The inside-out enterprise.

Why companies should open their collaboration systems to partners

Large enterprises are increasingly working with external companies in almost all areas of business activity.  Recognizing they cannot do everything internally, they work with freelancers, agencies, channels partners, academics and so on in product development, sales, marketing and logistics and so on.  

Freelancers are typically used to bridge a skills gap and where the need is only temporary. In the US alone, there are 53 million freelancers, making up 34 percent of the entire workforce. But in other areas, enterprises are looking beyond the company’s walls for help developing new products and services. GE, Unilever, Accenture and AstraZeneca have all embraced Open Innovation, for instance.

And yet there will often be an impenetrable wall which prevents them collaborating more freely: the corporate network. So to collaborate with these externals partners, enterprise employees must either fall back on email as the default means of working together or adopt unauthorized project management and messaging applications.

Internal collaboration improving

Gartner estimated that by 2016, half of enterprises will have adopted enterprise social and collaboration tools to improve internal productivity and ideation. According to McKinsey, collaboration software can reduce time spent searching for information by as much as 35 percent and also help teams be 20 percent more efficient.

There are many different technologies being used to enable collaboration internally: Webex and Citrix for group conferencing; chat within email clients brings presence information, helping to reduce emails and delays in responding to simple requests; Slack, Hipchat and now Microsoft Teams are a great leap forward on chat in that they are designed for groups, can be ordered by project and fully-searchable; prosumer file storage like Dropbox, Box and Google Drive makes it easier to sync files across multiple devices and share docs with teams;  enterprise social networking offered by Jive and Yammer (part of Office 365) helps virtual teams to adhere. In fact, Office 365 brings many these capabilities into one environment – email, chat, boards, cards, file sharing, sites, calendaring, conferencing – and is fully integrated into Skype for Business.

These tools can be a great boon to productivity. But for enterprises that rely heavily on working with partners, there could be more gains and less pains from opening up their collaboration environment.

Collaboration in the shadows

If partners and suppliers cannot access enterprise collaboration systems, some employees will simply ignore security policy and set up or use their agency’s applications. The need to work with outsiders is one of the drivers behind Shadow IT growth. According to Dimension Data’s 2016 Connected Enterprise Report, consumer-grade collaboration apps are used in half of enterprises and is increasing.  This is more pronounced among Millennials: 60 percent of them already use apps like Google Drive, Dropbox, Instagram and iCloud for collaboration versus only 38 percent of Baby Boomers.

IT management needs to recognize that some employees may be more productive when they are able to choose their own tools to collaborate. This must also be balanced by the need to reduce the risk of security leaks, breaches and hacks.

So how can IT achieve this? Clearly, enterprises do not need to adopt or approve of every single collaboration tool available. This would create silos of information, massive security risks and possibly prove to be very expensive with costs hidden on company credit cards. A more controlled approach would be to extend their own enterprise collaboration tools or chat clients or storage apps outside the firewall to those third parties. Jive-X, for example, is one tool that has this partner enablement as a central focus. By opening up internal collaboration systems to trusted third-parties such as contracted freelancers, files and chats can remain stored in a secure location, and security is an issue of access management.

Reaping the benefits

Using the carefully planned and implement enterprise collaboration tools to work more productively with partners and suppliers will help foster closer working relationships. Relying on email as the only method of crossing the create divide (between internet and intranet) is a step back to the 20th century. Today’s digital user, whether an employee or an external party, expects to have a similar social app experience in the workplace to that of their personal lives. So if an essential part of your workflow is produced by an external partner, why are they not integrated into your collaboration environment?

To read more about collaboration and the possibilities that social tools can bring to enterprises, please visit: