Alongside flexibility, cooperation is a key issue in ICT. At the think tank, Professor Arnold Picot put it as follows: “Work is increasingly becoming communication work. And virtual collaboration supports and promotes this process.“
“Work is increasingly becoming communication work. And virtual collaboration supports and promotes this process.”
Professor Arnold Picot, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich
In today’s working world, six out of ten IT users (61%) frequently or very frequently depend on working with others in their jobs. In Germany, three-quarters of the users surveyed (74%) can only perform their work in cooperation with others (see Figure 5-1). A total of 44 percent frequently or very frequently work in multisite project teams, and in France and Spain it is even one in two (53% each). One in three (33%) (very) often works in cross-enterprise project teams, i.e. collaborates with external partners, customers, or consultants.
Many ICT executives are also aware of the significance of virtual collaboration. 55 percent of the executives surveyed for the LIFE 2 Study state that virtual collaboration has a very high or high significance within their enterprise. In the United States 66 percent of all executives hold this opinion. A slightly more detailed look shows that despite the comparatively high importance it already has, the significance of virtual collaboration is set to increase further. 70 percent of the ICT executives expect that the significance of virtual collaboration for their company will be (very) high in five years’ time – with 80 percent stating this in the United States (see Figure 5-2).
In this connection it is interesting to take a look at the various different executive segments and the executives who specifically expect virtual collaboration to play an important role in their company (top box). In the Pioneer cluster 29 percent state that virtual collaboration is already very important at present, and 41 percent state that they believe it will be very important in five years’ time. An even greater section of the Open-minded cluster believes that its importance will increase in the future: While virtual collaboration is currently very important for 17 percent of this segment, 37 percent expect it to be very important in five years. Against this background it comes as no surprise that nearly one quarter of the executives (23%) sees virtual collaboration as one of the top three ICT trends for the future.
Potential uses of internal and external virtual collaboration
There are three basic types of virtual collaboration: Firstly, the virtual collaboration within the boundaries of the enterprise, for instance the collaboration between the members of a project team in different geographical locations but also the collaboration between several divisions or several sites of the same enterprise; second, the external virtual collaboration with companies or partners whose company is upstream or downstream from one’s own company, for example suppliers, sales partners or customers. Third, there is also the option of collaborating with competitors. Professor Claudia Loebbecke explains the potential advantages of the latter collaboration: “Sometimes it makes sense for competitors to sit down together ‘virtually’ and work on solutions for specific questions or issues. The challenge lies in determining which information and knowledge one is prepared to exchange with whom, when and under which conditions.”
Three-quarters of the ICT executives surveyed (76%) state that virtual collaboration technology and functions are currently used in their enterprise. The range of different options for internal virtual collaboration across the company (e.g. communication within teams, for training courses, in project work and in knowledge management) has been standard for a long time.
There is still untapped potential in the area of external collaboration, and particularly in the collaboration with enterprises and partners from downstream value creation stages. But in sales and customer services the use of virtual collaboration also offers significant potential, believes Christophe Châlons, Chief Analyst of the PAC Group and one of the participants of the think tank.
In sales and customer services the use of virtual collaboration still offers great potential.”
Christophe Châlons, Chief Analyst, PAC Group
So far, only a third of enterprises (35%) also use the options available for virtual collaborations in customer services, although many customers are very willing to engage in “virtual” contact with businesses. For example, the majority of the consumers who participated in this survey (66%) can envisage handling simple requests and exchanges with service providers or public authorities through the Internet in future, e.g. in a web conference with a consultant or customer service agent. The greatest interest in virtual customer services is for administrative formalities (62% agreement in the top 2 boxes), followed by banking and insurance advice (58% each). 44 percent can even envisage discussing diagnoses with a doctor through a web link. Consumers in Spain, the United Kingdom and United States are particularly open to this kind of virtual customer service; in an international comparison, German consumers tend to be a lot less open to the idea.
Usefulness of the applications
With regard to the usefulness of various tools for virtual collaborations the study shows that IT users in enterprises consider solutions for unified communications, presence information and video conferences particularly useful. If one compares the statements about the perceived usefulness with the actual utilization of these applications in enterprises, it becomes clear that there is still a great deal of untapped potential in the area “video conferencing”: While one in two of the IT users surveyed (50%) considers video conferences useful or very useful, only 29 percent state that video conferences are actually used with any frequency in their company. The same applies to web conferences: 48 percent of the users surveyed consider web conferences (very) useful, but only 26 percent state that web conferences were actually often used in their company.
The comparison of utilization and usefulness also shows that unified communications applications, i.e. applications that connect and network different communication media with each other and with other business processes15, already enjoy widespread acceptance. In half of the enterprises (52%) they are used frequently or very frequently. Unified communications are at the top of the users’ list of favorites with 63 percent rating them as “very useful” or “useful” (see Figure 5-3).
Advantages and risks
“Virtual collaboration creates an important additional channel for enhanced communication and cooperation,” is how Professor Jonas Schreyögg from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich put it at the think tank meeting. For both ICT executives and IT users the most important aspect of virtual collaboration is saving travel time and travel expenses. 78 percent of the IT users and 58 percent of the ICT executives named this aspect as one of the three significant advantages provided by virtual collaboration options. Other significant advantages for ICT executives include increased employee productivity (42%) due to better networking, and greater flexibility due to enhanced employee availability (35%). Users, on the other hand, see one of the key advantages of virtual collaboration as being faster decision-making processes and shorter project times(39%). Enhanced flexibility comes in third place (36%). These aspects were also emphasized by Professor Arnold Picot at the think tank: “Virtual collaborations can create new possibilities, for instance by speeding up decisions.”
Both groups, i.e. the ICT executives and the IT users in the enterprises, believe that the biggest risk that could result from an increase in virtual collaboration lies in the loss of personal contact with colleagues. Just over half of the users (53%) and 43 percent of the ICT executives believe that this is the biggest potential risk presented by an increase in virtual collaboration. The technical infrastructure required for virtual collaborations is not generally viewed as problematic. Only 23 percent of the ICT executives see a potential threat in the technical complexity, and 26 percent mention the cost of acquiring the necessary technology as a key disadvantage of virtual collaboration.
The ICT executives do not see the issue of security as a significant risk. Most of the ICT executives who participated in the survey (72%) believe that the virtual collaboration systems used by their enterprise are adequately protected against the threat of industrial espionage and the potential disclosure of confidential information. Executives in the United States feel particularly well protected: 78 percent of those surveyed state that they feel secure. A variety of security tools are used to ensure complete security in virtual collaborations. The most widely used are secure connections, e.g. through VPN tunnels; these are used by 70 percent of the enterprises. 56 percent restrict access to business and company information according to roles and authorizations, and slightly more than one third of the ICT executives (36%) use trust center solutions. The latter are particularly widespread in Germany and Spain (43% and 44% respectively).
15 cf. Picot, Arnold / Riemer, Kai / Taing, Stefan (2008)