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What are industry leaders using for collaboration? We asked a panel of experts about tools, pain points, best practices and more, giving them the opportunity to answer some or all of the questions. The answers, like our panelists, are diverse, surprising and informative.

Name one collaboration tool you have in your arsenal that dealers and resellers should be aware of and explain what problem it solves and also name a favorite collaboration tool that is not yours that you use in your office.

Greg MacLellan: We use three Atlassian products to help us streamline our business processes – JIRA, Confluence and HipChat – and all three are essential to how our teams collaborate and work together. We utilize these tools for everything from communication and file sharing to planning and tracking our releases. Atlassian’s Service Desk solution is a collaboration tool that would be particularly useful for dealers and resellers looking to improve their business processes by offering an easy-to-use help-desk platform.

Mike Marusic: For Sharp and its dealers, we are in a unique position in that we are actively engaged in the audio-visual side of office productivity in addition to the document systems side. Our AQUOS BOARD interactive display allows for true collaboration for employees in the same room as well as across the country, or in our case, with our factories in Japan. The display customizes collaboration for the user by allowing them to integrate it into their own existing infrastructure. This minimizes training, allows the user to integrate it quickly and have more productive meetings. It also allows a copier dealer to integrate the system with their MFP output to develop a new revenue stream within their account. We integrate the AQUOS BOARD interactive display with our own Cloud Portal Office (CPO) content management service to leverage our document sharing service, but it is flexible enough to use with other file sharing systems as well. Because it is an open system, you can leverage any other collaborative tools you have, not just our tools.

At Sharp, one of our more popular third-party integrations is with Kaltura, which allows users to record and capture a meeting so that they not only have a finished product, but can also review how they got down that path. This brings others into the overall process who may not have been able to attend the initial meeting and provides a secondary set of “notes” of the meeting to help further understanding.

Leah Quesada: We and our partners are constantly challenged to find new sources of profitable revenue to grow our businesses. Trends toward convergence of print and IT, mobile, security and cloud use are profitable opportunities to explore. Alongside these trends are changing buyer behaviors that are significantly more self-directed and digital. With fast evolution occurring in both the marketplace and the way people buy, information dissemination, best practice sharing and partner education needs to be useful, timely and more frequent.

At Xerox, we use social media tools to build collaborative interactions with channel partners. We have a Channel Partner Connection Blog and the Xerox Channel Partner LinkedIn Group. These tools allow for digital exchanges of information in a dynamic, more collaborative way amongst all that participate.

While more and more people are collaborating online and in virtual teams, our annual partner event is still an important collaboration tool in our arsenal that fosters information and best practice sharing. Nothing beats a face-to-face interaction with the partners.

Stone: When most people think about collaboration, they think of ways that people can better communicate and work together. As an IT director, my mind immediately jumps to how information and technology can better communicate and work together. Integration between dealer systems is the ultimate tool when implementing collaboration into your workflow. Data elements start in one place, and move through a process — like an assembly line adding additional pieces or being manipulated — before being added to the next system. By eliminating duplicate entry and increasing data integrity, it will automatically improve the collaboration of different teams within an environment.

I have two favorite third-party tools that I use. The first is doodle.com. Have you ever tried to coordinate meetings from external resources (e.g., customers) where you don’t have access to their calendars? Doodle.com solves that problem. You enter the dates and times you are available and it creates a poll. You invite others to mark their own availability and then select the time that works the best or has the primary decision makers available. My second favorite tool is TripIt. Our travel coordinator books flights/hotels on our behalf and they automatically show up on my linked TripIt account. No need to manually enter confirmation numbers or address info. In addition, real-time flight notifications let you know when there are travel delays.

