Enterprise 2.0 for a few years there was questioned privately as the benefits of cloud computing became ever-more essential to carrying out day-to-day business tasks. What a far cry from a future which appears well on it’s way to where cloud-based applications will be the main point of interaction between users and the collaboration services.
The plethora of service-acronyms that have arisen since the mid-00’s speak not only to the fact that cloud providers were listening, but also that Enterprise 2.0 (defined by Wikipedia as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers”) would be realized on a much faster timeline than initially proposed.
Once the cloud made gains in credibility, more and more infrastructure has been outsourced in efforts by businesses to trim infrastructure management costs.
With cloud collaboration there are a few comprehensive platforms such as Google and Microsoft, and then there are a number of project management platforms that cater to distinct niche markets. While paying due to the market leaders, we also want to introduce some new services into the fold. Some are focused on social media, there are apps for mind-map sharing, and a large number of apps that have a rich set of features.
After wading through a bevy of cloud collaboration apps, we have rounded up a diverse collection. This list is by no means exhaustive, however, it should give you a good idea of the range of apps that are available for collaboration and productivity for SMB’s. Chief among our considerations are the following:
- Device integration
- Knowledge transfer
- Files management
One of the things these tasks have in common is that once upon a time they were carried out via email, chat or telephone. Lost productivity usually happens when organizing contacts, document versioning, involving off-site team members, external collaboration and so on.
Of course the first two services we want to discuss are familiar to those who know the cloud-collaboration space. OneDrive and Google Drive aren’t the only available document editing services out there (see ownCloud and Box Notes), but they are the most familiar.
Online Document Editing Tools
What listing of online collaboration tools would be compete without the inclusion of Google Docs? Of course Google Docs is decidedly not intended for business in it’s current version. It’s still extremely useful and a solid platform for collaboration. This service allows you to upload, store, edit and share files from your desktop, via browser or mobile app.
The integration of Google services is a plus to many because of it’s ubiquity and wealth of functionality. Many however find Google’s omnipresence to be somewhat overbearing. Of course device integration is seamless, and productivity apps abound.
Should we even mention how simple it is to share content to email, and social networks? Among the drawbacks is that files are converted to Google format, security is substandard, and third-party apps support is inadequate.
Classic desktop software in the cloud. Office 365 defaults to OneDrive when you create a Microsoft account which provides you with access to the Office web app suite.
One of the nice bonuses is free access to hosted email (up to 25GB storage), business domain name and public website with no additional hosting fees. A little overkill, but we can appreciate the effort. That’s alongside a web conference function and spam and malware protection in addition to transit and storage encryption. Whew!
OneDrive provides collaboration functionality through team sites where members create, edit and review reports, proposals, calendars, and budgets in real time. Assigned tasks are displayed linear on a timeline. Business clients also get SharePoint along with the subscription.
Some drawbacks are that during editing there is no support for headers and footers. Branding anyone?
Free (or free trial)/ $99 per year. Zoho is focused on the SMB market and while relatively new, belongs up here with Google Docs and OneDrive just the same. Acquiring 100,000 customers in the first 12 months and growing, this is the ‘third-rail’ when it comes to cloud-based enterprise collaboration.
The free version of Zoho includes the following :
- Issue tracking software
- Zoho Projects users can post their working status
- Project members chat
- Project Stream provides team members with immediate status updates
- Create a project web page or documentation
- Keep all content organized by posting documents centrally
The cool thing about Zoho is that you can create files directly in your browser. Go right ahead and upload Microsoft Office, Open Office, Star Office, AutoCad, Photoshop, ZIP files and any document format. Another fine feature is document version control. Bug Tracking is a powerful bug submission module that allows you to define how bugs and issues should be handled.
Unfortunately while Zoho encrypts your files, this is only the case for data in transit. As well, to start you get a meager 1GB storage. More storage requires you to sign on the dotted line (at $3 per user which nets more than a few nifty features) and you still need to pay $3 for an additional 3GB space.
Collaboration Tools for Special Purposes (or not)
We won’t go through the complete market of the do-it-all enterprise collaboration tools for lack of space. As well, we want to shift the focus to the different kinds of tools out there for SMB’s. Some tools offer only storage plus a few cool features, while others target a specific kind of application.
