Best Practices for Implementing Cloud Collaboration
Over the past decade, the momentum for enterprise collaboration has shifted from the building of massive intranet solutions, usually developed and maintained by internal IT organizations, toward more flexible and cost-effective cloud-based collaboration platforms. In a survey of 2,438 IT executives and technology decision makers in the US, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Forrester found that 56% have moved or plan to move some of their enterprise collaboration systems to the cloud. With the cost efficiencies of the cloud, combined with the speed and capability of these web-based collaboration platforms, the amount of data moving to the cloud — and the number of online solutions offering enterprise-class capabilities — has grown exponentially.
Of course, the movement of data and key business workloads into the cloud does not reduce, necessarily, the requirements a business has for the handling of key intellectual property, or of particular industry and regulatory compliance and governance guidelines. A platform developed for the consumer marketplace does not equal enterprise collaboration, and therefore you need to select your platform carefully and ask the right questions to ensure that your requirements are being met.
With more than 12 years spent in the enterprise collaboration space, I’ve worked with customers of all sizes — from startups to multi-nationals, and across many different industries. In that time, I’ve found some common threads between deployments, and recommend the following best practices for any organization looking to implement a cloud collaboration strategy:
1. Get your stakeholders onboard.
No matter what the size of your organization, collaboration will eventually fail within the organization that does not have strong support from the executive management team. Various teams may find it helpful, but to achieve broad support and truly reap the benefits of any collaboration platform, it must be seen as important to the leadership — otherwise it will remain a departmental activity, with limited enterprise benefit. Nationwide Insurance is a great example of this, with the executive team, including the CEO, regularly participating in conversations with the technical representatives through their online platform, providing insights from the leadership team while also showing that they value the platform.
2. Solve one problem at a time.
One of the quickest paths to collaboration failure is attempting to do too much, too quickly. Collaboration works best when it is clearly aligned with business function in a phased, pilot program approach. This allows the new technology to be integrated with end user behaviors and practices, and then refined and improved before rolling it out to new teams, or to new business functions. For example, an organization might pilot the platform between sales representatives and operations as a way to improve dialog around customer relationship management (CRM) activities. In short, collaboration works best when teams have a shared understanding of what they are trying to achieve. Once a team has mastered that business function, the platform can then be expanded to other uses.
3. Understand the issues with moving from freemium to paid.
The freemium model has become an essential method for new companies and products to gain quick adoption. Many of the leading collaboration platforms on the market were able to achieve their leading positions because of free, easy-to-get-started options. Many organizations find themselves building out cloud collaboration solutions because so many of their end users have already adopted the freemium version of their platform. However, the shift from freemium to paid may not be as smooth as you would hope. There may be changes to the UI, new features that require additional training, more administrative controls that could restrict previously unrestricted activities, or migration issues that may not be able to move all content from the free system to the new enterprise version. Be clear on what features and restrictions come with the change, and prepare your end users for this transition as best you can.
4. Develop a training and onboarding strategy.
No matter how simple the user interface, your end users will need some kind of training as part of the onboarding process to your new cloud collaboration platform. Be clear on the goals of the platform (solving one problem at a time) and the gaps (differences with prior on premises platforms, as well as differences with freemium versions) and how end users can gain the most out of using the new platform. It’s also important to outline governance policies and procedures for the handling of sensitive data and key intellectual property. One strategy that has proven itself successful again and again is the creation of internal user groups with platform advocates or evangelists, who are “power users” who can provide the first line of support for questions on platform capability and governance best practices. Use the collaboration platform to encourage employees to help each other, and you’ll more quickly realize the benefits of the platform.
5. Have a backup plan.
As with any other production system, it is important to have a backup plan for your offline and online systems so that, in the case of an emergency or system failure, you can recover your data. For cloud services, understand the disaster recovery (access to your content) and business continuity (how long the system is down) aspects of your service, and make sure they adhere to your corporate governance policies. As part of your end user training, include offline access and backup instructions, as appropriate.
The advent of cloud collaboration platforms has dramatically reduced the technical and financial barriers to enterprise collaboration, but these solutions are rarely as simple as click-and-go. Unlike consumer-based technologies, enterprise-class platforms must still provide the security and administrative capabilities necessary for organizations to meet their unique compliance and governance requirements. The key to success, as these best practices describe, is to be thoughtful and thorough in your approach. That’s the primary difference between consumer and business collaboration — business alignment.
By Christian Buckley