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Collaboration becomes more consumer-like in its ease of use.

Little or no work is done in isolation these days, so nearly every task requires some degree of collaboration--the real question is what kind of collaboration. Is the teamwork mostly about sharing documents to produce a final report or is it a process in which different people need to perform sequential actions to complete a task? Or perhaps a group needs to send short messages to keep everyone informed about the status of a project. If an organization chooses to use an enabling software collaboration product, which one is most likely to improve productivity?

Collaboration should be seen in the larger context of the digital enterprise, not in isolation. Kashyap Kompella, research director at The Real Story Group (, says, "We look at the digital workplace as encompassing three major categories: collaboration and social, enterprise portals, and enterprise content management and cloud." However, the categories have considerable overlap. "Social collaboration is being subsumed into both content management and process management, while SharePoint is a segment in itself because it is nearly ubiquitous in large organizations and has an entire ecosystem of add-on tools," he explains.

One pain point that propels an organization into adding a collaboration solution stems from running into the information-sharing limitations of its existing products. "An organization that has SharePoint in place and starts trying to use it for real-time collaboration is likely to find it unsatisfactory," says Kompella. "Or a company may be using a legacy platform like Lotus Notes, and employees unilaterally start using another product that makes document sharing easier. At this point, management gets involved and moves ahead to search for a more modern collaboration product."

Point solutions fill in the gaps

Sometimes, just one important piece is missing out of a total digital workplace framework. A company may have a content management system that meets its needs that also incorporates collaborative capability, but has a geographically dispersed group that would like to be able to videoconference. In that case, adding a product like HighFive ( could be the solution. HighFive was developed as a cost-effective solution for videoconferencing. For under a thousand dollars per room, HighFive provides most of the capabilities of much more expensive systems and with more attention to usability than earlier systems, which often required technical support to launch a session.

Another example of an add-on might be a messaging system to augment a legacy business process automation or business process management system. Current systems provide a communication layer but the organization might need more flexibility or features than its system was designed for. In that case, HipChat ( or another message-focused solution might provide the right overlay.

A key requirement for software that extends collaboration is its ability to integrate with existing enterprise applications. In some cases, it may not be vital to save videoconferences or messages intended for real-time consumption, but in others, the information may need to flow to a content management system or into the application where users spend most of their time. Hipchat, for example, integrates with Google Drive (, Dropbox (, Facebook (, Salesforce ( and Blue Jeans (, an enterprise video cloud application.

Platforms extend their reach

Because vendors recognize that the digital workplace requires an array of different capabilities, many of them have extended their initial offerings to encompass a wider range of features. That can work in either direction; for example, a document sharing application can add collaborative elements, or a process-focused application can add messaging or improved access to supporting content.

Box (, which began just over a decade ago as a file-sharing application in the cloud, has introduced an array of additional tools over the years to complement its original capabilities. Among the new solutions are Box Governance for document retention and legal holds, Box KeySafe for customer-managed encryption keys, and BoxZones, which allows for regional storage in situations where the data must be stored in a specific location.

"We have always viewed Box as a collaboration tool rather than just a file sharing system," says Rand Wacker, VP of product management at Box. "Now we are building out many other features including Box Relay for workflow and Box Notes for creating a collaborative document-based workspace environment."

Initially, cloud storage was a workaround for employees whose legacy enterprise content management (ECM) systems did not allow them to access documents when they were away from the desktop or to share them outside the enterprise. The simplicity and convenience of such applications drew a large following, but IT departments were uneasy with the lack of security and accountability. With the advent of greater security and governance, they are now a disruptive force in the content management and collaboration space.

Schneider Electric ( is a global energy management company based in Paris with operations in more than 100 countries. Its employees began to use file sync solutions designed for consumers because they needed mobile access and sharing that was lacking in the company's legacy systems. Schneider decided to move to Box to address both the users' need for external collaboration and mobile access to content, as well as IT's requirements for centralized management and security.

After a successful pilot study with 4,200 employees, the company rolled out Box to a much larger group, encompassing almost all of the 140,000 employees. Employees and partners can now access content from anywhere on any device and comment on documents, unifying discussions rather than having them scattered across many emails. By using Box, Schneider offloaded its on-premise file servers and estimates that it has cut storage costs by 30 percent.

