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How collaboration tools bring cost savings, business alignment

Find out how two midmarket companies are successfully using collaboration tools and strategies to drive business outcomes.

As the economic recession continues, midmarket companies are finding collaboration tools and strategies to be a cost-effective way to better align with the business, streamline internal and external processes and even cut costs.

With technologies ranging from Microsoft SharePoint to social media platforms, organizations are seeking the ability to easily share documents and collaborate on projects without expensive content management systems or lengthy business process engineering initiatives. And, as is often the case, CIOs interviewed said the tools are the least important aspect of the projects.

"The type of tools weren't important. Getting the business aligned was," said W. Jerome Oberlton, vice president and CIO at Mannatech Inc., a $333 million developer and provider of proprietary nutritional supplements, weight management products and skin care solutions.

Oberlton is using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to drive efficiency and collaboration throughout Mannatech, which has 500 internal employees and distributes its products through a network of 500,000 associates worldwide.

For example, Coppell, Texas-based Mannatech used collaboration to change pricing on its product packs, which are bundles of prepackaged products and promotional materials. Following an industry analysis, the company determined that it would need to lower prices on the packs to increase revenue in 2009 (revenue has declined since the onset of the recession). It was IT's job to collaborate with different groups across the organization to establish the new pricing across three regions -- North America, South Africa and Canada -- in three weeks.

"We had to have alignment and collaboration. It was a tremendous doing," Oberlton said.

In addition to using SharePoint to collaborate, the initiative required a permanent modification to the company's core ERP system. "Configurations had to be made to the item master module to adjust pack components and pricing," Oberlton said.

Collaboration is good, but ROI is better

At Equipois Inc., a manufacturer of "zero gravity" mechanical arm technology for use in industrial and biomedical applications, collaboration tools helped streamline business processes and save money.

The Los Angeles-based company needed an inexpensive, cutting-edge tool to aid collaboration among three offices across the country. "We're pretty data intensive with our customers, and we needed to integrate with their workflows," said Eric Golden, Equipois CEO. "We needed a tool to share proposals, drawings and videos as part of our R&D process with our customers."

Equipois chose Central Desktop Inc.'s Software as a Service (SaaS)-based social technology platform as its collaboration tool. The tool, which includes a free Microsoft Outlook plug-in, allows business teams to interact, share and manage their daily work activities.

The type of tools weren't important. Getting the business aligned was.

W. Jerome Oberlton, vice president and CIO, Mannatech Inc.

Equipois is using the collaboration tool as a central document repository for all department heads, to house all employee orientation documents on the intranet and to collaborate on research and development with teams at remote offices.

As happy as Golden is with the improved processes the collaboration tools have brought about, he said he's even happier with the ROI he's seen.

"The cost of hardware, software and staffing to replicate this collaboration would be roughly 40 to 60 times our current annual expenditures, giving us an astronomical ROI," Golden said. Using these collaboration tools, "we've seen $40,000 to $70,000 in one-time cost savings and $65,000 savings in recurring costs."

Pricing for collaboration tools do vary. Central Desktop pricing begins at $25 per month for 10 workspaces and averages out to $449 per month for more than 100 users and workspaces. Pricing for Socialtext Workplace's collaboration platform runs $15 per user per month, for a 50-user minimum.

"Lightweight document sharing and social networking can be inexpensive through a SaaS model today," said Rob Koplowitz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "It depends what you're looking for."

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