Globalization characterizes our world today.
There are worldwide interaction and integration among people, companies and governments. A trend that began with improvements in transportation and communications technology.
Once the domain of governments and large wealthy international organizations, the global economy has opened up to many more players. Businesses of all sizes and the man in the street are now all in on the act.
But it is more than just economics and the workplace that have changed. The way people interact socially and source information are different today too.
The evolution of the digital age and its underlying technologies is giving us effective and cheap communication and collaboration that have transformed the workplace and made this possible.
1. Why such a growth in the number of collaboration tools?
There truly is a plethora of collaboration tools out there today and deciding on which to go for can be quite daunting.
The email led the way in digital communication and is still widely used, but as an effective collaboration tool, it is lacking.
Long back and forth conversations are difficult to follow, and information gets lost in chains of communication.
It is asynchronous and does not lend itself to team workspaces!
With the coming of the age of cloud computing, the stage was set for the entrance of new players into the communication and collaboration market.
The digital workplace demanded a better way of working and collaboration tools provided an answer.
Each business area wanted in on this new trend. So, collaboration tools for project management, human resources, customer resource management and many other departments started appearing.
In addition, cloud computing gave rise to social networks that have changed the way we communicate, look for answers, knowledge, and information. We no longer consult a directory or manual, we merely ask our social network.
What has been labelled “consumerism of communication”, the need to source knowledge and communicate via a threaded conversation in a visible, transparent network, is being called “the new normal” and for the generation of workers that have grown up with social media it is what they know and how they best communicate and collaborate.
Modern collaboration tools have cashed in on the popularity and ubiquity of social networks.
They are utilizing the same communication and knowledge sharing methods and facilitating the integration of more traditional business tools to produce products that are effective, easy to use and have wide user acceptance.
These are relatively new advances and there has been a rush to get products to this market that has resulted in the enormous growth of collaboration tools.
2. Do they all offer the same services?
Collaboration software is a generic term for a wide variety of products offering equally various functionality, but there are some common features they all have that put them in this category.
The basic features that make a software product a collaboration tool are that they:
- Allow the creation of a workspace that multiple users can access, view, and edit
- Integrate with existing communication channels or software
- Provide features that support communication and peer-to-peer or peer-to-group interactions
- Track the history of conversations
Many products fulfil these conditions yet the services they offer and their structure can vary considerably.
From tools for communication to those that help organise ideas and notes, from time management to business-specific project and product management tools.
Four types of collaboration tools. A broad and loose classification of software products for collaboration.
These tools facilitate rapid communication and are the least structured. They provide messaging, voice and conferencing functionality.
Structured collaboration tools can provide form and coherency to the processes of project planning, brainstorming, and decision-making.
Idea management tools ease and formalize the capture and storing of ideas for later use.
Board management and note-taking tools enable users to store decisions and notes in one place where they are organized and can be found.
Time management tools
For managing daily tasks and providing reminders. Task management and calendar applications fall into this group.
These are the most structured and business-centric of the tools.
They comprise project and product management software and strategic planning tools; they provide functionality for the planning and execution of long term business goals.
Many products cross the boundaries of these categories combining functionality in a single tool.
Alternatively, others integrate multiple products to form a collaboration hub.
3. The Future of Collaboration Tools
Many of the collaboration products currently available, and especially the more structured ones that incorporate business-specific functionality by default, will fall by the wayside.
Those that provide simple social media like an interface and can integrate multiple products to perform the more business specific tasks will be the most successful.
Additionally, Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making their way into collaboration tools. Products that can perform real-time language translation and bots to enable natural language conversation with data, or to provide voice control of applications such as conferencing systems are emerging.
As digital collaboration continues to mature tools that simplify and improve business activity, increasing efficiency and productivity, will emerge making our lives and work better and more fulfilling.