Chris Strammiello: Portable Document Format (PDF) is the global standard for business document collaboration, but many businesses pay too much for software that does too little, or lacks the adequate tools to enable true productivity and collaboration. For many users and organizations this means they have been forced to compromise when it comes to PDF software. Nuance’s Power PDF solutions go beyond standard features by enabling effective document collaboration through simultaneous viewing and editing of the same PDF by multiple users in real time. Plus, there is built-in chat and voice functionality during the editing process using Nuance’s world-class speech recognition Dragon software. This means editing is fast, simple, and most importantly, interactive – perfect for customers who have workers located across multiple offices or in remote settings.

I’m also a fan of SMART’s interactive white board technology for businesses. Instead of taking notes during a meeting, you can literally save whatever is on the white board into – you guessed it – a PDF.

What are some of the biggest pain points in the industry that are crying out for collaboration tools? What are the barriers to adoption?

MacLellan: The biggest pain points in the industry are general day-to-day challenges that can be mitigated or solved completely when collaboration tools and the resulting change in user behavior occurs. For example, file sharing can quickly become a nightmare when you have a shared drive that eventually becomes a data dump, with no way to organize, centralize or discuss. A web-based workspace or wiki is a perfect example of a collaboration tool that allows for all of these engagements, and more, to drive efficiencies in the workplace.

Some of the barriers to adoption when it comes to tools such as these include money, time and people, with people being the most significant barrier in terms of user behavior.

Marusic: I think the hardest part of getting into the collaboration space is overcoming the fear that many document dealers have about the hardware and business process of the software and mobility products that are part of collaboration today. Much of the technology that drove early collaboration came out of the video conferencing space, which many document dealers did not participate in. Products such as the AQUOS BOARD interactive display, large-format displays and tablets are simply not in their business model, so there is uncertainty as to what it means for their business and how they would need to adjust to different margin requirements and support needs. While different, collaboration needs to be viewed as an extension of “document workflow,” something in which the dealer channel is already very proficient. The tools of a tablet and a display are simply different mediums of paper, but the flow and archival requirements are not too different. The value of being a more integral part of a customer’s business should outweigh any concerns dealers might have.

Once you are comfortable with moving into the space, dealers have to avoid trying to lock customers into a single system. While all manufacturers have a turnkey solution, it is much better to leverage the existing infrastructure of potential clients. It is easier to get a bigger adoption rate and it smooths out the process for a sale. The first step may be to utilize the tools yourself and fully integrate them into your system. Then you learn for yourself the answers to such questions as: “How hard is it really?” “What were the pitfalls and how did I overcome them?” It may point you to a path of better integration for your customers.

Stone: One of the challenges in our industry is the lack of focus on integration between the various technology partners. Software solutions seem to be looking for the next big feature to offer their customer base or to attract new customers. However, some of the easiest and most beneficial capabilities would be to better utilize the partnerships in the industry and expand their own offerings by incorporating data from other systems or providers. GreatAmerica has spent considerable effort intentionally to ensure the best experience for our customers by building capabilities and strong partnerships with the other imaging channel industry leaders.

What do you see as the Holy Grail in collaboration?

MacLellan: Adoption of use. All of the planning and implementation in the world won’t increase collaboration in the workplace unless there are people utilizing the tools and resources available.

Quesada: Is there such a thing? In my opinion it’s important for vendors to understand their partners and how they like to communicate and collaborate with their customers and vendor. With that basic understanding, vendors can build tools that cater to their partners’ needs.

Stone: Integration between systems and the data that resides within them.

Strammiello: Documents are a focal point of collaboration. Teams need a document format that everyone can access and edit without interrupting their workflow. The ability to comment on a document, for example, reduces the amount of back-and-forth emails. Making changes directly to a document also saves time because it avoids having to save and compare multiple versions. And even with the convergence of printing and capture, end-users can even create PDF documents straight from their scanner. Further, instead of forcing end-users to use public cloud collaboration sites, end-users should be able to access their data from a broad spectrum of secure on premise and cloud-based services. There should be no barriers to accessibility.

How has collaboration changed?

