Why collaboration with customers and partners is a complicated matter

external collaboration2All businesses want to improve the way they collaborate with their customers and partners. Quite logical. No one creates value alone and two businesses that are very good at internal collaboration won’t make the most of as long as a bottleneck remains at the point where their relative teams meet.

No business creates value alone but at the touchpoint with other businesses and customers

The social business and social networks era only made this need more essential. As it’s becoming easier to create spaces and invite people inside for a more seamless collaboration, businesses want to be able to do with their customers and partners what they can do with their employees. But things are not that easy and if need is a part of more and more plateform specifications, it’s not that easy to put things in action.

Opening to customers : many talk, few actually do

From a technical standpoint not all vendors are offering such capabilities while their clients unanimously ask for it. Paradoxical ? Not at all. Adequate rights management need lot of rework on softwares that’s been designed for internal use only to make them able to manage “secured bubbles” and invite external people with letting see internal content. And, at the end, businesses seem to put up with such limitations because if the matter is critical form a business standpoint, the ability to grant external people authorizations to access internal tools is still very touchy for CIOs that sometimes still wonder – with valid arguments – if they should allow remote access to their systems for they own employees. So imagine when it comes to external people !

If you find such concerns obsolete, keep in mind that the least bug that would make visible things that should not be would be a major incident that would kill any opening initiative and take us back 10 years in the past. So, reason often prevails and businesses decide to have two platforms : one internal, one external. Too bad for user experience, the comprise is still acceptable.

 

Bug or human mistake : privacy do not tolerate risk

But bugs are not the only risk to deal with. When it comes to managing restricted spaces, bugs are often caused by the chair-to-keyboard interface and it’s called “human error”. It’s not a technology issue but about to what extent businesses and managers trust employees and their ability to not make mistakes. It’s even about employees self-confidence and the fear of committing something irreparable.

This is not a trivial point. Should any information be shared where it shouldn’t be, be visible to someone who should not see it and you’ll end up with a crisis to manage either internally or with the concerned customer and partner. And at the end the whole system will be questioned.

But even when technology makes things possible, when trust exists and employees use the tools wisely, there’s still a major concern left. A concern that may be of little importance today considering the few hindsight we have but that may increase as these kind of collaboration will become more mainstream.

Leadership, compliance and provisioning

What happens if all the parties have a tool on which in they can invite their partners and customers ? Each one will want to use his own platform and  impose it to others. An what if there are 3 or 4 companies working together ? Who’ll impose his platform ? The stronger ? The client ? Anyway, there are few chances that the criterion that will be used will be “choose the best tool”.

Then comes a second concern. Reports and updates will be shared, decision made etc. But who’s managing the space ? The owner of the platform ? Who can access logs to see if a document gas been modified, a message removed, prove that something has been said or not in case of a conflict ? Many businesses overlook compliance and auditability concerns about their social and collaborative platforms when they use it alone but the issue is becoming even more critical when the platform is used with partners and the need to prove things major requirement in case of a – possibly legal – dispute. Overlooking this dimension is a pity and when it’s addressed it’s important to know who can access these functionalities.

Las but not least : provisioning. For an internal use, when someone leaves the company or changes job, his right are supposed to be changed or removed accordingly. But what about customers and clients ? Will they think to inform the other parties when someone is not a part of the project or leaves the company ? Will it be done with enough haste ? That’s a big grey zone where risks exist.

So the perfect solution, the panacea, still does not exist and that’s a barrier to effective cross-businesses collaboration programs. As a matter of fact, the tool that meets all the constraints :

- would be neutral (a third part platform)

- would have an auditability and compliance than can be used by any party, so its provider would be a trusted third party.

- would be linked to the companies’ directories to manage provisioning and allow user to use their corporate credentials to log in.

Maybe there’s room on the market for a specific offer.

Single platforms only work for one party at a time

Today we’re far from this point and, anyway, the myth of “one single platform for all” will collapse as neutrality becomes key. Moreover it’s actually a myth. As a matter of fact when a company invites its customers and partners on a collaboration platform to provide an unified experience to their employees, they prevent other parties from doing the same.

Having a single platform for all and for everything can only be true for one partie at a time. Maybe, one day, Open Social or something similar will reconcile everyone by managing interoperability between “proprietary” platforms or between these platforms and a neutral one.