Collaborating in a Cloud and Mobile World: You Can Stop the Commotion

0914AIIMCollaboration is key in organizations to speed up decision making, improve productivity and make global commerce easier. Technology has become the control hub that makes this all happen.

Technology has made collaboration so simple. We don’t have to be in the same location, or even the same country. We can talk to teams, individuals and stakeholders around the clock to brainstorm, debate and reach agreements that will accelerate the business process. At the same time with the growth in the adoption of cloud and bring your own device (BYOD), the need for employees to collaborate becomes ever greater.

But unfortunately, all in the collaboration garden isn’t rosy. Cloud and mobile devices have muddied the waters, making it hard for IT departments to keep control of data, lock down sensitive information and manage networks and the devices that hang off them. The big question is how to nurture teamwork and leverage always-on connectivity as a huge enabler, without sinking in IT bedlam.

Emphasis on collaboration

The significance of collaboration in organizations today can’t be overstated. It is key to tapping into the collective intelligence of an organization to continually improve its overall functionality. A recent AIIM study “Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World,” shows that many organizations are very aware of the importance of collaboration. An astonishing 93 percent of executives surveyed said that they saw internal collaboration as either “crucial” or “very important” to their role, and 89 percent went as far as to say that they thought a formal collaboration system was vital to the organization’s infrastructure as a whole.

This is no eye-opener. With the consumerization of devices and the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, widespread collaboration has become part of an organization’s competitive edge. Collaboration today is extending far beyond the walls of an organization, embracing suppliers, partners and customers.

Providing project teams with the resources to collaborate is a surefire way of speeding up decision making and creating a platform for innovative ideas. It is no surprise then that when on-premise team-site document sharing applications breezed in, users saw a great place to set up niche homes for project teams.

But it hasn’t all been as cozy as it sounds. Organizations have found it difficult to meet the challenge of letting those outside the firewall collaborate with those sitting inside. Mobile devices have stoked the flames, creating yet another problem: How to allow users to access collaborative content from their mobile devices and get involved in dialogue and workflows.

Where there is a lack of intuitive collaboration tools, teams have taken responsibility for content sharing, often under the radar of stretched IT departments, using consumerized tools such as iCloud and Dropbox. This is fast creating major security headaches.

Collaboration disorder

There has been reaction to the chaos. Some on-premise collaboration and ECM system suppliers have launched cloud-only systems, while others are offering hybrid-cloud models. With so many options and flavors it is little wonder many companies don’t know which to commit to.

In AIIM’s survey, 54 percent of respondents said they find the merging of collaboration and social tools “very confusing.” Support is also a major issue — 71 percent of respondents cited inadequate technical support where external collaboration is concerned.

IT support for cloud-based file share and sync services inside and outside the firewall have improved. But organizations must remember they are “consumer grade” when it comes to security and should be treated as such.

The dilemma is that if organizations don’t come up with intuitive collaboration solutions, employees will be quite happy to unearth their own to get the job done. AIIM found that many users would like to deploy hybrid cloud tools as part of on-premise ECM/collaboration systems. By doing this it is easier to control user access, lock down data, minimize security risks and monitor workflow.

Hybrid cloud considerations

One can’t dispute the fact that hybrid cloud has a lot going for it. But before organizations rush out to deploy a hybrid cloud solution to drive employee engagement and dialogue, it should look at the following:

• Highlight the areas of the business in which collaboration is critical — drill down and ensure collaboration internally, externally and with third parties.

• Enterprise social capabilities are becoming a key part of collaboration strategies. Collaboration tools across multiple platforms can be a key enabler. Ask yourself if you have the right plan in place here.

• Have you got the right levels of technical support in place to make collaboration a success and not a hindrance, especially where secure cloud and hybrid cloud are being deployed?

• Provide employees with approved, supported, seamless and intuitive cloud-based file sharing and sync solutions with appropriate access controls. This way they won’t go out hunting for consumer-grade alternatives.

• Containerizing duties underpins collaboration in the mobile world. Don’t just look at basic content access on mobile devices.

• Remember that with stand-alone cloud collaboration and content management solutions you will create another depot to manage for user access, classification, taxonomy, retention, and hold. The facility to join up with on-premise systems is hugely advantageous here. But also consider third-party cloud extensions to popular on-premise systems, as well as stand-alone cloud systems that offer a range of connectors.

• Pass on building in-house developed mobile environments. Productized solutions from existing ECM, collaboration and process-interface vendors, on-premise or cloud are far easier routes to supporting mobile devices and up and coming technologies.

Some may call it productivity, others may call it business continuity. Whichever way, a well-structured collaboration system can grease the wheels and make an organization far more efficient and agile, able to quickly take advantage of competitive opportunities. If you put a badly structured collaboration system in place, employees will work as rebel packs, adopting consumer-grade tools working outside the enforcement of the IT department, which will degrade network performance and leave your business open to security breaches. Or you will end up with turf wars where the IT department’s excessive control sends employees running for the hills. Understand that collaboration is the foundation of modern business.

Nurture and grow collaboration in your organization. Embed collaboration technologies into the work process, so it becomes part of everyday tasks. Planning will reap rewards. Collaboration technologies can help organizations achieve impressive results if implemented properly.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Workflow.

AIIM’s John Mancini believes that there is real value to be gained from content analytics – both in business insight and risk mitigation. But enterprises need to have a well-thought-out strategy in place to gain the biggest advantage.