The Value of Collaboration #3: Reducing Blackberry costs & mobile phone bills

Remember about 10 years ago when your firm would reimburse you for your Internet connection? That’s over now. We reached a tipping point where so many of us wanted a connection anyway that firms didn’t need to pay for it any longer.

Now, a similar shift is underway with mobile phones at work.

By using social tools and practices to accelerate that shift – and to trim mobile bills for corporate mobiles that remain – large firms can save more than $7 million.

The problem

The problem is both the number of phones and the way we use them.

A large firm can have 20,000+ Blackberry devices and 20,000+ monthly mobile bills in addition to the cost of licensing and operating the Blackberry service. Yet, in many countries (US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Russia to name a few.), we already have more mobile phones than people  – more than 6 billion mobile phones globally. Does your firm really need to pay for you to have another one?

Worse, those 20,000 phone bills the firm pays every month, particularly in a global firm, are inevitably higher that what you’d pay at home. Roaming charges and international rates routinely inflate mobile bills simply because people aren’t as careful as they are with their own phone and their own money.

The solution

The main reason everyone originally got a Blackberry in the first place was mobile access to email. Now, though, technologies like Good and MobileIron are making it increasingly common for people to access their corporate email and calendar (and even documents and the intranet) via their personal iPhones, iPads, and other devices.

Unlike Internet access, it won’t be as simple as a change in policy (“In 2013, the firm will no longer pay mobile phone bills.”). Solutions involving personal devices are sometimes intrusive requiring, for example, that individuals let the firm install corporate software on their device, monitor usage at certain times, and wipe all the data on it. And you can’t force everyone to accept that.

That’s why you’ll need other methods to change behaviors.

As we saw in a previous solution aimed at reducing printing across the firm, applying the “Dragonfly Framework” can help raise awareness and nudge people to make different choices. For example:

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce Blackberries by 20% and mobile bills by 10%.”

Make people care about it: “We can save over $7 million! Donating 5% of that can bring clean drinking water to 14,000 people!”

Make it easy for them to change: “The Geniuses will be in the lobby this week to help you set up your iPhone or iPad.”

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “Here’s a story from Jane who said iPad access to work “changed her life.” And a moving video taken by our Mumbai office about a nearby village using their new well for the first time.”

You’ll need this kind of campaign to quickly drive meaningful adoption and realize the potential savings.

What’s it worth?

For years I’ve had a Blackberry and an iPhone. And yes, I’ve had the occasional $300+ bill when I travelled because I didn’t make the effort to use local numbers or to use Skype to call home.

Now, though, I have access via my iPad and iPhone and I’m tired of carrying multiple devices. So I gave up my Blackberry, eliminated the extra phone bill, and realized  annual savings to the firm of at least $1500.

Across the firm, even conservative estimates of  the costs get quite large:

20,000 phone bills * $100/month * 12 months = $24 million

20,000 devices * $300 upgraded every 2 years = $3 million

Reducing the number of devices by just 20% yields a savings of $5.4 million. (I don’t count a reduction in the Blackberry service itself as we assume, conservatively, that’s those savings are offset by other mobile infrastructure.)

Now you’re left with 16,000 mobile bills every month:

16,000 * $100/month * 12 months = $19.2 million 

Reducing those bills by 10% (through awareness of the costs, cheaper alternatives, and the benefits) yields another $1.9 million for a total savings of $7.3 million.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

Re-examining mobile access to the firm is a relatively new source of savings, involving trade-offs for both the firm and the employees. In that face of newness and complexity, change will be slow. People will just stick with what they have and what they know.

But there are more than 7 million reasons to use social tools and practices to accelerate the change.

It’s another mundane example, far from the revolutionary rhetoric about overthrowing management. But it underscores how everywhere you look, everywhere your firms spends money, you can augment policy with greater awareness and behavioral change. You can nudge people to do the right thing both for the firm and for themselves.

The Value of Collaboration #2: Reducing how much your firm prints

Could you pick a more mundane use case than reducing how much people print at your firm? Yet a collaborative effort to do this can be worth a lot of money – more than the cost of your entire social business effort. 

In the catalog of solutions we’re compiling, printing is in a class of solutions targeting personal consumption. Printing, mobile phone bills, car service usage, file storage. All of these services tend to be bloated by waste since people typically don’t know how much they cost nor how to access cheaper alternatives.

We’ll examine each of these solutions in separate posts. Just reducing printing by 20%, though, could be worth $6 million to a large firm.

The problem

Although environmental awareness has reduced printing at many firms, we still print too much. And much of what we print is unnecessarily costly.

