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You can have your Cake and Eat it Too – Lower Travel Costs and Improve Collaboration

Many organizations today have multiple offices throughout the country and sometimes extend globally.Often times, these offices will have groups of individuals that collaborate with one another based on teams, departments, or even project areas.The demands of collaboration across distributed environments can be challenging and it’s not uncommon for organizations to fly people cross country or around the world to improve productivity across these groups of individuals.

The cost of travel can add up and have a significant impact on organizations, especially when multiple individuals have to travel to a central location.Those travel costs often include airfare, accommodations, car rental, parking, daily meals, etc. and could add up to a couple thousand per person.Imagine if three people were at a central office and five others had to fly in to meet and work on an initiative for the week.Now imagine that project was a six month long project and those individuals need to meet in person at least three times over that initiative.This single project is now potentially at twenty to thirty thousand for travel alone!

So how do we lower travel expenses and improve collaboration at the same time you ask?Here is how, you introduce collaboration tools to these individuals.What are those collaboration tools?Microsoft has a great bundle with their Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) suite or most recent version Office 365.That suite offers great collaboration tools like SharePoint, Exchange, Office Communicator/Lync, and Live Meeting online/Lync Meetings.I’ve specifically mentioned each of these solutions, as they all tie nicely together, enhancing the overall collaboration experience.

Here is what each of these solutions has to offer.SharePoint offers users the ability to share and collaborate on information in many forms.Office Communicator/Lync enables your users to quickly contact others when you see they are free, enabling quick dialog on collaborative materials.Live Meeting/ Lync Meetings allows users to have an ad-hoc or scheduled meeting to review information and collaborate in real-time.Exchange enables your users to collaborate on materials offline or after hours and even helps users with notifications of updates or approvals necessary on collaborative material.

Going over what each tool sets offer doesn’t really put things in to perspective, so here is a real-world scenario on how we’ve seen these tools all being used together.We recently worked with an organization that had an annual meeting between the management team.The management team consisted of about 150 individuals from around the world.They typically met in person, once a year, to go over the new year’s initiatives and a look beyond.Imagine if just 100 of those people traveled and the average cost was $2000.That’s $200,000 for one meeting.So rather than meet in person, this organization took advantage of the online offering.They were able to leverage SharePoint to create an agenda for the week, collaborative workspaces for focus groups, surveys for the various new year’s initiatives, open discussions boards for feedback on various topics, and voting on various final goals for the new year.The management team was able to sync up the SharePoint calendar within Outlook (Exchange) so they had a quick look in to their personal agenda, as well as direct access to the SharePoint page.They had Office Communicator/Lync enabled to quickly enable the focus groups to discuss various approaches on goals for the year.Finally, they were able to provide Live Meeting links within the agenda, when certain presentations were starting and required a resulting survey or discussion.

By leveraging all of these tools that seamlessly integrate together, they were able to successfully have a three day meeting(what was once five days in person) that was also interactive, promoted team building, and also enabled this entire management team to address other local office responsibilities.This saved the organization a significant amount in travel expenses, increased productivity for both the meeting and their local offices, enabled a historical view back in to the meeting and even further collaboration beyond the meeting, and saved the traveling individuals from a loss of two or even four days for travel.

There is no question that meeting in person adds a personal value that can go a long way, but do you really need to meet every year?What about three times a quarter?Every organization’s culture is different, but if you look back at how your organization spends money on travel, you’ll soon see one of the many values in this suite.

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