To reliably support everyday collaboration activities, enterprises need a cohesive platform that may include a combination of hosted services and on-premise infrastructure and tools.
Many CIOs are consolidating disjointed office productivity, collaboration, content and portal assets into a single, unified software platform, based on a service-oriented architecture, that will benefit a range of workers and roles throughout their organizations. Forrester Research Inc. refers to this nirvana state as the information workplace. One mainstay of the vision is unified voice and data communicationswhich is more feasible given the rise of Voice over IPbut Forrester analyst Erica Driver says most enterprises remain unconvinced it makes financial sense to swap out existing voice systems.
Vendors of enterprise collaboration platforms are making slow progress toward unifying their real-time and asynchronous tools, while collaboration across platforms (you speak Lotus SameTime, I speak Microsoft Live Communications Server) remains difficult due to a lack of standards. And the list of options that support inter-enterprise collaboration is considerably shorter, though platform vendors are addressing the gap. For instance, Sharepoint, Microsoft's popular online workspace product, is largely limited to supporting collaboration inside the corporate firewall, so Microsoft acquired a competing product from Groove Networks in large part because it was designed to support inter-enterprise collaboration. Microsoft offers Groove in some editions of Vista.
Hosted services offer CIOs a good way to pare down their collaboration portfolios while providing their users with the latest features. Hosted options range from well-established Web-conferencing services such as WebEx to newer Web 2.0-based wikis, blogs and vertical-specific products such as Reuters Messaging.
"The trend at the moment is ease of experience over number of features," says Collaborative Strategies' Coleman. That could explain the growing popularity of basic, easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools that aren't overloaded with features, yet. Just when CIOs are intent upon rationalizing the proliferation of collaboration tools, an influx of appealing, easily acquired Web 2.0 tools may generate a new cycle of disjointed buying.
CIOs must stay on top of what's new and how it fits into their organization's collaboration strategy, and provide users with an approved library of manageable, secure tools. CIOs must also keep close tabs on how business processes and work habits are evolving. Even in a flat world, collaboration, like charity, begins at home.
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