In my previous post, I talked about some takeaways from a recent Gartner conference on Enterprise Architecture. The main idea is that an Enterprise Architecture approach can make IT more strategic by basing technology investments around what’s best for the organization overall rather than serving the needs of one specific function or line of business. That approach has a lot of merit in today’s business climate, and I’d like to connect another dot here.

The rapid pace of change in technology is perhaps the biggest challenge facing IT, and explains why moving to the cloud has been such a strong trend, especially around Enterprise Communications applications. The PaaS concept has been adopted in some form by most UC vendors, either for complete collaboration suites, or subsets of UC, such as video or conferencing. The financial driver is clear – collaboration is easier to sell internally as Opex; not only is it cash flow-friendly, but it ensures the enterprise stays current with the latest applications.

Cloud-based collaboration is also gaining traction because it’s the best way to deliver the benefits to the greatest number of people in the organization. When thinking about business value instead of how collaboration impacts IT’s everyday operations, the cloud becomes strategic. Each line of business or department may use collaboration in different ways, but they all need applications that are easy to use. Premise-based solutions tend to be complex, inhibiting widespread adoption. To meet collaboration needs, end users are increasingly relying on third party applications. This may work well for them, but it reflects the broader Shadow IT issue that undermines efforts to provide standardized tools that integrate with everything else and delivers a consistent end user experience.

We see this constantly in the way that video is being used. One department uses a conferencing platform like WebEx, another uses a cloud-based point solution like Blue Jeans, while yet another relies on a premise-based video system that may even be a legacy system . This is not a strategic approach to IT, and doesn’t support the business value that management is looking for from IT. Think about time-to-market, operational agility, team innovation, scalable applications, and of course cost-effective solutions.

None of these are addressed by a “patchwork” collaboration, and this is where Enterprise Architecture brings a vision that makes IT strategic. By looking at the big picture, IT can assess what technologies are best to deliver these forms of business value, and that includes the deployment model. This is where the cloud has a key role to play, unless of course, IT has enough financial and staff resources to manage all of this in-house. That’s becoming a rare luxury now, and part of being strategic is knowing what’s best to buy and what’s best to build. We certainly believe that PaaS is the right approach for enterprise collaboration, and what I saw at the Gartner conference only served to validate that.