Using Cisco Webex to Unify a Small Team for Big Impact


What is digital transformation? A lot of IT professionals use the term as a synonym for change without putting any further thought into the matter. But a digital transformation is more than a simple shift. It is a real disruption that requires an organization to rethink the way it uses technology and how its members work with one another and the people they serve.

If you want to change the way you do business, you have to reconsider your tools. Is the tried and true still the best way to go, or have recent advances yielded new workflows that are better suited to your activities? These questions are equally valid for international conglomerates and smaller enterprises that may be operating with limited budgets and personnel. 

Uniting Digital Leaders Internationally

CIONET was founded in Belgium in 2007 to help build connections and foster collaboration between IT professionals. We are an international community that brings together CIOs from across Continental Europe, the UK, and Latin America to share expertise and best practices and to learn from one another. With over 8,000 members and sixteen national chapters, we have built a cross-continental network where digital leaders unite. 

Our operations include a website and a mobile app that allow our members to interact with one another no matter where they are. CIONET International drives the global community. We have a handful of international meetings every year, but 90% of our activities are organized by our national chapters. 

Building a Community of CIOs in Poland

I am the co-chair of CIONET Poland. Our chapter was founded five years ago and serves some 600 digital leaders in this country. Every year, we host dozens of online and real-world events that help build a world-class Polish IT culture. 

We started with five people, but as our membership swelled and the number of sponsors grew, we tripled our staff. From the very beginning, we recognized that the keys to success were teamwork and a project-based approach. However, we didn't have an office at the time, and all of our staff worked from home. Like so many other groups of people working toward a common goal, we did most of our organizing via email and on the phone, but we began to recognize that these tools limited our ability to communicate and collaborate.  

Finding a Fit for Our Project-Based Approach

We started casting around for a solution that better fit the way we work. CIONET Poland structures everything we do as a project, be it one of our smaller meetups or a bigger event, like our security conference we organized in early December 2019. We recognized that we needed a communication and collaboration platform that reflected this approach. 

Some of CIONET's members work for the biggest companies in Poland, and our two-dozen sponsors include some of the most recognized names in IT. As a result, we had access to every collaborative platform out there, and experts who could answer all our questions.

Our final decision was very much about fit. Choosing a new IT tool is like hiring a new employee. Your candidates are all on a level playing field, but one stands out as the best match for your organizational culture. In our case, that was Cisco Webex.

Don’t Be a Fool with a Tool

A few years back, I heard a quote that stuck with me. "A fool with a tool is still a fool." It is attributed to the legendary Gary Booch, who is the Chief Scientist, Software Engineering at IBM Research. It means you need structure first. Because we'd already defined a project-based approach, we were able to see the weaknesses in our existing tools and to then start looking for suitable alternatives. 

A lack of direction can blunt even the best tool.

We realized that the biggest issue with emails and phone calls is that mistakes inevitably creep in. When you're sending a file back and forth, or making decisions in a chain of replies, it's easy to lose track of what was done and by whom. You end up going from your inbox to your OneDrive and chasing down different versions of a document to figure out what's going on. 

Sometimes, we found ourselves spending hours on the phone trying to sort everything out, and on occasion, we had to start again from scratch. Cisco Webex cuts through this kind of confusion by consolidating all our work into a single collaborative environment. 

Creating Webex Spaces and Building Institutional Memory

Our primary work tool is Webex Teams, a cloud-based solution that provides group chat, video calling, and document sharing features in a single app, and which includes full Microsoft Office 365 integration. We have also installed a Webex Board in our conference room for collaborative work with internal groups and external stakeholders.

Using our project-based approach, we created different spaces within Webex Teams for our various activities. At the top level, we have general spaces for sales and community building operations among others. We then start to drill down. Every time we embark on a new project, be it a conference, a fundraiser, or an online campaign, we create a new Webex Teams space for everyone to work in. 

This way, every one of our initiatives occupies a separate space within Webex Teams. All the documents and communications belonging to a specific project—be they Microsoft Word or Excel Files, chat transcripts, video conference recordings, or drawings—are stored in this one location. 

Choose a collaborative platform that provides a single source of truth.

Institutional memory can be a problem in any size organization. It's easy to forget why we embarked on a project or implemented a policy. With Webex Teams, we can go back and look at what we've already done, what we've decided, and what's coming up. Everything is time-stamped and archived, so we now have a single source of truth that shows how we arrived at the present moment. 

Working with Anyone, Anywhere

With Webex Teams and our Webex Board, anyone can work with us, no matter where they are. Our team members can interact with us in real time from home, and can even listen in on a meeting on their mobile devices if they're stuck in traffic. 

Just as importantly, external partners, like our sponsors and industry luminaries who help us judge our annual Digital Excellence Awards, can also join us remotely. Cisco products are omnipresent, and many of our partners can connect to our meetings with tools they're already using. 

Cisco Webex has allowed CIONET Poland to increase the quality and level of service we offer our members. In the two years since we adopted the platform, we have doubled the number of events we program every year, but have only increased our staff by 30%.

We couldn't have made these improvements if we had continued to rely upon email and telephone calls. Webex has given us a fast, stable, and easy-to-use platform that helps us organize, execute, and archive projects in a way that reflects best practices and our established workflows. 

Don’t Just Copy the Competition

At this point, I'd like to revisit the idea of the "fool with the tool" by reminding readers that we didn't start by adopting Webex. Instead, we began by choosing a methodology and then found the best tool to implement and optimize it.

Webex is a powerful, scalable, and transformative tool that can benefit a tiny outfit like CIONET Poland or a company with tens of thousands of employees, but it will be of little value if you lack direction and don't start by defining the best practices for the type of work you're doing. 

Don't just copy the competition by adopting this week's trending IT solution. Audit your processes. Talk to your internal and external users. Explore your strengths and weaknesses, and then find ways to build on what works while eliminating what doesn't. 

Many people think that collaboration systems are only important in large organizations. I disagree. Even at a 15-person company, everyone needs to be on the same page. Disconnection can happen, even at smaller companies. 

Webex is helping my team bring Poland's digital leaders together. What will it help your team to accomplish?