Blog Post

Are “Consumer” Collaboration Tools Good Enough for the Enterprise?

???Most of our readers probably use some “consumer” (as opposed to “enterprise”) collaborative tools in their daily work: Skype, Google Chat (s goog), Delicious (s yhoo), 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 (s crm) 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

Photo by stock.xchng user Eastop

6 Responses to “Are “Consumer” Collaboration Tools Good Enough for the Enterprise?”

  1. In Project Management talk, we at Projectplace believe that recent developments in social media are helping create the next generation of project management: Social Project Management. These new communication and social collaborative tools have lead to a rapid paradigm shift whereby collaboration is at the core of project management. This means that project teams now have insight into all aspects of the project and become the driving force behind it.

    To support Social Project Management, we have recently launched a new tool allowing members of a project to interact in a similar way to Facebook and Twitter. This Enterprise solution is secure, and the conversations that do take place are centered around the major deliverables of the project.

    http://www.projectplace.com/Products-and-Services/Quick-Overview/Social-Project-Overview/

  2. Bob Robins

    I feel that “consumer grade” collaboration tools can certainly be good enough at your workplace as well. I had tried many of these web based collaboration solutions, like Skype, Dropbox, Google Chat, Taroby etc. It’s really great to have these tools to become more productive at your workplace.

  3. At eTouch we interact daily with Enterprises looking to achieve better collaboration amongst their employees and with external stakeholders. While some of these functions can be executed by chat/IM tools and Twitter, we definitely see a need for secure and scalable Enterprise-grade collaboration software. Various knowledge management tasks that were hitherto consummated through file sharing systems and/or Email with attachments are now being performed through Enterprise 2.0 tools like Wikis, forums etc.

  4. I am the CEO of a Web-based productivity tool that Simon was kind enough to review back in April. Though a free, consumer/small business version is available now, we are working on a ‘pro’ version to be followed by an ‘enterprise’ version. A lot of companies, in my past experience spend a lot of time and effort to keep ‘new’ and ‘insecure’ software out of their place of business. Think: IM, webmail, – even the browser. If your employees are using innovations behind your back, something is wrong with your policies (and probably your company too). There will be no line between consumer/smallbiz/enterprise tools in the future.

    • “If your employees are using innovations behind your back, something is wrong with your policies” agreed — that’s one of the key points I address in the Pro article.

      I think there will always be some tools that specialize on one end of the consumer/enterprise spectrum or the other, but the line is definitely blurring to a considerable extent.