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Firms use collaboration tools to tap the ultimate IP -- worker ideas

P&G and Cisco make widespread internal use of videoconferencing, collaboration tools

September 2, 2009 01:10 PM ET

Computerworld - In large multinational corporations, expertise that could jump start a stumbling marketing or development plan may be hidden within the staff ranks. Finding that staffer has long been a problem for corporate executives and project managers.

Managers at Procter and Gamble Co. and Cisco Systems Inc. yesterday said that their managers now have a variety of options, ranging from high-definition videoconferencing to instant messaging and wikis, for quickly bringing together people and their ideas.

P&G and Cisco have been sharing information and technology for seven years in their separate efforts to roll out a variety of collaboration tools -- from both Cisco and other firms. Using the tools have brought both companies the expected cost savings on travel and less wear and tear on their workers. And as a bonus, both companies have been able to discover ideas and intellectual property previously hidden in cubicles in cavernous office buildings, said the managers during a roundtable discussion that took place over telepresence technology yesterday.

"We connect in clicks, with video anywhere and work everywhere, so work is not a place but something you do," said Laurie Heltsley, director of global business services at Cincinnati-based P&G. "The ultimate IP we have is [our] people and the collection of their expertise and everything associated with their identity."

With 138,000 workers in 80 countries, the $80 billion consumer products giant now finds collaboration tools to be a vital part of the business, she said. "It is an absolute necessity to be able to collaborate every day. We have a mandate to brainstorm, to listen, to innovate, where competition is fierce."

P&G found years ago that its product research and development teams could benefit from tapping expertise spread throughout the company, Heltsley said. "We've found we achieve more together than we achieve alone."

Heltsley said that the ability to detect the presence of another worker through an Internet connection -- and to find out if they are available for an IM or phone chat or via other modes such as a video conference -- has become the most important feature of collaboration tools for P&G. "It's not chat that's so important, although that's still central to this whole collaboration process," she said. "It's knowing someone is available and having the mechanism to know somebody is there you can contact that person."

Heltsley didn't offer specific savings figures from using the collaboration tools, though she noted that the company has saved $4 for every $1 invested in 70 high-end telepresence systems in four regions of the world the company started installing two years ago. Those high-definition systems are used four times as often as the prior versions of videoconferencing systems installed at the company.

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