4 Tips for Building a Cohesive Collaboration Ecosystem

IT professionals know that collaboration technology is critical to communication within a company, but do they know where tools overlap in functionality and cost? Apparently not. A study Lifesize recently commissioned with Spiceworks shows that 56% of IT professionals don't know how much their organizations are spending on subscriptions or licenses for collaboration.

Collaboration technologies are ushering in an era of instant communication and increased productivity -- and not a moment too soon. With the rise of the remote workforce, there is an even greater need for collaboration, and teams are looking for tools that get the job done, with or without IT support. But with an onslaught of new video, voice, and chat technologies claiming to fix one issue or another, it can be challenging to make sense of all of the tools a company uses to keep employees connected.

Instead of trying to manage a hodgepodge of disparate collaboration products, IT should seek to create a cohesive collaboration ecosystem -- a network of integrated, interoperable tools at every employee's disposal for the means of communicating more efficiently and effectively.

This ecosystem should be carefully interconnected, absent of overlapping technologies, and reliable, secure, and scalable. Only then will an organization be able to build a truly connected workplace that supports seamless, universally adopted communications.

Here are a few steps IT professionals can take to transform their chaotic conferencing tool set into a well-oiled machine:

1. Conduct a collaboration technology audit. The most critical step in figuring out what tools you actually need is to take inventory and identify what collaboration technologies are already in use and how often. Look at usage data provided by your solutions, but also make sure to create an open dialogue with employees to find out if they're using applications and tools outside of IT's knowledge. This information can help thwart shadow IT, and it will help IT become a partner and trusted advisor instead of a "bad cop."

2. Consolidate where possible. On average, organizations are juggling four communication and conferencing technologies across three providers in an attempt to build one successful solution, according to the recent Spiceworks survey. Whether these solutions are being used to their full potential or not, they're all being paid for. Track down the stakeholders and contracts for all products uncovered by your audit, and look for things like multiple maintenance agreements, support contracts, minute-based fees, and on-premises hardware costs. Remember that the total cost of ownership of these solutions is more than just license fees. Consolidation not only saves money, it also makes the entire collaboration ecosystem easier to deploy and control across all departments of your organization.

3. Evaluate new solutions. There are a few things to consider when building a cohesive collaboration ecosystem:

  • Interoperability -- When using collaboration technologies, you should expect standards-based interoperability and a seamless guest invite process to extend communication to vendors, partners, and customers outside of the organization. If the collaboration tool cannot "play nice" with others, forget it!
  • Reliability -- Not all collaboration technologies are created equal. Free and consumer-grade apps can be poor in picture quality and pixilation and have bandwidth hiccups that can be distracting when trying to communicate. The point of video collaboration technology is that it feels like the conversation is taking place in the same room, even if the people are 10,000 miles away.
  • Security -- One of IT's major responsibilities is to ensure collaboration products and services that contain confidential company information are as secure as possible. When selecting or evaluating your solutions, make sure all your data, whether at rest or in motion, is encrypted; your applications, systems, and devices are safe behind a firewall; and that automatic updates are available to ensure timely and efficient security.

4. Gather your team and make a plan. In order to consolidate your organization's collaboration tools smoothly and effectively, you must get everyone excited about the new direction. Department leaders and all team members affected by the change need to be on board. Find a key partner in each department who can help spread the good news and drive adoption. Your allies can help ease everyone into the new way of collaborating and navigate hiccups or surprises that may push users away.

Collaboration is the cornerstone of the modern workplace, a key ingredient in teamwork and an essential part of a balanced business. IT plays a big role in creating and maintaining a cohesive collaboration ecosystem in which technology facilitates seamless communications rather than hinders it. Ultimately, IT is set up to be the driver behind creating a collaborative workplace -- a calm amid the technological turbulence.