Enterprise social: On-premise or cloud?
29th Apr 2013 | 09:17
Where the data resides is often crucial
While email remains the most used enterprise collaboration technology, it is a one-to-one way of working. Some businesses are now looking at wider ranging, social collaboration, to make it open to all and easier to access records of the work.
Employees often kick off enterprise social collaboration by using their own mobile devices to access cloud based services. Vendors have been tapping into this with 'freemium' models, offering limited collaboration facilities free of charge to get a toehold inside organisations. This is despite some businesses having legal or organisational issues with placing company data in the cloud.
For some enterprises on-premise solutions will work just as well. Alan Lepofsky, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research, makes the point: "Just because a solution is in the cloud does not make it easier to collaborate with external people. On-premises collaboration solutions such as IBM Connections, Microsoft SharePoint and Jive can all work with external parties."
He adds that each of those vendors also has cloud solutions.
Enterprise social networks generate a lot of data and transferring the storage problem to the cloud may seem a sensible option. However, as storage costs fall, the strain on the company network may be a more pressing issue, especially as employees take to bandwidth hungry web conferencing and video collaboration.
Richard Edwards, Principal Analyst, Ovum is seeing firms using Box.com, Microsoft Skydrive Pro linked to Office 365, Google Drive especially among SMBs, and offerings new to the market such as the likes of Citrix and VMware in the mid market and others such as Workshare.
He believes that a major issue for companies deciding between on-premise or cloud is where data is held when at rest.
"Jive Software uses this as a differentiator – it can be used in the cloud, on-premise or a mix of both," he says. "Microsoft and IBM in the larger enterprise space have a story to tell here as well."
There are a number of starting points for businesses considering social collaboration software. "If businesses have CRM systems based on Salesforce they may take a shine to Chatter and Chatterbox. If they use Office 365 for email they will be offered an upsell to Yammer," Edwards says.
Many SMBs are Microsoft houses and the Office 365 family of SharePoint, Office online, Yammer and Lync may be a strong option; but other collaboration platforms, such as IBM Connections and Jive, also integrate with Office and Outlook.
Waterstons is a business consultancy employing around 70 people. It uses Microsoft SharePoint and Lync for in-house enterprise social collaboration for its distributed workforce and it also works with clients wishing to use other platforms for collaboration.
James Alderson, Account Director Technical Services, says: "You need to define your goals and objectives for what you want to get out of this before you enter into the process of what technology you are going to use, whether it is cloud or on-premise. It does vary massively on a business to business basis."
Alderson suggests using travel cost reductions and customer experience surveys as measures of success.
A large oil and gas customer of Waterstons selected Google Drive on the grounds of cost.
"It is quite a low cost platform for a large deployment. Also it ticked all the boxes with one platform providing all they needed. The driver was replacing its email messaging platform – this offered a global platform for mail and plenty of storage."
Alderson adds: "You need management buy-in and that can be a challenge to achieve as a lot of management perhaps see it as the Facebook of the business world, and why would you need that?"
Global events company GDS International recently implemented Citrix's cloud enterprise social networking platform Podio.
"I think we have grown so quickly that sometimes our technology hasn't been able to keep up with our growth," says Sarah Brice-Chalker, CRM manager. "It was very difficult to share information and everything was done manually on spreadsheets that people were reluctant to share."
In September 2012 she started developing a CRM system and went for the Podio cloud option.
"Some (solutions) were extremely expensive and you would need a lot of training on them and that was an issue for us," Brice-Chalker says. "We needed something that was easy to get to know and you could teach yourself, so that is why we went with Podio."
She believes that the Facebook-like interface of Podio eased acceptance, and it is now used by 50 people.
"If you have a company that is used to sharing data, for them to go directly from just email being passed round and their own spreadsheets to a full (enterprise social network) system that is quite a scary move. This is not as intimidating. It feels familiar as everyone is on Facebook."
Podio is based on apps that employees can download from the internet for a variety of standard and customised business tasks and which allow people to export and import data.
"Workspaces are set up so that everyone who is invited to that workspace can view all the information. I might have a person outside the workspace who I would want to see some of the information, so I would export an Excel spreadsheet, which might be all the invoices I have in an app, to my colleague," Brice-Chalker says.
"Not only is it great for doing what we are doing on it now but we are also creating a structure for the company that we can then replicate next time we have a project. We already have the structure set up of what we want to include in it and what apps you might use."
The overall picture is that cloud based enterprise social collaboration works well for many enterprises. It's where there are concerns about data location and compliance requirements – for example in the finance or health sectors, for example, on-premise solutions can provide the remote connectivity and sharing benefits of a cloud solution.
This is just one piece of the jigsaw; we will look at managing all the data generated and selecting a solution with features supporting your business processes are considerations in parts 2 and 3.