5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Enterprise Collaboration Tools

17 Comments

The collaboration market has grown rapidly over the past few years, with many companies trying to grab a slice of an ever-expanding pie. The result of this healthy competition is that there’s now more choice than ever before, which can make the task of picking the right tools a tricky prospect.

Whether you’re Chief Information Officer in a large company or the IT guy in a small non-profit, when you’re choosing collaboration tools for your team, there are a few important questions that you must consider.

  1. Where will your team be working? You may not always know where your team is working from, especially with telecommuting employees,. But it’s a question that’s important to answer, because you may need to figure out how to get access for a team member who doesn’t have high-speed Internet, or you may need to look for a secure tool that won’t expose your data over the local coffee shop’s wireless network.
  2. Does it offer room for your team to grow? As your organization grows, some collaboration applications may not scale with you. Unless you’re willing to move your data whenever your organization gets a little bigger, choosing tools that can keep pace is crucial.
  3. How stable is the company that makes the application? Especially with web-based collaboration tools, it’s easy to find applications that didn’t even exist six months ago…but those tools may be gone again in another six months. It’s important to make sure that you’ve bet on a company that isn’t going anywhere.
  4. How bleeding edge do you need to be? Many application developers will court users when they’re still in beta, offering free services and tools in order to get feedback on their work. This can be a great way for an individual to find inexpensive applications as well as get access to the newest features, but there’s a downside when you’re working on the enterprise level. Applications in beta are less reliable — what happens if you can’t get at your data because something breaks?
  5. How does the pricing break down in the long-term? Many web-based applications use a subscription system, rather than selling you software outright. There are benefits to such deals — you don’t have to pay for each new version of the software as it’s rolled out and the upfront cost can be lower, for example — but in the long-term the pricing can wind up higher than with a package deal. Price shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it is important to consider.

Depending on your needs, there are other questions you’ll want to ask. But these five are important to both large and small organizations, as well as companies of different types.

What questions do you you ask before choosing an enterprise collaboration tool?

Image by Flickr user fncll, licensed under CC 2.0

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17 Comments

Angel Grablev

Those are great points and are hugely beneficial to anybody who is embarking on the job of finding the right tools that fit the company/team.

We launched http://freedcamp.com to help start-ups who may not have enough funding, it offers all the features that the other online collaboration tools offer and then some, all for free. We also have solid funding so we won’t be gone in 6 months as mentioned in the article, and we won’t charge like the tools that started out free and then started charging (activeCollab, ProjectBubble, ApolloHQ and more).

And another great point I would like to add is how hard would it be for your team to adopt the tool. For example I have used some collaboration tools and invoicing that takes hours to learn, which is time wasted not producing something but learning. This is a cost that needs to be considered as well.

Todd

Could we possibly see a follow up to this article with some collaboration tool options? I’d particularly be interested in tools good for small businesses that scale well enough for potential substantial growth of a start-up.

Deborah Fike

I suggest Todd’s suggestion. I know there are lots of good tools out there. Our company makes Fellowstream, which is a todo list and accountability tool for small businesses, but there are also great knowledge management and invoice systems out there.

Martynas

These are the right questions to ask, but the one most important to me is – their customer support. Collaboration software market is new and choosing product with good customer support helps a lot.

Andy M

Another question to consider while choosing a collaboration tool is how easy is it to integrate the tool with the existing work environment. Fortunately we were able to find a great tool for collaboration Taroby http://www.taroby.com which fitted perfectly to fulfill the needs of our virtual team.

Barbie Adair

Great advice, thanks! And like you said the other questions you’ll ask depends on your needs. In our case, we felt confident that we have chosen an appropriate tool after we answered the question –what is the problem we are trying to solve?

Too often, we get caught up looking for the newest feature rather than spending the time to understand what we really need which sadly leads to waste of time and money. Expert and non-experts know that carefully analyzing the needs of the organization is the key. But how? We looked for bottlenecks and gaps in our communication, and we realized that our major challenge is keeping track of projects and making sure that everyone’s worked hours are properly logged and computed. Next step is scouting for the tool that is strong in this feature.

We are now using project management software WORKetc (http://www.worketc.com). With its user-friendly document management and Time sheet & milestone billing, two great features which I did not see in other leading brands like Sugar, Zoho, Salesforce and Basecamp – we then realized we got what we are looking for.

Abbe, SamePage

Good suggestions, Thursday, and great name! And I agree with some of the other commenters. Some additions:
1. How well can the solution scale to support a larger user base?
2. How secure is it?
3. How easy is it for a non-technical user, as many? enterprise workers are
4. What is the quality and level of support after you purchase?
5. How do the features match our objectives? It’s important to have some understanding of what you hope to accomplish with your tool so that you can match features to tasks.
6. Can I play with it before I buy? Look for solutions that aren’t afraid to let you trial during the consideration process. This is something we encourage at eTouch SamePage.

Deborah Fike

Free trials are pretty important before you stick to one. Make sure your team has a chance to test drive anything and that it works within the team’s current process. The tool should work for you, not the other way around.

Pankaj

Some very helpful tips. I would add:-

  • Service – Do they offer free training and support
  • How many paid customers do they have (good indicator of stability)
  • Have they documented their security setup

We had done a whitepaper on “SaaS Vendor Selection” that you may be interested in – http://www.hyperoffice.com/saas-reviews-for-smbs/

Stephan

Before choosing a tool, you should not forget to look at existing processes and as Samuel point out existing tools, see what has to be changed to work with new tools (more virtual work?), and then work with the users so they actually adopt the new tool(s).

Samuel Driessen

Nice post! I also ask to other questions:
1. What type of information/data do you want to share? (Not all tools are good in sharing certain types of info.)
2. Does the collaboration tool connect with/have to connect with the primary knowledge worker tools, email, word processor, etc.? (Not all tools do this well.)

WebIT Admin

Little known fact. Most large enterprise will not collaborate without a third party SSO enabled credential management service. We use the most widely used service called protectnetwork.com. It is open standards based and widely deployed and works with all webapps. No enterprise user is going to get 15 credentials to collaborate on 15 different apps. We just get one credential from protectnetwork and get single sign on.

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