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By Wayne Turmel

Remember when you needed some information from your teammates and could just walk to the filing cabinet to get it? (If you’re under 30, do you even remember filing cabinets?) Even if you do, odds are it’s a long walk over timezones to get to it. Now we have information stored in our email, on a shared drive, on your hard drive and somewhere if we only could remember where. And heaven help anyone who tries to find it in a hurry.

There are tools that can help you and your team create, organize and access information if you can find your way through the morass of information to find the right one.  They go by a number of names, usually using the catch-all of Collaboration Suites.  Anyone who survived the early days of Lotus Notes (and survived is the right word, it’s better now) might not be thrilled with the notion of using a tool that puts the disparate pieces of information flow together, but they’re worth another look.

We spoke to Farzin Arsanjani, the president and founder of HyperOffice about how Collaboration Suites have changed, and what to look for.

What is the business need for Collaboration tools?

According to Gartner, enterprise software is going to be a 253.7 Billion dollar business in 2011, and webconferencing and collaboration are the fastest growing segments of that. The factors driving that are;

Email fatigue  (find someone who likes the way it works in their office)

Distributed workforces ( 85% of managers have at least one team member who works somewhere else)
Need to reduce costs (Do you know anyone who hasn’t had their travel budget slashed and then gladly reinstated?)
General frustration with workflow and processes (Figure the amount of rework we spend on sending files we already sent out but people can’t find before the conference call).

What’s changed since the early days of Collaboration Suites?

There have been some fundamental assumptions that turned out to have been faulty. The early giants (IBM’sLotusNotes, MicroSoft’s Sharepoint, Novell’s Groupwise and the like) thought that the desktop, and the network based environment would be hte home of collaboration software.  Smaller companies like HyperOffice , Atomplan and others  bet on “the cloud”, which has allowed companies of all sizes to take advantage of them.

You were in the space fairly early (2004). What’s surprised you about the way the market has evolved?

The cloud has changed everything. The biggest surprise is mobility, where users increasingly demand access to their information and tools on mobile devices. another theme is trying to understand the applicability of “social” software in a business environment. Blogs, wikis, Twitter and the like were not part of the landscape early on.

What should people look for in choosing a collaboration tool?

The feature set: does it integrate with common software like MS Office and Outlook? Does it have mobility and cross-platform features (so it works on MACs as well as PCs and smartphones)

Will you be creating a patchwork quilt of technology? This makes it hard for the organization to get the tools and support they need and makes IT a nightmare. You need to identify what you want your people to do and imagine how information is supposed to flow, then look for logjams.

What kind of support will the vendor offer? Can anyone call for help when they need it? Can only administrators handle complaints? What’s the training like?

Will the vendor be around? There are fruitflies with longer lifespans than some Software As A Service (SAAS) companies. How long have they been around? What is their record in terms of security?

If you don’t have one, it’s probably time to look into a set of collaboration tools for your team. If you haven’t looked at them or played with one for a while you’ll be surprised how much more user (and budget)-friendly they are than in the past.

Either that, or get a much bigger filing cabinet.