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2/11/2013
12:17 PM
Jacob Morgan
Jacob Morgan
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8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors

Collaboration vendors starting to all sound alike? Here are key considerations as you compare tool providers and their products.

4. Technology and Security

Some organizations choose on-premises solutions, others choose cloud-based solutions, and still others choose a hybrid of the two. Every organization has its own measures of what it considers secure. Whatever your choice, it's important to ensure that security is taken care of (usually by your IT folks) and that your data are safe. On the technology side, the platform should be flexible for both your current needs and your future plans.

When it comes to the technology and security of a platform, you'll no doubt run into "cloud versus on-premises" discussions. It's crucial to engage IT in this decision.

5. Customization and Integration

Most organizations want the ability to integrate other systems and customize their platform as they see fit. Perhaps it's important to pull in legacy system documents and edit that information within the platform, for example, or integrate with a single sign-on vendor. Some vendors are more flexible than others, so determine what you want to customize and integrate.

6. Ease of Use and Intuitiveness

Obviously, it's important for everyone in your organization to be able to use the platform you select. I've seen cases in which the platform itself was a key barrier to adoption because employees had no idea what to do or how to navigate. I once spoke with a client who said, "We want our 60-year-old secretary who still uses a typewriter to be able to figure this out." You can also test this among your employees and collect feedback. Many vendors today have built their interfaces to look like popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to bring that level of familiarity to the enterprise.

The fact that a vendor has a technologically amazing platform doesn't mean that it is the best choice for your company. If the platform isn't easy to use and intuitive, don't bother with it.

7. Support and Maintenance

Make sure your vendor offers an adequate support package. Support and maintenance fees vary dramatically, with some vendors charging more than 20 percent of their annual license fee and others charging nothing.

It's also important to understand when new versions of the product are released as well as where those new versions and upgrade ideas are coming from. Some vendors pride themselves on integrating customer feedback in their product development cycle; others stick strictly to their own internal roadmap.

Other factors to note: the availability of dedicated support lines, support hours (some are 24/7, others are more limited), a customer support community, any additional fees, and what exactly the support packages cover. Some vendors provide support only up to a certain point of customization; if you "over-customize" the product they will no longer support your modifications for future changes and versions.

8. Vertical Expertise

Although many users disagree about the relevance of vertical expertise for a vendor, many organizations consider this an important factor in evaluating potential technology solutions. One vendor might have more clients in pharmaceutical or government, for example, while another is more focused on higher education or technology. Some vendors are clearly specialized for certain industries, but many platforms can be used horizontally across several verticals. I have not found vertical expertise to be a crucial factor in vendor selection unless your company needs something very specific.

Finally, look for thought leadership and resource materials. I didn't include these in the above list of variables because it's not something you would realistically judge a vendor on, but if you find that two vendors are almost equal, it might be a factor to consider. Regular releases of educational material such as webinars, whitepapers and speakers are a great way for vendors to educate clients and share new ideas and insights. In an industry that's changing and evolving as rapidly as collaboration technology, it's best to work with a vendor that will continuously provide valuable insights and resources and that will help you on your collaborative journey.

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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 1:36:02 AM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
That's a great point, Sanjay. I'm sure companies in healthcare and education, for example, also have very specific criteria they must use to evaluate any technology platform. And, as LoshBerg said, company size is an important factor, too.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Sanjayabr10
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Sanjayabr10,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2013 | 9:45:19 AM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
Certain collaboration platforms could be good for financial services industry but not that good for public sector or utilities industry. How successful a particular social platform is for an industry should also be considered; while taking a call on the selection of a platform.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2013 | 4:58:35 PM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
I'd be curious to know what business you're in. I'm working on a Social Collaboration for Dummies book where I need to sort through some of these decision criteria. You can contact me at david.carr@ubm.com
LoshBerg
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LoshBerg,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2013 | 11:45:07 AM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
I think another important point is that solution has to fit the size of your business. We tried Yammer, Chatter, Podio - and they totally sucked (for us). We tried Wrike and Bitrix24.com - and loved them both. But that's because we are small. I am sure bigger companies may have tried Bitrix24 first and switched to Yammer, for instance. It's the same with BaseCamp vs Asana. Size does matter.
Ryan Rutan
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Ryan Rutan,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/15/2013 | 7:25:44 PM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
To be transparent, I am the Community Manager for Jive Software, a vendor in the social business industry.

In my recent past, I spent over 12 years evaluating, learning, implementing, and integrating technology solutions for IT, and I have to agree with Deb on this one, the criteria hasn't changed. What has changed are the methods in which we evaluate each criteria. With the advent of cloud, mobility, and new security standards, technologies are able to push the envelope in terms of what they do and how they deliver it.

One item that I would suggest as an alternative to price, or adding as a new category, would be a measure of business value (or possibly "alignment"). In today's social business market, stories of companies realizing real productivity gains and real top line revenue growth are no longer hard to find, in fact they are quite common place. Using these proven stories and drawing parallels to your goals is a great way to validate that a solution is in alignment with your objectives, while at the same time possibly opening doors to opportunities that you have not already considered. Assessing this additional category will give you a Cost:Value metric that can be more revealing.

On a side note, Jive recently worked with a top three global consulting agency to measure the impact of our social business software on top-line revenue growth. Below are but some of the outstanding results (see image). No doubt, some amazing parallels have already started to form. =)
Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/12/2013 | 10:02:27 PM
re: 8 Ways To Judge Collaboration Technology Vendors
I'm totally dating myself, but this made me think of the old shoot-outs where we would test Groupware, vs. Exchange, vs. Lotus Notes/Domino. The criteria sound eerily familiar. Is it just the products that have changed?

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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