Software suites have long been an option for integrated solutions. But now, companies in growing numbers are turning to cloud-based, highly integrated, best-in-class solutions that provide secure collaboration, flexibility, and cost effectiveness. And these solutions scale and upgrade seamlessly.

The events of 2020 have had a dramatic and long-lasting impact on how we work, requiring companies to make an abrupt shift to support a largely remote workforce. Rapid adoption of a distributed workplace model has emerged as a result, breaking from the traditional in-office environment to enable secure work from any place and from any device. Given that many organizations will support largely distributed workforces for the long term, leaders are looking to technology to ensure employees remain as productive as or more productive than they would be within the confines of an office. In many cases, this means expediting digital transformation initiatives with modern cloud applications to replace legacy solutions.

IDC research shows that while IT spending may decrease, 79% of CEOs support moving more applications to the cloud to provide better business resiliency and minimize disruptions. This number has been on the increase in past months (IDC’s COVID-19 Impact on IT Spending Survey, July 2020). The data suggests that CEOs recognize the ability to scale quickly and the ability maintain budget controls as key factors in selecting more cloud-based solutions.

While digital transformation plans were underway, the events of 2020 forced IT to execute years of rollouts in days or weeks — and then tweak the systems for performance. Agility, the ability to securely connect and work from anywhere, and the ability to maintain governance and compliance were key. The ability to collaborate from anywhere, not just internally but also externally with customers and partners, became a core business continuity requirement.

IDC research shows that 70% of enterprises regularly collaborate with partners and 48% of enterprises regularly collaborate with customers (B2B and B2C). As a result, organizations require proven technologies that maximize the benefits of collaboration and agility.

On top of new collaboration challenges, this evolving “next normal” has turned the traditional network-based security model on its head as employees now require seamless access to critical technology beyond the confines of the office. This means organizations today not only need to deploy tools that power collaboration but also need to consider an approach to security that enables employees and third parties to work from anywhere and from any device. It is now critical that administrative flexibility and ease of use associated with a “zero trust,” or identity-based, approach to security be the new norm.

To address this new mandate, the market is trending away from single-contract, suite-based tools that are often “good enough” to more integrated, mature, best-in-class solutions with an emphasis on security, collaboration, and enhanced productivity.

Accelerating Change

As consumer technology has evolved, so have workplace expectations. In early 2020, 62% of business leaders said that among their biggest challenges in digital transformation is that “consumer expectations are way ahead of our company’s ability to change” (IDC Survey: Work Transformation Challenges, #US45398419, February 2020). The average person is already highly connected using mobile devices and can easily download social, collaboration, and conferencing applications as needed. When tech-savvy consumers go to work, they reshape workforce technology trends with high employee experience expectations. Often, IT leadership will partner with these early adopters to leverage their experience with security and governance.

Over the past decade, collaboration applications have expanded into the enterprise, driven by ease of access and the need to increase team productivity. IDC research shows that 54.9% of these enterprise collaboration applications enter the workplace as an “unsanctioned external solution” (IDC’s Annual Collaboration Applications Survey, January 2020). Often, they are then sanctioned by IT in response to their success.

Becoming Digital

When COVID-19 forced many people to work from home, the first steps for IT were to ensure business continuity and maintain human relationships. A focus was placed on enabling people to securely communicate, collaborate, and connect with one another while remote. As businesses continue on the path to the “next normal,” these priorities remain fundamental to the new, evolving ways of working.

The increase in remote working has started to change the composition of new remote teams. Effective cross-functional teams replace the traditional siloed teams defined by an organizational chart. These new teams include digitally connected members from different departments and regions who are instrumental in decision making or providing informed input. Overall, collaborative members are active collaborators who regularly contribute and engage with content. Even prior to the pandemic, IDC research found that 88.5% of people in these groups were active collaborators rather than passive users (IDC’s Annual Collaboration Applications Survey, January 2020).

The new digital teams have expanded to include frontline workers. By excluding predominantly customer-facing workers, traditional teams were ignoring critical insights that impact the bottom line. These workers were already collaborating digitally, often using non-enterprise-ready applications such as WhatsApp, Line, and Messenger. It was necessary to provide them with enterprise-ready applications that had robust consumerlike features.

Organizations that were early adopters of collaborative applications found that teams develop organically around projects to create a series of work communities. Trust is built between participants through real-time collaboration, powered by flexible technology that supports a more agile way of working.

An Interesting Development

The sudden shift to remote work drove an urgent need for businesses to add new software quickly. However, many suite-style software solutions struggled to support this rate of change — they are often more complex and slower to scale. Many also lack the features and ease of use that employees have grown to expect from using best-in-class solutions. On this journey to the next normal, employee experience has become a touchstone — workers must be able to onboard with little or no training and get up to speed quickly.

Simply put, the new IT stack must be best of breed to meet the feature-rich and ease-of-use expectations of employees as well as enterprise-grade security, governance, and compliance requirements. Best-of-breed tools also integrate easily with other purpose-built applications as well as existing legacy solutions — providing new ways to make work easier and more productive while making the administration of these systems easier, more effective, and more secure. To this end, best-of-breed tools add new value to the workforce. Conversely, legacy tools without open APIs are at a disadvantage in this next normal and are at risk of being left behind.

The Impact on IT

There has never been a more critical time for IT to shift from cost center to business enabler. However, it is not easy. Supporting this new world of work requires the following:

  • Deploying tools that enable collaboration anytime, anywhere, from any device

  • Selecting tools that are nimble enough to meet evolving needs and new use cases, yet simple and intuitive enough

  • for anyone to use without extensive training, and that deliver significant benefits

  • Ensuring technology enables employee productivity instead of hindering it

  • Adapting new methods of securing distributed workforces that both enhance security posture and improve user experience (Selecting a modern identity and access management vendor enables IT departments to better respond to repetitive or manual tasks that come along with managing and securing access to multiple systems. For example, automating provisioning and password resets not only frees up IT to focus on more strategic initiatives but also enhances security and the end-user experience.)

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Unlocking Collaboration: Making Software Work Better Together