As you've probably noticed, many enterprise collaboration vendors are starting to look very similar in both appearance and functionality. In fact, if you were to visit a collaboration conference hall and cover up the vendor logos, it would be hard to tell who is who.
Vendors know this, and customers know it too. A common challenge for many companies is how to evaluate the various vendors out there. Too often I hear about companies that choose a vendor only to realize that they picked the wrong one, usually because they never went through a scoring or evaluation process.
I'll discuss the actual evaluation process in an upcoming post, but first let's look at eight variables that all vendors in the enterprise collaboration space compete against. You might want to add other relevant variables to this list, and I strongly encourage you to do so. Your list should make sense for you and your company.
Jacob Morgan's The Collaboration Organization is a comprehensive strategy guide on how to use emerging collaboration strategies and technologies to solve business problems in the enterprise. It has been endorsed by the former CIO of the USA, CMO of SAP, CMO of Dell, CEO of TELUS, CEO of Unisys and dozens of other business leaders from around the world.
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The basis for this is simple: How much does the vendor charge for use of its platform?
The two most common ways vendors charge are per seat (user) and per page view. Thus it's important to understand how many users you want to include. Consider this question in a few different timeframes: what it will cost now, in six months, in one year, in two years, and beyond two years. You don't need to have exact numbers, but it will help you think in terms of cost. Perhaps for the first year, you want to try piloting this concept to a small team of 100 employees. After two years, you might want to roll out the platform to thousands of employees -- this is something you need to consider. Another price factor to consider is whether you can add or remove users without incurring any penalties or altering the cost of each seat purchased.
[ Need to narrow your choices? Read our Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide. ]
What exactly can this platform do for you, and what makes it different from the others?
As mentioned, many vendors seem to offer similar feature sets. The best way to determine whether a particular vendor offers the features you need is to develop a set of use cases and then map them to feature requirements. Some vendors offer collaboration solutions specifically for employees, while others support external customer communities. That's why it's important to consider several different timeframes. If you start off working with a vendor that offers only employee collaboration features and then decide you also want to collaborate with employees, you could be forced to work with an additional vendor.
You want to be sure you're working with a vendor that offers not only a great product but also people who will treat you well. I've referred vendors to several clients in the past, only to find that the vendors were rude or promised things they never delivered. This is not the type of vendor my clients -- or anyone else's clients -- want to work with.
Since the emergent collaboration space is constantly evolving, you're likely going to be growing and learning along with whatever vendor you go with, so it's important to be sure you're on the same page. Ask for references, and ask previous customers what they found easy -- and what was frustrating -- about working together. If the vendor typically works with enterprise clients and you are a small or midsize business, make sure you are treated with the same respect and care as the big enterprise customers.