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Managing multiple collaboration tools in the workplace

Nearly half of organizations have at least two collaboration tools in the workplace. Learn how IT should approach supporting and securing multiple apps.

When most organizations roll out a collaboration app to their users, they hope it will serve all the communication needs across the entire company. But, realistically, no one collaboration tool can serve all purposes.

As a result, some organizations will deploy multiple collaboration tools in the workplace to meet a variety of communication needs, while others may allow users to choose and deploy their own apps.

The sharp uptick in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic adds another wrinkle as users increase their reliance on collaboration apps and organizations face the security challenge of users working on home networks and personal devices.

Nearly half of organizations have two or more collaboration apps, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said. And, of those organizations using a single app today, 22% are looking to add another one, according to Nemertes' Cost-Benefit Analysis: Workplace Collaboration and Contact Center study, which surveyed 560 global organizations between January and March 2020.

Most companies have more than one app because end users deployed their own. While an organization may standardize on one collaboration app, users will still find their own if the company's chosen app doesn't meet all their needs.

"Zoom's usually the disruptor," Lazar said. "One reason why Zoom has taken off the way it has is it's easy to use and feature-rich."

The challenge is: Not all apps are created equal.
Irwin LazarNemertes Research

A common deployment scenario now is organizations have a core corporate application, such as Microsoft Teams or Webex Teams, and complement it with a Zoom deployment, he said. For team collaboration, Slack is also a common app deployed alongside the company-chosen app.

"The challenge is: Not all apps are created equal," Lazar said. One collaboration app may offer integrations or capabilities that another may not.

For example, development teams often build and automate workflows, such as software development lifecycles and incident management, within Slack. It would be difficult for an organization standardizing on Microsoft Teams to tell its development team to migrate from Slack because Teams lacks some of the required workflow automation, he said.

Organizations may have overlapping collaboration tools in the workplace for other reasons, including mergers between organizations and regional drivers, like data governance mandates that may exclude specific apps from a location, Frost & Sullivan analyst Rob Arnold said.

Managing collaboration security challenges

If organizations plan to support multiple collaboration apps, including apps that users deploy themselves, IT must ensure they meet minimum standards for security, compliance and governance, Lazar said.

"One thing that's going to come out of the issues related to Zoom is IT does need to make sure whatever they're allowing is of minimum capability," he said. Minimum security standards should include support for single sign-on and retention for chat messages.

Zoom has been under increased scrutiny following four class-action lawsuits alleging the video service provider overstated how securely it encrypts video communications. Some Zoom meetings have also experienced attacks known as Zoombombing, where unauthorized users enter and disrupt meetings.

"User training can shore up a number of security concerns," Arnold said.

Users should be trained on security settings, including PIN and ID requirements for meeting access and giving hosts the ability to grant control to other participants for content sharing, he said.

Regulated industries, like government and healthcare, must be especially careful with collaboration app security, Lazar said. IT must lock down company-provided devices, prohibit users from downloading their own apps and mandate a VPN while working on home or mobile networks. Less regulated organizations have more flexibility in allowing users to use other apps.

Choosing the right collaboration tools

IT should proactively gather information from users to determine which apps best suit their communication and collaboration needs through surveys and department liaisons. After a deployment, IT should continue to survey employees on what's working or not working, what they still need and whether they're happy with the provided tool set, Lazar said.

But deploying and supporting multiple collaboration tools in the workplace can be a strain on resources as IT and admins must be trained on multiple platforms, Arnold said.

Users might also struggle to decide which app best suits a specific use case, he said. Breaking down apps to their most basic function can help users make that determination. Email, for example, is typically better for formal internal and external messaging, while chat and team collaboration tools best suit internal communications.

For meetings, web and video conferencing services usually benefit smaller groups where all meeting participants are expected to contribute. Webinar services, on the other hand, better serve large meetings that do not require two-way conversation.

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