This content is part of the Essential Guide: Reaping the business benefits of collaboration tools

How to navigate the enterprise collaboration market

When evaluating enterprise collaboration services, first look inward at your company needs. Some key collaboration criteria include scalability, security and uptime.

The enterprise collaboration market remains a busy and crowded space. And no matter how far down that path you've gone, you'll need to consider even more variables in 2018. Product choices abound in the enterprise collaboration market. And while that bodes well for finding a great service, decision-makers need to navigate a complex landscape.

Every vendor and service provider seems to offer some form of collaboration. These distinct and varied products are often built around specific needs. Normally, enterprises have more complex needs than SMBs, but that also means the services can deliver richer benefits and stronger ROI. So, the stakes are high for making a good decision.

For this reason, the players in today's enterprise collaboration market extend well beyond the usual suspects of PBX vendors that developed the first iteration of unified communications offerings to protect their base in a post-telephony world.

Rather than cast a wide net to examine all the various offerings, a better approach to navigate the enterprise collaboration market is to start by focusing inward. To develop a good plan, you must first recognize that collaboration is a fluid concept that evolves with new technology -- and that's a different problem set than the world of fixed-line telephony, which has been relatively static for decades.

Determine your collaboration criteria

Before determining which types of offerings to pursue, you need to define what collaboration means to your business, including your IT team, management, lines of business and, most importantly, your end users. This approach requires a holistic plan to understand what collaboration should look like in terms of applications and business outcomes.

Without this step, IT will face a Wild West, where tech-savvy employees and impatient lines of business will go to the cloud and download the app that works best for them. More often than not, those decisions will not work best for IT, and they'll undermine the organizationwide benefits that IT is trying to deliver with a holistic approach.

With an enterprise-wide holistic approach, your search should focus on vendors that can support the entire organization in terms of scale and geography.

Many players in the enterprise collaboration market are either small with a limited service footprint or have a vertical focus on a particular type of collaboration. On that front, you need to define the criteria for an enterprise-grade service. The criteria could include the following: 

  • the range of communications apps supported by the offering;
  • how well vendor services integrate with your existing business apps and network environment;
  • the ability to scale quickly;
  • compliance requirements for your industry;
  • analytics capabilities for IT to monitor performance;
  • cybersecurity protection; and
  • service-level and uptime assurances.

Vendors should support your vision

The key message here is to plan from the inside-out to frame your requirements. Don't let vendors own the process.

Overriding all these services is the cloud -- both in terms of what IT is willing to embrace for collaboration and IT's own capabilities. Enterprise-grade players can better support the full range of options, including public or private cloud, as well as hybrid collaboration services for a mix of hosted and premises-based applications.

The key message here is to plan from the inside-out to frame your requirements. Don't let vendors and providers own the process and offer services based on their strengths, rather than supporting your vision. Otherwise, you'll spend a lot of time vetting smaller players punching above their weight or larger ones who may be missing some key pieces.

This assumes, of course, you want a single partner. But you could also pick applications from various vendors, especially if you're seeking leading-edge collaboration. If that's the case, you'll need a nimble IT group to make all this work.

Another collaboration driver will be your workforce. As tech-savvy millennials grow into team leadership roles, you might need collaboration services that could be outside your comfort zone. If so, input from young workers will be invaluable to define collaboration needs and determine the best vendors that may not be on your radar.

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