Driving business collaboration solutions

S Balakrishnan

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Collaborative Business Workspaces

Leveraging collaboration for higher business efficiency and innovation-led growth

In the recent past, there were multiple collaboration and social networking platform offerings from large and successful ISVs such as Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Google Wave, and the SalesForce Chatter collaboration cloud. The common value-messaging across these offerings was on enabling firewall collaboration, improving employee productivity, increasing business efficiency, promoting innovation through collaboration, and enabling people-to-people connect as well.

Enterprises are increasingly adopting collaboration for new products and services innovation. Similarly, many others are integrating line-of-business (LOB) and other enterprise applications with an organization's communication and collaboration infrastructure to improve the effectiveness of the applications and thus improve employee productivity. The new generation of collaboration platforms helps realize the vision of creating collaborative business workspaces by tying together a variety of LOB/enterprise applications toward a seamless front end and collaboration enablement for an innovative environment.

Figure 1: Vision towards Collaborative Business Workspaces

This article details business scenarios where collaboration adds significant business value and illustrates it through some of the publicly available industry examples. It also articulates the concept of creating collaborative business workspaces and the solution elements involved.

Problem: Business Needs and Challenges
Businesses are stressing the need for business-value driven initiatives, and enterprise collaboration has proven to be one of those areas. They also believe they have put in enough IT infrastructure to facilitate collaboration. In most organizations, the foundation pieces of the infrastructure that support collaboration are generally in place; however, they are not leveraged, converting them into direct business benefits. Enterprises often complain about support to various business groups through a well-defined collaboration platform strategy and approach - each business group embarks on their own initiatives:

  • Unavailability of cost-effective and quick-point solutions to address the efficiency of specific business operations
  • The emerging mix of collaboration product solutions are not proven and organizations are reluctant to invest in order to evaluate or experiment, if direct business results are not assured
  • There are gaps in answering critical-decision support questions such as what will be the ROI, how long it will take, and what should be the enterprise level roadmap.
  • Adoption challenges that do not leverage what has been implemented - unless deep collaboration (with enterprise / LOB apps) is enabled., Hence, horizontal capabilities are not adequate for measuring tangible business benefits.

While there are challenges, there are success stories too. An auto-major consolidated silos of product-engineering processes and transformed them, leveraging a unified engineering collaboration platform. It helped facilitate real-time and online collaboration across engineering teams to accelerate time-to-market by bringing in the aspect of cultural alignment. The extended collaboration platform helped reinforce efficient collaboration with the suppliers and enterprise partners.

While many think that the business value of collaboration is very difficult to measure, there are enough business scenarios and evidence where collaboration has established direct business benefits, demanding the need for sophisticated collaborative business solutions.

Solution: Collaborative Business Workspaces
Collaborative business workspaces as line-of-business applications (LOBs) integrate with an organization's communication and collaboration infrastructure to provide a collaborative ecosystem. The collaborative business workspaces drastically improve process effectiveness and collaboration, enabling process touch-points (manual) that enable visibility into process bottlenecks, enable appropriate attention and speedy resolutions. Thus these workspaces improve the overall employee productivity/effectiveness and thereby accelerate business operations. The key point to note is that collective efforts always result in innovation (innovative ideas, resolutions, etc.) through socialized means, resulting in differentiated offerings for customers.

A Bid and Proposal Management scenario explains "how" business-value creation is enabled through collaborative business workspaces. Every organization has bid management processes that are about preparing proposals and some of them have mature systems and some others are on an ad-hoc basis. The process gets complex when global bids / proposals need to be created. The next-generation bid and proposal management systems, when integrated with an organization's communication and collaboration infrastructure, can create tremendous business value through improved visibility. It helps by avoiding delays and bottlenecks, improving responses and quality through collective and continuous reviews, improving the locate-ability of appropriate SMEs to contribute to proposals. Overall, it helps improve the win-loss ratio, thus directly contributing to an organization's revenue. The following are some examples of collaboration-enabled proposal management system use cases compared to traditional proposal management systems:

  • Locate appropriate SMEs / expertise to create best-in-class response - through a skill-associated people search.
  • Improve reusability from past proposals and standard content repository - through the identification of reusable solutions/IP, case studies, brochures using content / document-search
  • Multi-track proposal authoring (team) and easy consolidation of responses
  • Schedule reviews / continuous reviews, discussions, follow-ups using integrated IM, VoIP, LiveMeeting/WebEx
  • Discuss, share, and reuse knowledge using discussion forums, idea forums, blogs and wikis
  • Integrate, track, and monitor revenue targets using a single-window proposal system integrated with enterprise back-end ERP systems
  • Tie-in with CRM applications for alerts / workflow upon new opportunities / RFPs / RFIs getting posted
  • Visibility for contributors and inherent knowledge capture through solutions / quote-related discussions

The key take-away from a generalization of the above scenario is that if the line-of-business applications are integrated with the organization's communication and collaboration infrastructure, it directly improves employee productivity and business efficiency. It also indirectly creates an organizational culture for encouraging innovation, which leads to growth.

Figure 2: Collaborative Business Workspaces Solution Elements

The different range of accelerators as shown in the above visual can serve specific purposes:

Business taxonomy accelerators

  • Bundles user experience, a navigation model for specific business processes and related workflows, into a workbench
  • Provides business with a contextualized collaborative environment and ecosystem surrounding the targeted business process
  • A top-level accelerator that consumes several other horizontal accelerators

Business scorecard accelerators

  • Bundles specific KPIs and business metrics associated with specific business process for real-time decision support
  • Consumes the enterprise integration accelerators and provides an information meta-model
  • Dashboards and scorecards are pre-built for the specific business process, customizable to customer scenarios

Advanced communication accelerators

  • Integrates line-of-business applications with an organization's communication infrastructure such as IM, VoIP, and LiveMeeting/WebEx in the context of specific business process

Advanced collaboration accelerators

  • Integrates line-of-business applications with advanced collaboration tools such as collaborative authoring, on-demand language translation, contextualized people and content search, expert answer, idea forums, blogs, wikis, and social networks.

Enterprise integration accelerators

  • Integrates with an organization's collaboration tools and back-end ERP systems through a standardized integration framework
  • Defines the information meta-model to loose-couple back-end systems from the workbench and offers customization

The industry is moving toward collaborative business platforms -from both a buyer's and a seller's perspective. The organizations ask for ready-to-use business solutions that directly impact their business functions. There are multiple business scenarios such as sales collaboration, supply-chain collaboration, product engineering collaboration, and idea forums that justify the need for a collaborative ecosystem. There is an opportunity for SIs and ISVs to balance the demand and supply by creating industry solutions and to create strategic GTM models with ISV offerings as well. As global businesses are global in nature, there is definitely a need to work collaboratively.

More Stories By Bhavin Raichura

Bhavin Jayantilal Raichura is Principal Technology Architect, Manufacturing, at Infosys Limited. He has 15+ years of experience in the IT industry; He works with Infosys clients for technology-consulting, solution-advisory and execution of large transformation programs. He has led conceptualization-to-commercialization cycles of multiple products & platforms, technology-practices and technology center-of-excellence at Infosys. He has rich experience in making technology more relevant to business and driving the business of technology. He can be reached at Bhavin_Raichura@infosys.com.

More Stories By S Balakrishnan

Balakrishnan is associated with Infosys Technologies Ltd. as Principal Architect. He has around 17 years of IT experience in the industry, solving complex IT problems, strategic roadmap definition initiatives as well as driving business collaboration solutions in the CRM and engineering space.

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