Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email? Warning Signs and Key Considerations

(Part 2 of a 3 part blog series “Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email?” which focuses on Online Collaboration Suites for SMBs. Click here for Part 1, which provides an overview of the online collaboration suite area.)

Effective collaboration can make the difference between business success and failure. While point collaboration solutions can help us bring order to the chaos, using and managing a hodge-podge of disconnected solutions can also result in a tangled mess that adds to the disorder instead of reducing it.

In the first part of this blog series, Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email? Assessing SMB Online Collaboration Suites, I discussed how today’s online collaboration suites give SMBs powerful and affordable options to streamline collaboration, boost productivity, save time, and cut down on mistakes and errors caused by poor collaboration. By integrating different pieces of the puzzle into a unified solution, these suites make it easier not only to find, share, manage, and use information but also to locate and connect with the right people at the right time.

But how can you tell if your company has outgrown point collaboration solutions, and would benefit from a more integrated approach? In this post, I’ll explore the warning signs that your business may be headed towards collaboration chaos, and discuss some key factors that will help to increase the odds of successfully selecting and implementing a collaboration suite in your company.

Does Your Business Need a Collaboration Makeover?

Sometimes, pulling together a few point solutions such as email, instant messaging, contact management, and a shared file space is all a business needs to stay on track. However, as businesses grow, they have more employees. They need to juggle more complex or varied projects, and have more customers and partners they need to work with. At a certain point, it becomes difficult and very manually intensive to keep everyone on track and on the same page, and working effectively to meet common goals. Some of the warning signs that your business needs to improve and streamline collaboration include:

  • Bottlenecks in finding information or resources needed to get a job done.
  • Email overload.
  • Version control issues—such as trying to figure out which document is the most recent one, or accidentally sending out the wrong version to a client.
  • Mistakes made because people are using incorrect or outdated information.
  • Inability to access and/or agree on what the “right” information is.
  • An overload of customer service calls.
  • Too much telephone tag—wasted time on missed phone calls, searching for missing phone numbers and locating people.
  • Inability to easily track, monitor and engage in relevant social media conversations.
  • Too many logons and passwords to keep track of for too many different collaboration tools, and time wasted because those tools don’t integrate or “talk to” each other.

These problems can cause large losses in time and productivity. More importantly, when mistakes are made, information is missing, or the right person isn’t in the loop, these collaboration issues can also result in a loss of credibility with clients, partners, and suppliers.

Key Considerations for a Successful Collaboration Makeover

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, and in detail in our report, Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, there are many great online collaboration suites available to help SMBs solve and/or avoid these problems. But effective collaboration requires much more than a new software solution. Here are some steps you can take to increase the odds of successfully selecting and implementing a collaboration suite in your company:

  • Examine collaboration gaps, roadblocks and inefficiencies that exist in your company today, and the problems they are causing. Ask users and decision makers identify their top pain points and requirements early in the process. This assessment will help you to narrow the field and evaluate those vendors with capabilities that align most closely to your needs.
  • Take steps to reduce inertia. Inertia is a powerful force, and it can be tough to get people to switch gears and leave the point solutions they know—even if they are cumbersome and ineffective. Make it easy for users to see how a more integrated approach will not only help the business, but also help each individual to save time, achieve goals, save time, and reduce frustration. Get company influencers and thought leaders on board to help motivate others and smooth the process, and engage a broad cross-section of users in discussions, trials, pilots and feedback along the way.
  • Talk to people at companies that have similar collaboration goals and needs. Find out what’s worked for them, what hasn’t, and what you can learn and apply in your company.
  • Think about any special needs—such as integrating parts of a  collaboration suite with other business processes. Consult with internal IT staff (if available) and/or outside consultants or system integrators that can help advise them.
  • Keep in mind that a key benefit of an integrated collaboration suite is that it lets you take an incremental approach. Although integrated collaboration suites offer many capabilities, companies don’t need to—and shouldn’t try to—start using everything at once. Start by using the capabilities that address the biggest collaboration pain points, and build from there to incorporate new functionality as you need it and are ready to absorb it.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll take a closer look at some of the key ways that online collaboration suite vendors are striving to add value and differentiate in the market, including social networking, document management and user interface.

In the meantime, if you are part of an SMB company that is actively considering whether to deploy an online collaboration suite, click on this link and I’ll send you a copy of the full study.

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