Managers at Proctor and Gamble have deployed high definition video conferencing, instant messaging and wikis, to quickly bring together people and their ideas - and the have easily outstripped the costs.

Using the tools has made expected cost savings on travel and less wear and tear on their workers. And as a bonus, both companies have been able to discover ideas and intellectual property previously hidden in cubicles in cavernous office buildings.

"We connect in clicks, with video anywhere and work everywhere, so work is not a place but something you do," said Laurie Heltsley, director of global business services at P&G. "The ultimate IP we have is [our] people and the collection of their expertise and everything associated with their identity."

With 138,000 workers in 80 countries, the $80 billion consumer products giant now finds collaboration tools to be a vital part of the business, she said. "It is an absolute necessity to be able to collaborate every day. We have a mandate to brainstorm, to listen, to innovate, where competition is fierce."

P&G found years ago that its product research and development teams could benefit from tapping expertise spread throughout the company, Heltsley said. "We've found we achieve more together than we achieve alone."

Heltsley said that the ability to detect the presence of another worker through an internet connection -- and to find out if they are available for an IM or phone chat or via other modes such as a video conference -- has become the most important feature of collaboration tools for P&G.

"It's not chat that's so important, although that's still central to this whole collaboration process," she said. "It's knowing someone is available and having the mechanism to know somebody is there you can contact that person."

Heltsley didn't offer specific savings figures from using the collaboration tools, though she noted that the company has saved $4 for every $1 invested in 70 high-end telepresence systems in four regions of the world the company started installing two years ago. Those high-definition systems are used four times as often as the prior versions of videoconferencing systems installed at the company.

P&G is eager to expand collaboration capabilities, she said, and the company wants to try out a new enterprise collaboration platform from Cisco when a beta version is released in two months.