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Collaborative tools emerge for regulated industries, mobile workers

Niche, enterprise-class collaborative tools are emerging for highly regulated industries and users who don't sit at a desk all day.

Collaborative tools give employees access to the information and real-time communication capabilities they need to help them get their jobs done faster and more efficiently. But business-grade collaboration products haven't always catered to every type of worker.

Many enterprise collaboration tools -- such as content sharing platforms and instant messaging and presence offerings -- have been designed with the more traditional information or knowledge worker in mind. But not every worker sits behind a desk with access to an enterprise collaboration platform throughout their workday. Employees in industries such as hospitality, retail and healthcare are constantly on the move. And highly regulated industries have compliance controls that forbid certain forms of real-time collaboration -- such as SMS messaging or even email. Mobile collaboration tools and Collaboration as a Service offerings are providing a way for the deskless employee to better collaborate with colleagues, with real-time access to the information they need.

"We are seeing these vertical-focused [collaboration] applications coming up and being accepted as legitimate solutions in the market," said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. "The [tools] might not be going very deep on feature sets, but they are solving problems for certain verticals that haven't been solved yet."

Business collaborative tools: No desk required

Quality Independent Physicians LLC (QIP), a Louisville, Ky.-based Accountable Care Organization of private practice physicians and nurses once had no efficient or secure way for traveling nurses who moved between hospitals and nursing homes to communicate. The organization sought a collaboration tool that would enable nurses to communicate with physicians about the patients they were managing across different locations, said Tom Samuels, CIO of QIP.

"We can't communicate via text message because of HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], and we can't use email because most services physicians use -- like Gmail or Hotmail -- are not secure either," he said.

After evaluating several different platforms, QIP chose Red e App -- a cloud-based Intranet, messaging and content-sharing platform -- because of its ease of deployment and built-in security features, Samuels said.

Red e App is a vertically oriented collaboration tool with targeted healthcare, manufacturing, and hospitality and retail applications for small and medium-sized businesses. It helps colleagues exchange files, images and messages privately and securely. The application offers an encrypted connection for communication and file or picture sharing between employees. It also offers searchable message archiving features to meet HIPAA and personal health information compliance regulations, according to Red e App.

The collaboration application -- which can be downloaded on iOS and Android devices -- is helping QIP employees to better coordinate care for patients who move between hospitals and nursing homes. Nurses and doctors can use the application to reduce the time it takes to share patient information, Samuels said.

QIP can send patient images securely and track messages that have been sent, as well as when the messages have been read, Samuels said. "Whenever nurses … wanted to communicate with a physician that a patient [who was being discharged might need] follow-up care, they had to fax or call the physician's office to leave them a message that [the physician] might not have gotten until a couple of days later," he said. "Now, it's just a quick, secure message to the physician, and the nurse knows right when the doctor receives it so immediate action can be taken, if need be."

Red e App also allows QIP to rapidly broadcast messages to physicians and nurses about upcoming meetings -- a process that used to be done by sending out faxes, he said. "We can also now see if physicians, nurses or administration has received and seen the messages," he said. "The biggest impact for us has been better care coordination."

The market is catching on to the need for more flexible and accessible collaborative tools. Even the traditional model of employees sitting behind desks five days a week is being shaken up by the expansion of remote employees and road warriors. Cisco, whose collaboration products once centered on deskbound information works, is seeing an uptick of interest in its Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) across the gamut of verticals, including healthcare and food service businesses, said Eric Schoch, Cisco's vice president of collaboration.

"Some types of organizations have just not been able to keep up with deploying and maintaining collaboration services," he said. "Tools [such as HCS] are allowing businesses to start to consume [collaboration] capabilities faster, on a consumption-based pricing model."

Niche collaborative tools rising in popularity

Many large players in collaboration -- such as Microsoft -- offer enterprise platforms that don't necessarily meet every industry's compliance requirements. Some collaboration vendors and service providers are targeting niche customers that have been unable to use collaborative tools in their environment -- including finance and healthcare providers, Wainhouse's Haskins said.

"Some vendors are taking a standard mode of communication -- such as messaging -- and wrapping it in a compliance blanket that solves security gaps for security-conscious verticals," he said.

Carving out a niche within the large collaboration market is also helping collaborative tools trickle down to small businesses -- such as retail -- that may have not considered employing these tools before. "Lean startups, or even businesses with younger employees who aren't behind a desk, still want to be able to collaborate right now. These offerings are helping to fill in the gaps that some of the larger platforms can't fill," Haskins said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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