Understanding Small Business Collaboration

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The SMB Group studies small businesses. It recently published a new report titled “Moving Beyond Email — The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites.” The report covers Google Apps for Business, HyperOffice, IBM LotusLive, Microsoft BPOS, OnePlace, Salesforce Chatter, VMware Zimbra and Zoho Business, breaking the topic down into ten different sections. But although there is a lot of depth to the report that should help businesses compare collaboration tools, it suffers from taking too narrow a focus.

The trouble with evaluating small business collaboration is that SMBs differ in their needs. The variation between small businesses and their needs are far more dramatic that those of large companies. Most big corporations are going to have similar needs: they’ll need to be able to handle a range of standard tasks, like human resources. But a small business could be an individual freelancer working out of his house, or a business with 50 employees. This variation means that choosing the right SMB collaboration tools is not straightforward.

The Tools to Consider

There seems to be an impression that the bigger and better-known tools (such as those from Google or Salesforce) should be the first a small business considers when looking for collaboration software. But when a business has specific needs, that’s not the right approach to take. Consider just about any financial professional: no matter how many people they have on the team, they will have reporting requirements that mean that applications with reporting tools built-in should be a better fit than something like Google Apps, which was built for broader business needs.

There is no set list of applications that a smaller business should consider. Rather, the first step should be to take a look at all of the features the business needs and then searching from there.

Looking for Support

One valuable consideration that the SMB Group’s report brings up is the question of service and support. For smaller organizations, the question of support is crucial: there simply may not be enough room in the budget to support any full-time IT staff, making it absolutely necessary to choose applications that include some level of support as a matter of course. Even for a business that works in technology, the time and effort spent supporting certain applications could make them prohibitively expensive to use. Choosing one, instead, that comes with support services — even if the company has to pay a higher price up-front — can be very worthwhile.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Michael Lokner

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