Cloud collaboration is a pretty new method of using cloud computing to share and co-author files. Users can upload documents to the cloud where they can be accessed and altered by others, fostering a sense of collaboration and team work that used to be limited to the office and conference rooms. With cloud collaboration users don’t have to be in the same space, or even the same country to effectively work together towards a common goal. In today’s globalized society, having the capability to work together effectively is an important aspect of the organization, and cloud collaboration tools are the ideal way to foster that. In years past, such collaboration was relegated to the office, or performed via e-mail, creating a confusing stream of thoughts that did not always mesh back together.
Google launched perhaps the most primitive version of cloud collaboration, which changed the way group projects were completed particularly in schools and universities. The easy-to-use interface, the seamless integration with Gmail, and the ability to convert nearly every type of file and spreadsheet truly introduced the world to cloud collaboration. While Google Docs is perhaps the most well-known of the cloud collaboration options, there are five stellar for-fee programs that businesses should introduce into their organizations to better facilitate collaboration among colleagues: YouSendIt; Syncplicity, Podio, Convo, and Collaborate Cloud.
What the experts say about cloud collaboration
Maureen Flemming, program vice president of Business Process Management and Middleware research says that, “the cloud file sharing and collaboration services market is changing rapidly, with many vendors looking to compete and this IDC [International Data Corporation] research provides an approach to evaluation that can be applied across the market for enterprises planning to purchase these services, for venders determining how to partner with CFSC [cloud file sharing and collaboration] service providers, and for competing vendors.”
Flemming also points out the explosion that is going to occur in this market:
“There are a large number of competitors in the CFSC market, and vendors are planning to enter the market from both the public and private cloud sides. Currently, a key value proposition is cloud storage of files. IDC expects to see the market eventually evolve into one where an important differentiating value proposition will be access – with offerings competing based on how they federate access across the various CFSC services.”
In 2009 CNET writer, Dave Rosenberg, took a look at IT industry giant IBM’s creation of the Cloud Academy program, meant to create a basic collaboration with the goal of melding technology and education. In writing about the importance of cloud services, then a budding technology field, Rosenberg wrote, “Shared research across universities and other higher-learning institutions remains a vital part of technological innovation, but many programs don’t have formal tools set in place. Cloud services are a logical place to run these types of programs, especially as international groups need immediate access to data from their partners.”
Security is a major problem with the cloud though, and for cloud collaboration to be successful, “customer information and trade secrets are sitting in servers outside managers’ control – often without their knowledge,” says Michael Suby, vice president of research at Frost & Sullivan. This highlights the security problem that cloud collaboration entails as sensitive company documents could be compromised.
Areas of market integration
Cloud collaboration has finally found its feet on the ground, with multiple programs available to help businesses utilize the cloud to foster communication and team work. “Effective integration of Cloud software services to existing in-house applications is an important element of leveraging the cloud,” says Ajay Budhraja in discussing cloud integration. When a business successfully integrates the cloud into their business model, they open the doors to the benefits of cloud collaboration. While there are a multitude of programs available, many free, some at low-cost, and some that can cost hundreds of dollars a month, there are a small handful of programs that have separated themselves from the pack.
The market integration of cloud collaboration is gaining traction and finding use in businesses of all sizes, from small start-ups to multinational conglomerates with tens of thousands of employees. The benefit of cloud collaboration as it does not discriminate across industries, a design studio will gain as much from a cloud collaboration program as would Nike, a global company with offices scattered worldwide. There are benefits to utilizing cloud collaboration even if collaboration is not the main goal, when working with the cloud, computers are no longer in danger of losing important information, most companies include automatic back-ups to the cloud. And when cloud services are purchased, oftentimes cloud collaboration is included in the fee, meaning that there is no cost extra to utilizing the service. The range of companies that are using cloud collaboration is staggering, breweries to airlines to state governments to global governments (the UN) is just further proof of the importance and growing necessity of a cloud collaboration service to better serve clients and customers.
Top Cloud Collaboration Tools
One of these programs, YouSendIt saw rapid growth in the first quarter, fueled by a 59 percent surge in paid subscribers compared to the first quarter of 2011. YouSendIt has more than 30 million registered users with 585,000 users paying for the service. Workstream by YouSendIt introduced a new business-to-business content collaboration product which helped to propel the first quarter growth. The company counts 98 percent of the Fortune 500 as part of their user database.
Many large companies have started to utilize Workstream: The Absolut Company, Texas Children’s Hospital, USA Today, the State of Alaska, Tribune Broadcasting, Media General, Inc., Conde Nast Digital, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to name a few. YouSendIt offers a secure cloud which protects the sensitive data transmitted between the computer and the cloud, as well as the ability to utilize the Workstream iPad app, “empowering users to access real-time business information from anywhere.” The software does more than just allow users to collaborate in real-time or provide data from anywhere in the globe with an internet connection. Users can securely share content, sign documents, as well as access files from any computer or wireless device.
