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April 05, 2011

Collaboration Software? You're In Luck -- There's a Lot, and It's (Mostly) Affordable

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Industry observer Laura S. Quinn has produced a useful, quick and easy reference tool for companies looking for collaboration software tools.

Writing in an industry journal targeted to nonprofits, her advice applies to any enterprise, especially her observation that “these options are all different from each other, but each has notable strengths and weaknesses when it comes to supporting collaboration. For example, simple tools may not provide all the features you’d like, but more complex ones will require setup time and training that may not make sense for your group.”

As she writes, there are tools for informal conversations and presentations -- and she gives options for conference calls, video conferencing and online conferencing, but it wouldn’t be difficult for you to locate some yourself.

For information sharing she mentions such fairly common and easy options as e-mail discussion lists, social networking sites -- although it’s a good idea to be careful how much you require your employees to be on Facebook (News - Alert) while at work -- collaborative documents and a message board.

Things get a bit more sophisticated when it comes to longer term collaboration setups, such as online project management tools, and online community, wikis or even a blog network.

Perhaps most useful, however, is her rundown of questions you should be asking yourself before you buy or install any of this. Examples:

Discussions in real time. “For some conversations, it’s critical to have everyone together at once. But in other situations -- for instance, to accommodate different schedules or time zones -- it can be useful to let participants think and weigh in at their convenience.” Deciding what functionality you want will, of course, affect what kind of system you get.

Ease of setup. “Some of these collaboration methods require almost no setup -- just pick up a phone or fill out a quick screen and you’re ready to go. Others require days or weeks of planning, especially to define the processes needed to ensure successful collaboration.” Of course the farther up the food chain you go, the more sophisticated and complicated setup is. But that’s because you’re expecting bigger results, right?

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

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