How to Streamline an Enterprise Collaboration Ecosystem

Industry analysts project that the enterprise collaboration market will balloon from $7 billion in 2015 to $49.51 billion by 2021. This is to say nothing of the unknown but substantial value of the shadow IT in the space.

Collaboration.tools

Enterprise collaboration tools can be a huge and messy operation to administer and monitor.

Because there are so many competitors in this market and that employees already come into a job with their favorite tools, most companies find themselves using multiple platforms for conferencing and collaboration tasks. These include chat, email, videoconferencing, messaging, streaming video and other functions, and the orchestration of all these can be a nightmare for IT administrators both in terms of management and cost.

There is a healthy competitive market for collaboration platforms—for large, midrange and small companies. Some of the key players here are Slack, Box, Dropbox, Huddle, Google, Facebook, Nimble, Soul, VMware, Smartsheet, Front, Moxie, ConnectWise Control, SpiceWorks, AirTable, Quip, DirectorPoint, Zoho, Accelo, Datapath and others.

Market Growing at Breakneck Pace

Industry analysts have predicted that the enterprise collaboration market will balloon from $7 billion in 2015 to $49.51 billion by 2021. This is to say nothing of the unknown but substantial value of the shadow IT being used for these functions.

With so many ad-hoc communication solutions in the workplace, how can IT admins ensure that employees have access to easy and reliable collaboration while also managing security risks and keeping costs low? This eWEEK article, based on perspectives from Bobby Beckmann, CTO at video communication provider Lifesize, outlines several ways to help calm the conferencing chaos in an organization and establish a cohesive collaboration ecosystem. 

As collaboration technology continues to play an escalating role in enterprise productivity, proper management and insight into cost and time spent by IT is crucial to gauge effectiveness. Here’s the current landscape, according to Beckmann:

Data Point 1: Collaboration is King

In today’s scattered workforce, virtual collaboration has become critical for business productivity. A recent survey of IT decision makers by Lifesize and Spiceworks revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 say collaboration is a high priority in their organization – and they can’t get enough. Sixty-eight percent say even more attention to these solutions would be valuable. However, adoption does not guarantee that implementation is smooth sailing.

Data Point 2:  What You Don’t Know Can Cost You

Organizations are using on average more than four different solutions across three providers for conferencing and collaboration (web, audio, video, chat, etc.), according to the survey. For IT, managing multiple systems is confusing and costly. In fact, 56 percent of respondents admitted that they don’t know how much they are spending on subscriptions and licenses. 

The following are steps IT can take to calm the chaos and develop an effective and cost-effective collaboration ecosystem.

Step 1: Audit Your Collaboration Technology

Take inventory and identify what collaboration technologies your company is using and how often those tools are being used. According to the survey, the four most commonly used collaboration solutions are messaging (74 percent), web/screen share (72 percent), voice/audio (72 percent) and video (70 percent). Look at usage data but also make sure to create an open dialogue with members of your organization to find out if they’re using applications and tools that you may not know about. This information can help alleviate shadow IT concerns. 

Step 2: Consolidate Where Possible

Whether they are being used to their full potential or not, all the collaboration solutions in your workplace are being paid for. Identify stakeholders and contracts for all products uncovered by your audit, then look for ways to consolidate. This includes multiple maintenance agreements, support contracts, minute-based fees and on-premises hardware costs. Total cost of ownership of these solutions is more than just license fees – it also includes time spent on deployment, training and troubleshooting. 

Step 3: Evaluate Interoperability

Sixty-six percent of IT professionals surveyed use multiple providers for conference and collaboration. Unfortunately, technologies in the unified communications space have a bad reputation for being anything but unified. When looking at collaboration solutions, look for standards-based interoperability and a seamless guest invite process to extend communication to vendors, partners and customers outside of the organization. If the collaboration tool cannot “play nice” with other solutions, it will create barriers to smooth collaboration. 

Step 4: Ensure Reliability

Free and consumer-grade apps may come with a nice price tag, but they can present challenges such as low picture or audio quality, as well as bandwidth hiccups. Collaboration technology should make it feel like you’re in the same room as someone who is an ocean away. If your collaboration technology isn’t providing a consistent, reliable experience, you are much more likely to see rogue collaboration technologies pop up. 

Step 5: Ensure Security

One of IT's major responsibilities is to ensure collaboration products and services that contain confidential company information are as secure as possible. According to Gartner, by 2020, one-third of security breaches will happen because of shadow IT. With BYOD, a distributed workforce and the use of multiple collaboration tools, security issues can run rampant if not managed properly. When selecting or evaluating your solutions, make sure all your data, whether at rest or in motion, is encrypted; your applications, systems, and devices are safe behind a firewall; and that automatic updates are available and activated to ensure timely and efficient security.

Step 6: Appoint Collaboration Advocates

Office-wide changes to collaboration technologies can be difficult to implement, so it will be critical to get everyone excited about the new direction. Department leaders and all team members affected by the change need to be on board in order to maximize adoption. Nearly seven out of 10 IT professionals stated that collaboration is a high priority or even essential to the organization’s current strategy. Find a key partner – a collaboration advocate, if you will – in each department who can help you steward any changes. Your allies can help ease everyone into the new way of collaborating and address employee’s questions or concerns along the way.

In Summary

Collaboration is the cornerstone of the modern workplace and a key ingredient for teamwork and a thriving business. IT’s role is vital in creating and maintaining a cohesive collaboration ecosystem in which technology facilitates seamless communications rather than hinders it. With a bit of strategic planning, led by IT, a cohesive cost-effective collaboration ecosystem can be more than just a pipedream. It can be a reality.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...