Top 10 considerations for collaboration tools: Part 1, technology

In my last two posts, I looked at top trends in collaboration. In the next two posts, I'll drop down and look at the top 10 things to look for if you're actively looking for a collaboration tool today. In Part 1, we look at five key considerations related to technology. In Part 2, we'll look at five requirements related to users.

In general, you should expect your collaboration tool to be fast, reliable, secure, and easy to use. And, it goes without saying, it needs to work in the way you do, with standard industry practices and processes built in. Here are some specific ways to ensure the system you adopt meets these expectations:

1. Easy to Deploy

This is one of your most important considerations. Whether or not you and your users-and your partners and clients as well-are able to take optimal advantage of the system will likely depend directly on how easy the system is to deploy.  Many companies have been led to consider a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendor for just such a reason. SaaS is hot today, and many well-known vendors are adding it to their portfolios. But just because they are finally reacting to the trend doesn't mean they know what they are doing! Delivering software using the SaaS model is completely different than traditional "ship the box" enterprise software. You're about to trust this vendor on a continual basis to protect vital information and facilitate the completion of projects that directly affect your bottom line.

So how good are the vendor's development and data management processes? One way to find out is by checking the vendor's ISO accreditation. Also consider for how long they have offered the service. Who are their customers and how long have these customers been with them? Yes, there are many excellent SaaS vendors today. Just be sure to confirm that the vendors you're considering are one of them.

2. Information Security

Multi-party collaboration is useless if participants can't upload proprietary information and control how that information is shared. And nothing will get organizations to stop using a collaboration tool faster than the belief that their information isn't secure.

So how secure are the vendors you're considering? Is the information completely private and under your control until you choose to share it? Where is the online data being stored? How secure is the facility? How much control do you have over access rights?

Note that this is one of the biggest problems with FTP sites. Many are not secure at all, and even when an organization attempts to control access, doing so in a useful and consistent way is very difficult, resulting in most of the information typically being shared indiscriminately with anyone who has access to the site.

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©istockphoto.com/stuartbur3. Web Acceleration 

If your collaboration model involves the uploading and downloading of significant amounts of information, especially very large data files, you need a system that is lightning fast. Be sure to ask the vendors you're considering about the Web acceleration technologies they are employing. Have these technologies been widely used? How well do they operate across different geographies?

4. Integration

You most likely already have software systems to manage your business: such as finance systems, internal enterprise content management systems, procurement and CRM systems. To avoid double entry of data, you should expect your collaboration tool to easily integrate with these systems.

Do the vendors you're considering offer a robust set of APIs? Ask for examples of where other clients have completed integrations. How easy will it be to move your information into the collaboration tool and, just as important, get updated project information out of the tool and into your business systems?

5. Search and Analytics

Organizations often focus their search for a collaboration tool on data input features and processes and tend to overlook search and analytics capabilities. But the more you capture through collaboration (documents, 3D models, correspondence, etc.), the more vital these capabilities will become. As noted in a previous post about the trend of Big Data, the deluge of data we are experiencing will only continue to grow, and the ability to analyze "big data" will likely become critical to your competitiveness.

How easy will it be to search for and find a file or document? Will you be able to customize and save the search parameters  and use Boolean operators to restrict the data returned? Is the search technology employed fast and accurate? Will the collaboration tool allow you to ask the questions you need answered to improve your operational efficiency and agility, shorten project lifecycles, and tighten up your supply chain?

Coming soon in part 2: Five important factors to consider related to your users.

Leigh is the Co-Founder & CEO of Aconex, the world's most widely-used online collaboration platform for the Construction and Engineering industry.

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