Collaborating in the Cloud

Aligning corporate culture, strategy, and incentives are essential before jumping into the cloud.
Employee Engagement

Bridging data and capabilities across channels and departments has become critical as organizations strive to eliminate customer data silos and become more agile in responding to rapidly changing market dynamics. For many companies, cloud-based solutions like software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) meet these needs by allowing for collaboration and connecting internal and external value chains at minimal capital expenses.

In fact, 2014 will be the first year when the majority of workloads shift to the cloud, according to Cisco, which forecasts51 percent of all workloads will be processed in the cloud versus 49 percent in the traditional IT space by year's end. As companies embrace the cloud, several best practices and lessons on how to leverage the technology are emerging, industry experts and analysts are finding.

A significant lesson includes the cloud's ability to simplify complex partner relationships. The global payment and retail solutions provider NCR, for example, used a SaaS-based document management solution to streamline its contract management processes. Several departments, including the local sales teams, legal team, and the channel operations team at NCR are responsible for bringing in new partners.

Each partner has a unique, complex contract that often includes multiple regional, country, and district-specific languages and other details. NCR previously handled communications with clients and its various teams via email, which greatly prolonged the contract process, notes Steve Lorenzen, channel operations specialist at NCR.

"We were drowning in contract administration work," Lorenzen says. Several years ago, NCR turned to cloud-based document management provider SpringCM to help it standardize its contract management system and increase productivity.

Using SpringCM's Content Cloud, NCR's channel operations team created a self-service portal in the cloud to simplify the sign-on process for new partners. The portal provided a standardized corporate contract with localized contract templates for the company's sales and operations teams, as well as workflow capabilities so NCR could automatically route contracts through approval processes.

Combined with other solutions, such as Adobe's electronic signature software EchoSign, contract processes that had previously taken weeks or months with on-premise approaches were completed in less than an hour. With these improvements, the NCR Channel Operations team more than doubled its productivity and streamlined channel management operations within a few months, according to Lorenzen.

"Moving to the cloud allowed us to overcome those [logistical and administrative] barriers," he says. "Now we provide an exceptional partner-facing contract experience and we're able to focus on growing our program and leveraging our innovative technology solutions to expand revenue opportunities with new and existing partners."

But even if an organization has the best cloud-based solution or any type of new technology, the company's efforts to improve collaboration and work processes will fall flat unless employees support the initiative.

"People are reluctant to change unless they are incentivized to do so," says Leslie Ament, SVP of research and principal analyst at Hypatia Research Group. "They may be used to doing things a certain way and don't see the value in adopting a new approach."

Organizations need to give employees incentives to work together as a team and understand how these improvements will improve the customer experience, Ament continues. "Emphasizing customer centricity as well as efficiency within the organization is important, especially if employees don't believe they touch the customer in a meaningful way," she adds.

As an example, Ament describes a telecommunications company that conducted business with new customers in fragmented ways. A sales team sold subscriptions and sent the paperwork to the billing department. The installation team then contacted customers to install the service and educate them on how to use it.

Several weeks later, the bill arrived, but "there was often confusion because at every touchpoint the customer was dealing with someone who had no history of the previous process and no one was overseeing that customer from start to finish," Ament notes.

The problem was that the company's processes were designed for maximum efficiency but lacked customer centricity. When the telecom provider began offering bonuses, special recognition, and other incentives for being more customer-friendly, "attitudes changed quickly," Ament adds, "because the incentives were now aligned with what was best for the customer."

Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, agrees. To successfully implement a cloud-based collaboration platform, for example, a team leader or senior executive needs to champion the adoption efforts, Li says.

"The biggest problem we see with a cloud solution or any new technology is there's an initial excitement where people will say 'Yay, we have an 80 percent adoption rate' and then there's a gradual decline because people don't understand how the technology should be used," Li notes. "Unless somebody is championing the technology and explaining how it benefits employees and the company, it's not going to be sustainable."

