Government Cloud A New Era In Collaboration

Agencies are outgrowing old-school tools

The government market for collaboration tools is at a crossroads.

On the one hand, agencies clearly recognize the benefit of collaboration and say they would like to take advantage of the capabilities of the new generation of online collaboration tools. On the other hand, both IT managers and users have a tendency to stick with what they know.

The landscape of tools currently in use at government agencies shows just where that comfort level resides. A recent survey by 1105 Public Sector Media Group shows that, by far, agencies are still relying on old-school technologies, with 94 percent of respondents saying that e-mail and calendar applications are their most popular tools. Meanwhile, Microsoft SharePoint and web-based video conferencing—both well-established tools—are used in 65 percent of agencies.

In contrast, instant messaging and similar tools—seemingly ubiquitous in the general public—are used consistently by only half of the government, while even more modern tools such as microblogs are used by only 17 percent of agencies.

Comfort and need are two different things, however. Nearly half of the people surveyed by 1105 thought that such a heavy reliance on e-mail for collaboration was increasingly inadequate, while close to 40 percent thought that their agency’s total suite of collaboration tools would not meet their ongoing needs.

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Agencies apparently are getting the message. Despite the tight budget environment, the survey found that 30 percent of agencies expect to invest more money to improve their mix of online collaboration tools, while more than 60 percent plan to keep spending steady.

Any resistance to collaboration is likely the result of IT organizations concerned about changing the way things work. Indeed, change management is considered one of the biggest problems when it comes to collaboration, particularly when the tools are rolled out at the enterprise level.

One issue is helping users adjust to the new work environment. If agencies do not manage the transition properly, users might struggle at first. In fact, in a 2013 report on “Enabling Enterprise Collaboration,” McKinsey and Company highlighted a number of factors that, if not addressed, can undermine user productivity:

  • Something is always beeping or flashing, interrupting otherwise productive working sessions.
  • Productivity or quality may dip when collaboration tools encourage attempts at multi-tasking.
  • Employees can feel overwhelmed because they are inundated with too much information coming at them through too many channels.
  • Organizational cultures often dictate that employees reposed to such things as e-mails in a timely fashion, thereby lengthening their workdays.

User-friendliness also must be considered. If users are not comfortable with newly-deployed collaboration solutions, they are likely to revert to their tried and trusted tools.

On the other hand, according to Philipp Karcher, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, online and social collaboration tools can help with many of the problems that come with older tools. For example, he wrote in a recent blog post, online collaboration can make it easier for people to conduct virtual meetings to collaborate on content, rather than sending attachments back and forth and filling up their e-mail inboxes.

When it comes to looking at next-generation online collaboration tools, agencies make ease of use one of their top priorities. More than 60 percent of respondents to the 1105 survey said that new tools had to be easy to learn, especially for novice users. Another strong demand is the need for tools to be synchronous and to provide on-demand content viewing and sharing—another clear nod to a growing frustration with decidedly asynchronous tools such as email.

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That’s not to say that agencies will make an instantaneous transition to this new generation of tools. Instead, they are likely to incorporate the new tools into their existing environments, relying on old functionality where it makes sense while adapting to the new capabilities that are at their disposal.

Methodology and survey demographics

Between June 25th and June 26th , 2014, 159 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other Public Sector Media Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about collaboration trends in government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those involved with managing, use or purchase of online collaboration tools for their department or agency. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Approximately 55% of respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 45 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 63 percent came from the federal government (31 percent civilian, 32 percent defense) and 37 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Public Sector Media Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Public Sector Media Group Content Solutions, please email us at PSMGCustomMedia@1105media.com