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Enterprise Collaboration: What businesses need to know

Enterprise collaboration, sometimes abbreviated to EC or ECS for Enterprise Collaboration Systems, is becoming an increasingly vital tool for many businesses. Essentially, it comprises various forms of hardware and software used to enable the seamless and efficient sharing of information and resources within a particular company.

Enterprise Collaboration Systems can simply be relatively common communication tools such as email and instant messaging. Increasingly though businesses are turning to more bespoke solutions that combine these functions with project management and document management software. It is also worth noting that enterprise collaboration can prove beneficial for teams based in the same office, or those separated by thousands of miles. Collaborative technology is about breaking down the barriers preventing enterprise co-operation from taking place, whether they are departmental, geographical, temporal, or anything else for that matter.

Although face-to-face interactions are usually viewed as the Holy Grail in collaboration terms, the global nature of many modern businesses means that this is not always practical. This has led to the development of a wide variety of enterprise collaboration tools that can range from the simple to the more complex. Electronic calendars and workflow systems have long been embraced by enterprises, for example, in order to co-ordinate group work and meetings, but more innovative approaches to ECS are now being implemented. Client portals and enterprise social media platforms like Huddle are beginning to gain traction as a result of the many benefits that they can deliver to firms.

Collaboration examples

The types of enterprise collaboration solutions being implemented today vary dependent on the particular business and what it is trying to achieve. However, one of the most effective tools being embraced by businesses is video conferencing. This has enabled individuals to conduct meetings, share their thoughts and discuss innovative new ideas in a more effective manner. Unlike telephone calls, emails and instant messaging, video conferencing enables body language to be conveyed and visual information to be displayed, both of which can be vital in getting a message across. Similarly, companies that embrace unified communications also make collaboration much easier by enabling their employees to be easily contacted across a wide spectrum of media, including video conferencing, telephone, email and more.

Another prominently used enterprise collaboration tool is document sharing software. Previously, if multiple members of staff were working together on a single document, the process for implementing changes was a tedious and inefficient process. Individuals would have to edit and save the work, send it to another employee, wait for their input and repeat the process until the work was finished. However, document sharing software like Google Docs and Office 365 enables groups of employees to edit shared documents in real-time from anywhere in the world. It is now straightforward to add and respond to comments, and track any updates and amendments that are made on a single version of the document. With enterprise collaboration, the days of scrolling through email chains to find the most up-to-date file attachments are a thing of the past.

Social networks are also no longer viewed solely as a consumer medium. Many enterprises are embracing bespoke social media tools to enhance employee collaboration. Business focused networks like Yammer have grown in popularity as a way of giving employees the opportunity to create polls, ask questions and post statuses that can be seen by other members of staff. Unlike Facebook, enterprise social networks are private and posts are only made visible to other employees – keeping company data secure. Yammer also creates a searchable database of prior conversations, which has proven hugely useful. Employees can spend a large amount of time searching for information internally, or even have staff recreating documents they didn't know already existed elsewhere. Enterprise social networks make for much more efficient management of resources.

Project management software is another important aspect of many Enterprise Collaboration Systems. Rather than simply enabling information sharing or easier communication, project management software takes care of all the administration surrounding the collaborative process. Because collaboration can be complicated, particularly as group sizes increase, these tools ensure that budget management, quality management, resource allocation and scheduling remain under control. Project management software can be web, server, or desktop based and comes with a variety of features depending on the vendor.

What are the benefits?

Taking a holistic approach to work, drawing on the expertise of various teams and individuals, has been shown to provide huge productivity benefits for enterprises based across a wide range of industries. In fact, the recent Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study found that increased productivity was the most commonly cited advantage of closer collaboration, cited by more than 60 per cent of respondents. By enabling individuals to easily share their ideas and documents, group work has become a more streamlined process. What’s more, collaboration breaks down traditional workplace silos that hinder the spread of innovative ideas. Work being done by one enterprise team may have huge benefits for another, but this is useless if staff do not collaborate. Whether employees are based in the operations, sales, marketing or IT teams they are all working towards the same goal: making the business as successful as possible.

There are security advantages too. By grouping workers into teams around particular projects they can be easily granted permission to access the resources they need to do their job without admins needing to edit individual profiles.

Overcoming challenges

Of course, there are also some challenges that must be overcome before enterprise collaboration can be implemented effectively. Firstly, it is not enough to simply purchase collaborative tools, employees need to be convinced that they are more effective than their current methods of working. Staff inertia can be overcome by C-level executives leading by example, using enterprise collaboration systems to achieve business objectives and sharing the results with the rest of the company. In addition, make sure that employees have the training that they need in order to use collaboration tools properly. Instigating a cultural change may also be required to help staff from different departments get used to the idea of working with one another. Some systems employ a gamification technique, showing who has contributed the most ideas to a project for example. This can encourage the human change that is often needed alongside a technical one in order to encourage collaboration.

However, once enterprise staff do begin to collaborate effectively, the benefits are clear to see. Whether it’s increased productivity, knowledge sharing, improved communication, quicker decision making or the strengthening of workplace relationships, many organisations are already reaping the rewards of enterprise collaboration. By empowering staff to work together more effectively than ever before, businesses can work smarter and more productively than was previously possible.

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