While email remains the most used enterprise collaboration technology, it is a one-to-one way of working. Some businesses are now looking at wider ranging, social collaboration, to make it open to all and easier to access records of the work.
Employees often kick off enterprise social collaboration by using their own mobile devices to access cloud based services. Vendors have been tapping into this with 'freemium' models, offering limited collaboration facilities free of charge to get a toehold inside organisations. This is despite some businesses having legal or organisational issues with placing company data in the cloud.
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For some enterprises on-premise solutions will work just as well. Alan Lepofsky, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research, makes the point: "Just because a solution is in the cloud does not make it easier to collaborate with external people. On-premises collaboration solutions such as IBM Connections, Microsoft SharePoint and Jive can all work with external parties."
He adds that each of those vendors also has cloud solutions.
Enterprise social networks generate a lot of data and transferring the storage problem to the cloud may seem a sensible option. However, as storage costs fall, the strain on the company network may be a more pressing issue, especially as employees take to bandwidth hungry web conferencing and video collaboration.
Richard Edwards, Principal Analyst, Ovum is seeing firms using Box.com, Microsoft Skydrive Pro linked to Office 365, Google Drive especially among SMBs, and offerings new to the market such as the likes of Citrix and VMware in the mid market and others such as Workshare.
He believes that a major issue for companies deciding between on-premise or cloud is where data is held when at rest.
"Jive Software uses this as a differentiator – it can be used in the cloud, on-premise or a mix of both," he says. "Microsoft and IBM in the larger enterprise space have a story to tell here as well."
There are a number of starting points for businesses considering social collaboration software. "If businesses have CRM systems based on Salesforce they may take a shine to Chatter and Chatterbox. If they use Office 365 for email they will be offered an upsell to Yammer," Edwards says.
Many SMBs are Microsoft houses and the Office 365 family of SharePoint, Office online, Yammer and Lync may be a strong option; but other collaboration platforms, such as IBM Connections and Jive, also integrate with Office and Outlook.
Waterstons is a business consultancy employing around 70 people. It uses Microsoft SharePoint and Lync for in-house enterprise social collaboration for its distributed workforce and it also works with clients wishing to use other platforms for collaboration.
James Alderson, Account Director Technical Services, says: "You need to define your goals and objectives for what you want to get out of this before you enter into the process of what technology you are going to use, whether it is cloud or on-premise. It does vary massively on a business to business basis."
Alderson suggests using travel cost reductions and customer experience surveys as measures of success.
A large oil and gas customer of Waterstons selected Google Drive on the grounds of cost.
"It is quite a low cost platform for a large deployment. Also it ticked all the boxes with one platform providing all they needed. The driver was replacing its email messaging platform – this offered a global platform for mail and plenty of storage."
Alderson adds: "You need management buy-in and that can be a challenge to achieve as a lot of management perhaps see it as the Facebook of the business world, and why would you need that?"
Global events company GDS International recently implemented Citrix's cloud enterprise social networking platform Podio.