Without including printing for external clients, a large firm still prints between 500 million and a billion pages a year. For perspective, the World Trade Center in NYC is about 5 million pages high. Now imagine 100 or even 200 World Trade Centers stacked on top of each other stretching 60 miles into the sky. Or, worse, imagine cutting down a forest of 120,000 trees every year.

And we have more control over printing costs than you might think. A complex full-color title slide, for example, can cost well over 50 cents – 50 times more than a less colorful version and 200 times more compared to a simple black and white version.

The solution

There are many ways to reduce printing. Defaulting to black & white and 2-sided printing. Using simpler templates that don’t require as much toner. Using “pull print” technology to avoid those stacks of printouts people never pick up. Accessing docs via iPads instead of printing anything at all.

The hard part is changing behavior. And that’s where the social platform comes in.

Most people don’t know – don’t even think about – how much their personal printing costs and how much it adds up across the firm. The same is true for other personal consumption at work. For all of these campaigns, we’ll use the 4 elements of the “The Dragonfly Effect” framework that I described here:

Focus: Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.

Grab attention: Make someone look. Cut through the noise…with something unexpected, visceral, and visual.

Engage: Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering an audience enough to want to do something themselves.

Take action: Enable and empower others to take action…move audience members from being customers to becoming team members.”

Applying that to printing might look like this:

Pick a clear goal: “Reduce printing by 20%.”

Make people care about it: “We can save 22,000 trees and $6 million!”

Make it easy for them to change: “Here are 3 great alternatives.”

Give them feedback and stories to keep changing: “You’ve already reduced your printing by 8%. Together we’ve saved 5,200 so far this year.”

Just as “The Dragonfly Effect” relates numerous stories of using social media to drive social change, you’ll be using your firm’s social collaboration platform to drive behavioral changes across the firm.

What’s it worth?

I used to print and file everything – handouts from every meeting I attended, every document I commented on. Now, at work, I can store all those docs on the firm’s collaboration platform and access them via an iPad. That shift has reduced my printing costs to zero.

For those who don’t have this setup, simply changing templates and getting everyone to switch can reduce toner costs by 15%. Setting defaults to double-sided printing can reduce paper consumption by half.

The key is to spread the new behaviors across the firm.

Given all the alternatives, you could realistically cut printing by half within your firm. To realize $6 million in savings, you’d only have to reduce printing by 20%.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

The main barrier here is that no one is responsible – and everyone is responsible – for printing. You need to find and connect the few technical people who can, for example, change printer defaults globally. And you also need to inform and motivate everyone across the firm to reconsider what they print.

That used to be impossible. Now, though, social tools and practices make solutions like this something every firm can and should implement.

The Value of Collaboration #1: Reducing internal service costs

When it comes to the commercial value of collaboration platforms, there’s still a gap.

McKinsey thinks social technologies can unlock a trillion or so of value annually. For a single large firm, social tools and practices could easily be worth $500 million. But these projections are too high-level to help people change anything. Despite the possibilities, many firms simply aren’t realizing the commercial benefits of their collaboration platforms.

I hope to fix that. In a series of posts, I aim to create a solutions catalog of sorts, including:

  • specific problems large firms need to solve
  • how social tools and practices solve them
  • the commercial value of solving them (where value calculations will be based on available research and applied to a hypothetical 100,000-person firm)

The next time an executive asks “Why do I need a collaboration platform?” I want readers to have at least 50 million answers (and ultimately 500 million).

The first solution in the catalog, and the first $10 million in value, are based on reducing internal service costs by increasing self-service.

The problem

At home, when you have a question, you search for the answer. But at work, you call someone or send them an email. (Or, worse, you interrupt several people around you and ask whom to contact. Then you call someone.)

That’s because the knowledge to address your issues is locked up inside different knowledge bases across the firm and there’s no simple way for individual employees to find it.

How big a problem is it? Employees in a large, complex firm can generate 200,000 email and phone queries per month about desktop, mobile, and HR issues alone. And those are just the official requests to help desks. In addition, there’s another 200,000 queries per month at least (e.g., for the firm’s 1000s of individual applications) that typically get routed to other staff.

Handling all of those 4.8 million activities every year requires a lot of people. A good estimate is $50-80 million for the firm’s cost of internal service. And that doesn’t include business opportunity costs or lost productivity for employees.

The solution

By using the online forums of a modern collaboration platform, you reduce this cost by making answers easy to find and easy to trust so users can help themselves. (Here is a good, succinct summary of other benefits in addition to reducing costs.)