Mark Harris, of The Sunday Times, calls YouSendIt the best cloud service for sharing files, noting that, “If you mainly want to send and swap files that are too large to email, such as video clips, YouSendIt is a good choice as that’s exactly what it was set up to do – although it has expanded into a standard cloud storage service.” Harris also points out one of the drawbacks of the free version, a paltry storage limit of 2GB of data. There are some legal concerns that some users could potentially run into, as a file sharing site, users upload data into the cloud, which when music, movies, or TV shows are uploaded copyright is violated and legal troubles can ensue. While not specific to YouSendIt, as the leading provider of cloud based services, it is a concern that users should be made aware of.
YouSendIt has an easy to use interface, with three main features: send files; share folders; sign documents. Sending files is “email easy,” and can be done from a computer, a mobile device or from the web and there is no limit to the size of the file allowing presentations and videos to be shared without typical email data limits. Sharing folders is simple, as they are cloud based they’re always available to all users, documents are saved right to the cloud and can easily be synced for offline access. Sharing folders is also an easy task, an invite is created and then shared opening the doors for collaboration among team members. Perhaps their most revolutionary task is signing documents right from a smartphone, computer, tablet or on the web; it also replaces fax machines and with typed text inserts documents can be previewed and filled out professionally and quickly.
Syncplicity bills itself as “The easiest way to sync, share, access and protect every file you need.” While Syncplicity at first glimpse appears to be merely a data management service that automatically backs up files onto the cloud, it also provides file-sharing services among groups. Leonard Chung the Chief Executive of Syncplicity described it as, “When one person using Syncplicity makes changes in a joint proposal or a spreadsheet and hits save, the file is quickly backed up and then downloaded to colleagues’ computers with the saved changes.”
Chung, in discussing the needs of IT Administrators and their need for a solution to the “chaos and security headaches introduced by unmanaged and uncontrolled sharing through consumer-grade solutions,” saying that, “We’ve answered the call with innovative group capabilities that maintain the business-class administrative, mobile, and security features today’s organizations require, while enabling users to safely and automatically sync and share files and folders easily on a large scale.”
EMC Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, headquartered in Massachusetts and led by Joe Tucci recently acquired Syncplicity, adding to its portfolio of once-privately held companies destined to strengthen EMC’s offerings. EMC, which develops, supports, and delivers information infrastructure as well as hardware, software, and services and are the global leader in IT and business transformation. With the acquisition of Syncplicity, both brands are strengthened by the other, with EMC having the size and money behind its success to further propel Syncplicity into businesses globally offering cloud collaboration and cloud services.
Syncplicity, which is engaged in multiple partnerships with companies such as GoogleApps and Microsoft has, following the merger, positioned itself to be the global leader in cloud collaboration services. With conglomerates such as Compuware, 1-800-PetMeds, Google, IBM, Motorola, Adobe, Adelphia, Air Canada, Nielsen, and Lenovo as well as universities and the United Nations using the services of Syncplicity the company can only move in one direction: up.
Podio, which is now part of Citrix Systems, is an online work platform that has changed the way that everyday work is completed. Podio gives users control over how they control their work tools instead of forcing companies and individuals to bend to the control of the software. By allowing the users to customize their experience, productivity goes up, and the business sees the benefits. Users create work spaces to collaborate with groups of people on an Employee Network for “company-wide communication across departments and locations, and get their work done using Podio Apps.” The Apps are also consumer driven, built without any requirement for technical skills or they can choose from hundreds of already available free apps in the Podio App Market. The apps add another layer of compatibility as they encompass a wide range of social and collaborative streams used for connective and discussing.
Kim Rom, CMO at SteelSeries, in speaking about her experience using Podio said that “We’ve built Podio to suit each team’s specific way of working. But in our business, there’s real value, for example, when a sales rep can get answers directly from an engineer or designer. Now all our employees are automatically connected in our employee network, and this type of collaboration happens every day, whether people are at their desk or on ‘the road’ using their mobiles.” Rom’s experience with Podio is just one example of the positives of cloud collaboration that Podio brings to the field. While there are many other cloud collaboration services, Podio does have features that separate it from other companies.
Yet, this focus on user-customization is not the only thing that sets Podio apart from the competition. The work platform is available in seven different languages: English, German, French, Danish, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Italian. Each language is also features on the iPhone and Android applications bringing seamless integration for the global community where English is not always the language spoken. In addition to introducing multiple language programs, Podio also has made itself free to university students globally. Now students can register at this website and sign up for free access to the tools and apps they need to “organize their studies, collaborate with classmates and complete group projects.” By including this service, free to students, Podio is potentially building up a large customer base that one day will transition from free to fee-paying customers.