Collaboration software – lessons to learn from the small business.

Has the term SME (small to mid-sized enterprise) finally become obsolete? It certainly feels like it.

Some would argue it never existed. Over the years, vague definitions based on employee count have varied between 10 and 1000 depending on the product-market being discussed. Using sales revenues as a measure of company size is equally unreliable. After-all, a small investment business with a headcount of 10 can easily earn more than a retail operation of 1000 employees. Then there’s the ‘start-up’, epitomised by a business culture imported from California and so dynamic that a team of ten this year can be a business of one hundred next year. There’s no time to add a label.

The evolution of the SME doesn’t stop there. The persona of the decision-maker has also become blurred. At Foehn, we deal with a generation of ‘small’ business managers who are well versed in IT and fluent in communications tech sufficiently to discuss the key functionality, at least. That’s a big difference from 10 years ago and it’s a measure of the impact of bring-your-own-device policy and consumerisation of technology.

At Foehn, we talk about ‘compact businesses’ – organisations with all the attributes, technology, processes and skills of a large enterprise, just smaller in headcount and resources. These are the businesses that give big companies a hard time, competing and often winning in a competitive clash. Agility, low overhead and a more intensive level of customer service can often out-perform a big-brand counterpart.

One small business trait stands out more than others, though. Collaboration. It comes naturally to a smaller business and it’s the most powerful weapon in the David versus Goliath battle for competitive advantages. A smaller workplace and more personal, close-nit relationships, drive collaboration within smaller companies and, with the wave of digitisation and applications now available, collaboration has been taken to a whole new level.

Of course, the bigger enterprise is embracing collaboration technology too, with unbridled enthusiasm. For many, the traditional organisational structure of hierarchies and silos has been replaced by a flatter, more collaborative environment working in smaller groups or teams, emulating the small business modus operandi. The so-called ‘modern workplace’ of today’s forward-looking, large enterprise now bristles with big-footprint applications and technology installed at great cost but not always with the desired performance. Why so?

The fact is that big organisations learn to collaborate, while small businesses collaborate out of necessity. If one accepts that necessity is the mother of invention, it’s not surprising to learn that smaller businesses are leading the way with innovative collaboration solutions.

At Foehn, we work with small businesses every minute of every day and it’s that experience, learning and knowledge that drives the design and development of our cloud communications. Small businesses are incubators of new solutions and, with over fifteen years of working in this hotbed of innovation, we’ve learnt that collaboration systems must tick three boxes: simple, connected and seamless.

Simplicity is a mantra that resonates around the offices here at Foehn. It’s built into everything we do, from the user interface to the cloud. Collaboration is meant to accelerate and motivate, so what’s the point of a system that’s difficult to use and saps energy before you start. Keep it simple.

In turn, simplicity is enhanced if collaboration tools are connected and in one place. It’s something that early adopters are learning to their cost. Over the past ten years, businesses have accumulated individual collaboration applications, each dedicated to a specific task, such as video conferencing, chat, email, screen sharing and more. For these businesses, it’s been tempting to adopt new tools arriving on the market, in the quest for competitive gain. The advantage has proved only short-term, though, as the challenge of dealing with multiple, disconnected applications has escalated and proved counter-productive.

It’s true that the all-embracing platforms offered by the big vendors of communication systems and office applications, offer a unified and integrated solution. At the same time, though, this brings with them unwanted functionality and proprietary systems that risk lock-in and up-sell while adding complexity to your collaboration requirements. Microsoft, Avaya, IBM, Cisco – all compete to offer big, expansive, integrated platforms, but do you really need all that technology and, more importantly, do you really want to pay for it as well.

The ability to move between collaboration tools, seamlessly, is essential. The quality of integration and ease of transition between functionality defines the user experience and, in turn, impacts user engagement. Keep a smooth and uninterrupted navigation between each channel of collaboration – from calendar to conference call to screen share, for example – and you’ll keep the user motivated, fully engaged with the system and, therefore, delivering maximum return on your investment.

With these fundamental qualities of collaboration software design, businesses have the opportunity to capitalise on employee interaction in the modern workplace and achieve ground breaking levels of productivity.

Realising those benefits also depends on diligent implementation of the system in the first instance. Look out for our next blog dealing with the planning and precautions necessary to make your collaboration system deployment a complete success.

More about the author
James Passingham

James Passingham is the leader and founder of Foehn Ltd., a cloud-first, cloud-only business delivering technology innovation and service excellence in both the hosted telephony and cloud contact centre markets. With James at the helm Foehn has grown into a £10m business from it’s inception in 2000. As a technology leader James is recognised for this ability to drive a highly innovative yet pragmatic vision through to delivery. His commitment to intuitive, open and easy to use platforms with the Voxivo brand is the foundation of Foehn’s success.