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The Future of Online Collaboration

By May 13, 2015Article

Collaboration in today’s “connected” workplace is actually more difficult than it was in the past. To solve the problem, the enterprise needs a new collaboration paradigm. 

Think about it. In the old days of the linear, monolithic organization, the staff all came to work in the same office. They held meetings, they had lunch together, they talked by the water cooler. Collaboration was built in. 

But organizations have changed. Now they’re distributed and fluid. Pay a visit to an office of HP or Cisco or Intel and it’s half empty. Most people work remotely. And people who do go into the office have floating workspaces; they can sit in any cubicle. 

Organizations are elastic. They hire fewer people every year and use more contractors, consultants and vendors. A third of the workers at Fortune 1000 companies are nonemployees, and 40 percent of Americans will be freelancers by 2020, according to a study conducted by Intuit (“Intuit 2020 Report: Twenty Trends That Will Shape the Next Decade,” Oct. 2010). To save money, large companies are sending all but core functions to outsourcers. 

And then there is the blurring of reporting lines. Employees today usually don’t work directly with a manager. People in marketing might officially report to the CMO, but they work mostly with other people. They don’t get daily assignments from a boss; they work across a network of teams. 

But the cloud, you say, it’s purpose built for collaboration. Well, yes. But the cloud has its own problems. Like security. In today’s BYOD work environment, workers use all sorts of cloud solutions, whether or not they’re approved by the IT department. Employees and contractors share sensitive information via services like Dropbox, and contractors who leave the organization could walk away with the crown jewels. 

And when a company as rich as Apple gets its iCloud hacked, CIOs quite naturally wonder if any cloud is safe. So they start to crack down on cloud solutions. Some large companies are starting to ban popular cloud solutions over security concerns. 

In addition, there are usability issues. Enterprise collaboration tools like Dropbox, Yammer, Basecamp and Evernote address just one piece of the collaboration puzzle. Dropbox is for document sharing, Yammer is for discussions, Basecamp is for project management, Evernote is for notes. They work quite well, but managing all of them can be unwieldy. Workers have to mentally stitch them together — download a document from Dropbox, go to Asana to assign tasks, use Yammer to socialize and collaborate, organize workflow through yet another tool. The “solutions” can actually make things more inefficient and lead to a frustrating, nonproductive workday. 

So here’s where we are, even with the plethora of collaboration tools in the market: organizations rely as much as ever on old faithful, email. Most workers still use email as their default document repository. And 60 percent of workers still say email is their most effective channel for collaboration, according to a Harvard Business Review study (“Email Not Dead, Evolving,” by Barry Gill, Harvard Business Review, June 2013). 

Today’s workplace is a chaotic environment and point solutions are not bringing order, sweetness and light. We need a new paradigm. We need next-generation solutions to achieve a truly unified work experience. We need all components — notes, project management, document management, discussions, calendaring — in one seamless application. 

In this new paradigm, documents are tied to tasks, which are tied to teams, which are tied to notes, which are tied to discussions. It’s purpose driven, and it enables smooth collaboration and communication among individuals and teams. 

It makes workflow management easier. For example, if I’m the CMO, my biggest headache is having things on time. If I’m supposed to get that new presentation on Friday, I don’t want to watch the deadline all week and chase people down on Thursday afternoon. The new paradigm ties the process together and alleviates a lot of anxiety, frustration and inefficiency. 

My company has talked to scores of C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies. Unanimously, they say they’re looking for a collaboration solution that meets three criteria:

  1. It has to be a seamless all-in-one experience that relies on a single application, not dozens.
  2. It has to be enterprise class, meaning CIOs can feel secure with policy-based content access, they can see who’s accessing what, they can audit the workflow and they can apply permissions to individual pieces of content.
  3. It has to be usable, which enterprise software traditionally has not been. Users should love it. It should be easy and intuitive to use yet contain a ton of sophistication under the covers. Think about what Apple did with the iPhone. It’s a very complex technology with a lot of back-end horsepower, but everyone can easily use it and enjoy it. 

The average worker, with a better collaboration tool, should be able to save more than an hour a day. That would mean a huge increase in productivity, a large boost in worker satisfaction and, ultimately, a more profitable business. This is the end goal of every organization. And this is what a new collaboration paradigm should achieve. 

Srikant Sharma is the founder and CEO of Zenyx (formerly ThinkSpider). His career spans over 20 years in leadership roles at organizations such as Open Text, Interwoven, Societe Generale and Northbound DGS.  He has rich startup experience and a strong background in enterprise software, particularly in relation to creating and communicating a product-market fit. Follow him at LinkedIn. 






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