It’s time for some tough love about collaboration tools. Many users cling to the first- and second- generation toys they know and love, like email and cloud-based repositories. Furthermore, too many complicated interfaces and access schemes prevent effective use of more sophisticated enterprise-oriented tools by many users, especially partners, suppliers, consumers and other extramural players who are increasingly viewed as crucial participants in any organizational collaboration. Meanwhile, the need for more effective collaboration is increasing dramatically.
Indeed, more than eight out of 10 respondents to recent surveys by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services said that collaboration is vitally important to achieving their organizations' goals. Indeed, the collaborative intensity of organizations is soaring, with most organizations finding it imperative to include outside individuals and organizations (see table below). The new research, and some common sense, also finds that the proliferation of web-based tools is hampering productivity and increasing costs rather than achieving those intended benefits.
Source: Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 2016
The demand and acclaim for collaboration tools is not new, of course. Collaboration software legend Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, Groove and other pioneering tools, has been at this for decades. Indeed, each of the major software vendors has its own collaboration tool set. Therefore, most user desktops are crowded with six, eight or more icons that enable collaboration with one data set. Most of these tools, such as unified communication systems and the myriad of point solution cloud based apps, are so yesterday, though.
The next step is developing and adopting cloud-based collaboration tools that are integrated with enterprise apps. That’s the biggest collaboration pain point, especially tight linkages between collaboration tools and Customer Relationship Management systems that would better empower sales, marketing and customer service teams. And let’s face it, today’s sore spot is tomorrow’s sweet spot for internal and external software developers.
Indeed, roughly four out of 10 survey respondents noted the need to connect collaboration tools to enterprise systems (see table below). But I predict this will grow over the next few years to become an issue for a large majority of large organizations, along with the consolidation of collaboration tools.
Ironically, while only a quarter of respondents said that their collaboration tool sets were too complicated to deploy and use, finding easier to use tool sets is the number one to-do task of these organizations (see table):
Clearly there are a lot of mixed signals about collaboration tools, which is especially worrisome considering how important they are. And amid all this confusion there is opportunity for IT pros.
First, understand that your expertise with APIs is enterprise gold for these externally facing apps, especially when bundled with the ability to provide secure links to extramural players. I would argue that the best way to integrate the existing collaboration tools and enterprise apps is with APIs. Others may say that buying a new collaboration tool set built from the ground up with tight ties to CRM systems would be ultimately more efficient, but fighting the user experience battle over yet another interface will be bloody. It's preferable to better integrate what they already have and love rather than sell them on yet another tool set, in my view.
Second, focus on the key enterprise apps. Surveys have shown that integration collaboration tools with CRM modules like sales, marketing and customer service have the biggest and fastest ROI. As the table below shows, these apps and processes are most likely to be improved by better collaboration tools.
Third, look to mobile app development for better ways of securing the collaboration apps that are tightly integrated with enterprise systems. The ease of which mobile phone users can check their bank account balances should be replicated when it comes to enabling outsiders to effectively and seamlessly collaborate with staff while everyone is accessing CRM data.
And while the survey didn’t also include Enterprise Resource Planning or Supply Chain Management, I consider these systems as crucial for integration with collaboration, too. While the payback won’t be as clear and as fast as when integrating collaboration with CRM, over the medium term they should be added to the priority project list.