Business Gets Social


By Eileen Feretic

It's no surprise to me--and it's probably not a surprise to you either--that the cloud has enveloped another business function: Collaboration is the latest technology to be rolled into the cloud, joining such veterans as software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service.

Collaboration, in technology terms, is a catch-all word that encompasses messages (emails, texts and instant messages); virtual meetings; social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; knowledge and document management; file sharing; mobility; project management; and virtual communities.

And it's not just for employees, whether in the office or in remote locations around the world. This technology also brings customers, suppliers and business partners into the fold. All of a company's stakeholders can communicate, meet and share information using one collaboration platform.

It's an intriguing idea that has the potential to improve productivity, unite employees and even increase revenue. IT vendors are well-aware of these benefits and are beginning to introduce cloud collaboration tools. And businesses are starting to pay attention.

IBM calls its new collaboration platform the SmartCloud for Social Business. It includes email, instant messaging, calendars, Web meetings, application and file sharing, communities and personal dashboards. At a March event in New York City, IBM detailed these capabilities and mentioned customers that are adopting collaboration tools, including the state of Vermont and Panasonic.

The guest speaker at the event was Henry Macchiarola, the global IT director of Colgate-Palmolive. He told the audience of business executives that "collaboration and messaging are global business-critical applications" for his company, which has about 39,000 employees.

Global teamwork is one of Colgate-Palmolive's core values, Macchiarola said, adding that the company's is geographically dispersed and has a large virtual workforce. "The number of our remote workers and generation Y employees is increasing significantly," he said. For these reasons, collaboration tools are essential. The technology also helps the company get the most talented workers, regardless of their location.

Another technology that's critical to Colgate-Palmolive's business is the cloud. "The number of collaboration tools is growing, and we need to collaborate both in and out of the company," Macchiarola said, referring to working with other companies such as business partners. "Our on-premise environment works well, but we see [the cloud] as an opportunity to collaborate outside the company and get to market faster.

"Our focus is on continuous improvement, and innovation happens in the cloud."