Businesses embrace collaborative technologies

Building 'communities of trust' among organisations could open up a $10bn market, but they need to accept the risks
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

The market is shifting towards collaborative computing, according to analyst firm Gartner. Organisations that exploit the shift stand to gain from a $10bn (£5.2bn) market — but there are also risks, analysts warned.

Most companies can gain huge competitive advantage by sharing sensitive information outside traditional corporate boundaries, but there is an issue with trust, Gartner said, in a report it published on Thursday.

To exploit the advantages of large-scale collaboration, organisations need to build a "highly trustable digital environment. New technologies which transcend existing enterprise infrastructures, maintaining control over information while significantly improving external collaboration, represent a rapidly growing market opportunity", argued the report.

Gartner estimates that these "communities of trust" could be worth at least $10bn by 2012. The communities will be "built on top of the existing enterprise and the internet" and will "provide the social conventions and technical standards necessary to support expansive collaboration, ensuring that initial conditions for trusted collaboration are met, and that they remain within limits".

As Gartner sees it, one of the main issues is the way organisations have had to open up their previously closed networks to external sources such as suppliers, customers and competitors. "Although such an open, collaborative approach brings substantial business benefits, it does demand a radical rethink of existing trust mechanisms," according to Jay Heiser, research vice president at Gartner.

Among the growing number of  "collaboration-heavy situations" making "platform-based security technology obsolete" are IT and business-process outsourcing, use of external consultants, outsourcing manufacturing and joint ventures, he suggests.

"Traditional security mechanisms provided by the operating system or network are just not suitable for meeting this kind of need," said Heiser. "However, effective solutions can be found in security technology that overlays the existing infrastructure, instead of being dependent on it."

According to Gartner, the community of trust market can already be split in half between a specific set of security technologies, and a very wide range of hosted services.

Heiser believes hosting is one of the growth areas that is already adapting to the need to reach out, while remaining secure. To do this, "you need to decide where you need your information to reside, and how much control you will need", the research vice president said. The controls exist to give organisations the confidence to allow the information to leave the IT department, he said. Citrix was a good example because "it allows you to control the desktop".

Mr Heiser advised end-user organisations to develop a better appreciation for the scalable trust technology that may already be in place, but not strategically utilised. "Some organisations may well find that they have the makings of a perfectly suitable community of trust infrastructure, without being aware of how easy it would be to improve external collaboration," he said.

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