Team members are not always in the same office, or they may be on the road at customer or supplier sites. Companies are dealing with a shortage of critical skills, so they hire people regardless of their location. Businesses overall are increasing their number of remote offices and locations, taking advantage of modern technology that makes it easier to be distributed. These situations have forced companies to rely on collaboration tools to augment or replace face-to-face communication for project team members.
The market for collaboration tool software is growing as companies turn to new tools to simplify collaboration. Global Market Insights projects a 13% CAGR through 2024, for a market of $8.5 billion for collaboration apps. That seems small when compared to the $42 billion forecasted by Markets and Markets. The disparity may be due to the varying definitions of what a collaboration app is, which can range from online storage that enables shared file access to applications such as Microsoft Office 365 or anything in between. Here’s a look at some of the top tools in the market.
1. Document Collaboration Apps
Microsoft Office 365 offers versions for users or businesses, with licenses that vary based on the breadth of the applications involved. All versions include basic Office—Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook—in the cloud and on the desktop as well as online storage in OneDrive. Users can share access to folders or single documents in OneDrive and edit them simultaneously or individually while the software keeps track of all the versions. Users like Office 365 because there’s not a big learning curve with the familiar Office applications. Enterprise versions of Office 365 include SharePoint for secure file storage and sharing with enterprise-level security.
Google Apps is similar, and has made inroads into the document collaboration space, particularly with Generation X. However, its tools are nowhere near as fully featured as Microsoft’s are.
2. Storage Apps
Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive, IBM Box, Azure and even Amazon AWS all offer cloud storage that can be used as a collaboration tool by allowing users to securely store and share various files. The best tools provide synchronization between versions of files on the desktop and in the cloud, so users are always working with the latest versions.
If the purpose of the tool is simply sharing file access and not actual collaboration, any of these tools work well. But if the purpose is to leverage the combined brainpower of the team, an option that allows editing in real time by multiple users can’t be beat.
3. Conferencing Apps
Cisco’s GoToMeeting, AT&T Connect, UberConference, Google Video & Chat and Microsoft Skype for Business all allow easy video or audio conferencing that can make virtual meetings simple and cost effective. Encouraging users to use their video cameras while on calls helps foster the feeling of working together as long as network bandwidth can support it. If not, it can become an exercise in frustration. (Of course, we know a monitoring tool that can help with that.)
There are literally hundreds of collaboration systems available. Besides those listed here, some to check out include Slack, Wimi, Bitrix, HipChat, SamePage and Zoom. The quality and breadth of the tools varies all over the map and may not always align with the price, so it pays to make careful evaluations. The most important point to verify is security, followed by utility. You’ll also want to consider the SLA and support available for each, along with integrations and performance expectations. These things will become very important, especially for remote locations without IT resources.