With business technologies advancing at lightning speeds, collaboration styles and workflow processes are evolving right alongside. Businesses of all sizes and vertical markets are always looking for ways to improve productivity, and the emergence of an always-connected workforce has inspired the creation of numerous tools that organizations can hand-pick.
Now, if only that selection were so easy. Navigating the collaboration space has become something of an art in what is now a very saturated market. The abundance of collaboration solutions is perhaps more of a curse than a blessing, especially where there is no clear-cut definition of what collaboration really means. The term has been thrown around as a blanket category, claiming a number of varied tools. With a mixed bag of file-sharing and synchronization applications, cloud storage options, social business platforms, and video conferencing solutions, all are inherently different, yet all are coined under the same collaboration category. And with new entrants to the market every day, this definition of collaboration is only blurred more.
The problem with having a single, loosely defined category is that it makes all of those solutions interchangeable. Businesses must learn that not all of these were designed to serve the same function, and the lack of clarity here won’t yield the best results.
For example, the convenience and ease of use of a solution like Dropbox is undeniable, making it a common collaboration tool that employees will often bring into the enterprise for improved productivity. But for industries that handle sensitive data—legal, financial, pharmaceutical, and the like—there are serious implications for the use of consumer-grade tools, given the type of data they handle. Last year, Dropbox was hacked, opening its users to an onslaught of email scams. In cases like this, ensuring that high-value content stays in the right hands is simply not guaranteed.
According to Forrester, the cloud-based collaboration-services market is expected to increase by 15% over the next five years. As businesses increasingly begin to implement these tools into their internal and external workflows, selecting the right one will be a significant challenge. Cutting through the noise of today’s cluttered solutions landscape requires businesses to break down what collaboration means for their particular environment and identify exactly what they hope to achieve with it. The kinds of tools the market has to offer are no longer of a single breed—they now display a variety of characteristics that define their ultimate purpose and how they should serve specific enterprise needs. Exploring each of these qualities in depth is the first step toward developing a coherent collaboration strategy and successfully guiding tool selection.
Data leakage is a significant concern for products targeted at consumers, which are often brought into the enterprise by employees who are already using them in their personal lives. As a result, IT is kept in the dark about what content is leaving the organization—and potentially getting into the wrong hands. Particularly for highly regulated industries, tools should be approved by IT, with features that safeguard sensitive content and ensure it stays behind the corporate firewall. These might include things like encryption, permissions settings, time-limited file access, mobile device management, or metadata cleaning.
In today's tumultuous IT landscape, data security, IP protection, privacy, and compliance will be the most sought-after qualities for IT departments. For the employees using them, however, ease of use will be their greatest concern. Solutions that are designed specifically for the enterprise with security as its primary functionality tend to skimp on intuitive design, pushing users to go around IT and toward more consumer-grade solutions that they feel are most convenient, despite potential for data leakage. Striking a balance between usability and security could mean the difference between data protection and a data breach.
Document Types and Life Cycles
Organizations that handle lengthy and complex documents that require frequent review cycles, for instance, are best suited for tools that offer some type of version control. With this type of functionality, users’ time is not wasted trying to identify changes or having to worry about whether they’re working off the most up-to-date version. Given that some organizations, like creative agencies, might work with any number of file types—including PowerPoint, Illustrator, or video, in addition to Word and PDF—being able to edit and share a diverse set of documents is also an important consideration.
Despite major headlines about businesses putting an end to their telecommuting policies, recent data has shown that 65% of companies actually do allow their employees to work remotely. As such, many companies will be looking for mobility, with tools that transcend employees’ office PCs. Deploying a cloud-based solution that serves the needs of a mobile workforce, allowing quick and reliable access to documents, regardless of location or device, is a key driver of efficiency and productivity for workers on the go. The benefits of mobile functionality are not just for remote workers either—for companies transitioning to BYOD, factoring in the compatibility of collaboration tools for a range of user devices becomes another consideration.
Integration with Legacy Systems
Businesses that have invested heavily in legacy systems might be hesitant to rip and replace the tools they've long been familiar with for innovative, next-gen solutions. Traditional content and document management systems like SharePoint, iManage or OpenText don’t have to be sacrificed if newer solutions have integration capabilities. The modernization of enterprise collaboration processes is inevitable, but selecting a tool that provides a bridge between traditional and contemporary systems will ease the transition.
With such a diverse array of collaboration tools on the market today, there are numerous other characteristics that could be considered when selecting the perfect tool for your organization. Their varied functionality and differences in design just go to show that "collaboration technology" is not as one-dimensional as it used to be. In today’s complex IT environment, selecting the right document management and collaboration solution is no easy task.
Mobility is a quality that is expected of the modern organization, regardless of vertical or size, so for most, deploying a simple-to-use file sharing and synchronization application is a good place to start the collaboration journey. With this functionality at the solution’s core, users are granted the flexibility to access documents anywhere, at any time, on any device. From there, security, document type, and legacy systems might come into consideration. Like any other enterprise tool, collaboration solutions should be evaluated on specific business needs and constructed from the ground up, layered with the very features that will help users work at their highest potential.
[Image: Flickr user Johan Larsson]