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Working together

Elaine Wang, Rectron. (Karolina Komendera)

There have been big changes in the world of collaboration software, and technology companies haven’t made a lot of noise about business collaboration software in the last few months.

Microsoft’s decision to ditch the name Skype for Business in favour of Microsoft Teams marks a drive to unify collaboration and communication tools across its entire Office 365 suite. Facebook wants to be taken seriously as a business tool with updates to Workplace, and newcomer Slack is getting slicker with new features like desktop sharing.

Atlassian’s Hipchat has also been revamped to include audio and video meetings, task tracking and better integration with the firms other products, and Google’s Hangouts has also been updated to be more business friendly. Dropbox is still trying to encourage more people to use its native collaboration tools and not see it as simply a convenient file sharing space to support other apps, and even Amazon is offering video conferencing via Chime.

With so many options – and many of them free to use – what does it mean for the more venerable collaboration providers such as Cisco and Avaya, and what should business know before buying, selling or adopting a particular system?

We put these questions, and more, to a specially convened roundtable of experts.

The changing landscape

Tiens Lange, Westcon Comstor Tiens Lange, Westcon Comstor
Once upon a time, collaboration was part
 of unified communications or converged technologies. But the selling point of collaboration tools has changed: it’s no longer about the technology or specific efficiencies or even enabling remote workers.

“The perception was that we’d move everyone to a mobile workforce,” says
 Tiens Lange, business unit director: unified communications and collaboration Solutions division at Westcon Comstor. “But now collaboration is the future of the workplace.”

Lionel Moyal, Microsoft Lionel Moyal, Microsoft
“The trend is towards digital transformation of the enterprise and the move to a modern workplace,” says Lionel Moyal, business
group lead for productivity and collaboration solutions at Microsoft. “The reality is there are a lot of great technologies, but habits have
to change. The new world is about working more collaboratively. People spend more time in meetings across multiple teams, so the method of collaboration has to change.”

Danny Drew, MD at Avaya South Africa agrees. “We’re starting to see more use cases for collaboration. The technology has been around for ten years, but it’s never evolved much beyond video conferencing. Now we’re starting to be able to show the use cases, the features, the functions and the business case for better collaboration.

“Where we are now is trying to educate our customers about how and why they can change. They’re blown away by too much email and too many meetings. We need education around change,” he says.

Many of the old barriers to collaboration are being broken down by the consumerisation of the technology. Video calling no longer feels unusual for end-users in the way it did ten years ago. Messaging apps are a way of life.

“The biggest challenge is to get someone off WhatsApp and onto the tool their organisation provides,” says Elaine Wang, cloud and software solutions director at Rectron, “You need some consistency across an organisation and shadow IT is a big problem, especially with millennials. We have to train them to use the enterprise tools or they’ll just carry on using the consumer ones that they know.”

Troey Gerber, Karabina Troey Gerber, Karabina
This consumerisation has driven several positive changes. The business tools are
now as easy to use as the consumer ones, and increasingly support plugins from other applications outside of the vendor ecosystem. However there’s still the danger that a desktop can devolve into an unusable mess of different messaging clients.

Lisa Schaffer, Obsidian Lisa Schaffer, Obsidian
“What makes pure collaboration work
is ease of use,” says Troy Gerber, digital workplace lead at Karabina, “If people aren’t using the technology provided it’s because what they use outside the enterprise is easier."

Building the culture

"But the fundamental aspect is that you’ve got to instil a culture of collaboration. The tools are just a way to stay on top of it,” says Gerber.

“Culture plays a huge role in successful adoption,” says Lisa Schaffer, Atlassian principal consultant at Obsidian. “I work with two banks, and their cultures are very different. A tool isn’t a silver bullet, if a company wants to fix its processes then the tool is just a way to drive that. Collaboration is about human interaction, and we need to understand that.”

Avaya’s Drew agrees. “It’s about how we streamline interactions. Vendors and our partners need to understand this first and the tech second.”

Bradley Geldenhuys, GT Consult Bradley Geldenhuys, GT Consult
Bradley Geldenhuys, CEO of GT Consult says: “All the apps are competitive. Your way of working has to be mentored and structured within the business. You have to have a governance plan if you’re serious. It doesn’t have to be cemented forever, you can refine it and adapt to new technology.”

Henrie Fourie, Mint Henrie Fourie, Mint
Mint’s modern minds practice head, Henri Fourie, says: “Enablement is a big issue. Lots of tools have great functions but people don’t know how to use them. You can’t just build it and expect that people will come.”

Building a culture, getting involved in business process and focussing on ROI helps end-users to focus in a world of so much collaboration choice. The good news is that enterprises realise this and are willing to pay for the right solution.

Marius Van Wyk, SkyGroup Marius Van Wyk, SkyGroup
“We compete against ‘freemium’ a lot
less these days,” says Marius van Wyk, operations and technical director at SkyGroup Communications. “The cost of enterprise solutions has fallen to the point that it isn’t
an issue any more. ‘Freemium’ is still more prevalent in the SME space though.”

Traci Maynard, Axis Traci Maynard, Axis
That said; the SME market shouldn’t be overlooked states Traci Maynard, Microsoft executive at Axis.

“The smaller organisations adopt collaboration tools a lot faster and they have
a higher expectation of the technology,” Maynard adds. “Larger organisations are much slower to adapt.”

If resellers and vendors are looking to help businesses manage long-term digital transformation, predictability is also an important selling point.

“Anyone in a serious business using a freemium product is not serious about what they do,” says GT Consult’s Geldenhuys. “The tools may not be there in the morning; at least Microsoft will tell you when it’s going to kill things off.”

The security challenge

Perhaps the strongest argument for businesses to continue to rely on technology partners in the face of so many collaboration alternatives is the need for security and compliance.

“A lot of clients are battling with the technology out there,” says Recia Latief, head of sales at Intervate. “They’re battling to keep their communications secured. We need to help them to understand how to collaborate within their organisation and outside, and what the differences are.”

Recia Latief, Intervate Recia Latief, Intervate
“The cost of governance and compliance is high, and it takes big investment to do that,” says Microsoft’s Moyal. “There’s GDPR (the incoming EU data privacy regulation) and PoPI and all these organisations have a responsibility. As much as they’re encouraged to go through digital transformation, we need to impress digital responsibility around data of employees and customers.”

Conrad Steyn, Cisco Conrad Steyn, Cisco
“We will all have to comply with GDPR anyway because we’re going to be holding data on European citizens.” says Conrad Steyn, sales specialist and engineer for collaboration technologies at Cisco. This is steering some away from pure cloud collaboration. “More firms are saying that they want to control their own encryption keys and so on, even when they’re working in the cloud.”

The challenge over control of data is important, but not an insurmountable barrier to adoption. Indeed, many of our experts see it as a key selling point for those solutions that aren’t based in the public cloud, and can be hosted locally or in the datacentre.

Indeed, the feeling that we’re left with is an agreement that collaboration is easier than ever to do, thanks to widespread
native support in common applications.
But support from vendors and the channel
is still as important as ever if a business is going to ensure consistency, compliance, security and – most important of all – build an internal culture that makes the most from collaboration tools. And that’s where the future opportunity lies.

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