data entry and data gathering. If it involves a trip back to headquarters, rather than happening on the spot, that process can probably be improved with mobility. For example, sales agents whose job involves products in retail stores benefit from being able to order replacement products on the spot — and being able to do so may keep competitors’ products from gaining shelf space. Thus, mobile-enabling sales agents results in a net increase in the revenue they drive.

Similarly, adding instant messaging to help desks can increase the number of customers that a single help-desk agent can process — and the satisfaction level of the customers. Increased satisfaction levels has a direct correlation with repeat business.

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Once you’ve identified a few likely candidates, pick a single business process, and work closely with the owner of that process to craft a program that demonstrates a clear ROI. Once you’ve proven it in one case, you can expand the project across the company.

And don’t hesitate to ask vendors and suppliers for help. Cisco and AT&T have programs for key clients in which they’ll provide consulting resources to craft business cases, at no charge. Smaller organizations may need to seek paid support from consultants, but it’s money well spent if you can justify a broader rollout.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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