Cisco Canada Blog

Understanding Adoption Barriers to Collaboration, Part 1

April 15, 2015

This is the third post in my Collaboration Insights series, and since effective collaboration eludes so many companies, I wanted to examine the barriers to adoption. Despite the widespread availability of so many applications that enable collaboration, the results often fall short. While it’s easy to blame this on the technology being complex and/or costly, or limitations on the network/IT side, there are other factors at play. One such factor is tying collaboration to business outcomes, something you might not have considered.

Generally speaking, the easier something is to use, the more often people will use it. The same is also true when the benefit is clearly understood. Think about the telephone – everyone knows how to use it, and the benefits are clear. The same can be said for most communications applications, such as email, messaging, many forms of conferencing and even fax. They’re all easy to use, and each has a distinct benefit – or use case – that drives their usage.

With today’s technologies, there’s no reason why collaboration can’t be the same. Vendors understand the importance of making these platforms easy to use, although some do it better than others. The bigger challenge, however, lies in the benefit, as collaboration results are hard to measure. After all, collaboration is the collective result of using various communications applications in an integrated fashion. 

Bigger than the sum of its parts

You can’t conclude that a collaboration session was a success because the call quality on the voice connection was great, or the presence engine made it easy to pull the team together, or the conferencing features made it easy for everyone to join a meeting despite using different endpoints and networks. All of these play a role, but you can’t equate success with any one in particular.

In this regard, collaboration is bigger than the sum of its parts, and that creates specific barriers to adoption. As noted in my last post, the point applications that comprise a collaboration platform each have their own standalone worlds within an enterprise. Telephony is managed by one team, fax by another, video conferencing elsewhere, mobility somewhere else, etc. Each is in a silo, with distinct performance metrics and budgets managed independent of the other communications applications.

Each point application is owned, so to speak, by a team with a budget, and that budget is based on hitting specific metrics. This is very much a legacy model that keeps silos in place, but has no real strategic value to the business. The value is very high tactically, and that’s actually an adoption barrier for today’s collaboration solutions.

Collaboration is strategic, end of story

When you think of collaboration this way, it’s easy to understand why adoption is challenging. Collaboration isn’t tangible like the point applications that comprise a solution, and as such, nobody really “owns” it. The IT group may own the collaboration platform that they acquire from a vendor, but the results that come from collaboration are all driven by end users. Since end users don’t have an economic stake in that platform, they don’t have much incentive to use it, which creates a barrier to adoption.

This is where business outcomes come into play, providing a path for IT to tie these loose ends together. The first step is to start thinking of collaboration as being strategic. Point applications are tactical, and don’t play well together inside the enterprise, which runs counter to the collaboration concept. Strategic resources need to be evaluated differently, using benchmarks that are strategic, not tactical.

The next step is to demonstrate how collaboration can drive business outcomes that have strategic value to the business. Strategic benchmarks can be based on P&L-style metrics, but when management is focused on creating strategic value for the business, other things will carry more weight, such as:

  • Faster time to market for new products/services
  • Better quality products that last longer, perform better, don’t break down, etc.
  • Easier to do business with – both for customers and partners
  • Improved customer satisfaction by providing great experiences and personalized service
  • Happier employees by supporting their preferred work style – better morale, performance and retention
  • Driving innovation to improve processes, workflows, product quality, customer experiences, etc.
  • Inspiring invention to create breakthroughs for competitive differentiation

This is what you need to do to make collaboration strategic, but there’s more to the story. When it comes to breaking down adoption barriers, you also need to think differently. Old habits are hard to break, and that will only happen when you can show there’s a better way with today’s technologies. You’ll need a vision, and that’s where I’ll extend this topic in my next post in this series.

For clarity, please note that this Collaboration Insights series is sponsored by Cisco Canada, but the content is my own, and by design is vendor-neutral.

photo-002Jon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and strategy consultancy based in Toronto, Ontario. The consultancy’s primary focus is providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel regarding IP communications and disruptive technologies, such as VoIP, mobile broadband, contact centers, telepresence/video, unified communications, collaboration, SIP trunking, cloud communications, session border controllers, and social media.

He has been consulting about these technologies since 2001, and can be followed on his widely-read Analyst 2.0 Blog, along with regular commentary on Twitter and Linked in. In March 2014, Jon was named a Top 100 Tech Podcaster by, and other blog accolades can be found on his full bio on the JAA website.

Jon also contributes to other publishers and portals, such as UCStrategiesZiff Davis, ADTRANTechTargetand Internet Telephony Magazine; speaks regularly at industry events, and accepts public speaking invitations. He is frequently cited in both the trade press and mainstream business press, serves as an Advisor to several emerging tech/telecom companies, and also works with companies of all sizes to help monetize their patents and intellectual property.

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