Calculating collaboration ROI: is there another way?

Business travel is a blunt and outdated measure. Organisations need to update the way they gauge return on investment when it comes to collaboration software, says PGi’s Mike O’Boyle. 

5481469147_3d0ae56c8d_oIf I asked you to calculate the ROI of your business collaboration software, what numbers come to mind? Are you thinking about the cost of licenses and what you save on business travel?

Here’s the problem with that ROI equation: we all still travel. In the UK alone, people make 32 business trips per year on average, according to a 2014 National Travel Survey. As you go up the corporate ladder at most companies, business trips are even more frequent for managers and executives.

So if it’s not actually helping us avoid business travel, what is collaboration technology actually doing for us?

Travel reduction is an outdated ROI model

When PC-based video conferencing first showed up in offices in the 1990s, vendors sold the promise of saving money on business travel, and companies were taken in by that promise. It was easy to calculate ROI for collaboration technology by looking at cost and time savings. Who doesn’t want to grow their business using less resources?

Interestingly enough, the same 2014 National Travel Survey shows that business trips decreased after the 1990s, but around 2010, business trips were on the rise again. What happened? Mobility happened, in the form of drastic improvements in mobile technology.

A lot has changed in mobility over the last two decades, but even just over the past two years, video quality has improved and screens have grown to sizes that enable real work. It wasn’t until just years ago that high-quality video conferencing even became available on mobile devices or that we even heard of phrases like “BYOD” [bring your own device] and the “digital workplace”.

While technology has quickly evolved to meet the demands of businesses, most companies haven’t reevaluated the true value of collaboration in this new mobile, digital work environment. This brings me to another outdated model of thinking about the ROI of collaboration: that we try to assign it value as an isolated tool.

Collaboration is meant to be integrated with vertical applications, mobile technology and digital work environments. This means that when you consider ROI, you need to consider the value collaboration brings in tandem with your existing ecosystem of work technology.

Future-forward measurements for collaboration ROI

In fact, reducing collaboration ROI to savings on travel reaffirms that employees are only as productive as the time they put in at their desks, but we all know that’s not true. Desktop computers are no longer the only means of getting work done, and the most innovative businesses are powered by an agile workforce.

Considering most workers worldwide would quit their current jobs for the opportunity to work from home, we now know that enabling flexible work is one of the most important initiatives for attracting and retaining the best employees. We also know that agile workers can be highly productive engines if given the right assets.

Employees are accessing work on their mobile devices because 78% believe it helps work-life balance, according to The Future of Business Collaboration: 2015 Edition. Research also forecasts tablets used for work and home will triple by 2017. The point of collaboration technology is now to deliver the untethered work environment agile workers want and need, not to suffocate mobility.

Can agile employees get work done as much as, if not more than, their desk-based counterparts? Can they plug in and go without downloads? Are workers confident and able to get into a meeting from anywhere, at any point in time? Can workers still have virtual, face-to-face conversations on video?

Your conversation about ROI needs to shift from tracking dollars and time to assessing how well it empowers and harnesses your agile workforce. In other words, instead of cutting business travel, does your collaboration technology make travel more efficient? Start measuring here.

So back to my original question. If I asked you again to calculate the ROI of your collaboration software, do you still care about cutting the costs of travel or the price of a license? Or are those numbers in fact trivial compared to the magnitude of productivity and business transformation collaboration provides?

Like all technology, collaboration has the power to change the way we work and even dictate our behaviors, norms and even company culture, depending on how we understand and apply it.

What value is your company assigning collaboration?

Mike O'Boyle cprsd

Mike O’Boyle is vice president, collaboration solutions EMEA and India, for PGi.

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