In 2021, workstream collaboration (WSC) tools have been widely adopted and are critical to remote work in the post-COVID-19 era. 2021 Gartner Market Guide for Workstream Collaboration states, “COVID-19 has supercharged deployment of workstream collaboration (WSC) tools to address remote work demands, providing a cohesive productivity experience for employees that unifies messaging, meeting, content sharing and task coordination.” Although, Gartner further adds “organizations have not strictly standardized on a single WSC offering when requirements include advanced integration and work management needs, external use cases, or reliance on frontline workers.” 
These are critical opportunities for WSC as collaboration tools accelerate and organizations look to reduce “noise” for employees who are inundated by too many pings and notifications–simply not relevant for the work at hand. Gartner’s report illustrates that buyer focus for WSC tools will shift to the underserved and emerging use cases shown below:
Workstream collaboration vendors like Coolfire are looking to address the five emerging trends: industry-specific collaboration, complex WSC applications, process- and role-based collaboration, advanced external collaboration, and frontline collaboration. Let’s explore.
1. Industry-specific collaboration
Traditional industry-specific software was designed to solve a discrete problem. However, they create data silos and systems that are locked into their processes–forcing businesses to lose their uniqueness. Traditional WSC tools like Slack present the opposite problem — lack of business context in communication channels cause employees to become overloaded with information and waylaid by a lack of nuance and focus.
Industry-specific workstream collaboration tools are pre-configured versions of software. Industry-specific processes are designed for a set of use cases, yet flexible enough to adapt the software as processes change or when new technologies are added to meet business needs. Flexible WSC can span across multiple departments. Common tool usage enables broader collaboration and savings on license and maintenance.
2. Complex WSC applications
The larger the organization the more complex the collaboration needs. They tend to have the most complex sets of processes across functions and departments. WSC tools are becoming a strong alternative to building new or customizing existing enterprise software. Workstream collaboration systems are starting to bridge the gaps between the operational needs of the team and the gaps in existing enterprise systems– without adding unnecessary customization. “Alternatives to Coolfire Core often include manual processes, building expensive custom software, or trying to customize existing software solutions — but customizing software is going down a slippery slope as software upgrades are rarely compatible,” says Don Sharp CEO at Coolfire.
For example, last year, one of our customers, American Expediting, a transport solutions provider, was tasked with delivering trial and approved COVID-19 vaccines throughout the US. To support the dramatic increase in service requirements from their COVID-19 contracts, American Expediting initially attempted to retrofit existing systems and maintain their manual processes. But their transportation software could not record and communicate the fine details and distinct workflow required for vaccine-related deliveries. Coolfire Core replaced their custom software and became the collaboration layer for their transportation software.
3. Process- and role-based collaboration
Gartner’s report states that “lack of effective alert, notification, and summation (digest) capabilities are causing employees to feel overloaded trying to “keep up” with WSC activity.” In other words, chat without process is not particularly valuable or scalable, and can often hurt productivity and cause employee burnout.
In order for employee collaboration to be consistent and high quality, role-based business processes will be more important than ever for workstream collaboration. Employees need to see different views of the same information based on their roles to ensure focus, effectiveness, and ease of use The best-case scenario for WSC is to give each employee only the information that’s relevant for them to do their jobs. The risk is that narrowly defined roles may limit collaboration, so organizations must take care to map their cross-functional needs against WSC vendor capabilities.
4. Advanced external collaboration
Most organizations limit collaboration tools to only their employees. And rightfully so. Licensing, onboarding, training, and even legal considerations create a significant enough barrier to stop the collaboration train dead in its tracks.
As organizations add collaboration tools to the tech stack, start seeing the positive impact on operations, it’s only natural to continue extending to more users. Phone calls, emails, and text messages are clunky communications processes for project updates and fall short of a true collaborative experience. Organizations need to think about extending collaboration beyond their four walls, adding third-party vendors, partners, and even customers into the mix.
Deploying an advanced external collaboration strategy enables your organization to reap the benefits of collaboration in-context. Enabling seamless collaboration between employees, customers, and third-party vendors further streamlines operational communication and provides real-time updates to all impacted parties.
Coolfire’s CEO, Don Sharp, believes, “One of the greatest values organizations can deliver is effectively collaborating with customers. However, before extending collaboration to external parties, you need to get operations executing efficiently. Get your internal shop in order, build the right processes to gain efficiency and confidence, and then extend that to the market and their customer base.”
5. Frontline collaboration
“Deployment of WSC tools for use by frontline workers remains more of an edge case when compared to “desk workers” (remote or in offices).”
Traditional WSC tools like Slack are best suited for employees with desk jobs. They often take the form of sleek, easy-to-use chat tools that create newsfeed channels. The employee experience of these tools is a constant onslaught of information.
Frontline workers don’t want to chat or consume information outside of their business context — their attention must be on their job at hand. Catering to frontline workers like oil rig workers or truck drivers requires careful consideration. Communication channels must take into account the optimal frequency and expectations of collaboration.
Learn more about how Coolfire Core meets emerging workstream collaboration needs, keeping organizations connected to the right level of people, processes, and information they need to be most effective.
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This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available upon request from Coolfire.