As the number of remote employees grows, so do the number of tools they use to virtually “enter” their offices every day. Workplaces, teams, and projects are all changing the ways in which they work to be able to get the job done.
We interviewed CEOs of three workplace collaboration apps – Martin Frid-Nielsen of file storage app Soonr, Ian Warner of board management portal APRIO and Mike Bell of strategic plan manager Envisio - to see where they stand on the industry. Here’s what they told us about how their services work today, and what they see as the next phase of cloud-based collaboration.
What kinds of companies most need your product?
Soonr: Any company that has a distributed workforce that shares a lot of content has a need for file storage. There are a few verticals that stand out – marketing, construction, real estate, for example – that are more content-heavy. But those could be businesses on their own or even departments of larger companies.
APRIO: The companies we work best for are those that (1) still use paper in their boardrooms; (2) have board members spread out across geographies; and (3) are security conscious in terms of their board materials.
Envisio: Our ideal customers are not-for-profit companies committed to aligning their strategic goals to their operating plan. They will always have a requirement for transparent accountability and regular progress reports.
How do you roll out collaboration applications through a company? Where do you start and what are the key ingredients of successful adoption?
Soonr: We tend to pitch pilots through specific departments that are interested in the product. After that, it’s about whether people can figure out the product or how difficult it is to use.
APRIO: Rollout coincides with implementation and population of the Boardroom™ and is done over a few weeks with the help of an APRIO trainer and the client’s Board Administrator.
Envisio: It’s a 3-step process. First, find two or more internal champions to drive the implementation. Then we start with implementation and training, which is done by the Envisio team. Finally, follow-up and technical support happens as we make tweaks to the workflow.
Bottom line: Unlike the typically massive IT rollouts of enterprise software, cloud-apps are about slowly winning hearts and minds. Vendors typically start with pilots or trial periods before moving on to full adoption. Training is always key.
What impact does organizational culture have on the success of your implementation?
Soonr: The role of IT and how defensive companies are about their content are key cultural elements that we come across. Our goal is to focus the organization on enabling what they’re great at doing, and encouraging them to work with people outside the company to do the rest.
APRIO: While there may be some initial reluctance to change in the boardroom, our training ensures that everyone (regardless of how tech savvy they are) is able to optimize usage of the technology.
Envisio: Envisio introduces a level of transparent accountability that becomes part of a cultural shift for many of our customers. But it’s first a senior management tool, which means that implementation needs to go from the top down if it’s to succeed.
Bottom line: Companies need to be open to promoting change from the top down and to outsourcing tangential tasks.
How do your customers measure their ROI?
Soonr: We focus on optimizing what the companies are using their files/content for in the first place. Common goals center around revenue growth, improved customer relationships, organizational efficiency and improved employee morale and training.
APRIO: Reduced paper and courier costs are the easiest numbers to tie down here. Increased efficiency in reporting is also important.
Envisio: The ROI on collaboration tools is subjective at best. For us, it focuses around increased collaboration, more engaged employees, measurable progress towards an organization’s goals and increased organizational learning capacity.
Bottom line: Cloud collaboration isn’t the best place to look for hard and fast ROI numbers. Instead, using employee/client surveys or assessing time spent on common tasks may be the closest thing to gathering quantifiable data.
What are some of the continuing challenges in workplace collaboration that aren’t yet being met by the SaaS market?
Soonr: There are two significant challenges in the marketplace: (1) educating the market about the different between SaaS apps and legacy solutions like FTP servers or email collaboration and (2) addressing security concerns - something that’s an even bigger issue for our European clients than it is here at home.
APRIO: The only real continuing challenge would be the tech-savviness of the clients using our products. That’s something we continue to work on with customer service and training.
Envisio: The creation of more information or application silos that disconnect users from core business systems is a big concern among SaaS vendors.
Bottom Line: Challenges run the gamut, but security and the need to reassure users about security came up in our conversations with each of these companies. The same goes for conversations about training or bringing users up to speed to show them the value of the cloud.
What’s the next “big thing” in cloud-based workplace collaboration tools?
Soonr: In our line of work, overlapping file storage with project management and wiki-type tools will be crucial to evolving the product. Users are looking for seamless offerings that integrate workflows in a natural way. That’s where we’re headed.
APRIO: First off, I think everything is going to move to the cloud, making it unnecessary for anyone to log into a physical office. Beyond that, it will be more levels of integration. Users will be focusing on with technologies are speaking to each other and how easy it is to manipulate information from one form to another.
Envisio: Cross-platform integrations are going to be essential, so I think the next big thing will be the “fully integrated system.” It will provide a single space for your entire organization to sign into and have access to all the role-specific tools and applications that they need to do their particular job.
Bottom Line: Get ready to see some interesting partnerships forged in the collaboration space in the next few years. As with single-sign-ons, users want to be able to get everything done in one place. Small and large platforms alike will be doing more to ensure that they can plug into each other to sync data. In the meantime, users are cobbling together their own systems to do the same.