How to pick collaboration tools

With more than 2,000 options in the market, it can be much more complex than expected

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This is a problem that has plagued the enterprise for the last decade. With more than 2,000 different collaboration solutions available in the market today, no wonder, picking the right tool can be a conundrum for companies of all sizes.

It’s more complex than it seems

It is not just the problem of picking the right tools with the right functions, but matching those tools with those that will be using them.  Unfortunately, one size does not fit all, in this case. In working with many enterprise clients, IT had mandated that the company use SharePoint. This went to ridiculous lengths at a large Palo Alto-based software company when we interviewed a marketing executive who had paid an outside developer $30k to help create the CEO’s content to go on SharePoint. In talking with people in other departments, we found that many of them were unhappy with SharePoint, and that they were using other collaboration tools (that were easier and more transparent) to actually get work done.

We had been hired by the CIO at that company, and so asked our client why  SharePoint was the collaboration standard throughout the company? The reasons we got, were more political and financial, rather than what was best for the employees.

Also,collaboration tools that work with teams in marketing, generally do not work for development teams, or customer support teams. It’s not that all of these types of teams don’t need some of the same collaboration functions, but they tend to use them in very different ways.

The four factors for success

In our experience there are four factors that are involved in the successful use of collaboration tools. In an assessment metric we use, we assign a weight to each factor used in the assessment: Technology is given a weight of 1, Culture a weight of 2, Economics a weight of 3, and Politics (management’s behavior) a weight of 4. So you can see which factors impact success the most.

Our experience has also shown, that often those using collaboration tools “don’t know what they don’t know.” In other words, they only know what they have experienced, and may not know of critical collaboration functions that could really help them. So the process of picking the right collaboration tool often requires some education to help users understand what is possible, and how they might be applied to their particular process.

How to navigate the maze

If you are a CIO and have been tasked with choosing collaboration tools for your organization, you may be wondering how to navigate this maze of factors required for success.

The first option you are presented with is to choose a set of tools that are “best in class” or to pick a set of collaboration tools that are highly integrated. Microsoft is the master of the “integrated tools strategy”, and many of the companies we worked with had SharePoint because they were already using Microsoft Office, a Microsoft OS, and a variety of other Microsoft tools that integrated with their ERP or CRM systems.

The other option is to look at what the best real-time collaboration tools are, as well as team tools, project management tools, etc. and hope they all will work together. Even though most of these tools are cloud-based, and work in a variety of browsers, some of them have many ready-made integration points, and others will require custom programming for integration. Another option is to look at companies that already provide integrations like Zapier.

ROI vs. value

Another challenge is trying to determine both purchasing and maintenance costs. Trying to determine an ROI for collaboration is a logical but fruitless task. It is better to ask the question “how will collaboration add value to the organization in question?” The best way we found to determine value is to look at collaboration in the context of a critical process. For example: if the application of collaboration tools to a software team allows them to bring a product to market more quickly, and the company recognizes revenues of $100 Million, how much can be attributed to better team work? With the many factors involved, it is hard to come up with an exact number, but attributing 10% of the additional revenues would not be unreasonable.

Because it is such a complex process to pick the right collaboration tools for your organization, I suggest you talk to some of your peers at other companies, and in other industries. Consult with experts, but most of all talk to those that will be using these tools… you may be surprised at their response?

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