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10 suggestions when choosing your online collaboration tool

on 30 September 2009


Posted by Wayne Pope

Collaboration is one of those terms which conjures up multiple images in your head. However, for smaller businesses it's a critical aspect of every day life. Working as a team is crucial when resources are limited by office size or money and it may take many guises. Whether it's covering for an absent colleague, cleaning up a mistake or simply filling a skills gap, success will come from a team effort.

So what should you look for when choosing an online collaboration tool? I'm not referring to features specifically as everybody has different needs, you know what you're looking for. Here are my top ten things to look out for when choosing an online collaboration tool:

1) Security.

This is a must. An absolutely critical aspect. Whether that's https:// 128k bit encryption, your own personal subdomain or robust password choices, your contacts, documents, conversations (basically everything) must be secure from everyone.

2) Solid IT systems in the background

OK, you may not be a technical wizard, however do some research and make sure that the technology behind the scenes is going to keep your data backed up, secure and online 99.9999999999% of the time. 100% is nigh on impossible, even if you control the servers, so you need to be sure that if there is ever downtime, it is restored within seconds.

3) Simplicity

Nobody wants to use something which is complicated and not intuitive - whether that's you, your team or other contributors. If you want to invite someone in, you need to know that they won't need training or too much guidance (we all need a little nudge in the right direction). So make sure that everything is clear, usable and simple.

4) Full free trial with no obligation

It makes sense that following on from simplicity that you can try before you buy. Whether this is signing up for a free account (make sure it has the full functionality of the other accounts) or a free trial of the account - it just allows you to try it out, taste it for yourself, and even invite people in for a second opinion. Similarly, nobody likes to be tied down to something they need to make a decision on, so being able to exit and close your account at any time is crucial.

5) Storage that suits you

There's no point in paying for 200gb of storage if all you are looking to do is share some word documents (which, let's be fair, hardly ever reach 3mb). Similarly you don't want to be limited to 100mb if you've got videos and large images to share. It has to suit you, so just make sure that when you sign up there is a growth option to match your data requirements.

6) A combination of tools which help your business

Some collaboration tools offer more than others. Some offer different things in multiple packages, each of which you have to pay for (and sometimes pay using a different system). Make sure you're not paying over the odds for features which you simply don't need. Complex CRM systems come to mind when I think of this.

7) Are you punished for growth?

Most small organizations will grow the number of employees or the number of people they work with. To accomodate this, I would consider their pricing structure. After all, you don't want to have to pay more because you've got more people to collaborate with - otherwise you will be forced to make a decision about whether you want them to collaborate in the tool or not, which is not how it should be.

8) Communication tools

Collaborating is impossible without communication... and that does include email. However, for me an online collaboration tool needs to facilitate easy communication using notifications, reminders, comments, announcements, etc... that way you can conduct your conversations where the action is, and nobody needs to miss out.

9) Facilitate large file sharing

It might be that you want to share documents with people but maybe not collaborate too much. Email is so restrictive in this sense. So make sure you have the facilities to send files as links rather than attachments. Also make sure that you can upload/download large files easily and without interrupting your use. Some collaboration tools have ridiculous 1-3mb limits for file uploads!

10) Version control is vital

You've got to make sure you are collaborating on the right version of the document, image, whatever - this will save you time and effort as everybody will be working on the most up to date copy, and know what each person is discussing.

Looking for a collaboration software other than SharePoint? Read this article for five SharePoint alternatives that are better suited for ease of use and productivity.



About this author: Wayne Pope

Technical Director at Glasscubes. With over 30 years experience in the online software industry, Wayne brings an in depth technical expertise in collaborative tools, technology, and best practices.