MacLellan: When trends experience exponential growth in both popularity and marketplace presence, the user suddenly has a host of available options to meet their unique needs. Think of Big Data and the Internet of Things – once concepts touted by industry thought leaders, these trends are now material realities. Businesses and users can benefit from predictive analytics and smart devices, technologies that empower the individual by making use of information.

The same is true for collaboration tools in today’s increasingly efficient workplaces. The sheer variety of tools available have made it much easier to choose how, when and with whom you can collaborate. The undercurrent of the whole process? People and information. It’s easier than ever before for people to share information and knowledge, which doesn’t necessarily change collaboration in a fundamental way, but makes it much simpler to do.

Marusic: The cloud and mobile devices have radically changed collaboration. While “remote” collaboration was always a desired state, people were more productive working together in a single room. The fluid communication and interaction combined with the ability to “show” people what they were talking about made it a much more productive way to work. Now, mobility devices allow for significantly more capabilities no matter where you are. You can run software that had been reserved for the office from any location. Easy wireless access anywhere in the U.S. makes your current location an office, no matter where that may be. When you combine that mobile computing power with cloud services, the location of the meeting is an afterthought. I’ve recently collaborated in a meeting while flying across the country on a commercial flight. That freedom did not exist as few as five years ago. This will change how people perceive the workplace for years to come.

Quesada: While keeping traditional ways of collaboration that work, collaboration also needs to embrace new technology that people use every day so that it is a natural extension of something they are already logged into/engaging with daily.

Stone: I think the biggest change has been the expectation of users for the adoption of a non-linear process. Because we are always looking for an easier way, when something feels hard when sharing information, it seems like a much bigger pain point than it would have five years ago. It wasn’t long ago when people sent Word documents around and used the track changes feature that logged the initials of the editor. Now, with Google docs, everyone can edit at the same time, enabling more holistic feedback.

What are you most concerned about in the future regarding collaboration?

MacLellan: Lack of adoption of collaboration tools is a point of concern and what we consider to be the biggest challenge now and in the future. The old adage “it’s a people problem, not a software problem” rings true here. Adoption of any new collaboration tool necessarily begins with a shift in the way users view the concept of collaboration. A shift in attitude can prompt users to embrace these resources. The difficulty is realizing this shift in ideology – how do you get someone to value collaboration if they haven’t historically done so?

Quesada: As collaboration encompasses technology use, adoption must also be embraced. But once there is widespread adoption, an open free flowing exchange of information – which is present now and will happen more and more in the near future – will be a powerful force for collective wisdom building.

Tell us something we don’t know about collaboration.

MacLellan: People don’t realize how much time they can actually save when they use collaboration tools. Scale, cost and transition time are frequently cited as obstacles by businesses hesitant to make use of these resources. What these organizations don’t realize, though, is that the implementation process might seem daunting, but once it’s completed, everyday tasks become significantly easier. In many cases, communication is faster, processes are more efficient, and there’s a compendium of information available from file and information sharing on Web-based platforms such as Atlassian’s Confluence solution.

Quesada: Collaboration tools are only means to an end. What creates true and productive collaboration is a constant, relentless feed of meaningful content and the dynamic interaction amongst all that participate. The power lies in the dynamic collective wisdom building from everyone involved.

Stone: My biggest concern about sharing data is around the security of who should see what. As more information is made available outside the traditional channels and additional people have access, software developers will need to ensure the ability to restrict certain information from being viewed by everyone. The other concern about collaboration is the availability of information about you being shared without your knowledge. I recently walked by a restaurant and my phone gave me an alert with the menu of that restaurant. The restaurateur was clearly collaborating with Google … but I wasn’t sure that I really wanted him to.

Strammiello: Like everything related to IT, data security is an important concern. If a document contains sensitive data, end users must take appropriate precautions in how that file is shared. Adding passwords with secure 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption and permission controls enhance document security. Also, redaction capabilities can automatically inspect files and remove sensitive data for safe sharing. Don’t sacrifice security for convenience. Dealers and resellers should expand their services skillset and improve their current offerings with this in mind to add even more value for customers.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.

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