Author: Jim Lundy Date: September 24, 2013
Topic: Workplace Research Note Number: 2013-31
Issue: What technologies and architectures should enterprises leverage?
Summary: Selecting technology for external collaboration requires a team of representatives from across the business and from partners. Enterprises will need a technology toolbox, because one tool or platform may not be appropriate for every collaborative relationship.
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A myriad of tools can be used for external collaboration, ranging from free consumer-level tools such as Google+ Hangouts to enterprise social collaboration platforms like those from Jive Software or Lithium Technologies. All tools are valuable for specific purposes and scenarios, but the tools themselves will not make collaboration happen. They must be carefully mapped to the right scenarios or use cases. In this note we will discuss how to select tools and build a technology toolbox for external collaboration.
Technologies That Support External Collaboration
When establishing an external collaborative relationship, enterprises – particularly collaboration strategy planners – have to decide what tools they will use to support it (see Note 1). The tools have to be appropriate for the nature of the collaboration, and several tools may be used at different stages of it. While we discuss these tools separately, many vendors have complete platforms that encompass real-time and asynchronous tools. One decision will be whether to choose a complete platform, a selection of niche tools, or combine a strategic platform with complementary tools to fill in gaps.
Many collaborative relationships require periods of real-time or synchronous interaction for participants to meet virtually and make collaborative decisions, using real-time communication and collaboration tools. Enterprises often start this informally at the business unit or departmental level with free cloud-based consumer tools such as Skype, Google+ Hangouts or public IM networks from AOL or Yahoo. Cloud-based web or video conferencing tools are frequently used for this purpose as well.
While consumer-level tools are valuable, many have deficiencies such as limited support, security vulnerabilities and lack of proper management in areas like compliance and content. Enterprises should understand the drawbacks and plan for more strategic alternatives.
The major UC or UCC infrastructure vendors have real-time capabilities in their platforms. Traditionally the choice of which one to use is driven by the email decision, in the case of IBM or Microsoft, or voice telephony in the case of Avaya, Cisco or Siemens Enterprise Communications. The benefits of these tools include support, security and enterprise-level SLAs. The major drawback is interoperability with partners on other platforms. While integration is possible, the connections are weak.
Federation Can Help
A federation broker like NextPlane provides an interoperability bridge to connect these disparate UCC islands. NextPlane’s cloud-based service is called UC Exchange. NextPlane also provides a cloud-based UC Federation Directory that lets organizations build collaborative communities with partners that are in the directory.
Aragon had a strategy session with a team from a large beverage company undergoing heavy consolidation with major acquisitions. With all the M&A activity and the need for real-time interaction with partners and colleagues in different locations, they needed tools that could support external collaboration across disparate UCC platforms. However, they wanted to use the platform they had, rather than replacing it to accommodate new entities. As we discussed potential solutions, they decided that a federation brokerage service like NextPlane would let them immediately begin to federate and communicate with partners and colleagues around the world.
Cloud and Mobile Content Services
While consumer-level cloud content services such as Dropbox are being used for external collaboration, enterprise versions have emerged, from specialists like Box.net and from traditional enterprise vendors that have added this functionality to their content and collaboration portfolio. Enterprise collaboration practitioners can leverage four levels of cloud content services for external collaboration (see Figure 1):
- Level 1: Basic file sharing
- Level 2: File sharing with sync
- Level 3: Collaborative content services
- Level 4: A cloud-based implementation of full-scale enterprise content management (ECM).
Figure 1. Four Levels of Cloud Content Services
Level 1: File and Content Sharing
Fundamentally, cloud content services allow users to share files in the cloud environment. When email managers began to limit the size of attachments in their systems, some users inevitably needed an alternative file-sharing method they could provision themselves. Several small providers quickly sprang up to meet this need. Drawn by the low cost and simplicity of the process, users have embraced the idea in large numbers, and cloud content sharing is now a mainstream capability.
As a result of this broad acceptance by their users, enterprises are now taking a closer look at security. For the enterprise, security is a critical need, and cloud content service vendors are quickly making it a competitive differentiator, especially from their consumer-level counterparts. Basic encryption and password access are typical, but increasingly sophisticated security features are appearing in more and more products.
Level 2: File Sharing with Desktop and Mobile Sync
Providers are responding to a growing need to synchronize content quickly and easily between devices. Initially, desktop sync arose because tablets don’t have conventional directories, and because it is just easier to have software move your files around. Some providers, like Huddle, offer a semantic approach in which the application predicts the content you need on your device and serves that first.
Sync is a powerful feature, and users increasingly rely on it in addition to basic file sharing. Ready access to important files from any device or system improves productivity and responsiveness. By eliminating the need to find and import information from remote systems, sync helps users get to work quickly on the most current version of any file they need.
Level 3: Collaborative Content Services
Today, the ability to discuss a document, make comments on it, and work on it with others at the same time are features in high demand. Google popularized this capability with Google Docs, and Microsoft countered with Office 365 (see RN 2012-15, Google and Microsoft: The Battle for Office in the Cloud). A growing list of other cloud-based providers now offers some or all of these capabilities.
