We no longer have to be in the same location to collaborate. Technology lets us communicate across time zones, between teams and individuals, as well as internal and external stakeholders. Technology provides us with a 24/7 platform to disclose and discuss what people are working on or contemplating. Technology allows us to put forward our opinions and open up discussion.
But, while technology is a great facilitator, the arrival of cloud and mobile has thrown a curve into the equation, making it difficult for IT departments to lock down data and manage networks. So how do you let people collaborate and add value to your organization without getting bogged down in technology chaos.
The Significance of Collaboration
One can't overestimate the importance of collaboration in today's business world. A recent AIIM study Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World - spotlights the fact that companies are intent on adopting collaboration. A staggering 93% of executives surveyed for the study said that internal collaboration is either "crucial" or "very important" to what they do; 59% said the same of external collaboration. In addition, 89% said they see a formal collaboration system as imperative to the business infrastructure.
This does not come as a great surprise. Companies need their employees to perform smarter, faster and more productively in an increasingly competitive business world. Providing project teams with the resources to collaborate and pool ideas is a fool proof way of improving an organization's agility, helping with decision making and sparking new ideas. So when on-premise team-site and document sharing applications arrived, pushing out the intranet, users rapidly saw the potential for creating new sanctuaries for project teams.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Organizations have battled with the concept of easily linking users outside of the firewall, giving them access to the content sharing environment. The mobile revolution has also caused another dilemma. How do you let users access collaborative content from mobile devices and let them engage in the review of workflows?
Teams have taken content sharing into their own hands, utilizing consumer-style tools such as Dropbox and i-Cloud, whose interfaces they are familiar with outside the work environment, to collaborate. Often teams are using these easy-to-use file sharing solutions without the knowledge of IT teams.
A number of on-premise collaboration and ECM system suppliers have reacted by creating cloud-only versions of their solution or stretching their on-premise system into a hybrid cloud model. Some have allowed their cloud collaboration services to synchronize straight back to on-premise ECM systems. With so much choice, it is little wonder organizations don't know which road to turn down. At the same time they are anxious over security issues and control of the company network.
In AIIM's study 54% of respondents they find the merging of collaboration and social tools "very confusing." This wasn't the only cause for concern. Support ranked high, with 71% of respondents underscoring inadequate technical support when it comes to external collaboration.
IT support for collaboration both within and outside the firewall has taken a major leap forward, primarily down to cloud-based file-share and sync services. It is very easy to link up with third parties via these services and they usually come with powerful, intuitive apps. But be warned, the majority are only "consumer-grade," when it comes to security.
If organizations don't come up with easy-to-use collaboration solutions, users will go out and find their own - often under the radar of the IT department. So what is the answer? Our study found that many users would like to create hybrid cloud solutions as an extension of on-premise ECM/collaboration systems. This way user access, classification, retention policies and workflows can be synchronized across the cloud and mobile users.
The hybrid cloud solution has a lot to offer, but before organizations rush down this route they would be wise to consider the following:
- Understand in which parts of the business collaboration is pivotal and hone in on collaboration with third parties and external partners.
- Make sure you look carefully at the level of technical support you are providing, referring closely to the activities, facilities and ease-of-use of many of today's collaboration and ECM systems.
- Assess support within your current collaboration or ECM system for external and mobile users, and take into account future plans, especially where secure cloud and hybrid cloud are being considered for deployment.
- Understand that many employees in the organization will probably be using consumer-grade cloud-based file-share and sync solutions. Look at deploying an approved and supported business-grade solution that provides strong security options and user access controls to the network.
- If you opt to go down the cloud collaboration solution route, don't just consider basic content access on mobile devices. Also take into account containerized security, capture and edit, review and annotate functions as well as all important interoperability with back office processes.
- Don't forget that stand-alone cloud collaboration and content management solutions will add an additional depot to manage for user access, classification, taxonomy, retention, and hold. The facility to join up with on-premise systems would be a great advantage, but also look at third-party cloud extensions to popular on-premise systems, as well as stand-alone cloud systems that offer a range of connectors.
- Don't build in-house developed mobile environments. Productized solutions from existing ECM, collaboration and process-interface vendors, on-premise or cloud, be way easier to support across mobile devices today as well as those coming down the line.
Technology is a great platform for nurturing collaboration, but it must also be driven by an organization's culture and management. Any organization which puts in place a badly planned collaboration initiative will see users reach outside for consumer-grade tools, which create even more problems for an already burdened IT department. Understand that collaboration is a key part of the modern workplace and employees will do it - with or without your backing. The gap between the way we use technology in our work and leisure time is closing. So instead reach out and grasp collaboration with both hands and foster it in in a controllable environment where the capabilities as well as the technology employees need is understood.
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