Collaboration Apps Creating Productivity Concerns for IT Leaders: Study

Growing use of unified communication and collaboration tools in organizations could hurt productivity in the short term, according to a study released last week by a service assurance and cybersecurity company.

In a survey commissioned by Netscout, of Westford, Mass., more than nine in 10 of the 300 IT leaders participating in the study (93 percent) revealed they were concerned that the technical challenges of unified communication and collaboration platforms — which includes tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Cisco Webex and Google Meet — may temporarily impact productivity within their organizations.

An indicator of that could be found at the help desks in those organizations. As the use of UC&C apps increased so has the number of help desk tickets related to the tools. More than a third of the survey participants (37 percent) noted that from 50 to 75 percent of all help desk requests are related to unified communication and collaboration software issues.

Although the issues are cleared up relatively quickly — over a quarter of the survey sample (26 percent) said problems were resolved in minutes and more than half (56 percent) said they were resolved in hours — they still have the potential to reduce productivity.

“The longer it takes all the members to join a session the more time that’s wasted of the people who were on time and connected,” Eileen Haggerty, Netscout’s area vice president for product and solutions marketing and one of the report’s authors, told TechNewsWorld.

Some of the increase in help desk tickets involving UC&C apps might be expected, reasoned Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City. “It’s likely due to the increase in the prevalence of the software,” he told TechNewsWorld

The study noted that when IT departments receive UC&C tickets, they most commonly involve device configuration, screen sharing challenges and maintenance or updates. In addition, about one-third of organizations frequently get reports of poor video quality, delays, poor audio quality and inability to log into UCaaS services.

Growing Pains

“The research shows that while UC&C platforms remain critical for organizations, growing pains continue,” Netscout’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Szabados said in a news release.

“Employees remain plagued with technical challenges that limit their productivity,” he continued, “even as IT teams are under additional strain to diagnose and resolve these issues in a timely fashion.”

Those growing pains may be from self-inflicted wounds for some companies.

“In the rush to collaborate, some companies delivered technology that enabled collaboration without training or the culture needed to support the expected benefits”, observed Wayne Kurtzman, IDC research director for communities and collaboration.

“Creating a community for work takes the same elements as creating a community in real life,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Effective collaboration requires peer modeling and mentoring, onboarding, a sense of safety in sharing solutions, and a culture that is clear that activities happen in the collaborative environment, and not email,” he said.

Complexity Challenges

Rubin noted that complexity can be an issue with unified communication and collaboration programs.

“Slack and Teams have these extensible architectures where you can integrate a large range of services into them,” he explained. “That extends their utility, but it also increases their complexity.”

The roots of the programs don’t extend into ease-of-use soil, either. “These products had their start with development teams, which tend to be technical,” Rubin said.

“There really hasn’t been a focus on ease of use,” he continued. “There’s been more of a focus on integration as vendors try to turn these applications into hubs for any kind of collaborative activity within an organization.”

However, some vendors have tried to give their collaboration apps more visibility in their broader offerings, he added.

“What we have seen is an attempt to bring the applications more front and center to the user experience,” he observed.

“Google, for example, is integrating Meet and Chat into Gmail,” he said. “Microsoft is putting Teams chat on the taskbar in Windows 11.”

Collaboration Proliferation

User experience with a UC&C app is very important to IT leaders, according to the Netscout survey. More than nine out of 10 of them (91 percent) said that user experience significantly impacts the value of a UC&C tool to them.

“Management is very concerned about the user experience for their employees because if they’re suffering from anything that impairs the quality of calls, videos or collaborative services, they all hit productivity,” Haggerty said.

More than 90 percent of the survey participants also noted that UC&C tools were important to their hybrid work policy.

For evidence of the value of UC&C tools to the enterprise, the survey recommended looking no further than the number of tools in use.

Almost three-quarters of the organizations in the survey (72 percent) support between three and nine UC&C tools, while 20 percent use more than 10 tools.

The study added that for companies with revenue of more than $10 billion, the more than 10 figure more than doubled to 42 percent.

Meanwhile, 86 percent of overall respondents said they plan to consolidate the number of UC&C platforms used by employees in the next year.

“When the pandemic started, there were a lot of folks that started using free tools like Google Meet, Zoom and Slack,” Haggerty explained. “It was like the wild, wild West.”

“Some of the tools picked up over the pandemic are going to be consolidated,” she said. “More companies will be enforcing corporate policy and saying, ‘You have to use this.’ Up until now, it’s been if you can get your job using a non-sanctioned program, do it.”

Market Growth

Gartner, in a forecast analysis by Craig Roth, Mike Gotta and Hai Swinehart, explained that the course of the social and collaboration software market was altered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which decreased short-term spending but increased market maturity.

The net effect is expected growth from an estimated US$3.5 billion in 2019 to $6.9 billion by 2024, it noted.

By 2025, it continued, nearly 65 percent of enterprise application software providers will have included some form of social and collaboration software functionality in their software product portfolios.

That will be needed to accommodate changes in the global world of work, it added, as the share of knowledge workers working remotely will increase from 27 percent in 2019 to 45 percent in 2022. 

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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