This isn’t a new idea. Companies have repeatedly shown the value of doing this with their customers. Now, though, you can readily apply the same tools and practices inside your firm.

The solution has 4 parts:

  1. Use the collaboration platform to store answers you already have.
  2. Post all new issues as forums on the platform (and nudge users to post their issues there as well).
  3. Recognize and rewards users who provide feedback or help answer questions.
  4. Assign a curator for every application support team and every help desk who’ll be responsible for content and for interaction with users online (monitoring and responding).

IT and HR teams are already doing most of this this work. They’re just doing it – and doing it less effectively – on their own information islands. By coordinating support efforts around the use of a searchable set of forums, you make a single, universal search box the point of user contact instead of a phone number.

Not all issues lend themselves to self-service. And some, like password resets, require some automation before users can help themselves. So you’ll still need support staff and ticketing and workflow (e.g., to dispatch a technician and track status of an outage). You just won’t need as much.

What’s it worth?

Besides being more convenient, online self-service can easily be 80 to 120 times cheaper than service via phone or email.

Importantly, the feedback and contributions from customers make it so the online knowledge keeps getting better and better – and so even more issues can be handled online. (Even in 2009, there was a compelling business case for creating customer communities, for example. Over time, the numbers just keep getting better.)

My own experience is that a single curator and her community of users can build up a knowledge base of 500-1000 questions in just a few months by working out loud (pushing content onto the collaboration platform as issues come up) . That has translated into support costs plummeting by more than half for certain kinds of applications.

Across both IT and HR, a conservative estimate is that you can move 20% of the support burden to online channels. At the low end of the range for a firm’s annual support costs ($50-80 million), a 20% shift to on-line self-service would save $10 million every year.

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

The biggest barrier isn’t adoption by users. As the Corporate Executive Board put it, it’s one of the rare cases of “cost savings customers want.” For many simple requests, on-line self-service is simpler and faster and so users actually prefer it.

The biggest barrier is that each department, and very often individual teams, cling to their proprietary knowledge bases. They’ve created systems and processes optimized for tracking activities instead of increasing user satisfaction and the speed of finding answers. (This is particularly true when help desks are outsourced.) And they’re loath to change what they do for the greater good.

So you’ll need more than a grassroots campaign to implement this solution. To help users help themselves – and realize at least $10 million of value – you’ll need to prescribe the use of the firm’s collaboration platform for all help desks and IT support teams.

Reputation patterns: Becoming an expert in your firm

At work, I’m seeing more and more people shape their reputation and take control of their careers. Some are learning how to do it via formal training. Many more, though, are simply making the most of our new social collaboration platform.

Over time, I’m starting to see patterns emerge. The most common one is people becoming recognized as experts based on public evidence of their knowledge (as opposed to, say, based on their corporate title).

All of these experts, it turns out, do 3 seemingly simple things.

1. Work out loud

The first thing they do is use the firm’s collaboration platform to make their work visible.

It’s part of “working out loud”. Whenever they create a document or have a question or help a colleague, they do so publicly:

“Simply by using a collaboration platform to store your material, you make you and your work visible in real-time. And, better still, your work (projects, documents, discussions) is now searchable and discoverable. People will find you any time they’re looking for content related to what you’re doing.”

In addition to publishing their finished work, the experts also narrate their work,  contributing a running commentary of the research, meetings, and thinking that goes into what they do.

Andrew McAfee, author of “Enterprise 2.0”, wrote about how and why you should narrate your work:

“Talk both about work in progress (the projects you’re in the middle of, how they’re coming, what you’re learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you’ve executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you’re good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and ‘brand.'”

By simply working out loud, experts establish a portfolio of artifacts and commentary that others can easily see. In doing so, they differentiate themselves from their colleagues.

2. Own the space 

The experts then go beyond telling their own story and start to tell the stories of others at the firm who do what they do. This often involves literally owning a space – setting up a website on the collaboration platform where they can curate content related to their work.

At most firms, there typically isn’t a place to go to find out about all the work and people related to a particular topic. So, for each topic, there’s an opportunity for an expert to fill that need.

“Who’s working on the Volcker rule?” 

“What’s the firm doing with mobile apps?” 

“What eco-friendly projects do we have?”

“Who’s using social media?”

In addition to their own work, the experts write stories about other relevant projects and people in the firm. In doing so, they recognize and give credit to people, helping to develop relationships and build a network. Sometimes, this network becomes increasingly connected and committed, working more like a community and actively driving change in their area.

Owning the space transforms the expert from an individual contributor to a linchpin. Someone who’s connecting people and projects across their firm. Someone who’s at the center of something bigger than their own work.

