To begin with, there is a first level of tools called “cooperative tools”. This kind of tool is made to enable team members to communicate between themselves. We can cite as example mail, chat, video conferencing or whiteboard. In other words, these tools are the basics of team working in a company and you must be using them every day.
But if they enable colleagues to communicate, they don’t enable them to work on the same goal and with the same files. That’s why a new generation of tools is more and more used by companies: “Online collaboration tools”…
The aim of this article is to explain the different categories of collaboration tools existing today. All of them can make your life easier by simplifying the communication, the project management and the collaborative work but they can also lead to…a decrease of your costs! (Sounds good, isn’t it?). In fact by using them you save time, you avoid useless business trips and you decrease the use of paper… (And this can help to save the planet, who could ask for more ?)
Category 1 : “Online editor“
ex : Zoho (Free) or Google docs (Free)
These tools or group of tools enable to create your own documents directly from your browser, without any software installation on your computer. Furthermore these documents are stored online so you can share them with your colleagues. You will find in the category “Online editor” the same software than in the Office pack: documents, spreadsheet, presentation… The main advantage is that, as the author, you choose the people you give access to these documents and the access right you give them (reading, writing…).
Category 2 : “Synchronization tool”
ex : Syncplicity (2GB of storage free), Dropbox (Free) or Livemesh (Free)
They create a collaborative space on your computer to share files & folder with your colleagues. In this way everybody can work on his own desktop with his own applications and when someone makes changes to a file or a folder, synchronization is automatically made for everybody (of course they need to be connected to internet !). The main advantage is that the files are stored on your computer so there is less risk that they are lost or divulged.
Category 3 : “Collaboration space”
ex: Drop.io (Free but you have to indicate an expiration date) or Box.net (Lite version free : 5 folders, 25MB file uploads & 1GB of storage)
They are not really tools but website, where you can store, share and download files made by everybody you give the access. Everybody can upload, preview and download files but also leave comments about these files if you send them the link to the file.
Category 4 : “Groupware“
ex: E-groupware (Free), Zimbra (Free) or Group-office (Free)
These groupware provide a large range of services to manage team work in real time. Most of the time they include the tools I have cited before but they also enable people to share contacts, agenda and tasks. In this way it simplifies the management of a team or a project. The advantage is that after installation these applications are available from any place with an internet connection.
Just few tips about all this:
First, you should obviously not save confidential data on internet and be careful about who you give the right to modify the documents you create.
Then, don’t forget to save regularly all your files on a hard disk or a DVD, whatever if you choose to store them online or not. I know it sounds like common sense but relying on my own experience, regular back up of your computer can avoid a lot of troubles!
To finish, I want to add that there is a lot of other software to help you in your daily work, here you can find a list of those you can download for free: 27 free must have collaboration tools.
At last, can you tell me your opinion about these kinds of tools? Have you ever experienced some of them? Was it a great success or a complete disaster?
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