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Why you should extend your collaboration tools to partners and freelancers.

In the modern business environment, the need to work with others doesn’t end at your company’s reception desk. Collaboration tools – combining messaging, conferencing and file sharing and social networking – are already successfully deployed internally across most businesses. But today, global enterprises should also consider extending these capabilities to all their key external partners to help accelerate digital transformation.

Network effect

Enterprises continue to focus on their core competencies, a long-term trend over several decades. But today, the driver is the need for rapid, cross-sector innovation.

The wisdom is simple. Highly specialized businesses can deliver new products and services far more effectively in partnerships than they can alone. Working with others means they become far more agile in their responses to market forces and changing digital business needs.

For example, we’re seeing the emergence of a new “mobility sector,” driven by the convergence of the technology, energy and automotive industries. This is enabling the creation of autonomous driving infrastructure, electric drive chains and highly desirable vehicles that people will want to buy or use as part of a pay-per-ride service. Effective collaboration with many different partners is proving critical to success.

The 2017 American Express Business Collaboration Index found that those businesses that collaborate with others returned 64 percent higher revenue gains in 2017 than the 26 percent increase seen by those that don’t.

“Collaboration allows businesses to join the dots to create unexpected opportunities,” said Martin Seward, General Manager and Vice President, American Express Global Commercial Payments.

Of course, business is all about communication. Sage Research found that employees waste over 75 minutes of work time daily when managing multiple communication channels. This is why many enterprises are looking to all-encompassing suites, like Cisco Spark and Microsoft Office 365, to bring all the tools – telephony, messaging, team management, conferencing, document and data sharing and enterprise-focused social networks – into a unified environment. Deloitte claims organizations that deploy unified collaboration tools may experience up to a 19 percent increase in operating income.

If it works, embrace it

Cisco claims 65 percent of employees must manage external stakeholders to get their jobs done, and yet most companies do not allow external partners into the collaboration systems. Activities such as task management, messaging and sharing become more time consuming, limiting productivity. Cisco estimates that one-third of organizations recognize this and are developing policies to achieve external collaboration.

“Operating successfully in the digital world requires organizations to look outside their four walls and take part in a highly networked, converging and collaborative ecosystem where it is critical to trust and be trusted,” noted a recent Tech Market View enterprise software analysis.

The wisdom of clouds

The problem is that while key partners may already enjoy all the benefits of their own internal UC&C solutions, a lack of interoperability and agreed security standards mean they cannot easily share those systems with external entities. This can create real problems when engaged in complex projects involving multiple collaborators, such as prototyping, design or product development.

This collaboration gap threatens company security. As employees seek more productive ways to collaborate externally, they may begin using third-party solutions. Such use of shadow IT puts sometimes highly-confidential corporate data outside enterprise security protection. Looming GDPR data legislation amplifies the business risk of critical data being shared in this way.

These are the business realities driving many enterprise users to seek cloud-based collaboration solutions. The benefits, usually for a predictable cost, are that enterprises can support external partners on the same systems, maintaining data integrity and unlocking the productivity benefits they seek.

Scalable, cloud-based collaboration systems offer the benefits of existing UC systems, with the addition of information recall, data integrity and support for short- and long-term external partnerships, work groups, project management and more. IDC predicts the UCaaS market in the EMEA region will reach $1.15 billion by 2020.

In the future, some experts already predict that collaboration systems will be augmented with data analytics and machine intelligence, enabling 24/7 security and situation monitoring, intelligent task management and the identification of hidden business insights from within internal and external B2B and B2C communication flows, among other things.

Creating virtual protected collaboration environments will be key.

To find out more, download our eBook Employee collaboration is business fuel. Ignite it.