The role of collaboration in digital transformation


Digital transformation is very much the buzzword of the moment with seemingly every organisation undertaking some project to transform their business using digital technology.

In essence, digital transformation is a wholesale change to the fundamentals of a business or organisation. It means applying digital technology to all areas of the business, resulting in extensive changes to how it operates. In short, taking manual, paper-based processes and automating them.

There are also cultural changes involved in digital transformation. The old ways of doing things generally diminish when a business is transformed digitally and iloes give way to a more collaborative way of working.

Possibly the biggest contributor to the success of such projects is collaboration between not just those who work for an organisation, but also partner firms and other third parties.

To make digital transformation a success, collaboration is necessary. According to research by electronics manufacturer Sharp, almost half of the people it surveyed (46%) said their colleagues had forgotten to share important information or documents with them.

According to Stuart Sykes, managing director of Sharp UK, there's a serious issue behind these findings.

"If your business isn't set-up to promote teamwork and the sharing of information, you will be losing opportunities to grow. How much of the information that workers are forgetting to share could have led to new business, saved costs or inspired a new idea? After all collaboration is essential for a happier, creative and more productive workforce, and businesses can encourage this through the technology that they introduce," he says.

Another recent piece of research, Fujitsu's Fit for Digital, found that 52% of global business leaders believe their organisation won't exist in its current form by 2021, as a direct result of digital disruption. To survive and thrive, businesses must develop innovative ideas at speed. This means co-creating with other companies to rapidly develop and scale new solutions. Technology-driven ideas will be pivotal in developing strong and productive relationships between organisations, from providing communication tools to using new systems like augmented reality to enable businesses to share their expertise.

Innovation is happening at a faster pace than ever before to the extent that it's defining competitive advantage in many sectors and collaboration is at the heart of it all, according to Rashid Ajami, founder and CEO of Campus Society.

"If 2016 was the year of digital transformation' in response to this, 2017 is fully realising that vision enabling disparate workforces, wherever they are, whatever time zone they're working in, whatever application/software/device they're using, to come together and innovate," he says.

Using collaboration to make digital transformation possible

If anything, digital transformation and collaboration can't exist without one another. Collaboration acts as a catalyst to move digital transformation efforts forward, while new digital processes bring about new ways of working together.

For St John's Buildings (SJB), a barristers' chambers in the UK, going paperless meant investing in a cloud-based document sharing and collaboration tool. The move could also save the firm up to 350,000 per year and transform how it does business. The firm partnered with software and services provider Advanced to develop MLC Case Collaboration, which enables the secure production, sharing and storage of legal documents.

The tool provides access to legal documents 24 hours a day from any location. SJB's barristers and clients can access case documents securely and work on them collaboratively, even without an internet connection.

For the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, collaboration tools in the form of Skype for Business and Yammer on Office 365 have helped to overcome a significant issue for those working there. It's a little-known fact that Cystic Fibrosis prevents those with the condition from face-to-face contact with one another, but collaboration tools such as these allow people with the condition to meet each other.

The Trust used Skype for Business to run a virtual workshop on DigitalDemocracy as part of its efforts to help people with Cystic Fibrosis gain a collective voice and create a brighter future for themselves. Remote staff can join virtual meetings and share documents, via Skype for Business, which has a positive impact on both productivity and staff morale.

Workflow and automation

Digital transformation is very much about automation. While this could lead to job losses, it can also be an opportunity for employees to embrace new technology that will help them work more efficiently, offloading repetitive, time-consuming tasks to machine learning bots.

It will mean new measurements of productivity, weeding out those who can't adapt to the digital organisation. It will also be important to use collaboration tools to modernise routine workflows.

Destroy information siloes to enable data collaboration across organisation

Greater collaboration is needed to access the information required in digital transformation projects. For many organisations, data still exists in silos and proprietary technologies can still limit how it's shared within an organisation.

Digital transformation can help by creating standardised platforms to share data seamlessly and increase collaboration.

As businesses move to a more customer-centric culture, breaking down siloes becomes crucial. This is where collaborative tools play their part. The information created and unleashed by digital transformation will require unified communications tools that access the data, whether it's a document, email or multimedia recording and distribute it to another colleague or company-wide. Employees won't be able to collaborate effectively using legacy tools, and digital transformation goes a long way in enabling successful collaboration.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.