The Feature War

With so many vendors offering cloud-based enterprise solutions with similar featuresIBM, Oracle,, Adobe, and Microsoft are only some of them choosing the right solution can also be a challenge. The "feature war" will continue, but prospective companies should take into consideration a series of factors, notes management consultant and blogger Brian Vellmure.

"Selection is dependent on so many things including incumbent technologies, integrations, solving for specific use cases, and price," Vellmure observes. "Price repeatedly comes up as one of the least effective differentiators, but in an environment where technology is viewed as a commodity, it becomes the default lever for buyers."

And instead of selecting vendors based on their ability to solve specific use cases for the greatest value, it is more important to " make a bet on the roadmap and agility of your vendor," Vellmure adds. "Two to three years from now, the offerings and capabilities will be meaningfully different, so who looks like they are best equipped and committed to evolve with the needs of your organization and the market? Who will commit to investing in innovation and also interoperability to plug the gaps in your infrastructure the way you want to consume them?"

Another factor companies should keep in mind is whether the tool integrates into the company's other programs. "Choosing a tool in many ways comes down to the integration opportunities, so that you can get a comprehensive view of the customer," Li says. "The customers who you interact with from a marketing perspective and get information from are also the ones who you're combining on the back end when they call into your customer service." CRM data, Li continues, is "the linchpin of all these systems, so no matter where they interact with you through all the different departments, it's the same customer."

Cloud CRM giant is one such company that is rolling out solutions designed to help companies connect their customer data across channels and departments. In September, the company rolled out Journey Builder for Apps, which links user information from apps with data companies have about customers from other channels like email, contact centers, and social media to help marketers deliver more precise messages and follow-up actions.

"CRM data is no longer just for salespeople to make a call, companies are using it across departments," says Michael Lazerow, chief strategy officer of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. "Many don't see a difference between customer service and marketing, they want to serve the customer in a frictionless way."

Tammy Pilgreen,CIO and vice president of operational strategy at Varsity Brands, which runs cheerleading competitions and sells apparel for football and dance activities, agrees that cloud-based technology can help companies get a comprehensive view of the customer.

"Instead of seeing only one slice of a customer's purchases from us, gives us the 360-degree view of what the customer purchases from us and how they feel about our products and services via automated surveys and marketing campaign responses. As a result, we are more able to meet needs specific to each customer," Pilgreen says.

In addition to leveraging CRM data across marketing campaigns, the cloud technology lets the company's IT team spend more time delivering business applications instead of focusing on infrastructure maintenance. For example, instead of maintaining disparate systems for connecting sales and service with the customer,'s sales, service, and marketing clouds allowed Varsity Brands to create a streamlined set of interactive processes between the departments.

"Collaboration on one platform enables sales, marketing, customer service, accounts receivable, and any other department in the company," Pilgreen notes, "to know the status of that customer account in an up to date fashion."

The role of the CIO and marketer continue to evolve as companies transition to cloud-based platforms and other types of technology, notes Marc Dietz, director of SaaS strategy and marketing at IBM. "The CIO's role is changing and IT is learning to work closer with marketing," Dietz notes. "The technology is there for driving collaboration across an organizationyou have social business tools, document sharing, etc.but the culture has to change as well."

Sixty percent of cloud application investment decisions are made at the department level and IT played a role as influencer in less than 20 percent of the purchase decisions, according to a study by Nucleus Research. "In the world of cloud solutions, marketers and service managers are making their own product evaluations, buying decisions, and implementations without the need for IT involvement," Nucleus Research noted in the report.

But regardless of who ultimately controls the budget for cloud applications, the technology is simply the means to an end, Vellmure notes. "The key to this is recognizing that cloud technology is simply a more easily deployable enabler of collaboration and communication," he comments. "It's more agile. However, the fundamentals of corporate culture, strategy, incentives, innovation are the true drivers of success."