There are a number of surprising takeaways from a new Forrester Wave report that should force many collaboration vendors to think through their development strategies twice. Not least of these is that despite all the progress that has been made, many IT leaders are still questioning the feasibility of cloud-based collaboration tools.

Cloud-based Online Collaboration

The report, Forrester Wave: Cloud Strategies Of Online Collaboration Software Vendors, Q3 2012, is based on research compiled by TJ Keitt and is the result of surveys sent to 2,438 IT executives and technology decision-makers located in Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the US working in everything from SMBs to large enterprises.

It identified what Forrester describes as eight significant collaboration services providers -- Box, Cisco Systems, Citrix Online, Google, IBM, Microsoft, salesforce.com, and Yammer -- that were scored on over 38 criteria.

Today we will look at some of the issues that this evaluation raised, while tomorrow we will look at the five companies that made it into the Leader’s segment of the Wave.

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Forrester Wave Online Collaboration: Vendors included in the Wave
 

Before looking at it in detail, there are three main takeaways from the study that put the entire body of research in perspective. They include:

1. Business Agility

To address business problems enterprises must partner with a number of external groups outside the firewall. Cloud-based collaboration tools can be delivered to both PCs and mobile devices and enables the free flow of information.

2. Cloud-based Collaboration Feasibility

Despite the massive strides in security and compliance and the fact that more than half plan to use online collaboration tools in the next two years, many IT leaders still don’t trust online services.

3. Vendors Reassure IT leaders

Following on from this, then, it makes sense that successful vendors in this space are those that can reassure businesses around these issues. Successful vendors in this space will be able to provide the flexibility enterprises require to achieve business goals.

Online Collaboration Appeals

While there is considerable competition in the online collaboration market, Forrester says that the rush to get products to the market is not vendors trying to one-up each other, but reflects a very real and expanded demand for products. More than half of enterprises survey said that they are or will be using SaaS collaboration technologies in the next two years. Business leaders believe SaaS offerings will offer them the following advantages:

Responsiveness

Customers that are increasingly informed and empowered can force an enterprise to change its strategy to suit. Business leaders believe that they will be able to respond to this with technologies that enable easy information flow, and a space outside the firewall where the enterprise can collaborate effectively with clients.

Feature Upgrades

Traditional on-premises software that depends on a three-to-five year refresh cycle prevents enterprises from changing and upgrading outdated software. Online services update themselves, a factor that was mentioned by 60% of those in the survey.

Mobility

Seen as technology that supports workers outside the workplace and enables enterprises to connect workers using all and any device. Successful vendors offer a range of browser-based tools and apps, both native and HTML5, offering anywhere access.

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Forrester Wave Online Collaboration: Perceived benefits

Enterprise IT Concerns

Online collaboration services vendors do not, in general, seek to offer all the functionality of an on-premises suite which typically consists of email, document workspaces, real-time technologies, and social tools. Most of the time, these vendors are trying to solve specific problems or scenarios by creating a collaboration hub. While IT professionals have shown considerable interest in these products, Forrester says they are also the subject of numerous queries and questions that include:

Enterprise ready

No matter how big the size of the vendor, Forrester says it consistently asked whether the vendor in question is ready for full enterprise deployment. By this, enterprises are questioning whether the tools have sufficient back-up services, whether they can be built to scale, and whether they have a sufficient policies and procedures to remain compliant with existing regulations.

Security

There are still concerns around the quality of data encryption and authentication methods as well as identity and access controls in these offerings. There are also considerable concerns around the security of vendor data centers, and how data is removed from retired servers.

Integration

Many enterprises are also concerned as to whether these services can integrate into existing environments. On-premises collaboration platforms are intertwined with the enterprise computing infrastructure. Can online services be integrated with legacy applications, localized, or customizable according to needs?

Vendor Commitment

The question also arises as to how committed vendors are to these services. Many want to know whether vendors are going to be around over the long-term, and with large vendors whether the vendor is serious about online services or just following a trend. Questions around the resources vendors are putting into their online commitment, and whether they are trying to expand their markets and offering are also asked.

According to Forrester, these questions reflect concerns that are still present about the feasibility of moving collaboration workloads to the cloud. The concerns are not limited to small vendors, or niche players, but to the enterprise collaboration market.

And this is where this Wave report comes from. Forrester says it undertook the study to address these issues and to evaluate the strength and weakness of the services strategies of prominent online vendors.

Vendor Evaluation Criteria

There were 38 criteria that were developed by Forrester to answer these questions, which were in turn divided into three major buckets:

  • Current offering: How vendors are constructing their online collaboration offerings. This breaks down into six concepts: breadth of offering, language localization, availability and resiliency of the service, security and compliance, IT’s ability to administer the offering, and how the service can (and can’t) be customized.
  • Strategy: Vendors plans for making their offerings accessible and useful for a wide range of businesses.
  •  Market presence: Vendor customer base including number of seats and number of corporate clients, as well as the size of the partner ecosystem.

For the report Forrester included eight vendors in the assessment: Box, Cisco Systems, Citrix Online, Google, IBM, Microsoft, salesforce.com, and Yammer. In each case all vendors were able to demonstrate:

  • Track record: A history of delivering online collaboration services for least three years
  • Large-scale deployments: Vendors had to be able to demonstrate that they could deliver for the enterprise, which Forrester defines as a company with 1000 or more employees. Under this heading Forrester required that vendors demonstrate at least two enterprise-sized deployments
  • Proven relevance: Vendors that Forrester deemed to be most relevant to it clients. This was established through feedback from a number of clients.

Tomorrow we will look at the specific products and feature set that pushed Box, IBM , Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Yammer into the Leader’s segment.