American entrepreneur and industrialist Henry Ford once famously remarked, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” This quest for collective success is what forms the basis of collaboration software.
Businesses of all sizes are increasingly reaching out to global audiences, which requires them to work with employees, partners and customers that are spread across the world. Traditional methods, such as email, make it difficult to control versions of files or documents shared by multiple people spread across various time zones.
That’s where collaboration tools can help: A collaboration solution offers features that allow multiple stakeholders to combine their knowledge and skills to achieve a common goal without having to be together in the same place.
This guide can help potential buyers find the best solution for their needs. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Collaboration software enables multiple users to communicate, conference and coordinate among themselves to facilitate group work.
Among other things, the software facilitates the exchange of messages between individuals using emails, instant messengers (IMs), voice/video calls and discussion threads. It also helps with the sharing and management of documents by allowing different users to work simultaneously on the same set of files and updating in real time.
Virtually all types of organizations can benefit from collaboration software, including those in:
Most collaboration tools come with some or all of the following capabilities:
|Content management||Allows collaboration between several authors to create and edit the same document in real time. Enables users to highlight text or add comments, which can be incorporated when editing. Some solutions also allow users to organize and structure content according to document type.|
|Document management||Enables users to upload and share files such as documents, videos and images. Also allows users to store, track and manage different versions of a document and apply role-based permissions to disable access to specific sections of a document.|
|Calendar management||Users can view individual and team-wide calendars to schedule appointments or meetings on the calendars of team members they are working with, irrespective of their locations. This feature may also include synchronization with third-party calendar management applications (e.g., Apple's Calendar or Google Calendar).|
|Knowledge management||Allows users to maintain a repository of all completed and ongoing projects in an organization with all the available versions of a document attached to a project. This process facilitates knowledge sharing within an organization.|
|Communication software||Provides users with tools that allow them to engage with other individuals on a project, such as internal messengers, videoconferencing, discussion forums and team-specific group creation capabilities. Some solutions also allow for the creation of an internal social network with the capability to create individual and team bios so users can like and comment on project updates.|
|Project management||Enables the tracking of project progress by breaking projects into several tasks and setting completion milestones for each. This allows managers to track project dependencies, set timelines for tasks or projects and reschedule tasks according to team schedules. Certain solutions provide a Gantt chart representation to visualize project completion.|
|Third-party integration||Most of the collaboration tools on the market are “best-of-breed,” focusing on a specific group of features. However, some organizations may seek software that can manage their core tasks as well as integrate with other software used, such as email applications, IM, VoIP and web conferencing, among others.|
Business professionals can realize multiple benefits as a result of adopting collaboration tools, including:
Centralizing information. Organizations that have a workforce spread across multiple locations often have problems with communicating project tasks or job schedules to employees. For teams based in different time zones, emails become ineffective when different groups work on the same document, due to issues with version control. Collaboration software centralizes content at a single location and updates it in real time so everyone can view accurate information. Collaboration software also creates a central repository of documents, consolidating the knowledge management efforts of an organization.
Saving on operational costs. A collaboration solution also offers a combination of features, such as document management, content curation, version control, task management, knowledge management and communication tools. Paying for a number of different proprietary solutions specializing in these individual areas can be costly. Collaboration software can help save on project costs by performing multiple functions that would ordinarily require several different tools to accomplish.
Increasing employee productivity. U.S. employees can spend as much as 50 percent of their working hours in meetings. A solid collaboration solution can cut out unnecessary meetings, allowing users to spend more time on project-related tasks and make faster, more effective decisions.
Choosing the right collaboration software depends on the size of your business. Consider the following buyer types:
Small and midsize businesses. These businesses typically operate as establishments with up to 100 employees and focus on specific operational areas. Such companies might consider a best-of-breed system that specializes solely in communication and conferencing.
For example, a small company that manages limited projects and has employees concentrated at just a few locations may want to consider a solution that will help them communicate with other members and centralize information.
A midsize organization with an active sales force might instead prioritize a solution with advanced communication and conferencing features, such as web conferencing, community boards and forums and IM capability.
Large enterprises. Big companies typically operate in multiple operational areas with employees based at different locations. For such businesses, coordination is key. These businesses may want to consider a collaboration solution that is a modular suite, allowing them to pick and choose the different modules needed.
For example, a large enterprise that has teams spread across different time zones might seek software that helps them manage complex projects or tasks that are dependent on each other. They may require software that offers document management, task scheduling and content curation in addition to communication and conferencing features.
Shift towards mobile and BYOD collaboration. Mobile devices are fast outpacing desktops both in terms of number of units sold and usage in terms of work behavior. Personal devices are often employees’ first choice when it comes to accessing work, due to convenience and user-friendliness. Many companies that develop collaboration tools are now developing mobile apps so employees can collaborate effectively regardless of device type.
Social collaboration tools may outpace emails. As early as 2010, Gartner predicted that over 20 percent of businesses would replace emails with social networking tools as the primary method of business communication. Today, this transition is visible as businesses continue to invest in social team collaboration solutions and use email more as a direct communication tool than a project management platform.
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