As business continues to become more and more digital and workforces are spread across regions and countries, utilizing cloud-based apps will enable businesses to work more efficiently and effectively. One of the great assets of cloud-based collaboration is real-time interfacing, which can speed up day-to-day processes without the lag time of email. It also limits back-and-forth communication and keeps inboxes free of large documents that can instead be shared online.
The functionality of cloud-based apps does not vary all that much from provider to provider; however, there are nuances to each that may make a difference to you and your team.
You may already use Salesforce.com, which is a rich customer-relationship and sales management tool. The online portal makes it virtually accessible from anywhere, making it particularly beneficial for traveling sales teams and telecommuters.
Chatter is Salesforce.com’s cloud-based collaboration tool, which features the following:
- Communities: Chatter allows you to set up secure communities for different audiences, giving you the option to collaborate with not only your employees, but vendors and customers as well.
- File Sharing: Comment on files, track versions and receive updates when new files are uploaded to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Feeds: This is an ongoing update on changes and edits that are made to a particular project. Employees can sign up for the feeds most relevant to them to get a quick rundown of what’s new with their projects.
Other features include Chatter Messenger, cloud-based instant messaging, workflow approvals, groups and a Microsoft SharePoint interface. Chatter also has mobile apps for iPhone, Android and iPad.
Bottom Line: Chatter is set up to be a bit more social than some of the other cloud-based applications, which might be best for organizations looking for a more collaborative versus project-based solution. If you are currently a Salesforce.com customer or are looking for CRM software, it might be a good idea to explore the benefits of Chatter and how it can integrate with your current Salesforce.com tools.
Google Apps for Business
If you are a frequent user of Gmail or any of Google’s other apps, you are probably well-versed with its cloud-based offerings. This is a web-based solution, similar to Chatter, which focuses more on the functional aspects of cloud collaboration as opposed to the social.
Google Apps for Business features the following:
- Google Drive: This free service allows for easy sharing of all types of documents, including Word docs, spreadsheets and presentations. You can also create these types of documents within Drive, which might be a great solution for someone who doesn’t have a standard software package like Microsoft Office.
- Hangouts: Google’s version of social connectivity, Hangouts allow for video conferencing, phone calls or messaging. This is especially important for long-distance teams that need to collaborate on a daily basis.
- Sites: You can easily create sites for projects without needing any type of programming expertise. There are dozens of templates to choose from that give you the power to lay out the information in the best way possible. Similar to SharePoint, you can share your sites with select employees, vendors or customers and control individual editing rights.
- Vault: This added feature is particularly important if you need to retain documents or chat sessions for legal reasons, such as potential audits, legal action or more. You define your own retention policies that outline what to keep and how long to keep it.
Bottom line: Google has quickly established itself as a leading business vendor, and Google Apps for Business is the next step in that evolution. Google Apps can easily be your one-stop solution for online communications and collaboration with the addition of Gmail and Google Calendar.
Dropbox for Business is a good solution for file sharing among many parties; however, it doesn’t have as many features as Chatter or Google Apps.
Dropbox for Business features include:
- Safety and Security: Dropbox offers a two-step verification process to ensure your documents and files are secure, as well as the ability to remotely unlink devices, so if a phone is lost or stolen, you can turn off its access.
- Version Support: Dropbox stores all versions of a document so you can easily recover one if necessary.
- Sharing Restrictions: You can easily manage what files people share and with whom they share them. This level of control will give you peace of mind when sharing sensitive information.
Bottom line: Dropbox is really great for storing and sharing large files without clogging up email inboxes. However, if you’re looking for a more robust and interactive cloud-collaboration system, you’ll probably want to go with a different provider.
Confluence offers an “On Demand” version of their products, which is their way of saying “in the cloud.” Part of a larger organization that designs and writes software, Confluence’s strength is primarily process flow with a focus on IT.
Confluence’s features include:
- Blogs and Threaded Discussions: Keep track of and build your organization’s knowledge base with integrated blogs and wikis. These easy-to-edit pages encourage your employees to keep an ongoing record of the things they’ve learned.
- JIRA Integration (optional): If your business manages a help desk or IT support of any kind, you can integrate Confluence with JIRA, which is built in an Agile environment. This allows you to track different issues, how often they’re reported and brainstorm possible solutions. This clearly demonstrates how Confluence’s software-designing past has influenced this cloud-collaboration product.
- Web Browser Plug-In: One of the main constructs of Confluence is to share information. They make this exceedingly easy by offering a web browser plug-in that allows employees to share web pages, articles, photos and more with colleagues with the click of the mouse.
Bottom line: While Confluence does offer unlimited workspaces and the ability to share large files back and forth, it provides good support tracking with customers and between teams. If your business manages a help desk or routinely takes calls from clients relating to product or service improvements, this might be a good option for you.
Flow is a task management cloud-collaboration tool with a ton of bells and whistles. Flow is more in keeping with project management providers like BaseCamp, giving you more control over who is assigned to specific projects and what tasks each member will perform.
Flow features include:
- Easy Delegation: Assign tasks to team members by adding just a name or email address. Employees can easily track their progress through Flow.
- Simple Collaboration: Even if you’re working with someone outside of your organization that doesn’t have a Flow account, you can still collaborate with them. Send them an invitation via email that grants access to the relevant project(s).
- Real-Time Updates and Notifications: As people work in Flow, make updates to tasks or ask questions, a real-time log is generated. This gives you and your employees the chance to work together without any lag time to increase efficiency.
Bottom line: Flow’s main purpose is to give employees a central location to manage and update projects. While it allows for cloud collaboration and has the ability to upload and share documents and images, as well as send messages back and forth, it is more of a project management solution than some of the others outlined in this article.
When researching which cloud-based collaboration app is right for you, start with a list of desired features. What do you want the program to do? What kinds of features will be most helpful to your employees and most suited to your business? Once you’ve developed your list, split the different features into must-haves and nice-to-haves. It might be possible to get everything you want with one solution, but when investing in cloud-based apps you first want to be sure that it meets your needs and the needs of your organization. Remember, the overall goal is to work smarter.