Whether it be from their desk or on their mobile devices, businesses today are constantly collaborating. The magnitude of ways in which we can communicate and share information has created new potentials for greater productivity. For companies today, the importance of optimizing business processes and finding efficiencies via collaboration software is unquestionable.
However simply adopting the first piece of new technology you see, will not guarantee instant results. There is no “one-size fits all” model for collaboration software.
The big question is – how do you decide which software solution is the best for your needs? We asked the executives of ten collaboration software companies for their input and advice on how to select the best solution for any business.
Selecting Collaboration Software – What You Need to Know
All businesses are different, which means decision making revolves completely around what works best for you. Selecting collaboration software is no different. Businesses are required to consider many factors specific to the needs of their team in order to find a collaboration solution that will solve their problems and ensure employees work to their potential.
This article includes advice directly from the executives and experts of different collaboration software companies. It will give you a comprehensive overview of the top ten different factors to consider when purchasing collaboration software, and help you make the best decision for your business.
1. Evaluate How You Work & Set Goals
By Andrew Filev – Wrike
When choosing a collaboration software to help your team, you need to first make sure you understand how your team works on projects. Do you mainly handle structured work (regular projects and standardized workflows), or unstructured work (lots of ad hoc tasks, assignments, and last-minute opportunities)?
Once you understand how your team currently works, then you need to set goals for what you want to improve. With a new tool, do you want to:
- Increase your team’s velocity?
- Improve visibility and collaboration between teams?
- Standardize your workflows?
- Be able to generate reports on completed work?
- Create, edit, and work on shared documents with colleagues?
- Integrate with other tools?
Setting clearly defined goals BEFORE you purchase software allows you to measure whether or not the tool is actually working for your team. You can gauge if the addition of the tool has contributed to your overall success. And having the tangible “before” benchmark helps you prove your new tool’s worth to upper management.
About Andrew Filev and Wrike:
Andrew Filev is the CEO and founder of Wrike, a leading cloud-based collaboration tool for teams of any size. Thousands of customers use Wrike to collaborate, manage tasks, plan projects and to make teams more efficient.
2. Hosting On-Premise or in the Cloud
By Spencer Frasher – Atlassian
Choosing a deployment option is an important component in the decision-making process for collaboration software. In talking with customers we find that cloud is a popular option, but there are reasons why they would choose on-premise versions.
The answer to these questions can help guide your decision.
- How are your budgets structured?
Typically on-premise and cloud products have different pricing models. Cloud can provide flexibility in managing expenses while on-premise provides more certainty. The way your budgets are structured, and the time frame you have to spend the budget, may guide your decision.
- Do you want to get started, like, now?
Cloud software is easy to get up and running for you and your team, while on-premise versions take more time to download, set-up and run.
- Do you have restrictions?
Depending on your industry or the country in which you do business, you may have certain restrictions on how you handle, store and audit data. Some cloud providers may not be able to meet your criteria.
- Does your organization have the IT capability and capacity to run on-premise software?
Any company with an internet connection can sign up and start using cloud based software. On-premise software requires an IT organization that can manage the hardware, data backup, bandwidth, etc. that is required to deliver a great experience.
- Are you a control freak?
Regardless of the deployment option you choose, outages will happen. The difference is who gets paged to solve the problem: your team or the cloud provider’s ops team.
There are a few other considerations like LDAP compatibility that may also sway you to choose one over another, but the good news is that most vendors make it easy to move from an on-premise version to a cloud version and vice versa if your needs change.
About Spencer Frasher and Atlassian:
Spencer Frasher is the Head of Marketing for Confluence at Atlassian. Over 50,000 customers, including Facebook, Netflix and NASA use Atlassian tools to communicate and collaborate more effectively.
3. Foster Engaged and Collaborative Employees through Impactful Onboarding and Training
By Carolyn Beal – SAP Jam
Strong employee engagement is an imperative to a successful organization, and social collaboration software is a key ingredient. How can you ensure that your employees have a positive, engaging, and valuable experience with your social software, starting on Day 1?
A best practice approach is to partner with your HR organization to create a group focused on new employees, as a way to help onboard them to your company. This group should contain all of the needed documents, information, and also provide a collaborative environment to interact with peers. By guiding new hires to your social collaboration site, it will help pave the way for future use in their daily work.
Training and ongoing support, both formal and informal, are an essential element to ensuring that adoption is achieved. In your documentation, bring the different collaboration use cases to life to spark usage, provide both functional and best practice examples, offer in-depth and quick start guides, and film short video tutorials. Offer a dedicated group in your social site to provide support, solicit ideas, and collect feedback.
McKinsey reports that social technologies unlock $1.3B in annual value, double the value from improved communication and collaboration, and improve customer interactions by 40-60%. By including your social collaboration solution in your new hire onboarding process and ensuring that they can leverage the solution in an impactful way, you deliver transformative value to your business.
