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Most organizations see collaboration as crucial to their success, but nearly two-thirds of those organizations feel confused about the dovetailing of collaboration and social tools.

And while document and content sharing outside the firewall is considered a necessary evil, many onsite systems have been secured against access to outside systems, forcing business workers to rely on unsecured file sharing systems.

These results and more from recent AIIM research points to a C-Suite that favors collaboration, but puts many obstacles in the way to achieving it.

Collaboration Advantages

The research, which was carried out between Jan. 24 and Feb. 11 this year, is based on responses across 421 surveys returned from the global AIIM community. Entitled "Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World," it examined how enterprises are managing collaboration. Specifically, it looked at how they were dealing with two growing collaboration needs:

  • Linking external users into the content sharing environment
  • Enabling them to do this from their mobile devices.

If the results are broadly positive in the sense that they point to a business climate that is supportive of collaboration efforts and technology, they also show that many businesses have been forced to prohibit the use of third party systems like Dropbox, SkyDrive, i-Cloud, Google Drive and YouSendIt as workers attempt to overcome historic restrictions on reaching out beyond the firewall.

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Looking at why collaboration was so important for organizations, three strategic drivers for improved collaboration were apparent:

  1. Better general productivity (47 percent),
  2. Better knowledge pooling (46 percent) and
  3. Connecting a dispersed workforce (36 percent).

Other issues, like speeding up review processes, responding to customers and building customer engagement, and project completions were also seen as important to overall productivity.

Historical Enterprise Collaboration

The current enterprise collaboration landscape is the result of a number of changes in technology over the past few years, the research says. The first generation of on-premises team-site and document sharing applications emerged and to some extent replaced the sharing function of intranets.

Smaller teams across the enterprise quickly took to the new and speedy sharing functionality as well as the ability to create workspaces where even the smallest teams could meet and work online.

The result was a massive proliferation of project sites while problems around sharing and collaboration appeared to be solved. However, like all unplanned IT, eventually it springs up and bites.

In this case, for CIOs, the problems should have been predictable enough given that they have existed since enterprises started storing information in repositories. That problem is governance.

Document libraries sprang up over night with little consideration about classification or lifecycle management. Structured records creation and destruction was forgotten about, as well as controls over who could see, access and share what documents.

CIOs jumped on this straight away introducing taxonomies, governance policies, compliance workflows even if the introduction of these control elements made these systems a little bit more complicated than they were originally.

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Cloud-Based Collaboration

A second generation of collaboration tools emerged as more enterprises started looking at cloud computing. These were simple to use and enabled sharing inside and outside the firewalls through a common access area in the cloud, or through synchronizing content between two computers or devices via the cloud.

Many of these file share and sync applications adopted a “mobile first” approach, thus addressing the two collaboration needs identified previously, notably external collaboration and collaboration using mobile devices.

Of course, any one that uses these tools will be aware of the amount of social elements that have been added over time like shared wikis or comment streams, but often without the agreement of the IT department.

In response to this, many on-premises collaboration , or enterprise content management (ECM) systems developed either cloud-only versions, or hybrid cloud models, with synchronization between the cloud and on-premises.

4 Collaboration Considerations

Given the range of models now available, the research aims to clear up some of the confusion around some of these models and point to the options that are currently available to users, while at the same time keeping security and governance firmly in focus.

At 33 pages, it is impossible to offer anything except a brief overview of the report's findings on the content and collaboration space. The report is free to download from the AIIM website (registration required).

1. Driving Collaboration

Some items that emerged from the research worth noting include that the biggest incentive for a formal adoption system is controlling the way documents are shared.

This has clear implications around compliance and compliance related issues, including control over documents location and questions of access.

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Two other major considerations include document sharing through mobile devices and remote access to documents. Respondents said they were specifically interested in sharing large files and documents, along with speeding up the review process.

The figures show that 50 percent of respondents believe their organization has shortfalls in technical support for internal collaboration, a number which rises to 71 percent for external sharing, with as many as 39 percent saying external collaboration is badly supported.

Respondents also expressed a number of concerns around ownership of a collaboration system in the enterprise, along with concerns over who would be responsible for content management.

To ensure that collaboration is only carried out on enterprise systems, consumer file-share and sync services are banned in 56 percent of organizations, even if only 27 percent restrict access to these services. Twenty three percent provide an approved business grade alternative.

2. Adoption Strategies

There appears to be no general consensus on what the best kind of system is, but in keeping with findings of other studies on cloud computing, 47 percent of organizations are looking for hybrid cloud systems.

Progress on this is slow with only 9 percent saying they have an enterprise-wide system while 33 percent are implementing or integrating these systems across departments. A further 24 percent have plans in the next 12 months.

There is also a considerable number of organizations where there has been no adoption at all, which the report suggests is because no one has taken the initiative. There is also a sizable portion (22 percent) that don’t want their content shared around, while a further 16 percent are confused about the options available to them.

3. Features for Selection

The principal feature that organizations are looking for are security features. It is even more important than price or compatibility with existing ECM/DM systems. This is particularly important to enable managed access by external users.

Mobile access is the highest “want but don’t have” feature, with Yammer-like message feeds very low on the list. Other common collaboration related features were also considered desirable, with document versioning and check-out/check-in are important and mostly available, but tasking, workflow and approvals seems to be a struggle for some.

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4. Mobile Access

The most commonly accessed content from mobile devices is reports, dashboards and electronic forms, although only 30 percent have this ability as it stands. Electronic sign-offs and approvals are also popular with 20 percent of organizations already offering that.

One of the really interesting figures that emerged is the number of organizations offering Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies in either a limited (49 percent), or fully inclusive (20 percent), fashion.

Over half (54 percent) say they offering client access to their main ECM or document management systems for remote employees, which also includes access to the systems by third parties.

Less than 25 percent have any document create, edit or workflow capability on mobile, although 85 percent would like to have it.

Again, this is only a snapshot of what is going on in the collaboration software space. It shows that most businesses consider enterprise collaboration tools a "must have" for business success.

However, this is a technology space that is still evolving. By next year the list of must haves will have changed again, even if the moving of and working with content across teams, departments, enterprises and globally will remain the driving principle.