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Why Cloud collaboration is becoming a serious competitor to established enterprise collaboration systems

A few years ago, a friend of mine bought a Tesla. He was the first person I knew who had one, and he loved to show it off. At the time, he had doubters telling him it was a bad idea, referencing everything from its short range to total cost of ownership as reasons why they wouldn’t be following suit.

As time went on, something interesting began to happen. More and more Teslas began to show up on the road, and a few of the people who doubted my friend became Tesla owners themselves. The slick electric vehicles went from being novelty cars bought by a few wealthy dreamers, to a proven competitor to other luxury brands.

This is a perfect example of a phenomenon that happens with any technological advancement. There are early adopters, who often face ridicule for throwing money into the newest flashy trend, and then there are the latecomers, who observe the success of early adopters, and eventual become adopters themselves.

Even if you don’t own an electric car, you may have experienced the phenomenon yourself. Do you remember which of your friends was the last to get a smartphone? Or join Facebook? Our relationships with technology are constantly evolving, and eventually, the new and extravagant becomes normalised.

Cloud collaboration and innovation

Right now, this is a trend that is happening in workplaces as cloud technology is maturing and businesses’ perceptions of the cloud is evolving alongside. Only a few years ago, security and reliability fears meant that the cloud was viewed as a foolish place to store corporate data. Now, largely thanks to the increase of mobile work and devices, the opposite is true. Cloud technology has become normalised to the extent that people who resist its deployment are viewed as old-fashioned.

This is in part thanks to consumerisation in the workplace, which has meant that tools like Gmail and Dropbox were able to build huge communities of users in enterprises before even releasing premium services for businesses. By winning over home users first -- largely because of their user-friendliness and cost-free nature -- these solutions soon started to crop up in the business sphere as well, creating comfort and familiarity with the cloud when IT professionals still had serious doubts. The same goes for traditional enterprise collaboration, which is poised to be the next category to fall to its cloud competitors.

What about traditional enterprise collaboration?

You probably know what I mean by 'traditional enterprise collaboration'. These are bulky on-premise tools that, for many companies, have been in place since the 1990s. Some are institutional products that were custom built for the company. Others are heavily customised versions of commercial products from companies like Microsoft or IBM.

They mainly survive because entire companies are dependent on the historical data they contain rather than because they meet evolving collaboration needs, or have excellent user experience and iron-clad security features. I’ve even met a few people who need to keep outdated browsers installed on their computers so they can access their company’s files on these tools.

Security and user experience are the things that are going to drive businesses towards the cloud. Combine that with deployment cost, and there’s no way it makes financial sense for IT departments to continue to maintain these bulky systems. Cloud technology is a win on all fronts.

Security and the cloud

Security is rightly a major concern for companies. Historically, fear of the cloud has driven CIOs towards choosing on-premise solutions, even if it came at a high financial cost and steep learning curve for users. But the irony -- especially for SMBs -- is that the cloud is a much more secure option.

If you think about the cost (both in technology and staffing) of building a secure environment, you’ll find a vendor in the cloud will be able to offer much better security for much less cost thanks to economies of scale compared to a small or medium sized IT team could possible expend.

As Larry Port points out in an article in 'Law Technology Today', only 1 of 6 recent high-profile data breaches were on cloud systems, and that one was mostly due to poor password strength on the end of the user. I don’t mean to suggest that the cloud is invulnerable to security threats, but the scale of cloud providers gives them the ability to make security a full-time emphasis with an agility that’s not available to many small to medium sized businesses.

As more company leaders realise that their on-premise systems are not the fortresses they used to be, the shift away from collaboration dinosaurs will begin to accelerate from the top down.

From the bottom up, as mentioned, the user experience factor has already pushed a lot of users towards cloud tools, and will continue to do so. User experience is one of the main differentiators between cloud solutions and enterprise behemoths, and it applies to both desktop and mobile apps. Because the industry of cloud software is based upon growing rapidly, one of the main competitive tools for vendors is ease of use.

The 5 second test

In fact, many designers refer to 'the 5 second test', which tests if a website or tool is easy enough to figure out in 5 seconds. If you think about the most recent time you used your legacy collaboration tool, could you figure it out in 5 seconds?

What CIOs are beginning to recognise is that user experience is linked to productivity in a very fundamental way. If a tool is simple enough to use, people are going to use it more, and thus it will allow them to do more work and faster.

A simple example is for sharing a file. In old systems, this may be a multi-step process. A user must click 'Browse' then find the file on their desktop. They may select the file, then click 'Attach' then be taken to a list of files, where they need to choose an action like 'Share'. You can see where I’m going -- it’s a lot of steps for a simple function. The leading cloud tools have features like drag and drop, gestures, and simple designs that make complex tasks easy to achieve in few steps. The user preference towards this method of working is leading more teams to adopt them from the bottom, where they spread throughout companies.

The other main reason that the cloud will replace the enterprise collaboration tools of yesterday is cost. From an economics perspective, the cost of deployment and maintenance is lower for subscription based cloud software. Technology hardware does not hold its value. If you’re going to replace or modernise a system every four to six years, why not just subscribe to a system that will never go out of date? Have your vendors take on the cost of maintenance, upgrades, and security. And by paying on a per-user basis, you can ensure that you’re not spending more than necessary for your company’s size.

Compare this to an on-premise collaboration system, and the cost savings become obvious: big systems require big budget, and if they are difficult to use, they’ll ultimately have a lower ROI.

There is a cambrian explosion of tools in the cloud happening at the moment. As the security continues to increase, and as consumer demand for easier user experience and mobility grow, these systems will make more sense to organisations as replacements for their aging enterprise collaboration systems. The continued migration to the cloud for businesses of all sizes is inevitable.

Andrew Filev, CEO and Founder of Wrike