Established Cloud-based collaboration technologies include email, team workspaces and document collaboration, instant messaging, web conferencing and customer relationship management (CRM), but this is just the beginning, according to industry analysts.
Many organisations that have opted for Cloud-based applications are already reaping the rewards of collaborating across geographical locations. But moving forward, Cloud computing will also facilitate much wider collaboration and innovative thanks to its distributed and scalable nature.
One business that is using SaaS for email and document collaboration is UK construction firm Erith Group. The company boasts an annual turnover in excess of £40m, and employs a workforce of over 200 skilled professionals working across multiple locations, many of them remotely.
The company has been using Google’s Gmail since 2004, but in September 2006, a catastrophic fire razed the company's headquarters to the ground, taking all internal communications and IT systems with it. This led the company to go further down the Cloud computing route, and it soon adopted Google Apps which it had been trialling prior to the fire, says IT manager Paul Driscoll.
This helped Erith to militate against similar risks in the future whilst improving collaboration between its employees, he adds.
Erith uses Google Apps to collaborate on presentation and document creation. It enables teams to work on projects together, irrespective of their geographic location, while avoiding the time consuming process of emailing documents back and forth and keeping track of the different versions.
According to Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish, this sort of collaboration is typical of today’s SaaS adopter, with organisations benefiting from closer online collaboration and improved productivity.
“Today, most firms use [SaaS] collaboration platforms for document collaboration and management. Productivity apps are the fuel for the collaboration vehicle, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to think about these technologies independently,” she says. McLeish adds leading productivity vendors are increasingly offering both productivity and collaboration features as part of their SaaS suites.
Ted Schadler, Forrester Research principal analyst, concurs, “The cloud cements its role as the place for collaboration innovation. Google Apps for Business, Salesforce Chatter, Box.net, SuccessFactor's CubeTree, Citrix Online GoToMeeting, and Cisco WebEx are all examples of innovation in the cloud.”
He adds, “The math isn't hard to do. A quarterly product release cycle and vendor-managed upgrades will outpace four-year upgrade cycles and IT-managed upgrades every time. Add it up. Cloud collaboration services will get better faster than on-premise alternatives.”
Some analysts can see even greater opportunities for collaboration going forward. Tom Koulopoulos, founder of IT consultancy Delphi Group, says that as businesses head for the Cloud, it will be “a very tumultuous period for IT” but that deeper collaboration will be the goal.
“It’s all part of the evolution of computing. But the time is right for cloud, not just from a technical perspective, but also from a business perspective. The cloud is as much about collaboration as anything else: much of the cloud is a new science we are building around the notion of social networking.”
One of the cloud’s strengths in future will be its ability to locate resources as they are required, says Koulopoulos. Not just computing resources, but human resources as well. “The Cloud is also about employment – and the free agency of employment,” he comments.
“The news is: the Cloud is intelligent. The intelligence allows me to take a request, submit it to the cloud, and look at what the intention is of this request – what kind of resources does it need, what sort of people and technologies does it need - and to re-factor and construct that on the fly. That intelligence is something we have barely started to talk about yet, but I believe that is where the real payoff will come,” concludes Koulopoulos.