Are You Collaborating?

I am not talking about World War II movies and I hope none of you have decided to side with the enemy (whoever that is). Collaboration software is a tool that every business with employees who work at different locations ought to consider.

Collaborative software began several decades ago with Lotus Notes. That software allowed multiple users on the same WAN to work on the same spreadsheet or word document at the same time. And Lotus Notes had the added feature of letting you link spreadsheets and word documents at the same time so that any change made to a spreadsheet would automatically populate your word document. But Lotus Notes required people to be on the same WAN and in most companies that meant being in the same building, and so the concept became very popular, plus Microsoft came and kicked Lotus’s butt in the marketplace.

And so collaborative software mostly died off for a while, although there were few open source programs that were widely used by universities and others who love open source software.

But collaborative software is back in a number of different variations and if your company has employees at more than one location, then one of these new software products is going to be right for you. Here are some of the features you can find in various collaborative software today:

  • Number one is the ability to simultaneously let multiple people work on the same document. And instead of just spreadsheets and word documents, this has been extended to any software that users all have rights to use. Most software also creates a log showing who made changes to a document and when.
  • Supports multiple devices. Collaborative software is no longer just for the PCs and employees using tablets and smartphones can share in many of the features. As an example, collaborative software is a great way to keep the sales staff in the field fully engaged with everybody else in the company.
  • Communicate internally. Many collaborative software programs come with chat rooms, instant messaging and text massaging tools that make it fast and easy to communicate with other employees. Why send somebody an email or call them if you only have a quick question that they can answer on an IM?
  • Some systems let you know where people are and if they are available to communicate now. This stops you from calling people who are not in their office and instead communicating with them in a faster way.
  • Create better communications history. In some software each user gets a home page that operates much like Facebook that shows everything they have done, meaning that other employees can often go find information they need without bothering that person.
  • This can become the new way to structure corporate data. With a program like SharePoint you can quickly create folders specific to a topic or a project and then give access only to those you want to have access to that date. This used to require the intervention of somebody in the IT department but now can be done by almost anybody.
  • Gives you a great tool to work with your largest customers. You can give your contacts at your largest customers limited access to your systems so that they can quickly ask questions or talk to the right person by chat or IM. This is a great new way to extend your customer service platform and make it real time. You can easily isolate outsiders from corporate information while giving them access to the social networking aspects of the software.

So what are some of the Collaborative software tools to consider? Here are a few (and there are many others).

  • Podio. This is software that is free for up to five users. It might be a good way to see if you like the concept. After five users it’s $9 per employee per month.
  • IBM (Lotus). The Lotus name is not dead and is now the brand name of the IBM collaborative suite of products. Check them out here.
  • Intuit has a product called QuickBase that is a collaborative suite of software. One good thing about this is that it will integrate with QuickBooks and other Intuit products that you might already be using. Check it out here.
  • SharePoint is Microsoft’s collaborative suite of products and has done very well in the large business sector. See it here.

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