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Six questions to ask before buying a team collaboration app

Before you vet the different cloud collaboration tools, you should examine your list of considerations and determine how each vendor can address them.

Most research on cloud collaboration tools tends to gravitate toward specific features that differentiate one product from another. This is a perfectly legitimate place to start. After all, if a team collaboration app doesn't deliver what your organization needs from a collaborative standpoint, then you shouldn't buy it. Even though many cloud collaboration tools offer similar functionalities, they may differ slightly.

Most team collaboration tools offer messaging-centric communication within an organization. In other words, employees can use instant messaging to connect with colleagues, teams or other users focused on a specific project. These products include the basics, such as messaging and file sharing. But even common features, the interface and the method used to accomplish messaging tasks will differ.

For example, sharing files in Google Hangouts requires users to have Google Drive accounts. Drive is used as the repository, and downloadable links are used to share content within the chat session. For companies that have Google Drive deployed as a corporatewide service, this creates seamless workflows.

For organizations without Google Drive, they will need to decide whether intellectual property should be allowed on Google's cloud storage service. Alternatively, using a more open platform, such as Slack, users can share files using Google Drive in addition to other third-party cloud storage products, including Box and Dropbox. This is, of course, in addition to Slack's own file-sharing platform.

Editor's note

While researching team collaboration products extensively, TechTarget editors focused on 10 leading cloud-based services that have strong messaging components. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from respected research firms, including Gartner.

How will the service be deployed?

Another consideration when vetting products is whether the platform will be deployed to fit a specific subset of your organization's overall collaboration needs, or if the platform will be used as a one-stop shop for all collaboration uses. If you fit into the former category, fewer products will stand out, because they offer the exact features you need without any additional bells and whistles. If you fall into the latter category, full-blown team collaboration tools that include messaging and the replacement of desk phones and in-room video conferencing will better meet the scope of your project goals.

Most team collaboration tools offer messaging-centric communication within an organization. In other words, employees can use instant messaging to connect with colleagues, teams or other users focused on a specific project.

Video is one area that varies widely from one product to the next. Most products can, at a minimum, provide rudimentary peer-to-peer video, as well as team video for several users. But if you require group video sessions with hundreds of simultaneous users or traditional webinar features, your options will be limited.

Other features -- such as Short Message Service integration, screen sharing, whiteboarding and access to an end-user knowledge base -- will be part of an overall cloud collaboration strategy that will differ depending on vendor platform and user preferences. This is where forming a technology pilot program begins to make sense.

The goal of a pilot program is to receive end-user feedback regarding the two or three team collaboration tools IT is considering. This feedback can be used to understand user needs and select the team messaging app that users feel is the best fit. This helps eliminate any product or vendor bias within the IT organization and lets the final decision rest with the end users.

Moving beyond specific features that differentiate one product from the next, buyers need to consider a few additional items prior to selecting a team collaboration app.

How does the product handle data security?

Depending on your industry, you may need to adhere to strict risk management and compliance requirements. You'll need to research the various team collaboration apps for data security specifics, including the need for end-to-end message and data transport encryption. You should also consider the need to store and manage encryption keys on privately operated servers -- even when the service is managed by a third-party provider.

Which apps can be integrated with the service?

You should closely examine how the team collaboration app integrates with third-party web or cloud-based applications. Slack is one example of this, as it offers support for multiple, cloud-based file-sharing applications.

Your organization may also benefit from integrating other applications within the overall collaboration landscape. AI bots are one such integration that work with messaging-centric cloud collaboration tools. Other integrations may differ based on the company or end-user department.

For example, your marketing department might find it useful if a team collaboration app integrated with customer relationship management products, such as Salesforce or SugarCRM, so team members could pull data from those applications into various day-to-day or project-related discussions. Some products offer an API that can be used to integrate homegrown applications. You will want to work with your developers to determine what types of integration might be possible, depending on the vendor platform.

Mobile apps also vary widely from competing products. Some allow for full interoperability within a mobile application, while others provide only a subset of features. This can be an especially important deciding factor, depending on whether most users are typically at their desks, or if they're generally mobile and thus regularly use mobile devices to collaborate.

What type of technical support is available?

Other aspects of the decision process are focused on IT support. For instance, some messaging-centric collaboration tools offer several channels to request and receive technical support.

Some products offer only the basics, such as knowledge bases or video tutorials. Other collaboration tools provide interactive options, such as web ticketing, email, live chat and phone support.

In addition, how first-level support is handled varies by vendor. Some troubleshooting models offer direct, first-level support with the service provider, while others require you to use an intermediary partner for the handling and potential triage of support tickets to the provider.

What type of administration is offered?

The capability of managing collaboration users and groups from an administration standpoint is another important aspect of collaboration products. This is going to be a granularity versus complexity decision that should be made by those who manage the application and end users.

Some vendor platforms opt for simplicity and offer few options for creating, importing and managing users in terms of what they can and can't do. Other products provide a wide range of configuration options to deploy collaboration services that are tailored to specific end-user needs. This is especially important when it comes to data loss prevention precautions for users of team collaboration tools.

How is the team collaboration app priced?

Finally, you must factor cost into your list of considerations, as the pricing models between products can vary significantly due to the major differences in features and management options. That's why it's crucial that you perform due diligence before buying a team messaging app to determine what product, and ultimately what pricing model, makes the most sense.

One benefit is that some vendors offer multiple pricing tiers, trials and freemium options. Ultimately, you can choose to deploy higher-priced and higher-featured licenses for power users, while opting to go with lower-cost or even free versions for other employees. Despite the lack of some functionally on the lower-end, the core features and collaboration platform single-pane-of-glass management remains intact.

This was last published in November 2017

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