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4 Must-Haves of Cloud-Based Collaboration

As telecommuting grows, many organizations have fallen back on email to share documents and collaborate, but not without problems. As a fix, more companies are turning to the cloud and file sync and share apps. Here are four must-have features for selecting a cloud collaboration solution that meets the needs of your customers.

One of the most significant--and often overlooked--trends impacting companies today is the growing number of remote workers. According to the latest research from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), nearly half (46 percent, to be exact) of all organizations allow at least some percentage of their employees to work remotely.

Business owners opt for virtual offices for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains that telecommuting is not a passing fad. And, at the same time the workforce is expanding outside the traditional office walls, the need to collaborate is growing. Beyond equipping remote employees with dedicated office lines and business email accounts, many organizations give little thought to collaboration. When this happens, email often becomes the go-to choice for sharing Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and other files, which can lead to a variety of issues that we’re all too familiar with.

To prevent these costly and often frustrating mishaps, more and more companies are turning to the cloud for assistance and using file, sync and share apps to gain the functionality and efficiencies they seek. However, among the dozens of services available today, there is a wide spectrum of features and functions to choose from, and many of these apps are sold direct, bypassing the channel partner altogether.

That said, if you’re not actively engaging your clients about their collaboration needs, odds are someone else is--or they are purchasing the solution directly. If you are currently selling collaboration solutions as part of your services portfolio, that’s fantastic, as it’s a growing need in the market.

Regardless of where you sit--actively selling or wanting to sell--here are four must-have features for selecting a cloud collaboration solution that meets the needs of your customers:

1. Security

When you think about the sensitive information that’s shared among collaborators, it only makes sense that these files require the same protection you’d use for safeguarding your clients’ off-site backups. Before selecting/recommending a collaboration solution, be sure the provider is compliant with industry regulations (such as HIPAA and PCI DSS) and that its application resides in a cloud data center that meets the highest audit standards (such as SSAE 16).

One of the primary ways remote workers use file, sync and share tools is by emailing/texting links to other group members. Three security features solution providers should look for in an enterprise-grade solution are the ability to password-protect links (including two-factor authentication) and the ability to set an “expiration date” on the link, as well as the ability to remotely wipe data.

One additional security layer included in an enterprise-level cloud collaboration solution is granular sharing permissions, a feature that allows content creators and administrators to designate who within the group can create, view (that is, read only), update, delete and share the content with other collaborators.

2. Version Control

One of the biggest challenges remote workers face is ensuring they’re working on the correct version of a document. Some collaboration software tools do not support real-time synchronization, which puts the burden on each worker to ensure only one member at a time is making changes to a particular file. Version control also comes into play when a user needs to revert back to a previous version of a document (such as when a proposed update is denied). Such requests may occur weeks, or even months, after a change has been made, which is well beyond what many consumer-grade collaboration services can accommodate.

3. Mobile Productivity

Occurring simultaneously with the telecommunicating/virtual office trend is the BYOD trend. A growing number of workers want to use their personal mobile devices to perform their work duties, and many collaboration solutions attempt to be BYOD-friendly by offering mobile apps. The problem, however, is that the functionality of their apps is often limited, omitting key features such as document annotation and/or file editing. Selecting a collaboration solution that allows end users to edit Microsoft Office files (as well as other file types) on their mobile devices is an important differentiator IT service providers should look for in an enterprise-grade collaboration solution.

4. Reliability

Before selecting a collaboration solution vendor partner, be sure to find out a few key details about the availability of the vendor’s cloud data center. Ideally, the provider should have multiple data centers based in different geographies that allow their services to automatically fail over from one data center to another in the event of a disaster. Additionally, the cloud provider should have an SLA that’s greater than or equal to 99.9% reliability to ensure your customers always have access to their data.

As the workplace continues to evolve and adoption of cloud and mobility solutions soar, more and more companies will embrace telecommuting and the remote office, and many will seek to expand the business. By helping your customers meet their collaboration needs with an enterprise-class file, sync and share solution, you’ll not only help them achieve new levels of productivity and efficiency, you’ll ensure their commitment to security and industry regulation compliance remains uncompromised, as well.   

Neal Bradbury is VP of Channel Development and a co-founder at cloud-based backup and disaster recovery provider Intronis. Working closely with the company’s MSP partner community and alliance partners, he is responsible for generating greater business value for the company’s MSP partner community and alliance partners.

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