Choosing the Right Collaboration Tools

By David Strom Print this article Print

A growing number of enterprises are turning to collaboration tools to become more productive and competitive.

How many emails does it take to book a meeting? While that sounds like a spin on one of those ubiquitous lightbulb jokes, for most of us, it’s no laughing matter.

Serial emails are the most often used collaborative mechanism. That’s a shame, for email is a poor tool for handling common tasks such as arranging a meeting, finishing a presentation or report, or working with a colleague in another office.There are dozens of alternative collaboration tools available—both new and old—including wikis, workflow managers, Web and video conferencing, and smartphone applications. It’s a wonder, then, why most of us still turn to email instead of using one of these more specialized tools. 

Here are some enterprises that have turned to collaboration tools to become more productive and competitive. Probably the simplest and least expensive approach is to use a shared document repository. That’s what New York City-based Web software marketing firm Pica9 does.

“We manage our overall production schedule, support incident log, application test plans and punch lists using Google Apps,” says Ben Hovaness, one of the firm’s developers. “It plays an increasingly bigger role in our day-to-day operation as Google steadily expands and improves the functionality of the suite.”

A bit of a step up is to use wikis, which are simple Websites that can be edited quickly by multiple users via their Web browsers. ZATZ Publishing, based in Palm Bay, Fla., uses an open-source product called DokuWiki to keep track of documentation, engineering design notes and other business documents.

Editor in Chief David Gewirtz says: “Wikis are a little hard to grasp, and some people may not be aware that you can have a private wiki. They think of Wikipedia and don’t want to put information in public.”

The hardest part of using his wiki has been learning how to structure the page hierarchies. “People who aren’t geeks can find wikis a bit daunting and can be uncomfortable adding new pages or categories to them,” Gewirtz adds.

A Paperless Environment

The next step up from a wiki is a full-blown document management portal that can act as the main knowledge repository for a corporation. This is the case with Shore Mortgage, in Birmingham, Mich., which uses Xerox BlitzDocs electronic mortgage collaboration suite for its 350 employees.

The recession has taken its toll on the mortgage business, so the remaining lenders and brokers need all the productivity tools they can find. Shore deployed the Xerox software as a way to streamline its operations with a paperless environment that is simpler and faster—from filling out an application to funding a mortgage. 

This article was originally published on 2011-06-16
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