Most of our readers probably use some “consumer” (as opposed to “enterprise”) collaborative tools in their daily work: Skype, Google Chat, Delicious, Twitter, Dropbox, etc. Such tools have been steadily creeping into the workplace for a number of reasons: perceived gaps in the capabilities (in either functionality or ease of use) of existing corporate tools, employees incorporating their favorite social and collaborative tools into daily workflow, the low cost of most consumer-grade tools, and a narrowing of the differences between tools designed for the consumer and those built for enterprise. The question is: Should businesses be using such tools?
In my latest Long View for GigaOM Pro, “How to Manage Consumer-Grade Collaborative Tools in the Workplace” (subscription required), I discuss the risks that the use of consumer tools present to businesses that come to rely on them, in particular, security implications, and the fact that these tools can change, or even disappear entirely, without warning. Yet businesses cannot ignore the benefits such tools undoubtedly bring to the workplace, and trying to block their use will likely be a futile exercise that will only lead to disgruntled employees. In my article, I outline strategies for mitigating the risks that the almost-inevitable use of consumer collaboration tools poses.
Fortunately, the gap between consumer and enterprise tools is narrowing quite rapidly. Gartner’s Nick Jones says he expects there will essentially be no difference between enterprise and consumer mobile tools within five years, for example. Many tools that were once aimed at the consumer now also target business users: Skype has Skype for Business, while Netvibes today announced the launch of Netvibes VIP, for example.
Adding business-friendly features to consumer tools — like guaranteed support, additional layers of security and ways for organizations to integrate the tools into their existing systems — can not only attract new customers, but also open up lucrative new revenue streams for the application vendors. The gap is narrowing from both sides, too, as enterprise tools are taking inspiration from the innovations in the consumer space: Salesforce.com’s Chatter, an enterprise social networking tool that borrows liberally from Twitter and Facebook, is a good example. Increasing numbers of collaborative tools that might once have been considered “consumer” will become more enterprise-friendly, and that’s a good thing, because they bring innovative new features to the workplace and make businesses more efficient.
Do you use “consumer” collaboration tools in your work? Have you had any problems with them?
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): How to Manage Consumer-Grade Collaborative Tools in the Workplace