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Cloud Computing Turns Virtual Teams Into a Competitive Advantage

Collaboration in the cloud will fundamentally change the business ecosystem

By turning to a cloud-based collaboration solution from PBwiki, Mayes was able to create an online training and educational resource, with information ranging from web links to official documents, and the ability for loan officers to use a search engine to find what they needed.

Mayes reports that the wiki saves each of the underwriters about 30-45 minutes per day, and it has saved significant amounts of time for the rest of the employees when it comes to finding documents, passwords, and other information.

Moreover, the cost of the hosted collaboration solution is a fraction of the cost of the previous shared server.

"Our underwriters use the wiki to educate the loan officers," said Mayes. "Any time something changes, they post the new information to the wiki. Now the watchword in the office is, 'Did you check the wiki?'

2. Cut Down on Travel
Resilient Technologies of Wausau, Wisconsin, was working with Frank Rath of the University of Wisconsin to develop a special airless tire for Humvees in Iraq. By collaborating with the university, Resilient was able to tap into leading polymer scientists and mechanical engineers to conduct cutting-edge R&D.

The problem was that Resilient Technologies is about 120 miles and a two-hour drive from the university's campus in Madison. To make matters worse, one of the key members of the Resilience team was based in West Virginia, nearly 1,000 miles away.

The team tried out a cloud-based solution from PBwiki, and soon the entire project team was on it, including 12 people from Resilient, five polymer scientists, and three mechanical engineers. This allowed the team to cut down on time-consuming and costly travel.

In previous projects, Resilient and the university had used email and file attachments, with mixed results. "It takes so much time to find the right documents," said Frank. "There are so many different iterations and modifications to track, especially when it comes to spreadsheets."

"PBwiki eliminates confusion, duplication, and the potential for errors," said Rath. "It's a simple and easy-to-use platform that lets us coordinate and execute critical projects."

3. Enable Outsourcing and Offshoring
Wideload Games is a maker of edgy, humorous, and quirky video games like "Hail to the Chimp" and "Stubbs the Zombie." To successfully compete with giant studios like Electronic Arts and Activision, this largely virtual company uses a highly distributed development model. While headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the independent contractors who form the development team for their video games reside across the globe in South Korea, Canada, South America, China, and the U.S.

While Wideload adopted its virtual model before cloud-based collaboration was available, adding hosted collaboration brought its operations to a new level of productivity. PBwiki was brought in to eliminate the confusion of distributing documents and production work via email. It acts as a centralized repository in the cloud of all the materials being developed for a video game that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

With PBwiki, the development team has a public archive of the development process. Everyone is on the same page and new people can quickly come up to speed as they enter a project. Collaboration in the cloud even aids the creative process. Jon says that "brainstorming wikis" can be easily and quickly set up and as the ideas mature through an iterative process, "stuff that needs to stick" has a permanent home together with a history of how it came to be.

4. Improve Knowledge Worker Productivity
The Groop is one of the hottest design firms in Los Angeles, with clients as diverse as Nike, the Los Angeles Times, and America's best restaurant, the French Laundry. To keep up with new business, the company has grown to 30 employees and 50 contractors. With all those contractors, and because The Groop relies on the Scrum methodology for project management (derived from the agile software development movement), group communication and collaboration is mission-critical. The email-based approach which worked for a five-person boutique was unmanageable for an 80-person firm.

"The email trails were getting over the top," said Summer Swigart, Lead Software Engineer for The Groop. "To get an RFP out, three departments have to collaborate: technology, design, and strategy. We were uploading files to the extranet and emailing, ‘Hey, can you review this?' People were starting to ignore and lose important emails."

The Groop uses PBwiki for project management, corporate training, and to document best practices. For example, The Groop created an "LA Phil" folder to manage a building project, a tribute to outgoing Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa Pekka Salonen. The Groop's project folder includes a custom project board, complete with virtual tacks and index cards (implemented via a custom template), and offers read-only access to vendors and contractors so that they can participate in the daily scrum without compromising any of the other information in the workspace.

Another key usage is determining and publishing development standards. "We have a lot of developers who are contractors," said Swigart. "We publish all of our coding standards on the wiki. That way, when something goes wrong, we can just point to our standards rather than saying, ‘Why did you do it that way? It's broken!'"

The impact of collaboration is measurable and dramatic. "It's increased information flow and brought down overhead, giving us more time for billable work. Our users spend more time on billable projects as opposed to asking, ‘Where's the project?' or ‘How do I connect to the Internet?' We're getting $1 million per year in additional productivity."

Where Do We Go from Here?
The future lies with companies like RMC Vanguard, Resilience, Wideload Games, and The Groop that are taking advantage of cloud collaboration to do more with less and turn virtual teams into a competitive advantage. It's no coincidence that these companies are doing well, even in a bad economy. While bad times hurt everyone, those who are most adept at doing more with less are likely to capture a bigger share of a shrinking pie, as customers and clients seek lower cost, higher value solutions.

If you are a small company, consider using collaboration in the cloud to enhance your ability to compete with established players. You can use contractors, partners, and other virtual corporation strategies to broaden your capabilities while retaining your advantages in cost and flexibility.

If you're inside a larger enterprise, you can use collaboration in the cloud to compete with lean, nimble startups, or to better coordinate across different groups, offices, and divisions.

Either way, collaboration in the cloud is the future of business.

More Stories By Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh is Vice President of Enterprise Marketing, PBwiki.

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