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Summary:

It’s very easy to wind up with very different tools for tasks like project management, customer relationship management and team communication. That can mean spending time copying information from one tool to another, and constantly having to switch from one tool to another.

It’s very easy to wind up with very different tools for tasks like project management, customer relationship management and team communication. That can mean spending time copying information from one tool to another, and if one of your team members needs to contact a customer, for example, at the very least he’ll need to switch tools.

At first, such a situation can seem manageable. Your team will get used to it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an efficient approach or that you can’t improve the way you do business by looking for an integrated approach.

Integrated Options Do Better

Most of the collaboration tools that are considered brand names offer an integrated approach. Basecamp works with Highrise, Backpack and Campfire. Google’s enterprise tools all work together. Microsoft offers software that plays nicely with its components. It’s not just web applications that work well together.

There is a reason we hear more about these tools than other software. Because each piece of the whole works together, more users are happy with their tools. It’s true that there are more standalone web applications that are moving towards being able to integrate with other tools, through groups like the Small Business Web, but you should explore just what sort of integration is available before making a decision one way or the other.

It’s a Practical Decision

When you bring in a new team member, how long does it take to get them up to speed? If they need to learn how to use three very different tools, it’s going to take longer to turn them into a productive member of the team.

It may mean more wear and tear on your IT team as well. Getting a new user set up on tools that are not integrated can require setting up multiple accounts, in contrast to the many integrated programs that only require one login.

Lastly, there is a matter of expense. If you’re paying for three different tools, whether you’re looking at subscription payments for web applications or a flat rate every time an upgrade comes out, you probably won’t get a set rate for all your tools. With an integrated solution, you can likely get one price. Even if it isn’t much lower than what you would pay for multiple tools, it will still make the accounting department a little happier at the reduction in paperwork.

When Integrated Isn’t Enough

There are some cases when having an integrated toolset isn’t enough. If you need specialized tools for your industry, you may find that industry-standard software is your best bet. There may be ways to tweak an integrated tool, especially one with an API, but that simply isn’t always an option. But, when it’s possible, getting tools that work together and share information can make managing your projects easier.

Image by Flickr user Alikai

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise

  1. Could not agree more. There are a number of things that ‘every’ business needs. So put them together!

    http://www.glasnost21.com does just that – watch the short video to
    see how.

    Regards to all

    Antony Slumbers

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  2. Integrate or perish. Application silos and disconnected islands of data will soon be a thing of the past…

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  3. integration is defintely key when it comes to collaboration tools. the irony of collaboration solutions that don’t work well with other apps is just too much!

    integration gives you better adoption and faster time to market, but another important aspect is the choice of SaaS vs. hosted. With SaaS collaboration apps like Kavi Workspace (http://www.kavi.com) you get lower total cost of ownership without the need for huge IT infrastructure or expensive customization like with Sharepoint.

    check out http://www.kavi.com/resouces/ for more collaboration best practices, resources and case studies.

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  4. I would rather say that the tool-o-mania and hence the requirement to integrate these many tools is not what the users want. I think the tool-set used in every day live should be reduced as much as possible. Therefore these tools remaining in this tool-set should cover in general the basic(!) needs. Highly specialized tools require time to learn and time to integrate and therefore perhaps will fail to help the business grow.

    Google is a good example: They are highly general and therefore need less integration because they can cover most of the processes (not in detail) but in general.

    http://www.agreedo.com is a tool which focuses meetings and the resulting workflows in general. So this is a good example, too.

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  5. What’s interesting is if you go to many of the top CRM or project management application’s support websites, a huge amount of the complaints are a result of either a lack of features, or of how poorly tools even made by the same company integrate. An example of this is Basecamp and Highrise. At face value you would think these tools would be like two halves of a whole, but their is still many integration problems, meaning companies aren’t going to reach their potential efficiency.

    It seems total business management and all-in-one systems is the direction the industry is headed in. People are beginning to see the potential from having everything tied into one system. This is what WORKetc (A company I do contract work with) had in mind when creating their total business management platform.

    WORKetc takes the “Everything under one hood” approach and combines features from CRM, billing, and project management. It’s still quite simple to use as well.

    An example of how it works: Once a lead is secured, it then gets converted into a quote/invoice/project, to which it can be collaborated on until the whole project is completed, and then the company can send out the final bill at the end.

    You can add a lot more perks to a system when its all in one. Things like customization, work flow, and collaboration become a lot better when you can collaborate on any (and I mean any) aspect of CRM/project management/billing.

    Their platform has more features than most single competitors applications combined (ex: Basecamp + Highrise) even despite being an all-in-one system. Here’s a detailed comparison: http://www.worketc.com/compare

    Great Post,

    David

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  6. Here, here. Agreed Thursday. There are also a host of “Bi-products ” that have been developed to work with 37signals stuff and extend their functionality. One such product is bcToolkit which enables Basecamp users to get productivity analysis form their Basecamp data such as time spent vs time budgeted on projects.

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  7. Can’t agree more… it isn’t very productive to switch from one tool to another for project management and communication. I prefer to use an integrated tool like Taroby http://www.taroby.com/ rather than switching tools.

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  8. Seavus DropMind™ is an excellent mind mapping tool and integrates with Basecamp and Google Apps.

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  9. HyperOffice has been an evangelist of the “total collaboration” approach for years now. We were one of the first to offer integrated email and collaboration tools as far back as 2005. We added online meetings in 2007, web databases and online forms in mid 2009, and push messaging in early 2010.

    Integratedness allows for many synergies as data flows easily between different modules, in addition to lower cost and the simplicity of managing a single solution. Integratedness also allows a greater ability to innovate. For example, theres always the temptation of delegating tasks through email than the project management system. We added a simple button in the email system that allows users to convert an email into a task with a simple click.

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