Cloud Collaboration – What are the Benefits? Or, Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

By Richard Porter-Roth posted 10-12-2011 21:49


Since my last blog about cloud collaboration and how easy it is to get started, I’ve been cruising some of the vendor’s web sites and several things have really made me think more about this phenomenon. What has impressed me the most is how easy it is to get started and have a site up and running within minutes and all done without IT support.

I think being able to get and provision a site on your own is an important benefit of the cloud collaboration experience and one that is most probably accounting for the rapid growth. For example, I have been registering for several of these collaboration sites and then I build a small site and “extranet” that allows me to share documents with people. I can open and set up a site, organize a folder/subfolder structure and apply security and workflow rules to the folder. Security typically allows you to secure at the folder level or the document level. For some of the vendors I can also apply keyword tags at the folder level and at the document level to facilitate searching.

The old guard may be saying that this functionality has been available for past 15 years and what is the big deal? Well, the big deal is that I did it without “buying” a $500,000 system (spending $50K just to buy the system), I didn’t have to go through months of implementation with those pesky consultants asking me a million questions, I didn’t do any “training” except to look up an occasional question like what happens when a document “expires,” and everything seems to work out-of-the-box just as stated and expected.

Benefit 1 – These sites are so user friendly (they have to be or they will be out of business) that I can be fully in charge of the site making decisions about how the site is organized, who can participate, what security settings are, version control settings, turning on workflows, setting expiration dates, and a small host of other work improvement apps. (How many of us have access to a group virtual whiteboard that allows simultaneous input during a session?)

Benefit 2 – All the project documents are centralized and there is virtually no emailing of documents. This means that all the changes that happen to a document are changed on the original and no one needs to meld the changes from three authors into one document. And email the final draft back out…

Benefit 3 – I don’t have to worry about running out of space and I don’t have to plan months ahead to have additional storage space allocated to me. Many sites offer you the ability to buy additional space by the gigabyte so that you are not buying and paying for 500 gigs but only using 50 gigs.

Benefit 4 – Thinking outside the box a little, I’m no longer concerned with emailed documents being lost or compromised, I’m not worried about someone carrying around and losing a flash drive or laptop with the whole project on it, and I’m really thinking my project is as secure or more secure in my cloud vendor’s site than it is in my company. Large cloud providers have dedicated security teams that most likely will far exceed the resources of your own IT department… “Cloud providers, such as Microsoft, are resourced to focus on security, said Hall, and in moving the management of a portion of security functions, resources are freed up to focus on other areas of security or on different IT projects altogether.”

Benefit 5 – If I do need IT assistance, I can get it from the vendor with 24/7 telephone support and the people answering the phone actually know the product. In many companies the IT people are not properly trained on the system/application and for any question that is not dead easy will have to “research” the question or escalate it to the vendor. This way I actually save my IT department a phone call and I get the right answer immediately. Also, think what a disaster it is to a new implementation when a user who is just starting to use a system encounters a problem and they (1) call the help desk (2) the help desk doesn’t know the answer (3) the help desk escalates the problem (4) a full day later the level 2 or 3 responder calls the user and says, “Can you explain to me what the problem again?”

(This is what happened to me with one of the collaboration vendors I had just downloaded and installed – on a Sunday I could not keep a network drive connection and it would drop periodically. I called the vendor and they did something to allow the connection to be persistent and problem was understood and fixed. Total time for resolution was about 10 minutes. Me = happy camper!)

Benefit 6 – I was talking to a friend who works for a small business and he mentioned that the overall cost for their server room, (space, power, operation, pizza&cokes) is a major part of their budget. I told him I met a small company at a conference that has no IT, no server room, no expensive power bill and that whole IT/server room expense has been eliminated. While I don’t see small established companies running out and converting to a complete cloud infrastructure overnight, I do see companies moving gradually from in-house servers and support to cloud based services and support and in time there will be fewer and fewer in-house server rooms.

Several studies have already shown that companies can save on their energy costs by adopting cloud computing technologies. From an AT&T report published July 20, 2011, “By 2020, large U.S. companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil – enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year.” (Report review can be found at ) BTW, this is not the only study on this subject and it stands to reason that the Google data center in Oregon, located next to a power plant, will be getting a less expensive rate for its electricity than your office located in the heart of San Francisco.

This is just a cursory glance at some of the benefits you can receive from cloud collaboration technologies and, after all, this is a blog not a white paper. But I would hope we can keep this blog alive with comments from the peanut gallery about what benefits you have already realized from cloud collaboration.

This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.

Western Union internal memo, 1876

Bud Porter-Roth

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