Finding the collaboration suite that will best mobilize your business is a tricky affair. Each one seems to have its advantages and pitfalls.
I have spent the better part of the last 9 years evaluating various solutions for my clients. Over that period of time I have recommended a wide variety of services and developed a methodology for matching a companies needs with the strengths of an existing software or service. In this article I will walk you through my methodology and discuss a few of the better (and more cost-effective solutions).
Hosted or InstalledCollaboration suites have a wide-range of features and choosing one for the wrong reason can be disastrous. Perhaps the most critical aspect of any suite is its usability and ease of deployment. It is in this regard that many of the hosted vendors excel. Hosted collaboration suites (typically web-based) do not suffer from the installation pitfalls that plague many of the larger installed systems. Installed systems, however, have the advantage of integrating with a wider array of existing software packages. I typically recommend hosted solutions but large companies with heavy investment in older technology should consider an installed package.
Some of the best hosted services are:
HyperOffice (www.hyperoffice.com) - Allows quite a bit of customization & provides a wide range of tools. Its support for existing Outlook users is one of the best in the industry and its document management capabilities are unparalleled. If you are a heavy user of the document sharing features, this is the service for you.
WebOffice (www.weboffice.com) - This service was Intranets.com before being bought by Webex and is still very solid. Its interface is clean and it has a solid feature set. Its prices, however are high and its document management features are lacking. I would only use this service if you are in major need of web databases. (HyperOffice has not released this feature as of the time of this article)
Hosted Exchange Server - there are numerous companies offering to host Exchange. The best one seems to be www.Intermedia.net because they have great support. If you are looking to stick with Exchange this is the service for you.
What are you using the suite forUnfortunately collaboration software has become sort of a catch-all for a lot of features. It is critical that you decide which features are important to you and choose accordingly. Many companies need a catch-all suite like the ones I mentioned above but some need the specialized support of a highly targeted collaboration package.
Although I can't get into every possible scenario, one such instance is a company looking for an advanced work flow process that can span across multiple facilities. When I was recently faced with such a challenge I first looked to my usual suspects above but, after realizing that the needs were highly specialzed, I ended up recommending documentum, an enterprise-level workflow package that could be customized to their needs.
The cost was considerably higher than any of the previously mentioned suites but the project required a much more advanced feature set and integration with existing software infrastructure. Using documentum we were able to create a custom workflow that ties together inventory, manufacturing, and sales into a concise and simple process.
Take the trainingMost providers offer live training or online tools to train yourself. Take the time to avail yourself of these services and your deployment will be much smoother. I highly recommend trying out every aspect of the service yourself before asking your employees, partners or customers to do it. This will save you from major frustration in the future.
Take live training whenever it is available. It may cost a little bit more to get a training session on your product of choice but it pays big dividends as you use the product. When I recently deployed HyperOffice, I signed up for one of their free webinars (which can be found here... it was an eye-opening experience). Additionally I was informed that they had online training videos to teach me how to use each section.
Similarly weboffice directed me to their online university. This was a very nice experience and I would provide a link but they recently removed the direct link from their web site (I was unable to find it during while writing this article).
Documentum and other installed packages offer on-site training and online resources. Ask the vendor for a list of their offerings before purchasing and factor the cost into the price.
Every top-tier vendor has some tools available to get you started. Finding them and taking the time to use them will save you tons of time in the future.
- In conclusion, choosing a vendor is all about knowing your own needs and desires. Once you have identified these the vendor pretty much picks itself.