Entrepreneurship. It’s a word that conjures innovation, startups and new technology. But the reality is that in the current business environment, it’s a word that should conjure up the face you see in the mirror. Because if you own a business, or even if you just work in one, technological and industry disruption is forcing you to take a more entrepreneurial approach if you want to survive.
Collaboration is one of the forces that is enabling this shift. Collaboration means sharing, and in this sense it can include what we share and how we share it. Whether it’s entrepreneurship in the sharing economy, or collaborating with customers, clients and coworkers, we are increasingly living and working in a collaborative world, supported by technology - such as knowledge and file management tools, scheduling tools, messaging and communication platforms - that helps us communicate and share information more efficiently than ever before.
Who is an entrepreneur?
The business environment is in the midst of a major shift from top-down power structures to a more entrepreneurial approach. With the rise of the “sharing economy,” more and more workers are becoming - or thinking of themselves as - entrepreneurs. This is the case even in traditional industries like law, where recent grads once followed a well-trod path from law-school, to associate to partner and eventually, toward retirement.
Today, that defined career path is no longer so clear. Most young professionals and knowledge workers must take a more entrepreneurial approach, looking beyond traditional career paths to a host of other options. Whether today’s young accountants and attorneys launch startups, start their own firms, work in a government or corporate environment, or offer their services as a consultant or freelancer in the sharing economy, today’s young professionals are finding themselves needing to work with colleagues and with clients in new ways, to compete on a global playing field.
Collaboration technology helps entrepreneurs keep up with this transformation. Here are three ways collaboration technology is transforming entrepreneurship for attorneys and other professionals.
Collaboration leads to innovation
It’s tempting to think of the relationship between innovation and collaboration as being a one way street - innovation enabling collaboration. In fact, it’s a feedback loop. Technology enables collaboration with tools that improve communication and sharing of ideas. Idea sharing leads to innovative ideas that make more sharing possible.
John Kanoski, CEO of Legal Files Software, Inc., a Springfield, Illinois-based developer of matter management and collaboration software tools focused on the legal industry said, “Collaboration isn’t just a tool a software company provides. It’s how we work with each other. It’s how our clients work with us. There’s a huge cultural shift happening. We’re moving away from information that sits in one place—whether it’s a desktop, server, or the minds of employees and customers—toward a more open, sharing business environment.”
Cloud and web-based applications are part of what’s driving that change. Businesses are no longer limited to one location or way of doing business. But as the nature of business changes, the tools needed to do business are also changing. There’s a whole constellation of cloud-based tools like Slack, Asana, Atlassian and many others that are helping to facilitate communication between businesses, customers, team members and outside vendors. These tools are catching on in the executive suite; a recent survey by Accenture / Avanade found that as many as 77% of decision-makers in global organizations are using some type of collaboration technology.
“Access to cloud-based collaboration tools make it possible for a dispersed workforce, much like the one at Avanade, to communicate, access materials, brainstorm ideas and stay connected day to day,” said Mick Slattery, President of North America at Avanade . “The increased use of collaboration technologies like Office 365, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams have triggered dramatic shifts in how, when and where we work. However, to realize the business benefits of a truly digital workplace, including fostering a culture of innovation, organizations need to use technology to create intelligent context around people – effectively tailoring business processes and work to the context of the employee’s industry, role, location and tasks.”
Collaboration helps you compete
Collaboration isn’t just about technological change. Ultimately, it’s about being more competitive by providing better service, working more efficiently, supporting growth or being able to reduce costs.
“Collaboration is really critical in a business environment where the relationship between customers and businesses is changing so quickly,” explains Kanoski. “Lawyers are no longer just competing with each other. Now they’re competing against the Internet, against global competition. Clients are putting increasing pressure on businesses to compete, to show their value, and be more efficient. Collaboration tools reduce inefficiency so people can work faster and smarter. We’ve seen clients gain as much as 40% in their productivity. That translates to savings for the customer.”
Collaboration makes information sharing faster and more efficient, but these tools are not just about communication or sharing your work - they’re really about bridging gaps between people, whether those are physical distances, or gaps in knowledge. Collaboration tools take information out of the hands of individuals and make it available to anyone who needs it.
Improved knowledge sharing leads to better customer satisfaction, and can even allow businesses to lower costs by making remote and contract work more manageable. Cloud-based collaboration tools like Skype and Dropbox, available via internet connection anywhere in the world, have been an important factor behind the growth of the freelance or gig economy - a sector that has grown 27% faster than payroll jobs in recent years.
Collaboration enables specialization
A third major shift that is being impacted by collaboration technology is the move toward increasing specialization. This is key, because in an increasingly competitive environment, specialization is an important differentiator.
Why is specialization so important? Specialization has long been held by economists to be a major force behind economic progress; it allows individuals to focus on what they’re best at doing, and that is most valuable to their business, to customers or to society as a whole.
According to Kanoski, “Collaboration technology allows everyone who’s working on a team or a project to quickly and easily see which team members are working on which part of a project, what has been done and by whom. This means each individual can focus on what they do best. It means you get the right level of expertise and experience for the task. So, for instance, you don’t have the general counsel or partner performing paralegal work.”
Entrepreneurs of all stripes are finding their businesses transformed by collaboration technology. Whether it’s working on a project with vendors or clients in a cloud-based project management tool, sharing files to a central drive, or using messaging tools to organize communications, collaboration technology is helping entrepreneurs innovate, specialize and compete more efficiently than ever before.