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3 Ways Partners Can Help Customers Achieve Borderless Collaboration

New APIs and advances by Microsoft, Cisco and others mean partners can break down borders.

November 30, 2017

5 Min Read
Collaboration
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Rob Bellmar

By Rob Bellmar, Executive Vice President of Business Operations, West UC

It’s a fact: The workforce is more geographically dispersed and mobile than ever before. Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report found 43 percent of employed Americans spend at least some time working remotely, a 4 percent increase from 2012.

As a result, the way we work is undergoing a fundamental shift. Customers no longer just need employees to communicate with their on-site co-workers. Instead, businesses need to bring remote employees and their outside partners, vendors and customers into the fold on a daily basis. Because of this, borderless collaboration – the ability to seamlessly collaborate with people both inside and outside of the organization – has become necessary for business operations.

Fortunately, an industry-wide focus by unified communications providers on enabling team collaboration and improving interoperability is creating a viable path to borderless collaboration in the workplace. Earlier this year, Microsoft Teams and Slack made it easier for users of their apps to collaborate with people outside of their organizations. Meanwhile, Cisco announced it’s moving Spark toward “universal federation,” which allows users from different companies to communicate on the platform without experiencing any loss of functionality.

Despite these exciting improvements, several hurdles are keeping customers from true borderless collaboration. Here are three of the biggest, and how you as a trusted adviser can work to overcome them.

Hurdle 1: Teams within the same organization use different platforms.

One of the biggest roadblocks to seamless collaboration is actually self-inflicted. Different departments within the same company often operate in vastly different ways — and the workplace collaboration apps they use are no exception. Some teams prefer Slack, while others are partial to Microsoft Teams, and still others prefer a mix of email, instant messaging and personal conference lines. This disjointed environment makes it difficult for people to work together when necessary, since one collaboration tool might not integrate with another.

To tackle this issue, work with the leadership team and department heads to determine how many different tools are currently in use and why each team prefers its own method. Specifically, which features of each tool do employees like and why? Then, work with leaders to select and implement a tool for the entire organization that satisfies these needs as much as possible. Yes, some people might lose their pet features. But the payoff from one solution used consistently across the entire organization is well worth finding some workarounds.

Hurdle 2: Cross-vendor integrations remain limited.

Oftentimes, the workplace collaboration solutions that your customer uses internally will differ from the one that its clients and suppliers use, making it more difficult to work together. Though cross-vendor integrations within workplace collaboration tools are improving, advances are still in their beginning stages. As a result, some workers end up having one tool they use with their colleagues and another they use with an outside partner, leaving them with more to …

… monitor and manage.

While there’s no one-and-done solution to this problem, once the customer standardizes on an internal system, extend the conversation to critical external partners about the tools they use and why. Perhaps a client or supplier is required to use one specific solution by its organization, or maybe it comes down to preference. In some instances, it might make sense to add an external partner’s solution or apply pressure to have them adopt the customer’s standard. However, often the easiest route is to see if the tools leverage APIs from other collaboration vendors. An application programming interface (API) makes it possible to bridge two different solutions. For example, Cisco Spark can integrate with popular workplace apps like Google Drive and BaseCamp; in fact, partners should be up on the possibilities inherent in today’s API technology.

Ultimately, finding the right solution to collaborate externally might take a bit of time, and it might be inconvenient at first, but in the long run, it will make workflows more seamless — and less stressful.

Hurdle 3: IT environments are more complex.

Customer IT teams, or their MSP partners, must deal with the complicated task of managing and securing the company network, which is extremely difficult in any case — and more so when numerous workplace collaboration tools are at play. The IT environment is further complicated by the growing number of remote workers and satellite offices, though SD-WAN can help a lot here. This complex IT environment makes it difficult for resource-strapped IT teams to enable more seamless collaboration.

My advice: Partner with employees instead of dictating choices or working around them. Go back to your conversations in Step 1 and look at what collaboration tools and features are most important or desired, and analyze what is currently restricting more seamless collaboration. Often, you can make the end-user experience better by sharing tips and tricks, adding some APIs, suggesting alternative tools and keeping up on software updates. And when IT has a firmer grasp of the varying collaboration tools in use, they can take the proper security precautions and better manage the network load.

Though the shift to borderless collaboration has started, we’re still a ways away from a completely seamless experience. While a lack of interoperability and cross-vendor integrations are the main factors creating IT headaches, workarounds exist and strides are being made. Partners can help make borderless collaboration more achievable and improve operations while doing so.

Rob Bellmar is executive vice president of business operations for West’s Unified Communications Services. Rob became a member of the executive team in 2007, leading global operations and then moving into a role managing global network strategies and customer experience initiatives. In his current role, Rob is intimately involved in developing strategies to optimize partner relationships and deliver against client needs. He is a frequently sourced thought leader in the areas of employee productivity and millennial workforce development.

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