Q. Who needs collaboration?
Q. What should be included in a collaboration app?
Q. Who are the players?
History of collaboration:
First some background: 25 years ago, collaboration in technology was, for the most part, a manual process where people would use their existing audio conferencing and applications, sometimes over a WAN (Wide-Area Network), to work on projects together. This became easier when WebEx came out with a SaaS (Software as a Service) technology, allowing people to share a document from their PC in real time, and provide others with remote control access to that document. This could be done in an online (or virtual) meeting with video, audio conferencing and file transfer capabilities. Other technology products like WebEx, GoToMeeting, Placeware, Skype, SameTime, Adobe Connect and more joined in and they all provided a way for companies and people to collaborate better BUT they primarily offered a virtual meeting technology. Like WebEx, many of these technologies are now approximately 20 years old, maybe renamed or just gone.
Who needs collaboration?
Just about everyone in the modern workplace has been involved in an audio conference or virtual meeting. In my opinion, just about everyone needs to collaborate in one form or another:
Example # 1 – Bob, the accountant, may need to collaborate with his client regarding bookkeeping, tax planning, audits and more. Bob doesn’t do all the client work so he may need to have a collaborative conversation that includes the business owner, CFO, bookkeeper, auditor and himself.
Example # 2 – John, the GM of a construction company may need to collaborate with the project manager, architect, customer, engineer, sub-contractors, builders, town halls, etc. to get everyone on the same page with a project, understand any delays and move the project along.
Example # 3 – Jane, a homemaker, wants to have a new décor in her two children’s rooms. Her husband works downtown and has time at home only on weekends but wants to be included in the decision of changes. They need to collaborate with designers, remodelers, painters, paint stores, electricians, etc. and need to keep their documents, e-mails, messages, pictures, audio conference discussions and more in one place to help with decision-making and future reference.
Example # 4 – Tom, who owns a plumbing business, has two plumbers on staff. Tom sends a plumber out to look at a job. The plumber takes a picture of the problem and uploads them to his boss. The boss determines that it will immediately require two people and he can’t leave his current job. He brings both of his plumbers into an instant mobile virtual meeting, accesses his PC at home and uploads info and drawings of the parts and tools needed while explaining exactly how they can proceed to complete the job. Needing additional assistance, the helper uses the video camera in his phone to capture the problem, sends it to the plumber and the plumber adds an audio clip on top of the video, further explaining how to complete the job.
In the way work gets done now, companies and employees are spread out over different buildings, cities and even countries. They need a way to work together that allows for these factors:
• they may only have a mobile device
• they may need immediate access to experts
• they want to complete paperwork including signing
• they don’t want to use a desk/desktop computer/desk phone
• they may need to collaborate but have no time for conversations
• they want to assign a task to themselves and others
• and they want to collaborate while using another existing app
Yes…times have changed.
What should be included in a collaboration app?
First and foremost, the app needs to be secure both when data is being transmitted and when it is being stored. It needs to be easy, dependable and fast. Not everyone works on the same platform (PC or Mac) or mobile device (Android, Apple) so it needs to run on all platforms and devices. It should have a group chat or messaging with notifications and sharing of any type of file. It should include an ability to view, compress, open, annotate and manage files organized by subjects, in folders and in sub-folders. It should have the ability to record an MP4 video clip on top of files to make comments that can be shared with others. It should include task management and provide the ability to assign people and deadlines to those tasks. It should include online meetings with audio, video, screen sharing and remote desktop control. It should allow flexibility to integrate apps (i.e. QuickBooks, Outlook, Trello, etc.) without having to use programmers, while also giving programmers and developers a way to use parts of the system to integrate into their own applications.
We are seeing telco companies integrating collaboration into their phone systems and services. We are seeing banks include collaboration as part of their online/mobile banking solutions. Software companies are making collaboration a part of their offerings. Businesses are using collaboration for small and large projects/teamwork/company communications in order to increase sales/control vendors/train employees and so much more. A high-quality collaboration solution will allow companies to embed parts of a suite into an application, or provide stand-alone use with prebuilt 3rd party integration capabilities.
Every vendor has imperfections and special considerations must be made when selecting a collaboration solution:
• Is it a mobile-first (but not mobile only) application (since mobile and wireless are the future)?
• Is it easy to use?
• Does it offer military-grade security? Have they ever had a security breach?
• Does it operate on all platforms and all devices?
• Did they write the whole suite or did they integrate 3rd party applications?
• Is it the same “old” system with a new user interface?
• Do they charge extra $ for cloud storage, video, VoIP, set-up, support?
• Do they offer enterprise capabilities like single sign-on, PBX integration, etc.?
• Do they allow external companies/members to safely join in collaboration?
• Are there virtual meeting capabilities with audio, video, screen sharing and remote control?
• Can they record meetings with a compatible recorder for editing and posting?
• Does the system provide for group chat, messaging and notifications?
• Can files be organized in folders/cabinets/binders without limits?
• Can you add annotations or clips on-top of documents?
• Does it offer project or task management capabilities?
• Can it do eSignatures?
• Is audio (both VoIP and telephone) offered internationally and at a reasonable cost with host controls? Can you integrate your current audio conferencing solution?
• Does it handle e-mail invitations or group click-to-call meeting capabilities?
Who are the players in collaboration?
Everyone! At least that is what they want you to think. Most of the companies offering a collaboration solution are only offering part of a solution (IE: messaging, virtual meetings, video, etc.). Probably the biggest player is a company not many have heard of: Slack (what a name for a product!) Slack, was one of the first to offer what I would categorize as a collaboration solution. Where they have fallen short has been in security, virtual meetings, pricing, embedding, clip recording, whiteboarding…
Collaboration is a hot marketplace, and vendors are making (as usual) lots of unsupported statements. You need to question their claims. I recently heard Microsoft claim that they had hundreds of thousands of users on their new Teams product. Don’t be misled because they bundle many products together. A Fortune 500 company recently told me that after MS Teams roll-out, very few used it because it was way too complicated and training their people properly would have been tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cisco, has some pretty good solutions for the corporate boardroom and large events but many (except Cisco) think it is overkill for the SMB market. Citrix does not offer many bells and whistles, the technology is “virtual meeting” old-fashioned and they don’t integrate well with others. Be sure that you select a complete system that it fits the needs of everyone:
• training and support is included;
• it has good integration capabilities with other apps;
• it is “new” technology (not just pieced together with old and new);
• it has all the features from a single vendor (just because you don’t need it today, doesn’t mean you won’t need it later).
This is going to be a long-term productivity tool that will make your life easier and your business excel. Select a complete product and a vendor that cares about you (without nickel and diming you to death) and one that your whole company can have a good working relationship with.