Enterprises with many users who create and share content need the library services of classic document management, particularly for content security and protection. Cloud-based services address this need with collaborative content services (CCS). CCS combines file sharing, desktop sync and document management with a growing set of collaboration features, including:
- Full tablet support including an app
- Secure access
- Shared authoring and editing (with built-in or third-party tools)
- Basic document management, including version control and security
The rise of content collaboration also generates a demand for additional tools that help people work on projects together. When collaboration is the focus, sharing and managing content are only part of the solution. Other needs include a shared workspace where users can track versions, post notes and comments, conduct discussions, hold virtual meetings and allocate tasks, along with tools to do these things in innovative ways.
Level 4: Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise content management (ECM) is what enterprises use to manage and secure their mission-critical content. It combines document management, records management, paper scanning and imaging, basic collaboration (discussions) and archiving with high levels of security, scalability and reliability. Most ECM systems today are on-premise. As cloud-based ECM options emerge, enterprises should evaluate their on-premise systems, see how they compare with the new services, and explore the possible advantages of shifting them to the cloud.
Content is an artifact of collaboration, and a content strategy is a crucial aspect of any collaboration framework, especially for external collaboration, which requires extra layers of security and access control. The collaboration team responsible for tool selection should include content management experts to develop an effective content strategy.
Many collaboration tools can manage and synchronize multiple instances of content. A good strategy will help to reconcile the various places content resides. Cloud-based solutions offer simplicity, fast deployment, ease of use, access from a wide range of devices and the ability to add both internal and external users. However, each enterprise has to manage its content and assign appropriate levels of access to external collaborators.
Cloud Content Services and Mobility:
Mobile Content Management
One reason some emerging cloud content service providers are growing is because of their commitment to support mobile content management. This involves secure, wireless, location-independent access through a disparate mix of tablets and other mobile endpoints, including user-owned devices. This isn’t an optional feature that vendors can ignore; it is central to the new post-PC, on-the-go, need-to-know workplace. It requires some must-have features, including content sync, security, and control of content that is sent to or accessed on mobile devices (including expiring or wiping that content if certain conditions arise). In certain situations geofencing is enabled so content can only be viewed within a certain location. To remain competitive, providers have to continue their commitment to mobile integration. Aragon expects successful players to keep improving native mobile support all the way down to the app level.
Enterprise Social Networks
While enterprises use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for many business purposes from B2C marketing to recruiting, those public networks lack adequate control and administration. Public social networks are great places to listen to customers, monitor what’s going on in the market and communicate key messages. Communities are formed in these public spaces. Enterprises just don’t have any control of what happens in those public spaces.
In traveling to speak at conferences in North America and around the world, we have noticed what we would call “social fatigue syndrome.” Enterprises just want to foster internal and external networks and communities without all the social media hype. Business and IT leaders from various industries ask us how they can integrate internal and external social collaboration, and these conversations have led to in-depth discussions about enterprise social networks from vendors like IBM, Jive, Lithium and Microsoft that can be used both internally and externally.
For example, digital marketing leaders lament how inefficient some traditional tools such as email are for marketing functions that require a collaborative community. Coordinating teams of people inside and outside the organization is a challenging but essential part of a marketing campaign. An enterprise social network that supports external collaboration lets organizations provide a unified environment for interactions with internal and external participants. For example, in 2012 Jive Software introduced Jive For Marketing Teams, which enables team collaboration, real-time capabilities, document sharing and sales enablement in a virtual social workplace environment.
In one of our discussions, a media and communications firm from Brazil needed a social space to build customer communities with more controls than Facebook. We explained that a key benefit of external customer community options such as those from Jive and Lithium Technologies is that the enterprise can own the collaboration space, whereas with public social networks they cannot. Also, directly engaging with customers in their own social communities will allow them to better manage their customer relationships and shape the customer experience.
Map Technologies to Use Cases
Many tools and technologies can support different external collaboration use cases and styles, but collaboration is about people working together, not the technology they use. At the heart of every decision about tools should be how it enables people to work. Collaboration planners have to map the available tools to specific business use cases (see Table 1). Also, as full enterprise collaboration platforms expand their capabilities, they will overlap with point or best-of-breed solutions. Make strategic decisions around the broad platforms, and then integrate complementary point solutions as needed (which may be temporary).
Table 1: Mapping Technologies to External Collaboration Use Cases
- Assess and take inventory of what tools business users currently use for external collaboration.
- Map tools to functional areas such as collaboration style and business use cases.
- Make users a part of the technology selection process.
- Continually monitor the use of technologies to create a feedback loop of what works and what does not for business users and partners.
Effective communication and collaboration are the lifeblood of organizations. Deploying the right tools to let users seamlessly interact will lead to better adoption. Enterprise collaboration planners have to strategically select technologies for their toolbox that can support both internal and external collaboration.
Note 1: Technologies For External Collaboration
- Real-time Collaboration
- Cloud and Mobile Content Services
- Social Networks and Communities
- Federation Broker Services
Copyright © 2013 Aragon Research Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.