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In a cloud and mobile world-Making collaboration less confusing

We now work in an era of unprecedented collaboration. Even just a decade ago, the majority of projects in most organizations would be carried by one team, based in the same location. But collaboration between teams and individuals across geographies and time zones—including both internal and external stakeholders—is easy and routine now.

Technology has been the enabler for all this, but it is also true that the cloud and mobile working solutions have muddied the water somewhat, making it harder for IT teams to keep systems secure and under control. What’s the key to taking the confusion out of collaboration in a cloud and mobile world, and ensuring collaboration delivers value to your organization?

There can be no doubting the importance attached to collaboration in modern business. A recent AIIM study, “Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World” , shows that businesses are eager to embrace collaboration. Ninety-three percent of executives surveyed indicated that internal collaboration is either “crucial” or “very important” to what they do. Fifty-nine percent held the same to be true for external collaboration, while 89 percent said a formal collaboration system is a vital piece of infrastructure.

That is to be expected. Providing a place for project teams or individuals to “hang out” and pool resources has to be a sure-fire business improvement. So when the first generation of on-premise team site and document sharing applications came along, replacing intranets and truly extending document collaboration across the business, users jumped on their newfound power to quickly create homes for their project teams.

Two needs

However, many enterprises have struggled with two growing collaboration needs. The first is to quickly and easily link external users residing outside of the firewall into the content sharing environment. The second is to give users access to collaborative content from their mobile devices and to enable remote participation in review workflows.

A new generation of cloud-based content sharing tools emerged, such as Dropbox, Skydrive (now OneDrive, microsoft.com), iCloud, Google Drive and YouSendIt (now Hightail), all demonstrating how much simpler it could be to share files with any partner or outside team. Most of those “file share and sync” applications adopted a “mobile first” approach, thereby solving both of the collaboration needs mentioned above. Those services have been readily adopted as a way for project teams to share and communicate—frequently operating under the radar of the IT department.


Many on-premise collaboration and ECM system suppliers have responded by establishing cloud-only versions of their products, or extending their on-premise system into a hybrid cloud model. Others allow the new cloud collaboration services to synchronize back to established on-premise ECM systems. Such an array of different models helps explain the confusion and indecision among users as to the best way forward, not to mention their significant concerns about security and control.

Fifty-four percent of those questioned in the AIIM research said they find the rapid convergence of collaboration and social tools “very confusing.” External collaboration was seen as particularly problematic, with 71 percent saying that their organization has shortfalls in technical support for external collaboration, while four in 10 felt “strongly” that it is poorly supported.

IT support for collaboration both within and beyond the firewall has taken a big step forward, driven by the success of cloud-based file share and sync services. Those services are easier to link up with third parties, and are usually supported by powerful and easy-to-use mobile apps. However, many are still only at “consumer-grade” when it comes to access security, security on the device and connectivity with on-premise systems.

If organizations do not provide flexible and easy-to-use collaboration functionality across the business, then users will turn to the unsanctioned products. Many existing ECM/collaboration systems have become somewhat less agile than needed when it comes to collaboration outside of the business walls, and indeed, many do not readily offer cloud extensions and mobile support.

Our research showed that many users would like to create hybrid cloud solutions as an extension of on-premise ECM/collaboration systems, so that user access, classification, retention policies and process workflows can be synchronized across cloud and mobile access.

In the future

The hybrid cloud solution makes a lot of sense, but any organization going down this path should bear in mind the following seven key pieces of advice:

  • Be aware of those areas of your business where collaboration is crucial, and focus in particular on collaboration with external partners and third parties.
  • Assess the degree of technical support that you are providing, with reference to the functions, facilities and above all, simplicity of many modern collaboration and ECM systems.
  • Look at the support within your current collaboration or ECM system for external and mobile users, and check out the future roadmap, particularly with regard to secure cloud and hybrid cloud.
  • Be aware that many people in your organization are likely to be using consumer-grade cloud-based file share and sync offerings. Consider introducing an approved and supported business-grade system, possibly as an interim, but ensure that it has strong security options and user access controls.
  • If you are looking for a long-term cloud collaboration solution, look beyond basic content access on mobile devices. Look for containerized security, capture and edit, review and annotate functions, and interoperability with back-office processes.
  • Remember that standalone cloud collaboration and content management solutions will add another repository to manage for user access, classification, taxonomy, retention and hold. The ability to align with on-premise systems would help here, but check out third-party cloud extensions to popular on-premise systems, as well as standalone cloud systems that offer a range of connectors.
  • Avoid creating in-house developed mobile environments. Productized solutions from existing ECM, collaboration and process interface vendors, on-premise or cloud, will be much easier to support across current and future mobile devices, and are less likely to have security loopholes.

Any organization that doesn’t provide the right collaboration tools will see its users increasingly turn to the consumer-grade tools that can mean such a headache for confused and beleaguered IT teams. So the way forward is clear. Collaboration is a vital component of modern business and users will do it regardless. So work with them, embrace the modern technologies that enable collaboration and put the systems in place that will keep confusion to a minimum.

See http://info.aiim.org/content-collaboration-aiim-research

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