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Review Day: What is Collaboration Software?

With all the talk of collaboration software and what it means for your business, I admit, it can get pretty confusing. It seems that collaboration software means different things at different times. Sometimes it seems to mean email, other times document sharing, and still other times project management. With all these vastly different uses it can make your head spin. It’s very easy to fall victim to analysis paralysis. Which tool do I need, if they all seem to help me collaborate better?

To help everyone out, I would like to hold a little review day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found a quick review day to be super helpful. So let’s kick things off…

What is Collaboration Software?

With collaboration being used so loosely today, it’s important to have a good idea of what collaboration software is. This is a tricky one to define. Most people define collaboration software as a having something to do with facilitating people who work together to achieve a common objective. According to Wikipedia, collaboration software is “computer software designed to help people involved in a common task achieve goals”. Given this definition, it doesn’t really help pair down all the different collaboration tools and platforms to choose from.

Selecting the Right Tool

Alright, so maybe looking at and trying to define collaboration software won’t help with narrowing down all the choices out there. Instead, in a piece by Pan Tan of HyperOffice he suggests classifying collaboration software into certain “types”.

Single-purpose collaboration software
These are the tools that target just one aspect of working together.

  • Email– The granddaddy of collaboration. Its basic purpose is to serve as a communication tool for both internal and external communication. Because of its structure, email can and is used as a collaboration tool. But with the long email strings, and the difficulty that arises when there are many individuals involved, most say that solely using email for collaboration isn’t worth it.
  • Document management – The majority of people’s days are focused around creating, editing, and sharing documents. Document management software allows individuals to store, organize, and share documents. Typically these tools offer version controls and audit trails to manage multiple contributors, and permissions to manage access.
  • Project management – Most business efforts can be broken into a series of tasks that usually involve multiple people. These tasks and projects have critical dependencies and important sequence relationships. Project management tools allow managers to assign tasks, set milestones, set dependencies, and monitor progress – helping keep everything on track.
  • Intranets (and extranets) – Corporate intranets (or extranets when external parties are involved) are essentially web pages. These may be seen as collaboration tools, where managers publish policies, plans, or events for the employees’ benefit.
  • Social tools – Social tools have been recently herald as the new email. Whether this is true or not is still a long way off. Like email, social tools are built around communication. Unlike email, they are designed in a unique and dynamic, person-centric manner which is why it feels like such a large improvement over email.

Collaboration suites
With so many single-purpose focused tools, it only makes sense to look into collaboration suites. The logic behind these tools is that no one tool is adequate for collaboration. This is a bit of a slippery slope, as with these tools it can be easy to over purchase tools that are never used. However, these suites often emphasize different tools that are actually needed to share information. For example, projects usually have associated documents, calendar events or slide decks associated with them. According to Tan, “Having these tools in separate solutions creates non interacting silos, or what is also called ‘collaboration sprawl’”. So, there’s something to be said about having all your tools in one seamless integrated solution.

Whether you’re looking for one tool or a whole host of tools to help improve your collaborative efforts, this brief outline should help you successfully navigate the complex collaboration landscape.+

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