What Is Collaboration? Forrester Wave Report Offers Answers

22 Jan 2017

In 2017, we are very likely to hear many, many claims for leadership in "collaboration." However, as is often the case, the leadership claims will be based on definitions of collaboration that are shaped to match a vendor's product offerings, rather than on the actual needs of the users and of the enterprises who employ the users to deliver the enterprise's products and services.

In December 2016, Forrester provided us with a solid perspective on this topic in The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Collaboration, Q4 2016. (A complimentary copy is available from Microsoft here.)

Forrester starts off with this descriptive statement, "Enterprise collaboration technologies are an important part of enabling the digital business. They allow businesses to share information, locate experts, coordinate projects, discuss best practices, and build communities within and across the enterprise." In other words, collaboration technologies exist to support certain portions of collaborative business processes. Collaboration is not a phone call or a video session, rather it is a process that contributes to outcomes such as marketing campaigns, new product development, corporate strategies and policies, and other innovations or continuous improvements within an enterprise's mission.

These collaborative activities are specialized functions within an enterprise. In many vertical industries, the collaborative roles represent only about 20% of the employee base. The vast majority of employees are working in transaction-centric roles to produce and deliver the products and services that have been created in the collaborative activities such as those mentioned above. While we will hear many claims that vendor A or vendor B is redefining work by delivering collaboration technologies to every employee, those claims are misleading overstatements of the actual need for collaboration technologies in most enterprises and industries.

Forrester goes on to define six broad categories of collaboration technologies. Unified Communications is one of these, listing typical vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, FuzeBox, Microsoft and Unify. The other five categories (and typical vendors) are Lead Application Collaboration (SAP, Salesforce); Document Collaboration (Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, VMware); Collaborative Work Management (Clarizen, Smartsheet.com, Wrike); Team Messaging (Atlassian, Facebook, Slack); and Enterprise Collaboration Market (Atlassian, IBM, Jive, Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce, Sitrion, VMWare). The vendor names are only typical, not based on rankings; many other vendors exist in each category. As noted, some vendors are in more than one category.

This diverse segmentation illustrates that collaboration technologies align with the work being performed. Forrester comments on this when they note that, "Enterprises increasingly adopt collaboration in a decentralized manner." The users are very likely to adopt a collaboration technology, or even several collaboration technologies, based on the affinity groups or the functional departments in which they work. With the broad range of cloud-based collaboration technology choices, it seems unlikely that this decentralized adoption pattern will change in the near future.

Our UniComm Consulting recommendation is to adopt collaboration technologies based on the requirements of the Usage Profiles in your specific enterprise and in your specific industry vertical. Definitions of eight Usage Profiles that cover essentially all situations are provided in a series of articles listed in the Resources section of the UniComm Consulting website.

Finally, to help when choosing collaboration technologies, Forrester lists nine (9) companies in this Forrester Wave report. Five of these are categorized as Leaders: Microsoft, IBM, Jive, Salesforce, and Atlassian (in order of their positioning on the Wave). Of these five, only Microsoft overlaps into the Unified Communications category, though all of these five would certainly claim that they are collaborative communications platforms. Vendor inclusion criteria for this Forrester Wave are vendor capability for most or all of: profiles, user home page, activity streams, internal and external community/group capabilities, team messaging, document collaboration, tagging, discussion threads, blogs, wikis, and software-based synchronous capabilities such as web conferencing.

This latter capability, web conferencing, is the only real-time communications requirement and is not stated in terms of enterprise telephony nor video conferencing. Thus, collaboration claims by voice (PBX) or video (rooms, devices, services) communications vendors should be considered in the broader context such as Forrester describes.

It is important to be aware of the emergence and rapid adoption of collaboration technologies. It is equally important to know these will be embraced among workgroups and in collaborative teams or departments and will be centered on the workflows and the documents in those workflows. The best results may be to enable, rather than to resist, solution diversity for successful collaboration in your enterprise.


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