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Comparing traditional collaboration platforms with new alternatives

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Conventional collaboration platforms can be a hurdle in terms of usability. New apps like Basecamp provide an alternative, but are they comprehensive enough?

Traditional collaboration platforms have helped centralize communication and teamwork in the enterprise, but they also come at a cost. More complex, established platforms usually involve cumbersome configuration and administration. And while they have rich feature sets, they may often drive users away because they can be difficult to use. Alternatively, lightweight collaboration can be intuitive and easy to use, but invite app fatigue, where users are toggling between many applications to get their work done because no application can do it all.

Experts say that buyers need to dig deep and look beyond the surface to determine which collaboration tools make sense. At a superficial level, SharePoint and leaner platforms are not all that different, Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and business intelligence expert, says. But the differentiation comes at a deeper level.

"We can communicate and keep our documents tidy in both," Robinson says. "So on the surface, these are not terribly different creatures, but the differences can be deal breakers."

But Robinson says that more complex project management requires a SharePoint-type of established collaboration platform, rather than a lighter-weight tool.

First, editing and collaborating may work fine in either platform, but more serious categorization of content so it can be easily found, shared and managed is a different story. "Even though I can save necessary documents, work on them, edit them, I can't structure and organize that information with the clarity and structure I can achieve in SharePoint," Robinson says.

Second, collaboration is enhanced by project management skills and tasks. "Collaboration and project management aren't the same thing," Robinson says. "If I want to communicate with my team, Basecamp and Slack can get me there. But if I want to manage my resources, [budgets and staff], I need something like SharePoint."

Robinson says that many companies use applications like SharePoint together with Slack or Basecamp to enable more lightweight communication where it's needed -- short-term, deadline-oriented projects -- and SharePoint for longer-term issues. At the same time, he notes that this hybrid approach to collaboration can pose problems. Users don't have a centralized place to go for all tasks, which can create confusion about which tasks to complete where.

"It can be difficult to remember that we need to report our resources in SharePoint," he says. "You can lose track of the fact you need to tag up."

For more, check out the podcast above.

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