Organizations are built on ever-growing networks of individuals, teams, clients, partners and suppliers. It means that today’s agile organization must be able to work seamlessly across organizational and geographical boundaries. To address this challenge, cloud collaboration solutions have become central to today’s enterprise technology stack, allowing organizations to free themselves from restrictive legacy IT infrastructure and collaborate more effectively. But where do you begin, and how do you balance data security with the needs of a more mobile and dispersed workforce?

Here are 10 things to consider when choosing a cloud collaboration solution.

1. External Collaboration

Collaboration shouldn’t be confined to the corporate firewall. To succeed, today’s agile enterprise must be able to connect and collaborate seamlessly with external stakeholders (clients, partners, suppliers etc.) while maintaining control over sensitive data. Many collaboration tools can compromise your ability to work with external stakeholders, often limiting functionality or restricting use. Look to find a solution that can deliver mutual access to shared, collaborative spaces while retaining the permissions and security management controls you need to protect your data.

2. Mobility

Mobility has become mandatory for today’s agile enterprise. Whether travelling or working at a client site, your users expect to be able to access the information they need, when they need it. An effective collaboration tool should allow users to seamlessly hop between locations and devices without losing visibility of team activity, tasks or the latest document version. Look to find a solution that offers native apps for smartphones and tablets, with offline availability and support for Mobile Device Management to ensure your sensitive data is protected.

3. Usability

Of course, you never want to compromise on security, but balancing security with usability can be a challenge for many collaboration tools. Striking the right balance is critical to end-user adoption and where solutions become too complex and restrictive to be usable, users will often default back to less secure methods of sharing content and collaborating on work. In addition to your IT and Security & Information Risk teams, include business users in the decision making process when selecting a collaboration solution. Look to understand how they will use the technology and how it integrates with their daily workflows.

4. Search

Search functionality is often overlooked when evaluating collaboration tools. However, when working on multiple projects or engagements, you’re probably also working on lots of different documents. As you flip between activities, confusion can quickly set in, and simple actions like finding the document you need can quickly become a source of frustration. Look for a tool that combines best-in-class a.) response times (how quickly your search requests are returned), b.) targeted search (how easy it is to refine your search to specific areas and workspaces) and c.) user interface (how easy the tool makes it to get back to recent files).

5. Security

Building enterprise-wide trust in a solution demands confidence in its security credentials. Assess collaboration vendors on a.) technical safeguards (the robustness of encryption), b.) physical safeguards (the security of the vendors’ data centers and premises) and c.) administrative safeguards (does the vendor and its partners work to ISO 27001 standards?). It’s also important to select a vendor with strong experience and credentials in your industry (ie: FedRAMP, Cyber Essentials Plus), particularly if you are a public sector / government organization or work within a highly regulated industry.

6. Change Management

Simply dropping a new piece of technology into your organization won’t guarantee success. Often organizations require a wider program of change management to help users and stakeholders understand how greater collaboration can deliver greater success. Don’t just evaluate vendors based on the technical performance of their product; be sure to understand how they’ll support the set-up and deployment of their solution, as well as the education and support of your users. An effective change management program can make all the difference between hitting, or missing success criteria and user adoption benchmarks.

7. Data Governance

For some organizations and industries, governance around data (in particular how it’s used, how it’s approved and how it’s accessed) is of critical importance. Choose a tool that maintains a time-stamped audit trail of all file activity, user actions and user comments. This will allow you to monitor usage, compare document versions and infinitely roll-back to past versions. Some collaboration solutions can break the audit trail by not logging activity made through a mobile device, so be sure to evaluate the level of auditability you need and whether the solution meets your criteria.

8. Return On Investment

Building a compelling business case is vital to your deployment success, and so is keeping track of ROI. Understand how a collaboration tool can impact a.) physical costs (will the tool reduce costs elsewhere in the business?), b.) productivity (are there productivity gains to be made which could improve billable utilization or save cost?) and c.) business impact (will business performance improve? E.g. an improvement in client retention). Choose a vendor that can help to build a validated business case against each of these areas and then deliver the support and guidance you need to meet your success criteria.

9. Ease of Deployment

This should be one of your most important considerations, as a successful deployment will set the tone for success and have a significant impact on user adoption. Choosing a vendor that understands your industry will make it easier. They should be able to map your teams’ existing workflows and process into the solution, manage any technical configurations and have the resource available to provide a suite of learning and support materials to help on-board users during the important first few weeks of the deployment.

10. Financial Stability

The market for collaboration tools is fierce. Before entrusting your data to anyone, perform due diligence around their financial stability to ensure they remain a trusted, long-term partner. Understand their ownership structure and how they are funded, and consider talking to industry analysts (such as Gartner or Forrester Research) for an independent assessment of the business.

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