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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Encouraging Effective, Measurable Collaboration

Making collaboration part of your corporate culture has the potential to increase productivity and improve your business intelligence -- and help you keep younger employees on board.

I was fascinated to read a Forbes article that said, "88 [percent] of millennials prefer to collaborate versus compete with others. This goes against the grain of many traditional organizations whose employees and departments spend more time competing internally against themselves versus their outside competition. Gen Y and Z don't want to work in such an environment."

My own experience dovetails with that statement. The work style of younger workers is vastly different from what I have experienced throughout my own career. Although we can infer that technologically social millennials will expect collaboration to be an integral aspect of their work lives, I admit that I have been skeptical of their ability to influence effective collaboration in business.

Because of the protective, siloed nature of the business culture that Forbes referred to, encouraging collaboration has been an uphill battle. In a recent research report, Howard Dresner wrote, "Only 14 percent of the study respondents reported their organizations use collaborative features in BI tools -- even though these features are often included free."

Collaboration platforms have been around for years in many forms, but the adoption rate and level of participation are often low, and such tools' overall effectiveness and impact on the business are far from proven. It's likely that socially minded business users can be convinced to use collaborative business tools to find out who wants to go to lunch and where, but how do you convince employees to use them to make critical business decisions? Then how do you quantify the value?

Introducing collaborative BI is the easy part, but the tools will have extremely limited value if they're not incorporated into the business process workflow. Here are a few ideas for how to make collaboration part of your corporate culture:

1. Foster collaboration as part of the company culture and provide tools that allow for real-time discussions.

During a job interview, it's typical of the applicant to ask, "What is the culture of the organization like?"

Imagine if you could say, "The organization relies on team dynamics -- collaborative creativity and output where each contributor is a stakeholder and has a voice and a vote. We're moving away from email. Instead, we're promoting communication through expressive collaboration tools and boards that facilitate real-time discussions where decisions are based on data feeds, visualizations and insights."

You would need executive management to champion this type of culture, lead by example, and ensure the right tools were available to support such a dramatic change from the norm, but the applicant would be dying to get the job.

2. Promote and reward achievements based on collaborative learning and discovery versus siloed decision making.

We all want to be viewed as the innovator, the visionary, but at the end of the day it takes a village to move the bar. Whether you're trying to bring a product to market, decrease operational costs, increase market size, or address attrition rates, you can't achieve your goal alone.

We each have unique skills, levels of creativity, opinions, experience, dedication and risk tolerance. Opinions, egos, or just the loudest voice may impede the team approach and perhaps negatively impact the final outcome.

A truly collaborative environment will have checks and balances in place to rate the final outcome and how it was arrived at, the effectiveness of the team, input from each stakeholder, scoring of the final decision, and impact on the organization. It may even provide insight into how the organization would have fared if an alternative option had been more seriously considered.

3. Award points to employees based on their level of participation.

Rewards, or points, can be shared and applied to a common goal, or assessed during annual review cycles and used to influence merit increases. The latter might cause internal competition, something that seems antithetical for a collaboration initiative, but the incentive could still be highly effective. Which method you choose depends on your particular corporate culture.

What's important is encouraging participation -- sharing ideas (both bad and good), healthy debates, and considering all options brought to the table. Use audit logs that reveal the decision process and final outcome. That will allow for full review of all input factors, data origins, data visualization and interpretations, and variables considered and weighted.

4. Include data tools for more effective and measurable outcomes.

We've all seen the stats on data growth; it's doubling every two years and changing how we live. Enterprise and external data can help your teams make more effective and smarter decisions, so it's imperative that your teams be equipped with the right self-service tools to quickly access, combine, and enhance data sources from which they can easily create drillable visualizations.

Once you have visualizations, you can start to explore the underlying story. Why are there dips in sales, why have operational costs doubled in certain regions, what's the correlation between weather and inventory levels? Although not every single decision needs to be based on data, it's always important to investigate whether data might exist to help you make smarter decisions.

5. Most important of all, include a millennial on the team.

Maybe the millennials are wiser. Perhaps, for the greater good, we should allow them to set the benchmark for the rest of us, to help us change how we think, act, and respond to one another. Once we are all collaborating effectively, it should decrease the time it takes to make final decisions. Then everyone on the team can enjoy a shorter work week -- a millennial golden rule!

A Final Thought

I'll be the first to admit collaboration as I've outlined it above would be a huge shift for most organizations. I question whether any could actually handle it today given that the underlying issue is how humans communicate. Change is always difficult (which is why so many therapists are in business), but improving communication is, and always has been, worth the effort. In the end, better communication will benefit everyone, not just the bottom line.

About the Author

Julianna Cammarano is the product marketing director for business intelligence and enterprise performance management at Rocket Software. She has spent 25 years in the software industry working for several high-tech companies in the Greater Boston area, including IBM and Sybase. Her focus has been on BI and analytics, application development tools, and enterprise search. You can contact her at .

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