Overuse tends to suck a phrase of meaning, and the same may be said of “collaboration”. As an executive, you’ve probably been inundated with articles on “collaboration software” and its business possibilities. But it seems to mean different things at different times. Sometimes it means email, other times document sharing with Google Drive, and still other times managing projects with Basecamp. And when the social network Google + was launched, you were told enterprise collaboration was forever changed.
You probably experienced what may be described as information induced paralysis. OK, so “collaboration software” amazing. What next?
Time to take a step back and structure our thinking.
Collaboration software evidently has something to do with collaboration – or to work together. One might say that every business reduces to collaboration – humans working together to achieve a common objective. Collaboration software is therefore software which facilitates “working together”.
Although every business is unique, there are certain aspects of “working together” which are universal across business types – isn’t that the very basis of management studies? These universal activities, which you will immediately identify as happening in your own company are:
– Sharing information
– Working together on information
– Coordination of efforts
Any software which serves any of the above needs can be validly called “collaboration software”. So, the authors were all accurate in their own place.
Collaboration software may be categorized in the following “types”.
Single-purpose collaboration software
These software target just one aspect of working together.
Email. Email is the grand-daddy of collaboration software and ironically, still the most commonly used. Its basic purpose is “communication” both internal and external. Its structure allows it to be used for other collaborative tasks as well, but as many would say, sub optimally.
Discussion boards. Discussion boards are geared for many to many communication – many people contribute their ideas. You may still use email for discussions, but at your own peril.
Document management. “Documents” or structured units of information, are probably at the core of every business. Most of our work days consist of creating, working together on, or sharing documents with others. “Document management” software enable companies to store, organize and access documents. Document collaboration features include version control and audit trails to manage multiple contributors, and permissions to manage access.
Project management. All business effort can be broken into a set of tasks, involving multiple people (inside and outside the organization) aggregated as “projects”. These tasks and projects have dependencies and sequence relationships. Project management software allow managers to assign tasks, set milestones, set dependencies and monitor progress and hence make sure everything is on track.
Intranets (and extranets). Intranets (or extranets when external parties are involved) are basically web pages. They may be seen as communication tools, where the management publishes policies, plans, or events for the employees’ benefit, or even uses as a device to motivate employees (through “message of the day”, “employee of the quarter” etc.).
Social tools. Social tools like networking, activity streams and wall messaging have often been called the new email. Their primary purpose is communication and sharing, but they are designed in a unique dynamic, people centric way, which feels like a big improvement over email.
Workflow tools. Although not commonly, workflow tools are sometimes seen as collaboration tools. A workflow is a business transaction as it evolves from inception to closure. Workflow software manage the information associated with a workflow as it evolves through different stages. Some examples are the CRM workflow and the support workflow.
IM. Instant messaging is geared towards communication which needs to be instantaneous.
Collaboration suites are a collection of multiple individual collaboration tools, with various points of integration. The philosophy is – no one tool is adequate for collaboration. All companies need different collaboration tools depending on the situation. So why not have them in a single solution?
Moreover, collaboration suites emphasize that different collaboration tools actually need to share information. For example projects usually have associated specifications documents, calendar events are often associated with project deadlines and so on. Having these tools in separate solutions creates non interacting silos, or what is also called “collaboration sprawl”. It is therefore efficient to have multiple collaboration tools in a single solution that freely exchange information. Our http://www.hyperoffice.com/collaboration-suite/HyperOffice collaboration suite is an example of collaboration suites.
Unified communications and collaboration
The concept of “collaboration software” might be stretched still further and involve audio communications as well. “Unified communication and collaboration” solutions add voice communications tools like audio and web conferencing, voicemail, and telephony on top of a suite of collaboration tools.
However, due to the sophistication and expense of these solutions, they are implemented mostly in large enterprises.
Traditional collaboration software vs. cloud collaboration software
Collaboration software may further be distinguished in terms of the method of deployment. Some collaboration software are deployed on company servers, and geared towards collaboration within the company. These may be called “on premise” collaboration software. Sharepoint is an example.
“Cloud” collaboration software is deployed over the internet and may be accessed through a web browser on any internet connected device. It is independent of the technological environment of the user. Cloud collaboration software is therefore suitable for distributed networks of remote teams, customers and partners.
The cloud is now increasingly seen as the natural deployment environment for collaboration software. Firstly, it suits modern teams which are increasingly distributed and mobile. Secondly, it is part of the general movement driven by cloud software, where business and IT is sought to be aligned by making software end user focused. Finally, the subscription based cost structure (software as a service) is ideal for small and medium sized businesses who want to avoid the heavy capital investment of on premise collaboration software.