The tools described in this section are generally focused on SMB’s with some exceptions.
Citrix Sharefile ($30 per month)
ShareFile is concerned with transferring larger files with individuals or within a team. Sharefile comes with a standard 5GB of storage and bandwidth, in addition to two accounts.
The Professional package at $59.95 per month provides 10GB of storage and bandwidth, and 10 employee accounts. The point of Sharefile is sending files larger than most email thresholds or collecting all the project artifacts in one location.
Huddle ($20 per month)
A rival to Microsoft’s SharePoint service (see OneDrive). Used by more than 100,000 businesses globally, it offers features based around file sharing and management, content collaboration, people management and tasks. Accessed through a browser, it can be customized, branded and provides support for mobile devices.
We love version control management in this space, that’s why we always point out this feature for those that have it. ‘Workspaces’ allows you to have a dashboard view of your projects. Each one can be viewed through a menu at the top of the interface.
Huddle unlike other providers takes good care to develop standardized security features. Their primary data centre is ISO 27001 certified, and thus they count U.S. and U.K. Government agencies as clients. On the downside, the free account only has 100mb of space which is awfully low. The service costs $20 per user per month for small businesses, and $40 per user per month for enterprises. 90-day trial, which includes 100MB.
Also simultaneous editing is not possible because when one use has the file, it is locked. While the built-in conferencing functionality is a plus, access charges can occur to meeting attendees.
Box ($15 per month)
There is something to be said for working from within a browser when collaborating. Box uses links and sensitive roles and rights functionality right from your browser. The integrated file viewer works with the Microsoft Office suite, Adobe and others all from the comfort of a web application.
The size limit on shred files is 2GB which is quite enough. Additionally you can track in real-time, engagement such as download, comments and added files (to name a few). One thing that we really like about Box is the extensive integration of third-party software like many Google apps, Twitter and DocuSign.
MangoSpring Collaboration Suite ($5.00 per month)
Isn’t social networking really a facet of collaboration? Of course it is, but we won’t go too deep into the MangoSpring Collaboration Suite with a focus on enterprise social networking. This tool brings a somewhat fresh perspective with team collaboration tools and an intranet integration with LinkedIn. This allows employee profiles to be instantly populated with details like contact information, skill sets and expertise.
The instant messaging updates automatically, to go with features like conference chat and videoconferencing as well as groups and projects. To complete the social networking functions, there is also the micro blogging feature.
The open application programming interfaces with business systems such as CRM, payroll or other HR business systems. It also facilitates sharing and project management with external collaborators. Manage accounts with Active Directory, and integrate with other tools such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and Box.
Yammer ($5.00 per month)
Yammer has also taken some notes from the social networking set with trending files and popular content in addition to file sharing, versioning and notes. A feature that stands out amongst the collection of tools here is polling. Polling is a simple, useful, and to-the-point idea.
Users can also set up polls and events to be shared internally or externally. Groups allow users to search for keywords within shared content. You can also manage multiple domains, access controls, and centralized user roles and rights.
Socialcast (Free up to 50 users)
SocialCast is intended for large businesses with a powerful set of project management, document sharing, project groups and specific activities functionality.
Create private groups to foster team engagement. The service is fully customizable for your brand, and you can grant public access. The entire feature set is available on every major mobile platform.
MindMeister (free trial)
MindMeister is a mind-mapping collaboration tool for development projects. Brilliant! For the reason that it’s always hard to understand developers and engineers (and project stakeholders in general) and mind maps are one way to ‘visualize’ someone else’s vision.
This is a pretty well thought out tool that allows you to move and insert map branches, version control and export your files to a number of formats. With the mobile app you can access your mind maps and the offline mode allows you to work through your browser.
Another nice feature is that you can embed links, email addresses and notes within the nodes. It is also compatible with Freemind and MindManager.
After wading through a bevy of cloud collaboration apps, we have rounded up a diverse collection. This list is by no means exhaustive, however, it should give you a good idea of the range of apps that are available for collaboration and productivity for SMB’s.
Of course, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter, in the comments section below. So feel free to use it and thanks for reading all the way.