Cloud-based collaboration tools get teams talking and working more effectively. So is it time to upgrade your business network to a social network?
Business communications have largely remained unchanged in many offices since the arrival of email in the 1990s. But now there is a better alternative: collaboration software.
We all know how much time we can waste on email. Collaboration tools turn protracted email correspondence into quick real-time chats or virtual meetings. They enable staff to share calendars, delegate tasks, manage group projects, streamline workflows, discuss issues, work together on documents, and quickly find information or expertise anywhere in an organisation.
In fact, a McKinsey & Co study has found social collaboration technology could improve productivity in knowledge-based businesses by as much as 25 per cent. Tools vary substantially in their scope and functionality. Here are some of the more popular options.
Free for up to 50 users, then from US$2.50 a month per user
Socialcast seems immediately familiar to anyone who has used social media. That’s a key reason for its success. It’s centred on a news feed-style “stream”.
You can create groups, send private messages, “like” posts and make comments. It also offers features you won’t find in consumer-based social networks, allowing you to create polls, share ideas and add external news feeds.
“Social collaboration technology could improve productivity by as much as 25 per cent.” McKinsey & Co
Two of the more powerful features are “projects” and “challenges”. Each project can be broken down into objectives and then tasks with their own deadlines. Tasks can be assigned to groups or individuals. Challenges are like brain-storming sessions. Once a challenge has been posted, colleagues post ideas or vote on which ideas they think are best.
Backed by large enterprise technology provider VMware, Socialcast offers enterprise-grade security features, including a powerful permissions system. Users and administrators can control which groups or individuals see which posts, projects, tasks, challenges and more. It’s even available as server software, for those businesses that prefer on-site installations.
It’s not without drawbacks. Files are shared only as attachments, so you can’t work on documents together in real time the way you can with Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs.
Also, the main “home stream” can become cluttered as there’s no easy way to customise it.
But overall Socialcast is powerful and good value, making it ideal for small or large businesses wanting to trial social collaboration.
Options similar to Socialcast
Jive (priced from US$2 per user per month) and MangoApps (from US$5 per user per month) are just two alternatives to Socialcast. They work in similar ways, but offer different features. Asana (available in free or premium versions) is an easy-to-use cloud service, specialising in project collaboration and management.
Other collaboration options
Microsoft Office 365 Business
From A$5.61 a month per user.
A comprehensive suite of cloud applications that includes:
- Social collaboration tool Yammer
- Lync video-conferencing and instant messaging
- Multi-user email
- 1TB of cloud storage per user
- An intranet tool
It offers mobile and desktop versions of Word, Excel and other Office applications, along with cloud versions, so users can work on documents together in real time.
Google Apps for work
From A$5 a month per user.
A suite of cloud applications, including:
- Google+ for social collaboration
- Google Hangout for voice and video-conferencing and instant messaging
- Multi-user email
- Google Docs
- Cloud-based Microsoft Office alternatives
- Applications for creating surveys, illustrations and intranets
- Powerful real-time collaboration tools for its cloud apps.
Free for up to 12 users, then 12 additional users for US$25 a month.
A feature-rich collaboration suite with:
- Social collaboration
- Project management
- Instant messaging
- Screen sharing
- Multi-user email
Bitrix also has a calendar, customer relationship management and document management that integrates with Google Docs or Microsoft Office.
This article is from the July issue of INTHEBLACK