Is Multi-Vendor Team Collaboration Feasible?

Over the past two years, there's been no hotter trend in enterprise communications than team collaboration.

Once primarily a messaging niche served by a few start-ups, team collaboration has exploded -- both in the number of products and their functionality. In addition to messaging, most of these tools have file and screen sharing, voice calling, and video conferencing, among other features. In fact, for many workers, the team collaboration tool can replace the phone system.

I love these tools. Their organizational structure makes more sense than e-mail, they make an easy task of finding information after the fact, and working with them is generally much more logical than it is with other tools. But proliferation has become a problem -- there are now too many vendors.

Off the top of my head, vendors offering team collaboration tools include Slack, Atlassian, Mitel, RingCentral, Facebook, Unify, Cisco, Avaya Zang, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, 8x8, Symphony, Microsoft, and every service provider using the BroadSoft (now Cisco) cloud platform. I'm sure I've missed a few, but forgive me... as I said, proliferation is a problem, and keeping track is difficult.

Viral Headache

This poses some big IT challenges, as the adoption of team collaboration has been primarily viral, with various business units purchasing their own tools or using free versions. This might be sufficient for workers like software developers who only interact within their departments, but imagine someone like an account manager who needs to keep in touch with several groups. It's possible that person would have disparate tools to interface with other account managers, inside sales, field service, accounting, or other groups, respectively. One quick glance at my iPhone and I found five different team collaboration tools, which certainly isn't optimal.

In this case, team collaboration would create significantly more work than using "old school" tools, like email.

For example, consider an account manager who uses one team collaboration tool to engage with other members of the customer team, another to collaborate with the accounting department, and a third when working with field service. The account manager might request the initial contract for a customer from within the first team collaboration workspace. He'd then need to download the document to read and edit before sharing it with accounting in the second team collaboration app for adjustments. Once the contract is revised, the account manager must then jump into the third team collaboration app to share the document with field service so it can complete the contracted work. Keeping track of all these versions, in separate applications, creates a massive headache. In this case, it would be much easier to revert to email as the user would not need to keep switching among team collaboration applications.

Double Whammy

Beyond the volume of available tools, another challenge is making apples-to-apples comparisons. So many tools are at different points in their evolutions. Some offer great video, but do all job functions require this? Security is tricky as well. Most vendors claim to offer security, but some only encrypt the transmission of data and not the file storage. Integration with third-party tools tends to vary greatly from vendor to vendor. This could be a deal breaker for many companies.

In addition, there's no easy way to measure the return on investment of one versus another. I know many vendors point to a reduction in email, which is great, but that's normally offset by an increase in team collaboration messages. Some users (including many within the vendors that sell this stuff) sometimes send team collaboration messages and emails, as they want to use the new tool but aren't 100% sure the people they interact with are checking it as often as they should.

Now that the technology has matured and is available from your favorite UC or UCaaS provider as well as pure-plays, IT leaders must work with their line-of-business counterparts to answer the following critical questions:

  • What are the advantages in allowing the use of multiple team collaboration apps?
  • What are the disadvantages?
  • Is interoperability realistic, and, if so, what's the roadmap?
  • Should I be looking for common functions across the different tools?
  • How do I measure the effectiveness of one tool versus another so I can make an educated decision on which tools to use?
  • What level of security do I require?
  • With which third-party applications do I need to interoperate?
  • What kind of reporting tools are available?
  • How do I migrate users from one tool to another?

If these questions and others bug you as much as they do me, please join me at Enterprise Connect for the following informative panel "Managing Team Collaboration in a Multi-App Environment," on Wednesday, March 14, at 4:00 to 4:45 p.m. I'll be raising these and other issues with my panelists: Andrei Soroker, director of product strategy, 8x8; Dan Stevensen, principal GPM, Microsoft; Jamshid Rezaei, CIO, Mitel;

Jonathan Christensen, chief product officer, Symphony; and

Joe Berger, practice director, Collaboration Practice, World Wide Technology.

See you there!

Learn more about Team Collaboration at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Regular Rateor get a free Expo Plus pass.

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