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Three Ways to Leverage the Many Benefits of Virtual Collaboration

Since the introduction of Cisco Telepresence in October 2006, Cisco has studied how the use of our technology impacts corporate travel. The early days were exciting; Cisco set our first travel reduction goal in 2006! Reducing travel via collaboration technologies had benefits for our business (cost reduction, productivity improvement), employees (work-life balance) and the planet (greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions). Execution, however, invariably focused on travel reduction. The recurring savings from less travel recouped the upfront investment for telepresence systems, so less travel was the metric that mattered. However, harnessing the full benefits of this technology is complicated and requires looking beyond travel reduction.

Cisco and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) have partnered to explore how to implement a virtual collaboration platform that maximizes this broad range of benefits. CDP will be expanding its use of Cisco’s collaboration technologies — using substantially more Cisco Telepresence in addition to its longtime use of Cisco WebEx — to make integrated use of these technologies a mainstream form of collaboration throughout CDP and beyond, and make remote collaboration routine for all CDP employees.

CDP presents an excellent test bed for understanding best practices in optimizing collaboration technologies, as the organization is relatively small yet geographically dispersed, supports thousands of external interfaces, serves a single business mission, is comprised of a relatively young workforce, and has an inherent focus on environmental sustainability. The journey is just beginning for CDP. On a weekly basis, its connected external partner network grows and collaboration improves, with the added benefit of a reduction in costly and unnecessary international travel, happier and more productive employees, and fewer GHG emissions that are at the core of CDP’s mission.

Have video collaboration technologies helped to solve your company’s sustainability, productivity and travel reduction challenge? Here is what we at Cisco can share about our own journey to harness virtual collaboration technology to benefit our business, people and the planet:

1. Who owns adoption?

Problem: Now that your company has the gear, who owns the adoption and use by your employees? Corporate Travel provides a seamless employee experience at the lowest cost. IT supports high-quality video and audio. Corporate Real Estate and Facilities ensure your company has the right mix of meeting spaces for the employees housed. Sales and Services are responsible for revenue and customer satisfaction, and are likely the heaviest travelers. Sustainability represents an important perspective but isn’t a business owner. Reducing travel just doesn’t have a natural owner.

How you can respond**:** Focus on collaboration and the employee experience. Functional business leaders should jointly discuss the required policy, culture and technology infrastructure needed for a faster and more vibrant company that leverages digital solutions to compete and win in the global marketplace.

2. What about my budget?

Problem: Because IT invests in the gear, and Facilities funds the required building space, travel reduction often becomes a proxy for budget battles. Sustainability is a care-about in common, but probably not enough to rally a consensus.

How you can respond: Frame the conversation around scaling teams, becoming faster and more agile, and serving the customer better. Working virtually with a customer over modern collaboration tools, instead of in face-to-face meetings, means quicker decisions, better relationships through increased opportunities to connect, and more value when you do meet face to face. By better utilizing collaboration technologies, budgets can be optimized to maximize the total benefit from travel reduction, faster decision-making, improved productivity, more successful employee recruitment and retention, and increased sustainability.

3. Is meeting in person necessary?

Problem: High-quality video and audio for a good virtual meeting is a given. However, what if the video meeting was never required in the first place? Travel for non-revenue-generating meetings presents the biggest opportunity.

Teams of knowledge workers are usually outcome-based, meaning they have to work together to meet a goal in a set timeframe. Agile teams are the pinnacle of modern business. Fast workflow relies on continuous team collaboration and the ability to connect on each iteration of a project. If your business relies on a global team of employees and external partners, travel is not only an unwanted cost, but also means that team members are “on hold” while traveling. Instead of dozens of solution iterations and refinement, your potentially winning idea might fail because collaboration could only move at the speed of an airplane.

How you can respond: Map your workflows. Look for “moments that matter” that lead to a decision to travel vs collaborate virtually. Use that insight and understanding to create the right infrastructure for your teams. One size doesn’t fit all — applying a mix of collaboration products that fit your business or team will result in the most effective outcome. For example:

  • Initial Cisco Telepresence units were based in remediated rooms and supported meetings of 6-18 people over three side-by-side screens, replicating the experience of sitting around a large conference table.
  • Next, regular-room-based units were introduced to reduce installed cost while increasing video penetration throughout the organization. Spatially aware, dual cameras were added to track and zoom in on individual speakers, improving the interaction between different locations.
  • Desktop video such as the DX80 were added for individual use in home offices and in breakout spaces at work. Software solutions such as Jabber, Spark and WebEx desktop conferencing can be used anywhere — in the office, at the customer, on the road or at home.
  • The recent introduction of Cisco Spark Board enabled the addition of drawing, sharing, seeing and conversing — natural behaviors in all effective collaboration.

Providing flexible and simple collaboration experiences enables employees to embed collaboration into their work processes. For field or remote workers not tied to an office, it’s easy to be virtually anywhere.

CDP and Cisco are together developing a simple process — reaching out to partners around the world through Cisco collaboration. With the installation of Cisco WebEx and Cisco Telepresence of all shapes and sizes, CDP has already achieved a significant reduction in travel costs — and GHG emissions — and improved relationships with its global network of governments, companies and partners.

Replacing business air travel with remote collaboration requires more than just installing technology. Companies must adapt business processes, management practices and culture to take full advantage of virtual collaboration technologies. By doing this, boosting business while decreasing environmental impacts is something everyone can do today.


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