Yesterday I had a compelling discussion with Alla Reznik, director of global voice and collaboration for Verizon. Alla is from Russia, and she’s the only U.S.-based marketing professional I know who can provide input on the Russian language edition of The Culture of Collaboration book published by Ecom of Moscow. Alla and I chatted about regional cultural differences in how people collaborate—and differences in how they respond to surveys.
It was a timely discussion, because today Verizon and Cisco are releasing a new study tackling return on investment (ROI) for collaboration expenditures. ROI has long frustrated collaboration tools vendors, because of the difficulty in quantifying “soft” benefits such as corporate reputation. The research, conducted by Frost & Sullivan, identifies a model for measuring what it calls return on collaboration (ROC).
ROC measures the impact of collaboration on key functional areas. These include research and development, human resources, sales, marketing, investor relations, and public relations. Traditional ROI measures money gained or lost on an investment. In contrast, ROC tracks the amount of “improvement” derived from a financial investment in collaboration. The study identified research and development, sales and marketing as the functional areas with the highest ROC.
The study called “Meetings Around the World 2: Charting the Course of Advanced Collaboration” is based on questionnaires completed by 3662 information technology and line-of-business decision makers in 10 countries. Respondents represented enterprises plus small and medium sized businesses. Nearly half the organizations are using unified communications and collaboration tools ranging from enterprise instant messaging to Cisco TelePresence. Among the study’s key findings is that collaboration is more than twice as important as strategic orientation and six times more important than market factors in determining business performance.
“The world has changed quite a bit since 2006,” according to Alla, who was referring to the 2006 study dubbed “Meetings Around the World 1.” This earlier study determined that collaboration fuels business performance and that collaboration capability is based on technology, culture and structure. The new study indicates that culture and structure are even more important to collaboration than they were in the previous study conducted in 2006. The point is that collaboration technology makes the most difference in organizations with collaborative cultures and structures. Similarly, the fundamental premise of The Culture of Collaboration book is that maximizing time, talent and tools to create value requires collaborative culture.
The main purpose of the study is to convince business decision makers to invest in collaboration tools and technologies. One conclusion is that a $1 million investment in collaboration tools and technologies will deliver a $4 million dollar “improvement.” However, this result apparently fails to consider whether the organization has adopted a collaborative culture. I would argue that a $1 million investment by an organization with a collaborative culture will produce greater results than the same investment by an organization with a command-and-control, internally-competitive culture. So while the study does highlight the role of culture and structure, more work is necessary in integrating these elements into measuring ROC.
The big question for Verizon and Cisco is whether CFO’s, CIO’s and business decision makers will accept ROC. “We’re curious ourselves,” Alla told me. While there’s work to do in proving the value of collaboration, ROC is an important step towards evaluating the return on collaboration investment.