shadow play
A recent report suggests the growing flexibility of IT organizations has cut back on Shadow IT PHOTO: Laura Aziz

It feels like only last week shadow IT was one of the biggest concerns of C-Suite executives and IT managers.

Shadow IT describes the phenomena of employees bringing in unapproved apps into the enterprise. While employees do this for many reasons, the majority were doing so to simply make their jobs easier. 

New research carried out by Market Cube for collaboration vendor Smartsheet indicates those days may soon be over.

IT Adopts a Flexible Approach

The research doesn’t indicate shadow IT will go away for good, but rather that enterprises and IT departments have finally developed flexible strategies to bring in the apps workers want and need.

The norm now, according to the 2017 State of Enterprise Collaboration report, is IT departments that willingly bring on new apps as needed, in particular productivity apps to help employees accomplish work.

The report found most IT departments have strategies in place for deploying non-traditional collaboration apps, such as Dropbox and Evernote, within their organizations when these apps support clear business needs.

In fact, most said their company has a defined strategy for deploying and managing cloud collaboration tools. And these tools aren't only for internal use, but support customer and partner interactions as well.

Among the report's many findings three stood out:

  1. Ninety percent of respondents said the use of multiple cloud collaboration tools has improved worker productivity.
  2. The collaboration market isn’t as chaotic as it appears at first glance: over half of companies reported using under six apps and 84 percent used 10 apps or fewer.
  3. Over 50 percent of respondents said they've used collaboration tools more over the last 12 months, and plan to increase their investment in tools in the next year.

Collaboration Tools Flooding the Enterprise

“Enterprises need to become more efficient to stay competitive, and many have identified collaboration as a way to accelerate their businesses, ease communication and reduce the friction to innovation,” Eric Browne, VP Product Management and co-founder of Bellevue, Wash.-based Smartsheet told CMSWire.

“They also see the potential for cloud collaboration to reduce manual steps and even automate frequently performed tasks, allowing employees to focus on more valuable work.”

The variety of tools businesses deploy to encourage collaboration include a wide range of apps covering divergent functionality. The report lists Cisco WebEx, SharePoint, Evernote, Box, Dropbox, Yammer, Jira and IBM Connections as some of the most important tools in this area. 

“There’s clearly been a surge in adoption in collaboration apps as enterprises recognize their strategic value, which has attracted significant investment and spurred acquisitions and new market entrants. For example, Atlassian acquired Trello for $425 million and Smartsheet just raised $52 million,” Browne said.

“As our survey shows, businesses are starting to be more purposeful about how collaboration tools are deployed and implemented. There’s still a lot of work to do, however — we are only at the start of how collaboration tools will transform the enterprise.”

Email Continues to Dominate

These apps address many of the daily problems workers face. According to Browne, a high percent employees perform the same tasks every day, such as submitting and approving purchase orders, or onboarding new customers.

These highly manual tasks typically rely heavily on email.

“We’re still in the early days, but collaboration tools can automate and accelerate these processes. They also ease communications across departments and with partners and suppliers, which helps work get done more efficiently,” Browne added.

The report uncovered a fact that will surprise few: despite the widespread adoption of collaboration apps, email remains the primary communication and collaboration tool.

In fact, the report suggests that far from impacting the use of email, the rise of collaboration apps has correlated with a rise in email use within organizations.

A few reasons may explain the trend: the fact that most collaboration apps enable real-time communication but fail to provide an easy and effective way for employees to store and retrieve collaborative work files. Add to this the general reluctance of many people to adopt new technologies, who default to legacy tools like email. 

Past the Collaboration Tipping Point

In spite of this, businesses continue to introduce collaboration apps at a rate that many vendors operating outside of the collaboration space are now adding them to their portfolios, or acquiring complementary tools. 

“Collaboration tools are a must-have among businesses, so it’s not surprising to see new players enter the market. But there’s also a lot of noise, and enterprises need to choose a platform that will integrate with the various collaboration options and help them manage these tools rather than create new, siloed platforms,” Browne added.

The business world, the report concludes, has reached a tipping point.

Work is moving away from legacy tools into more sophisticated platforms and organizations are choosing these tools carefully, looking for a combination of flexibility, security, compliance and ease of use.

“I expect to see continued adoption of collaboration, and enterprises becoming more strategic in how they deploy and manage these tools,” Browne said.

“Dynamic and growing markets always attract new entrants. The winners will be those that truly understand the needs of enterprise customers, and that have a track record providing the security, control and compliance large businesses need from the software and services they use.”