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Collaborating in the Cloud

How collaborative software that lives in cyberspace can help your business.

Cloud 1Lorne Cassoff, president of Canadian restaurant chain Ben & Florentine discovered the power of collaborative technology after struggling to keep tabs on the 40 franchise locations in his company’s network. Though the chain is a franchise operation, company headquarters oversees much of the overall operations—everything from hiring managers to supervising a branch’s paint job.

Until two years ago, the company was communicating primarily by email, with management using Microsoft Outlook to assign tasks and request updates. “With email, information I needed to see was falling through cracks and not getting to me,” explains Cassoff, who notes that his chain had essentially outgrown the technology. Flagging email threads and creating inbox folders simply wasn’t getting the job done, he says.

He was always struggling to stay organized, to find the right emails and to connect with the people responsible for tasks and organizing projects.

Cassoff began looking for a cloud-based solution to provide visibility into how each of the franchisees is performing. He wanted a cloud solution because the number of licenses needed could then easily grow. Franchisees would be able to access the software via the cloud without needing to buy and maintain it themselves. Also, the restaurants—which are scattered across eastern Canada and together serve about 2.5 million customers yearly—could be pulled together via the tool, which resides on the software vendor’s server.

Ultimately, he chose Wrike, which provided many of the features Cassoff needed, including the capability to house continuously updated franchise information in one place. Since transitioning Ben & Florentine to Wrike about a year ago, Cassoff has been monitoring all of his restaurants as separate projects and has visibility into the tasks listed under each.

“If I’m talking about a certain project or, more specifically, a certain franchisee, I can go into that project and see everything that’s happening with that franchisee and all the information is accessible to all my employees,” he explains. The move also reduced inbox traffic by about 90 percent, he adds.

CEO-DRIVEN SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS
That Cassoff was able to identify the type of collaborative tool his company needed, that it should be cloud-based and that it required specific capabilities isn’t so unusual, says Joe Cowan, CEO of Epicor, which makes collaborative, cloud-based solutions for retail-related businesses. Increasingly, Cowan finds himself speaking directly with C-suite decision makers at companies looking to adopt the type of software Epicor provides.

Several factors are driving the swelling interest in collaborative technologies—as well as the need for business leaders to helm decision-making on which technology to choose, says Cowan. The technology can help companies boost productivity and streamline communications across the enterprise, especially when employees are scattered across the country—or even around the globe—yet working together more tightly than ever before. Enabling team members to efficiently communicate and coordinate efforts and to offer feedback is quickly becoming a competitive imperative.

And because the executives themselves will be using them for insight into how their entire operation is functioning, they often want a hand in selecting the best tools for their jobs, reports Cowan, who adds that incoming generations of employees are also driving adoption.

“The industry we’re in has been older and stodgier, but as my generation starts to retire and millennials come in, they expect to be doing things in a different way,” he explains, noting that younger employees expect the kind of transparency, speed and accessibility these solutions offer. “They don’t want an office. They want an iPad and an iPhone and, if they’re on the floor of a plant, they want to see what’s going on or to check on the status of orders,” Cowan says. “And if someone delivers products to a customer, they want to see where that product is. Collaborative systems need to be able to do that.”

About Jean Thilmany

Jean Thilmany is a Minneapolis-based technology writer.