Who Are the Buyers for Business Collaboration?

Dec 11, 2015

One of the most interesting shifts in enterprise communications and collaboration in recent years is the way in which communications and collaboration tools are introduced to the enterprise and adopted by end users. Whereas just a few years ago, most technology was discovered, evaluated, purchased, and deployed by IT, today the opposite is true: most new UCC tools come into the organization through employees, who find free apps they like and share them with their colleagues—virally, and without the input or even knowledge of IT.

This has significant impacts for vendors, for obvious reasons. They are no longer competing against only other enterprise IT vendors; they must also position themselves against consumer apps and services. But that’s a tricky shift. The message is clear enough: “your users are relying on consumer-grade tools to better perform their jobs, but these apps don’t have the security and control capabilities that enterprises require.” But the reality is harder to navigate.

For starters, it’s always an uphill battle to convince company executives that they need to spend money on technology they can get for free. Security and control are important, but obviously not so important that companies are locking down their users’ PCs, disallowing access to consumer productivity tools, or running out in droves to replace those tools with enterprise-grade options. So, maybe that argument isn’t so strong as believed. (Everyone in IT likes to say they care about security, but their behavior often suggests, frankly, that they don’t.)

But the bigger hurdle is addressing user needs. Take Cisco’s Spark, which is a robust business messaging platform—essentially a team space that enables persistent conversations and document management. Unlike its consumer-oriented competitors, it also can include real-time meetings and calling features, if users want to pay for that. But do they? I’m not so sure. Most non-techy employees want simple tools that do one thing well. Add layers of capabilities, and suddenly, a tool that looks good on paper no longer meets the needs of its users, who don’t actually want to have to navigate a multitude of features.

That’s the challenge a vendor like Cisco faces: it can’t compete in the end-user space with an app like Slack, which meets users where they live. But what it offers to appeal to enterprise buyers may be more than what users actually want, meaning that if IT (literally) buys it, end users (figuratively) won’t.

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Melanie Turek


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