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Cloud collaboration technologies drive innovation

Cloud computing is changing how enterprises collaborate in and outside of the office.

In recent years, the business phone system has been constantly evolving in an effort to keep pace with enterprise demands and requirements. Employees are no longer content with using antiquated solutions that simply "get the job done," as people want to use technologies that can make life easier for less money and hassle. Because effective collaboration is the foundation of a successful organization, many decision-makers are changing the way they communicate with individuals in and outside of the office.

The proliferation of mobile and cloud technologies has essentially acted as fuel to the innovation fire. Now that people have the ability to use smartphones and tablets for virtually any task, workers are demanding they be able to leverage these mobile gadgets. As a result, the very face of communication is changing, as companies take steps away from the land line office phone system and seek alternative collaboration means that are more flexible, agile and catered to the evolving needs of the business world.

In many ways, the collaboration market as a whole is approaching a tipping point. Enterprises are on the verge of embracing hosted PBX solutions and mobile gadgets for communication purposes if they haven't done so already. This transformation is giving businesses around the world more freedom to implement the tools they see as necessary in the workplace, not necessarily just following the pack and blindly deploying the same solutions as competitors. Still, there are some common trends that are emerging.

The cloud collaboration effect

While the emergence of mobile and social technologies are driving innovation in the collaboration field, the cloud is often considered to have a much more dramatic effect, as the hosted environment supports both of the aforementioned services.

A recent report by Strategy Analytics highlighted how the proliferation of Software as a Service is pushing collaborative tools forward, noting that the market for innovative communication solutions generated $7.4 billion in revenue in 2012, up 12 percent from 2011. As SaaS and other cloud models become the norm, surpassing the use of premise-based tools, the overall collaborative market is approaching a tipping point, suggesting that it will eventually move entirely into the cloud.

"It is no surprise that collaboration in the cloud is so prevalent. Email and web conferencing have been leading examples of network-based services for the past 20 years. Today's collaboration cloud services, combined with real-time and mobile capabilities, empower workers without requiring that corporate IT staff continue to be collaboration and messaging system experts," said Mark Levitt, director of business cloud strategies research at Strategy Analytics.

A separate study by CompaniesandMarkets highlighted similar findings, noting that roughly 50 percent of enterprises are forecast to adopt cloud collaboration technologies this year to generate nearly $6 billion in revenue by the end of 2018. In many cases, the ongoing demand for the ability to support a remote workforce is driving the cloud industry forward. In the past, organizations didn't have the bandwidth or connectivity capabilities to allow individuals to work from home, the road or any other location outside of the office. Today is different, especially now that people can connect to enterprise cloud networks through smartphones, tablets and other endpoints.

CompaniesandMarkets also highlighted how using hosted collaborative tools means individuals can connect without the traditional interoperability challenges that were encountered in the past. In other words, a cloud VoIP system, for example, can support connections between multiple mobile devices, regardless of varying operating systems or platform types.

"It makes a lot of sense for collaboration, which frequently involves people from different organizations on mobile and non-mobile devices, to be served up by trusted third-party service providers with expertise in networking and connectivity," said Andrew Brown, executive director of enterprise research at Strategy Analytics.

Experiencing tomorrow today

As cloud-based phone systems and other collaborative platforms gain momentum, enterprise decision-makers need to assess how they can effectively implement the technology and understand how doing so will disrupt current operations. Because the hosted environment is relatively new, managers need to be sure they have governance policies in place to mitigate the risks and complications associated with transforming the way employees communicate with clients, colleagues and partners.

As businesses become more comfortable using the cloud, executives will experiment more with the technology, migrating different types of applications to the environment and testing how using those tools in the workplace improves or hinders operations. For the most part, the introduction of the cloud will reduce costs, enhance efficiency and provide numerous other benefits, though this isn't always the case. For this reason, decision-makers need to analyze their strategies before fully implementing them, as blindly jumping into the market and hoping for the best isn't necessarily the best plan of attack.

By developing a well-rounded adoption strategy, companies of all sizes can begin to experience the benefits the cloud introduces.