What to consider when choosing enterprise collaboration tools

As collaboration needs grow, more options are beginning to sprout up. Here are the features to think about when selecting the enterprise collaboration tools for your organization.

More employees today are consistently relying on technology to meet their collaboration needs while working in...

teams. The increased likelihood that employees within the same company will be in physically different locations has led to an increase in demand for tools that can facilitate interactions and the exchange of information among those users.

Teams look to social media-like platforms to support online and offline meetings, as well as integration with the company's own data and online services. This has paved the way for demand for new enterprise collaboration tools.

Two of the most popular solutions in the market today are Slack and Microsoft Teams. In recent months, Cisco's announcement of its own collaboration platform, Cisco Spark, which is similar to Slack, has signaled the increasing demand for enterprise collaboration tools that go beyond the traditional capabilities of WebEx and GoToMeeting. The need to collaborate using audio/video conferences, while simultaneously interacting with the company's data and external cloud, has led many to simply abandon traditional conferencing tools and to move toward collaboration platforms.

These new social enterprise collaboration tools are appealing to an increasing number of users, causing more vendors, like Cisco, to enter the marketplace. In response, IT departments are being forced to reevaluate their collaboration strategies, and to decide whether their current toolsets can still sustain their users' needs, or if new ones must be adopted. For IT decision-makers, choosing a platform will require close attention to some of the organization's different needs, as well as identifying if, in fact, those can be addressed by a specific tool.

The following are the areas that IT should evaluate during the selection process.

Cross-platform support and mobility requirements

Since many users access corporate data from multiple devices, the ability for a collaboration platform to run on mobile devices and different platforms is a must. Team members are likely to demand access to information anywhere, anytime and from any device they choose. When a user has an urgent need to update and interact with his or her team from their mobile device, having the ability to open an app and add a new post, or reply to a previous post, should be effortless.

IT should compare the mobile experience of each of the tools offered by the likes of Slack, Microsoft and Cisco.

The tools must be intuitive and easy to use

As IT plans to roll out a new software solution, end-user feedback can set the tone for the success or failure of the tools being deployed. This will force IT to ensure that the tools being evaluated are introduced to a small number of business users and teams to gain some insight before the full rollout.

Microsoft Teams and Slack are good examples of intuitive enterprise collaboration tools, in that both include shortcuts to initiate video/audio chat directly from the chat window and to invite others.

Data capacity must accommodate storage needs

Storage is another critical area that IT must consider, as many users will use the platform to store much of their content. As more users begin to use the platform, and content accumulates overtime, users may find themselves out of space as they reach their maximum capacity.

The current offering at Cisco provides up to 5 GB of storage per user, compared to 20 GB for Slack. Microsoft Teams allows for more flexibility, as it leverages SharePoint and OneDrive for some of its storage, which can start at 1 TB. Microsoft has clearly set itself apart from others, as it offers the use of its existing storage platform to support end-user storage needs.

Integration capabilities with third-party apps

One of the user-friendly features of Slack is its ability to offer a significant number of connectors that allow the platform to bring in external content and make it part of the conversation. It is similar to the way some social media sites, such as Facebook, allow users to pull sports or game stats into their profiles.

Tools in Slack allow users to have visibility into other data elements that come from outside of the platform. These same integration capabilities have also been introduced in Microsoft Teams, and are in their infancy stage in the Cisco Spark tool. These tools can be key differentiators for vendors as businesses look to use platforms that can easily interact and connect with systems that their users use regularly.

Enterprise content search capabilities

Another area in which it is important to evaluate the capabilities being offered by the different enterprise collaboration tools is the search feature.

Slack recently introduced the Slack Enterprise Grid feature, which will allow larger organizations using Slack to search and communicate across multiple business units. This looks to be an indicator that this type of functionality is a must-have, and has been requested by many enterprise users.

Fortunately, this area is not new to Microsoft, as they have integrated one of their flagship enterprise content management platforms, SharePoint, with the Teams solution.

Automation and intelligence

One area that has seen an uptick in interest is artificial intelligence. This has not gone unnoticed by the likes of Slack and Microsoft. In fact, both companies rolled out bots within their collaboration platforms to deliver smart virtual team members who can respond to different chat requests and perform tasks just as if they were real customer service associates.

This offers an opportunity for enterprises to build bots to help automate different manual processes and increase efficiency. An example is a bot that can process an order that a customer service rep submits through a chat window during a team meeting.

Return on investment

As IT evaluates the different enterprise collaboration tools available to them, the cost of the solution can also become a big influencer in the decision-making process.

At this stage, clients who are already Office 365 tenants are likely to find that it is far more attractive to simply turn on the Microsoft Teams platform for its users, and not have to incur any additional costs.

Slack and Cisco do offer free licenses with limited functionality, and that could potentially attract some smaller clients, but their paid subscriptions range from $12-12.50 per user, per month.

Modern teams recognize the value that modern collaboration platforms bring to them through centralized communication and support of free-form and fluid interactions for users, while still having access to corporate data and apps. By assessing needs and analyzing which enterprise collaboration tools are a good fit for the organization, IT is tasked with the responsibility of managing and supporting it.

Data security concerns remain high on IT's agenda as they begin their journey with these solutions, but as most of these tools are cloud based, IT can at least rest assured that no infrastructure changes will be needed. 

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