The number and capabilities of collaborative tools have grown significantly in recent years, and as the technology has advanced, more of those tools have come within affordable reach of small and medium-sized businesses. So how can you best put them to work?
The number and capabilities of collaborative tools have grown significantly in recent years, and as the technology has advanced, more of those tools have come within affordable reach of small and medium-sized businesses. So how can you best put them to work? Arun Ragunathan, senior product manager for Cisco midsize collaboration, says three developments in particular are having a major impact on SMBs and how they collaborate:
- Mobility. “The number of devices connected to the network has exploded with the rise of BYOD and personal devices coming into the workplace. Users are demanding more collaboration capabilities and access anywhere, on any device they choose,” he says, adding that global business mobile data traffic grew by 64 percent last year.
- Centralized solutions. Instead of managing different systems for voice, video, data, email, etc., businesses are choosing one system that can deliver many different collaboration capabilities.
- Cloud. More and more services such as Web conferencing and corporate email are moving into the cloud, making it easier for SMBs to scale and manage efficiently.
When it comes to leveraging collaboration technology tools to their best advantage, SMBs may face more challenges than their larger counterparts, acknowledges Gary Proefke, senior manager, segment marketing at Avaya, a global provider of next-generation business collaboration and communications solutions. “Midsize business have many of the same aspirations as large enterprises, but with fewer IT resources and smaller budgets. In addition, they tend to be risk averse,” he observes. One approach to overcoming those challenges is to seek out centralized, well-integrated solutions that are powerful but easy to deploy, manage, and use. They should also be scalable so they can expand as your business grows or your needs change.
When looking at new collaboration technology tools, there is a simple process SMBs can apply to see if a new tool might make sense for them. “Perhaps surprisingly, the process for SMBs is not all that different from the one used by larger enterprises,” says Sri Chilukuri, vice president of enterprise product marketing at Intralinks, a provider of extended enterprise collaboration systems. He recommends three simple steps:
- Define the use cases that need to be supported.
- Identify solutions that support those use cases.
- Choose vendors that have the financial wherewithal for long-term survival.
“Keeping those three considerations in mind will help narrow down the playing field,” Chilukuri says. “SMBs should prioritize vendors that are the most cost-effective and provide the best customer support.”
Proefke suggests it’s also important to consider how distributed your workforce, business partners network, and customers are. “How many people work outside the office, and what is the mix of mobile workers and teleworkers? What devices and applications do workers want and choose to use? How important is the quality of the customer experience? How fast is the business growing? These are all questions you need to ask and answer,” he says.
To be most effective in an SMB setting, collaboration technology tools should be easy to adopt, use, and manage, requiring minimal or no training, Chilukuri advises. They must also ensure data security and protection at all times, both within and beyond the firewall. “Owners should be able to maintain lifetime control over their data and have the ability to access it on demand,” he says.
Choosing the right collaboration tools is just half the battle, Ragunathan points out. “The biggest mistake we see SMBs make is not using technology as a competitive advantage,” he says. “Today’s users are tech-savvy and want the same capabilities in the office as they can have with their personal devices. Companies that don’t adapt to change will be left behind. So ditch the ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ mentality and start considering how you can leverage IT to differentiate your company.”