About Carolyn Beal and SAP Jam:
Carolyn Beal is the Senior Director of Product Marketing for SAP Jam, a social collaboration solution that drives business results.
4. Team Buy-In
By Scott Schreiman – Samepage
A recent survey by Samepage and ORC International states that while 73% encourage employees to use collaboration apps, only 40% actually use them widely within their organizations. Why? According to the survey, adoption of collaboration apps is being primarily driven by individual employees, not executives. While the use of email was initially adopted by 55% of the companies, other collaboration apps adopted by individual employees actually ranked higher than tools adopted by the entire company: social tools for business (71%), instant messaging (68%) and file sharing (61%). From this we can assert: When new processes are imposed on employees by management, they are less likely to actually be used; collaboration apps are generally pulled into an organization by the employees and not the employer.
If a business wants to implement a new tool, team buy-in is critical to its success in the company. With small businesses placing a high value on collaboration apps, getting an employee engaged early on is just as (if not more) critical.
About Scott Schreiman and Samepage:
Scott Schreiman is the founder and chief executive officer of Samepage, a startup that enables small businesses and their teams to get more done.
5. Integrations with other tools
By Michael Hollauf – MeisterLabs
When buying collaboration software, make sure to choose one that is as open and flexible as possible. The last thing you want is to set up an isolated silo of information. Your collaboration tool can and should function more like a hub that connects with other platforms and tools you’re using and thereby enables a seamless flow of information. In the long run this can really save you tons of time.
There are four different types of integrations – of increasing complexity – that you should consider:
- Integrations with file sharing platforms such as Dropbox or Google Drive allow you to upload files directly from them.
- Sign in-integrations allow you to sign up or sign in to the tool using for instance an existing social media account.
- Integrations with tools such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter allow you to share content from the software directly via those social media platforms.
- Workflow integrations enable you to build a customized workflow between your collaboration software and other tools such as calendars, time tracking-, task-, meeting-, development- or chat tools.
If you’re working with your own customized software solution and want to integrate the new collaboration tool with it, look for its API, which is often available on the tool’s website.
About Michael Hollauf and MeisterLabs:
Michael Hollauf is the CEO at MeisterLabs, the company behind MindMeister & MeisterTask. The tools form a collaborative productivity suite that lets teams turn their creative ideas directly into actionable tasks.
6. Trial the Software
By Mark Zondler – Mikogo
Software is not the sum of its features. Equally important is its performance, simplicity and ease-of-use, all very hard to evaluate based on some marketing collateral. To judge these soft factors, you need to experience the software by working with it in a real-world scenario.
Most SaaS providers offer free trial accounts that you can set up all by yourself. Some SaaS providers even offer free versions of their product (usually feature-limited) which you can use to experience the product before upgrading to a full-featured Premium plan.
In most cases, trialing the software is very quick and easy to set up; you typically just need a user account and a browser or a simple app download. Trialing an on-premise solution is a bit more complicated and requires installation and configuration on one of your servers, but on-premise software providers usually offer a demo system that you can use.
Who should trial the software? Usually there’s a buyer (the person assigned to research and select the new software) and the real end-users (the people who will actually use the software for their work). Be sure that the real users get involved and that more than just one user trials the software – by definition, collaboration involves several people. Assemble a small team of people, ideally a mix representing typical users within your organization, with different levels of affinity for IT and software. The ultimate success of any new software roll out is user adoption and you should not only base your decision on early adopters’ feedback but also involve your average user. A simpler solution that is used and loved by your entire team is worth far more than the full-featured specialist program, which your end-users reject because it’s simply too complicated.
About Mark Zondler and Mikogo:
Mark Zondler is the Co-Founder of Mikogo, a free screen sharing and collaboration solution, used by over a million people worldwide for online meetings and web presentations.
7. Access and Day-to-Day Usage
By John Eikenberry – SugarSync
When reviewing collaboration software you should look for key features that will make a difference to your day-to-day work flow. There may be a range of great-sounding options but if you would rarely use them, they aren’t a key reason for buying the product. We have listed some of the key things to consider below:
- Apps for your devices: What systems do you and your staff currently use? If you’re out of the office checking your tablet or phone a lot, make sure you choose a solution that gives you full control on those devices. You wouldn’t want a really cut down collaboration experience on your main device.
- Recovery options: To make sure files aren’t accidently edited or deleted, be sure your solution keeps previous versions of each file and has a recovery option.
- Permissions: To make sure you and your colleagues can collaborate effortlessly you are likely to need different levels of permission. A manager may want to be able to collaborate on a file with only one other user, so you would want the ability to do that. Also you may want some employees to be able to edit a document while others have a read-only permission. Make sure your solution offers you the flexibility to collaborate the ways you will need.
