4 Things to Consider When Investing in Collaboration Software
Selecting the optimal computing solution for your business can be quite daunting, regardless of the size of your organization. On top of the technical know-how needed to effectively leverage these tools, workplace collaboration infrastructure is expensive and implementation can be a painstaking process.
To make matters more complicated, there are so many options out there. You have your mainstream options like Teams, Slack, and Google Workspace, which are fairly well-known and have a high rate of adoption across several industries. Then there are lesser known disruptor-type platforms like Asana or Monday.com, which are priced competitively and offer solutions for cost-conscious customers. Some industries even have specialized softwares (i.e. Frame.io for video editing, or CoLab for engineering teams), which are tailored specifically for those workflows.
This article will walk you through 4 criteria to help you select the right teamwork collaboration tool for your organization’s needs. It also showcases real-life examples of business owners and operations managers who have either recently implemented new collaboration tools or updated their organization’s existing infrastructure.
Quick Checklist: The 4 Criteria
Some important considerations to keep in mind when choosing a software solution for your organization are:
- Features for different user types and workflows;
- Third-Party App Integration with current app and software suite;
- Cost for licenses and/or to build, operate, and maintain; and,
- Customer support .
You can use this framework to help guide you throughout the planning process.
Below, we will go over each criteria in detail and provide context into how you and your team can determine what software solution is right for your team.
One Last Thing Before We Get Started
Perhaps this is obvious but the decision to invest in workplace collaboration tools should be made with consultation with various internal (and in some cases) external stakeholders. If the tools are going to be used by different people with different job functions, it would be wise to get a representative from each business unit involved in the decision-making process.
These points of contact will have valuable insights into end-user painpoints that you may not be considering.
It is extremely important to build a planning group that has both insight and experience working with various job functions as well as knowledge of the overall workflows between teams.
While the temptation often arises to pick the most “tech savvy” people to form the planning group, doing so will prejudice your sample pool and likely create headaches down the line. With things like tech stacks, you’re only as efficient as your least sophisticated employee. It’s best to know upfront what barriers these tools can help overcome but also to know what barriers they may impose.
What You Should Consider and Why
Now that you’ve assembled your team and begun consultations, you’re ready to dive into the 4 things you should consider when investing in workplace collaboration tools.
One of the primary reasons companies invest in collaboration tools is to fill the gaps present in their current tech stack when it comes to product features. While you should only pay for what you need, a no-frills solution may not be the ideal option if your organization is growing and contemplating strategic changes such as creating a new product offering. On the other hand, paying for features that you don’t need and likely won’t ever need is not the most efficient use of capital. Striking this balance can be tough but the steps below should help you find the optimal solution.
Brainstorm All Features You Can Think Of
When beginning your investigation into what collaboration tools are best for your team, it is best to start with a features brainstorming session. Have your planning team work independently on a list of features that they’d like to have included with the collaboration software.
At this stage, it’s best to give them minimal guidance and let their imaginations run wild. Ask them point blank: if you were to re-design our virtual workplace, what features would you consider?
Some examples of features include:
- customer relationship management tools
- data visualization
- group and individual chat
- workflow planning
- word processing and spreadsheets
- cloud storage
- video conferencing
Determine what is Essential and what is Nice-To-Have
After they’ve assembled their list of features, have them categorize them into two camps: (1) essential; and (2) nice-to-have.
Essential features are those that a team can’t do without and are either necessary for job functioning or key to providing quality services. Nice-to-have features are non-essential. These are features are appealing for reasons outside of job necessity or revenue generation. In other words, they’re features that you’d ideally like to see but can make do without.
The questions your team should be asking themselves at this stage include:
- Why is this feature essential? or;
- If I didn’t have this feature, would my job be impossible or more difficult than it currently is?
Tally the Results
After your brainstorm is complete, you should take a step back and analyze the responses you’ve received. This will help give context into what features each team prioritizes.
Begin by grouping together similar responses so that you can get a gauge of which features are most popular. Clearly, a feature that most of your planning group marks as “essential” should be a top priority when reviewing available options.
As you tally up the results, do you notice similarities amongst the top-ranked essential features across the different businesses represented in your planning group? Are the results what you expected or are you surprised by what you’re learning?
