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New approaches for smarter collaboration

This article appears in the issue November/December 2018 [Volume 27, Issue 6]
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The market for collaboration tools and technology is growing strongly due to the need for faster access to information in a big data world. Collaboration can include anything from enterprise social networking tools such as Jive, Slack, and Yammer, to video conferencing and file sharing. Some solutions provide a combination of multiple capabilities in a single suite. Other times, an organization picks a core technology and integrates other tools around it. In addition, data collaboration has emerged as a method of bringing greater transparency and usability to data scattered throughout an enterprise.

The wide range of estimates for the market size and growth for collaboration is partly a function of its diverse components. One estimate for the growth of the collaboration market from MarketsandMarkets places the rate at more than 13% per year for 2016 to 2021, with the worldwide collaboration market reaching nearly $50 billion. A forecast from IDC for content collaboration alone puts that sector at more than $6 billion by 2019. Other forecasts cite a potential 17% per year increase specifically for content collaboration for 2017 through 2025, although on a smaller initial base.

Regardless of the variations, the fundamental message is clear: Collaboration is a growth industry. Driven by the need to share information with people within and outside of an enterprise, the rise of worker mobility, and greater acceptance of cloud storage, content collaboration, in particular, has been maturing rapidly in recent years.

Many of these products were introduced about 10 years ago as simple and efficient ways to share content from a central location rather than by sending innumerable emails with multiple versions of documents that became hard to track. Often, the applications were rogues that operated outside the realm of enterprise IT. They took hold because legacy enterprise content management (ECM) systems had not kept pace with the need to share and/or were difficult to use.

Enterprise-grade features

Gradually a consensus was reached by users, vendors, and organizations that everyone would be better served if the content sharing platforms were brought inside the enterprise and enhanced with security, permissions, and tracking capabilities—but kept relatively simple. Now, most such solutions do offer enterprise-grade features that allow even the largest enterprises to share information securely within and outside of the organization.

Balfour Beatty is an architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) company based in England with U.S. headquarters in Dallas. The U.S. subsidiary is a $4.6 billion company that has numerous large-scale infrastructure projects including commercial buildings and utility and transportation projects. One particularly large project at the Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport had major requirements for management of digital documentation for which the company did not have support at the time.

One goal was to provide collaboration across numerous worksites, and another was to manage the lifecycle of digital documentation, including improved workflow. In addition, Balfour Beatty wanted to ensure that its system had appropriate permissions and administrative control. After exploring a variety of options, the company selected Egnyte Connect, a collaboration solution from Egnyte that provided the robust capabilities it wanted.

Since many construction-related files are extremely large, Balfour Beatty decided that a hybrid solution with local servers in certain locations and synchronized cloud storage would provide the response time the company wanted. Egnyte Connect allowed users and partners to collaborate securely across multiple locations and to integrate seamlessly with other applications needed for Balfour Beatty’s projects.

Balfour Beatty credited Egnyte Connect with $5 million in savings on the Dallas–Fort Worth project and subsequently conducted several pilot studies in different locations to evaluate the product further. The company established collaboration standards for employees and subcontractors and set up a project foldering system that would ensure consistency. After the pilot tests proved to be successful, Balfour Beatty rolled out the software enterprise-wide to 2,500 employees. The company now feels it has a solid basis for collaboration across its projects and a reliable way to store and share digital documentation.

Egnyte Connect was designed from the beginning to have a centralized approach to file management, noted Tim Johnson, product marketing director of Egnyte. “Our customers want a high level of accountability and control,” Johnson added. “They have massive amounts of data that is constantly expanding, and they are trying to figure out what to do with it. They also need fast access but realize that email and consumer solutions just won’t cut it.”

Workflow and analytics are built into Egnyte Connect; tasks can be assigned and notifications sent, for example. Metrics are available on which files are being shared the most, which users are the most active, and other issues of interest. “Egnyte Connect can also readily be integrated with best of breed software from our growing list of ecosystem partners” commented Johnson.

It can also be embedded in other enterprise applications an organization is using, such as Salesforce or Jive and operate from within the user’s primary application.

For updating large files, Egnyte Connect uses a technique designed to minimize bandwidth consumption, a feature that has helped it become established in the construction industry. “We use ‘delta sync’ so that only the parts of a file that have changed get updated, not the whole file,” Johnson observed. “No company wants to wait while large files get saved, but slowdowns in construction projects are particularly costly.”

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