Are online collaboration tools ready for your business?

Summary:Collaboration software-as-a-software platforms are emerging as the collaborative backbone of the distributed workforce. But are these tools ready for prime time?

This week, we published our first Forrester Wave on the cloud strategies of online collaboration software vendors, evaluating how eight vendors -- Box, Cisco Systems, Citrix Online, Google, IBM, Microsoft, salesforce.com, and Yammer -- are constructing collaboration services. Unlike a traditional Wave, this assessment was designed to look at how these vendors are addressing the lingering questions many IT leaders have about online collaboration technology:

  • Is it ready for the prime-time enterprise spotlight?
  • Will it keep me secure and compliant?
  • Does it fit into my business environment?
  • Is the vendor in the online business for the long haul?

We felt that it was important to look across a range of collaboration software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors to see how this nascent market was growing to meet these challenges. And it was essential that we do this now because this market is rapidly evolving into the collaborative backbone of mobile, distributed business ecosystems. That's a pretty strong statement, huh? Give me a moment to explain.

We've been discussing the immediate need for CIOs to get in front of their mobile workforce for a while now. What we haven't stressed as much, but will in our upcoming social business and collaboration playbook, is the need to build collaborative frameworks to include the rest of a business's ecosystem in the conversation: channel partners, suppliers, and customers. That means IT leaders must find ways to get information to and allow interactions between groups of people who are spending a great deal of time beyond the corporate firewall. That's a great argument for the cloud, right?

Our survey data indicates many agree: The majority of decision makers at organizations deploying collaboration software indicate they either use or plan to use collaboration SaaS to some extent within the next two years. So, here's the first pressure point on vendors that made our Wave critical: From a fundamental standpoint -- security, compliance, customization, and integration -- are these vendors ready to handle this swelling demand? Different businesses will this question to be answered differently, and this Wave provides IT leaders a chance to look for those items important to them.

For all of those IT leaders looking at these burgeoning cloud collaboration vendors, there's something else important to note: the design point for these online services is different than traditional on-premises collaboration stacks.

In the traditional on-premises realm, top collaboration software providers anchored their offerings with robust email platforms that tightly integrated with a broader set of real-time, teaming, and social software. This made sense: Email was the old man in the portfolio -- the technology with which these vendors originally differentiated. In the online realm, though, email is simply a commodity. The real differenitation for vendors is how well they tie content services into core collaboration services (e.g. activity streams or teaming platforms) to allow groups to communicate and collaborate on a specific topic. And the key for these vendors is how well they deliver these services to a range of mobile devices carried by those mobile and distributed employees, customers and partners. Don't believe me? Look at the popularity of services like Box; observe Google's and Microsoft's unveiling of Google Drive and Skydrive Pro respectively; notice Cisco's acquisition of Versly and Citrix's purchase of ShareFile and Podio; and look at the emphasis IBM places Connection's social file sharing capabilities in SmartCloud for Social Business. 

So, this creates the second pressure point for vendors in the online collaboration space that made this Wave important: Have they done enough to make this new vision for collaboration service delivery palatable for IT and business leaders?

This Wave lays out how the eight prominent vendors we evaluated are helping a marketplace that's interested in collaboration SaaS take those tenative first steps in the cloud. I will be holding a webinar discussing this Wave and the topics raised above on September 10. In the meantime, I open the floor for discussion on this evolving market. Is this what you're seeing? Do you disagree with this emerging vision? I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Cisco, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Mobility, Salesforce.com

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