Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

The rise of enterprise collaboration

When it comes to collaboration, people often don’t know what they are missing.

They tend to think about collaboration between specific groups in agencies. The tools for the arena—e-mail, video-and audio-conferencing, shared network drives—are well understood and seem sufficient for their purpose. But now a broader understanding of collaboration—enterprise collaboration—is on the rise, and agencies need to figure out what it means for them.

Yes, the traditional tools serve traditional purposes, which why people are not clamoring for more, said Nick Fisher, product marketing manager for Huddle.

“But they’re not integrated and, from an enterprise perspective, they are terribly inefficient,” he said. “It’s when you talk to organizations about storage in the cloud and elegant content control, and such things as being able to place comments directly against a file and task management directly related to content—that’s when they get an ‘Aha!’ moment.”

It’s not that the root definition of collaboration changes when you extend it into the enterprise, since at the end of the day it’s still about purposeful interaction between individuals said TJ Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. But at the broader level, providing ways for people to look across an enterprise to find the right person to help solve problems becomes a more important factor.

That’s something government agencies are starting to realize. A recent survey by the 1105 Public Sector Media found that agencies are looking for ways to extend collaboration beyond small groups, enabling employees to work with counterparts in other divisions, in other agencies and even in outside organizations, such as contractors, communities of interest and even the general public.

However, they are also beginning to realize the challenges they face doing this, particularly with how to manage things. Only one-third of the respondents said their agencies are able to track progress on their collaboration goals, for example, while a similar number said there was no clear definition of leadership roles and responsibilities for collaboration teams.

A 2013 report on “Enabling Enterprise Collaboration,” by McKinsey and Company reached a similar conclusion, based on a survey of IT executives. Many companies still seem to be working through how to build a holistic collaboration strategy given the proliferation of tools and approaches, the survey found.

“In most companies, the responsibility for collaboration tools is currently spread across multiple teams or organizations within IT or across IT and a company’s business units,” the report states. “It is therefore not surprising that few companies have implemented collaboration tools in a systematic way according to a carefully laid strategy.”

That poses major problems for enterprise collaboration since the tools used—especially the new forms of those tools, such as social media—create an enormous amount of information and data. It becomes very difficult to manage that data because it is exists in multiple tools across the enterprise and it is often unstructured.

For example, Fisher said, file version control is already a huge problem in collaboration, and it scales exponentially with the increasing number of people involved. The solution is to impose a centralized structure that contains all versions and that provides a single discovery method around files for both immediate and future collaborations. Audit trails then can track who has viewed and commented on things and when, and who is working on what.

A lot of that can be handled by the tools themselves. But it also requires organizations to develop comprehensive enterprise data governance and retention policies and to make sure they are rigorously applied to the output of collaboration tools.