About John Eikenberry and SugarSync:
John Eikenberry is the COO of SugarSync, a cloud sync solution that simplifies collaboration by keeping files in the same folder structure as your devices.
By Stuart Barr – HighQ
Cloud technologies have matured significantly in recent years to allow greater control and flexibility over the security of your data. The best enterprise collaboration software offers security features such as hybrid storage, encryption key management (EKM) and flexible deployment options including a choice of data centre locations and single-tenancy, private cloud hosting.
Consider a supplier that deploys your own dedicated instance of the product, in the region of your choice, giving you control over where your data resides, when it’s upgraded, custom branding and how it’s configured.
For secure document collaboration, hybrid storage gives customers the ability to choose where they want their data stored, with the flexibility to store files in different global data centres or on-premise storage, particularly beneficial for enterprises who have specific requirements about where their data is stored for regulatory and compliance reasons.
Similarly, EKM places the encryption keys for your data in your control, separate from the data itself. Not only does this tighten security generally, reducing the probability of any third parties being able to decrypt the data, crucially it means that if a government body or agency were to seize the cloud vendor’s servers, they could not decrypt the data without obtaining the decryption keys from the customer directly.
About Stuart Barr and HighQ:
Stuart Barr is the Chief Strategy Officer for HighQ, a leading provider of cloud-based enterprise collaboration and publishing software for some of the world’s leading law firms, investment banks and corporations.
9. Understanding the Collaboration Ecosystem
By Marriott Murdock MBA, PMP – NetDocuments
The implications of introducing a collaboration software, service, or vendor into your organization’s technology landscape should be analyzed across departments, industry-specific regulation and compliance, the specific collaboration needs, and ultimately how it will increase productivity, usability, and your broader information governance initiatives. Here are several key areas to consider:
- Security and compliance when selecting a vendor – Data (documents, email, etc.) being shared and collaborated on with clients and internal teams may fall under certain restrictions and regulation either imposed by a particular industry, or required by your client’s organization (e.g. HIPAA, SEC, FINRA, DOD, etc.). Knowing the specifics of potential regulation and compliance requirements will help guide the evaluation of potential products, and may rule some out altogether.
- Centralized vs. decentralized collaboration – Collaboration software will typically either be decentralized or centralized. Centralized collaboration means that as a default, content placed in the system will be accessible to everyone unless individuals are specifically restricted. Decentralized collaboration means by default, any contents added to the system will only be accessible to you – the author – and shared with others only when specific access is granted.
- Information governance and ECM implications – Enterprise Content Management (ECM) encompasses a broad range of internal and external activities as it relates to content of all types across the firm. Most ECM systems or services will have built-in collaboration components in order to facilitate collaboration without the need to pull information out of the organization’s ECM landscape. Content outside the firm’s defined information governance infrastructure (policies, procedures, and technology), introduces liability, noncompliance, data leakage, retention policies, and potential knowledge loss by not having a centralized location for data.
About Marriott Murdock MBA, PMP, and NetDocuments:
Marriott Murdock is the Marketing Director at NetDocuments, the leading cloud-based document and email management service, helping firms decrease cost and increase productivity through anytime, anywhere, any device access.
10. Understand the Pricing Model
By Sandeep Kashyap – ProofHub
Pricing is one of the most important criteria to be looked at when selecting collaboration software for your team. You need to have a clear understanding of how the pricing works before actually investing your time and money in it.
Here is a look at some of the aspects that you must keep in mind when considering to invest in online collaboration software for your business:
- Does it fit within your business needs?
Change is the only thing that’s constant when it comes to any business. But, if you want to keep pace with the evolving needs of your business, you ought to have a tool that offers lucrative plans to suffice teams of all sizes. No matter if you have a team of 50 or 5000, you must get the flexibility to switch between different plans as per the changing size and requirements of your team.
- Does it paint a clear picture of what you will get?
Complicated pricing plans are a big turn off, no matter how good the tool is. The pricing plan of the tool should clearly reflect the features you will be getting and the cost that will be incurred, so that you can easily compare the benefits of various plans.
- Does it offer value for money?
Pay heed to the question ‘Is the tool worth the money you will be spending on it?’ Having a clear understanding of your business process and how the tool can fit within your business needs becomes critical here. Rather than going for a plan stuffed with features, you need to look for a tool with plans that suffices your business and offers value for the money.
- Do you get a free trial?
Another important thing to keep in mind is that you should always give preference to a software that offers free trial. During the free trial, you can take the software for a spin and can get to know how quickly and how well your team can adapt to it.
About Sandeep Kashyap and ProofHub:
Founder and CEO of ProofHub, a project management tool that helps you plan, collaborate, organize and deliver projects successfully.
Before investing time and money into new technology, it pays to consider the above factors. A given collaboration solution will bring certain strengths and benefits to your business, which may differ to the next business. We hope the above insights from collaboration software providers has answered some of the questions you will have when looking for the right solution for your company.