One thing to look out for is situations where one group labels a certain feature as “essential” and others “nice-to-have”. You’ll have to dig deeper here to see why the priorities differ between the groups.
After you’ve completed your analysis, be sure to document the top 5 essential and top 5 nice-to-have features. You now have a roadmap for the features your team values most and what things they’d love to have in an ideal world.
Third-Party App Integration
When it comes to enterprise tech, integration is often one of the most compelling reasons to making the investment in ERP. In this context, integration refers to when different software solutions are connected, whereby there is some sharing of datasources or functionality.
The most classic case of integration-friendly software solutions are Microsoft’s product suite — Office 365. Microsoft can easily bundle its Teams services to businesses already using the Microsoft Office suite of applications on Office 365. For professional services like law, accounting, investment banking, and consulting, where most work is done within Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the tranisition to Teams can be a somewhat natural one, requiring minimal training.
The benefits of integration are pretty obvious:
- real-time synchrony with various platforms and data sources;
- (potentially) lower barrier to uptake by employees who are comfortable with an existing solution; and,
- increased efficiency due to process streamlining.
While integration can certainly be helpful, there are also some less obvious downsides:
- more integrations and add-ons means more areas where things can go wrong or slow down;
- more integration options means higher license costs; and,
- paying for integration that isn’t actually used.
As a business owner, the integration piece is a tough one to gauge. SaaS sales teams will inundate you with the various plug-ins and add-ons and integration capabilities because they know it’s a major operational consideration. They’re also aware that more integrations means higher costs.
Paying more for value is usually an easy trade-off. It’s hard to diagnose at the onset, however, whether your team will actually use all the integrations they say they want — or if they’re capable of learning how to leverage them to make their jobs easier.
You get what you pay for. Plain and simple.
Enterprise computing is also a major investment, both in terms of financial expense but also personnel time. So you want to make sure you know everything in terms of cost structure up front before you get to the contracting phase.
You should ask the salesperson to give you information regarding:
- Are you paying per seat or per use (i.e. per GB of data used)?
- Is it a subscription-based agreement where you can go on and off or an up-front licensing fee that gives your organization perpetual access?
- Will you have to pay for add-ons and integrations?
- Will you be paying a one-time set up fee or is everything contained in the monthly subscription price/up-front licensing fee?
- Are the rates subject to change? If so, how much notice will the provider give you beforehand?
If you’re embarking on a digital transformation journey through ERP implementation, you’re likely going to need someone to help guide you through the transitions. Let’s face it, no matter how great the solution is, there will be bugs and bumps along the road. That’s why it’s extremely important that you know the breadth of customer support you’ll be paying for!
Some questions to ask the sales rep include:
- Will you be paying for customer support on an ad hoc basis or do you get a certain number of agent service requests per month?
- How accessible are the support teams? 24/7?
- Do you outsource/offshore your support?
Don’t just take the SaaS salesperson’s word for it though: do your research. Much like hiring a contractor for your renovations, you want first-hand knowledge of someone else who’s used your ERP solution. There are a variety of ways of achieving this:
- Look to the Internet: The internet is a great starting point for any query of this nature. Some familiar sources will pop up right away when you type in “best ERP for small business” into Google. Reddit, for example, is a great source of candid information. There’s a great subreddit, aptly called “ERP: Enterprise Resource Planning”, which has a great set of testimonials and help threads for your persual. Give this a read through and look up other customer’s experiences! There are also LinkedIn groups dedicated to these subjects as well where you can get actual profiles of people who are experts in this field.
- Ask a the Vendor for a Customer to Contact: One of the best sources of information are from the vendor’s own clients. While some ERP providers are subject to confidentiality agreements with respect to disclosure of clientele information, they may have a subset of satisfied customers who they’re happy to put you in contact with. Of course, you’ll want to try to sniff out biases and self-serving referrals. But these are still better than a generic PowerPoint with vague case studies.
Have you recently had a good or bad experience setting up your ERP solutions? Are you an ERP specialist with some great war stories from your time consulting clients and leading them through digital transformation? If so, we’d love to hear from you!
Drop a comment below and join in on the conversation!