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Evaluating Online Collaboration Software – Tips, Tools, and Reviews: Part 1

August 12, 2014

Evaluating Online Collaboration Software – Tips, Tools, and Reviews: Part 1

There are hundreds of different online software solutions that can help your group collaborate more efficiently. Some solutions are designed for large-scale enterprises, while others work better for individuals or small groups. Once you’ve decided that collaboration software is a tool you need, the biggest challenge you have is picking the “right” one. Because picking the wrong one means wasted time, effort, and in some cases – big bucks going down the drain. Choosing can give you nightmares, especially when you’re trying to handle current needs and plan for future ones. And it can get really complicated if you need IT’s help to even get it working. We’re not here to tell you which online collaboration software solution is the best answer for you because only you can figure that out. What we can do is help ease the process for you, with some tips, tools, and a list of sites that review online collaboration software.

Start with the End in Mind

We find that starting with the end result helps set expectations right from the start. It’s all too easy to get excited and distracted about some cool feature, but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t get you the desired end result, fuhgeddaboudit as Donnie Brasco would say. You may be paying for bells, whistles, or power you don’t need. One way of looking at end results is to come up with a list of questions you’ll be asked by management to show that this software is doing the job you said it would and worth the investment. e.g. How much time did it save us? How much more work did we get done? How many more sales did we close? How many more people got trained? How much better is their retention? How much has customer satisfaction increased? Armed with those questions, you have an idea of what kind of information you need to be able to access and provide — whether generated by the software itself or other means.

Create A Checklist

Sounds obvious, but having a checklist of what you need versus what you want from the software is so often forgotten, yet is the simplest thing to do. In this case, because there are so many different ways to approach online collaboration, finding the right combination of things you require from a software solution may take awhile and could get complicated. Sort out which functionality may be vital to you and which others you can make do without before you get attached to any fancy bells and whistles. Many people start with a list of features. And those are certainly good things to include. Just don’t forget crucial factors beyond features that can make the difference between a great solution and that nightmare you fear:

  • Fit - How easily will this new software fit into your existing workflows and tool sets? What modifications/adaptations will you need to make?
  • Flexibility - What’s happening in your company and its markets that could potentially impact how you will operate? What might you need down the road? What won’t you need any more?
  • Investment - Besides having enough budget to support an on-going license, upgrades, maintenance, and support — what other future investments must you consider (e.g. personnel/users, training, etc.)?
  • Stability – How stable is the software company? How many customers are using its software? Is it financially healthy? What is its track record regarding enhancements and improvements? How often does it increase prices? How dependent on the software company will you become? If it’s necessary to walk away from it, what will that take and what will it cost you? Will you be dealing directly with the software firm, or one of its channel partners? (If yes to the last, you’ll need to do your homework on the channel partners as well.)

You may discover that no software solution meets all of your needs. That’s not unusual. If that happens, you’ll need to make a decision about whether you’re going to hold out until you find a solution that does. Or, revisit your needs and reclassify some of them as wants so you can move forward sooner. If you’d like a guide that includes a deep dive on this software category, you can download our white paper, Online Collaboration Platforms: How Do They Stack Up? Stay tuned for our next post when we'll share information on using software product reviews in your evaluation process.