3. Bring the outside in

Lastly, the experts go outside their firm for expertise. In the space they’ve created, they start contributing stories about what’s happening in their field. They write about books and articles that are relevant to their new network. About what other firms are doing. About upcoming conferences and what people are talking about at those conferences.

This element of the pattern helps focus the experts’ learning and networking. Now more than ever, they’re purposefully looking for ideas in their field so they can make new contributions and connections.

They’re not just seeming to be an expert. They’re truly becoming one.


The 3 elements of this pattern seem relatively easy, and they are. The difficult part is to keep doing them. To keep publishing, contributing, recognizing, and connecting. To overcome the lizard brain (as Seth Godin would say) and to keep shipping.

The new tools and practices make this pattern is available to anyone. (I’ve relied on the “become an expert” pattern myself, slowly developing skills and an audience that enabled me to start a new career at the same firm.) The more you contribute, the more people are likely to discover you when they search. The more people who discover you and your content, the more you’ll be thought of whenever your topic comes up.

Work out loud. Own the space. Bring the outside in. Be the expert.

When you do, you’ll develop relationships, discover opportunities, and open up possibilities you may have never even imagined.

When are the best years of your life?

A group of us were in the hotel bar late one night after an all-day business conference. Fueled by some polychromatic cocktails, I asked the people I was with – all of us in our 40s – whether they thought their best years were ahead of them or behind them.

“Ohhhh,” said one woman. “No question. My best years were in college.”

“Really?” I asked. I was surprised. She was smart, attractive, and had a successful career. Not only was college decades ago, but she had 30, 40, or even 50 more years of living to do.

Why would she spend that time looking backwards?

“I always thought you’d be something special”

I was surprised and yet I understood. I used to look backwards, too, thinking of times that seemed more full of promise and potential. Of things I could have done but didn’t.

That feeling was particularly strong one night when I reunited with an elementary school friend I hadn’t seen in 30+ years. After a few minutes, she asked me with particular curiosity “What did you wind up doing? I always thought you’d be something special.”

She meant it as a compliment. We grew up in the Bronx but she knew I’d been admitted to the city’s best high school and had high hopes for me.

I paused, unsure of my response. I’d had a fine career and life, but I remember wistfully thinking “Yes, I thought I’d be special, too.”

The wrong model

The problem was that the woman in the bar and I both had the wrong modeI for how life really works.

We viewed life as a continuously dwindling set of possibilities. You start with an almost infinite set of things you can do or be. (When I was 5, I declared I was going to be a paleontologist. At 11, a baseball player. At 17, a psychologist.) But, over time, your options – particularly the special ones – become fewer and fewer.

Then I started to think differently.

Body and mind

My change in perspective started with how I viewed my health. I also had the wrong model for that, thinking of my body as a machine which, over time, inevitably started to wear down and break. So my best physical days were necessarily in the past.

Then a friend gave me a book called “Grow Younger Next Year”. It taught me, in simple language and accessible science, that my body is a much more dynamic system than I’d imagined. That by moving and eating differently I could change my circulatory system and produce new possibilities. I changed my habits and I changed my outlook.

Similarly, I learned how thinking and learning differently could change how my brain works and open up new possibilities there, too:

“During most of the 20th century, the general consensus among neuroscientists was that brain structure is relatively immutable after a critical period during early childhood. This belief has been challenged by findings revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic even into adulthood”

The same is true in other parts of your life. Working differently and relating to people differently open up possibilities you might have never even imagined when you were younger.

The road ahead

If I have a hero, it’s W. Edwards Deming. Born on a chicken farm in 1900, he was a statistician who worked with the census bureau into his 40s. At 47, he travelled to Japan to help with the first census after the war. While there, he met with people about statistics and quality control. And his subsequent fieldwork with factory managers in Japan marked the beginning of the Japanese quality movement.

His efforts unlocked tremendous commercial value while also helping individual workers regain their pride of workmanship. In 1950, Japan awarded the first Deming Prize. Still, for decades, Deming was largely unknown in the US, where he lived and worked. It was only after he was mentioned on a television show (“If Japan can, why can’t we?”) that his consulting business took off. He was 80. At 82, he published his most popular book.

He died at 93, having experienced things he could never have imagined as a young man on a chicken farm or in mid-life at the census bureau.

Deming is a great role model for me. And now it’s even easier to create the kind of full life he led. With new tools and practices developed since his time, it’s easier than ever to shape your reputation, control your career, and make a difference. Easier than ever to create new possibilities.

The best years of your life? They’re ahead of you.