Broadcom (, previously known as Avago Technologies, is a California-based semiconductor manufacturer with a global workforce. It had a widely scattered set of servers that was expensive to maintain and did not allow collaborative file sharing or backup of employees' personal computers. After deploying Box to 80 percent of its employees and consultants, Broadcom was able to eliminate its Windows-based servers and save an estimated $4.9 million in IT costs over five years. It also reported improved worker productivity and satisfaction.

Engaging domain experts

TallyFox ( was founded in 2009 with a vision of building an open core platform for knowledge sharing. Its Tallium platform is a fully configurable solution that builds digital business ecosystems from collaborative workspaces. The contextual computing backend presents relevant information to every user in an engaging way. The most popular uses are for procurement and as an internal technical support portal, providing information for employees who are responding to client inquiries.

"A company that needs to turn on its knowledge network for a business process--such as risk management or compliance in a bank, competitive intelligence, or to find out what is working from a sales perspective--would benefit from Tallium," says Trudi Schifter, founder and chairman of TallyFox. Users discover relevant information automatically or send questions to a community of users. 'Tallium is designed to be easy to launch and use, an important quality for today's market in which users have grown accustomed to well-designed consumer applications," she adds.

Tallium Network provides three levels for its users. The highest level includes all users, who are loosely connected as in an intranet/extranet or sector network. The second level is for specific programs or communities of practice where a smaller group of people are more closely linked due to the theme. The third provides an unlimited number of digital work spaces within each community of people, who are closely associated in a real-world project. The networks share a common core taxonomy with the communities, and each community can add its own specialized terms.

Users can browse and search as well as quickly filter content and people using the expertise taxonomy. A smart Q&A functionality is provided in addition to a large selection of other collaboration and communication features. Users can send out questions to a selected community. When users send out a question, they can see who the experts are. Tallium also alerts the experts in the area in which a question matches their expertise and encourages them to help to answer it.

The search function is powered by Solr (, an open source semantic search engine, and is specifically configured for knowledge sharing. Tallium operates on a knowledgebase of content and profiles of people. Users can set up their own areas of expertise based on simple expertise taxonomy and interest. The product's functionality is built on SmartMatchPro, a proprietary set of algorithms that address ways in which people can be encouraged to discover information and enabled to share it.

"In many collaboration solutions, content pushed to the user is simply the most recent material, but that is not always the most relevant to the task at hand," Schifter says. 'Tallium provides contextual computing with machine learning utilities that allow people to view information based on their personal expertise, actions and preferences."

For example, venture capitalists are probably not seeking other VCs in their region, but more likely would want to find investment-worthy companies in a particular sector of the U.S. or Asian economy. The user can dynamically choose areas of interest using the same taxonomy via a simple graphical interface.

High strategic value

As an enterprise application, Tallium has an information architecture that provides multiple levels of access rights, including role-based permissions. That allows many different use cases, from ideation to program management. "It may be appropriate to share information differently with people in different categories," Schifter explains, "or to allow only one particular group to provide answers to a question."

The incentive for providing a collaborative workspace in today's competitive environment is strong. Productivity improvements range from 40 percent to 60 percent when such an environment is offered and used effectively. Strategically, the value is much higher, since transitioning an organization to the digital world opens opportunities for innovation and transformative engagement with their ecosystem members.

Engaging loosely connected people in an ecosystem who do not have a common program they share in the real world is a different type of challenge. Some research shows that as few as three percent of the members of such networks ever log in, let alone engage. "We believe that the future of collective intelligence and building dynamic virtual business ecosystems is to develop ways that dynamically motivate loosely connected users to collaborate," says Schifter.

Given the many collaboration software solutions that are available, choosing the right one is not an easy task. The best approach to selecting a collaboration platform, according to Kompella, is to work from a set of use cases rather than a list of desired features. "If you provide a checklist of features, vendors will invariably say their product has them. Instead, establish detailed narratives of what employees want to accomplish," he advises. "What are the key business requirements and which set of employees are going to use the system?"

The context for use, such as whether the individual will be in the office or on the road, should also be considered. "Go through the entire journey that the user would experience. Then give the vendor the scenarios and ask how the product supports those use cases," Kompella says. This approach will be more effective in selecting software that fosters and facilitates a productive working environment.


Judith Lamont, Ph.D., is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail
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Author:Lamont, Judith
Date:Nov 1, 2016
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