Choosing a Collaboration Solution Part One (Plus: Downloadadble Guide)

Many small businesses have inefficient tools and processes because it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and hard to take time out to look for a better way. If you know how to do something – even if it’s frustrating or time consuming – it can feel easier to just keep on doing what you’re doing.
When it comes to collaborating – on projects, events, or even one single document – there are so many solutions to choose from that it can be overwhelming to research… leading you back to just emailing documents back and forth.
We’ve put together a Collaboration Solutions Download Guide to help you compare apples-to-apples features of some of the popular vendors. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will give a jumping off point for your own research, starting with asking yourself some questions.
What do you need to share and work on?
A design or consulting firm might need more project management features than a retail operation, and a law firm probably would appreciate advanced document review and editing functions.
If shared email, calendar, and contacts are important, consider one of the “office in the cloud” solutions that offer all of the usual functions you’d expect in a typical corporate environment. HyperOffice, InfoStreet and Office Desktop can all be used as a full office replacement, eliminating the need for a local server (and the IT staff to maintain it).


If you only need to share email, a hosted exchange solution like Intermedia or Email Center Pro might be sufficient.
When it comes to document sharing and editing, you need to consider what’s important to the way your employees work and the type of work they do. For real-time editing of a document or spreadsheet by multiple people, Google Docs is straightforward and simple. If you need full functions of MS Office, Office Live or Zoho Business might be better. (We’ll explore more document sharing solutions in part 2 of this guide.)
What’s working well now?
Most offer some level of MS Outlook integration or syncing, so choosing a collaboration solution doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out everything that you currently use and starting over again. If you already have a strong CRM solution in place you might want to consider a solution that integrates with what you have – for example, Central Desktop works with Salesforce.com. If not, other vendors, including InfoStreet and Zoho Business offer CRM components that work with their email solutions.
Extras
More and more providers are supporting mobile devices (see “other features” section of attached chart). Zoho Business offers additional applications that can be added on, and even has an apps “marketplace” where you can buy add-ins and request new ones.
Pricing
Costs vary, usually based on the number of users and the amount of storage needed. While many vendors offer a free trial or a free account for a very few number of users, be cautious about completely free services. If you are using these solutions for business you want to make sure that your data is safe and that the provider will still be there tomorrow. Ask your local IT consultant for help identifying your needs. Talk to other customers and see what they like or don’t like about a particular provider. Call their customer service and support departments to get a feel for what they’d be like to work with.
See Part 2 of the Collaboration Tools Guide for more about document sharing solutions.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook