Stepping beyond the intranet— possibilities for collaboration and more in 2020
How many communication and collaboration apps do you use every day at work? Three? Five? Ten?
The chances are, you use more than you think, especially when you think in more detail about what constitutes any app or service that communicates with others, or helps your working day by collaboration.
Take, for example, shared storage. Perhaps you use Box and Google Drive for your department’s stuff, but your line manager also sends you links to documents on her personal Dropbox account. Your payslips and tax information are posted to a web store by the Finance team, so to look at those, you have to fire up a web browser.
Then there’s messaging. You get emails all day, you have Slack channels and WhatsApp groups for workgroups, company-announcements, specific projects, and for today’s funnies. There are also a few other messaging apps or channels your friends and colleagues use to organize lunchtime socials and after-work drinks.
You spend time on the phone, too, over the company’s VOIP system, starting some calls using a softphone on your desktop, but at other times you’ll use Skype, Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, Slack video calls and even FaceTime.
Before you know it, you’ve racked up quite a credible number of apps, services, and websites that you switch to and from dozens of times every day, usually without thinking about it. That’s one of the great things about tech, of course: it’s all made so easy for every user.
Here at TechHQ, we’re looking at three solutions that hope to bring some order to the chaos of the dozens of apps, channels, and sites that every employee needs to navigate every day, just to get the job done.
In previous days, we’d look to a company intranet, but the solutions we look at are so, so much more than that!
Should we unify?
For a lot of companies, the mixing of personal and work information is a security worry: it’s easy to drop documents into the wrong Dropbox app, for instance.
But in every organization, finding vital information, locating people across the business, having a single app or “source of truth” is a concept that appeals — but with the best will in the world, such a platform doesn’t exist (despite what the marketing messages claim).
The “one app to rule them all” isn’t a reality because of two simple facts: firstly, no application can do everything as well as multiple specialist apps, it’s simply unfeasible. Secondly, no company or organization is the same, so any overarching solution would never be 100 percent right for every case.
Taking the lead from IT
In IT departments in enterprise companies, the accepted wisdom is that the real value from technology is realized when “point products” (specialist apps) are joined and automated. There are even a few acronyms for this: BPM (business process management) and RPA (robotic process automation) are the most common.
But in every size company outside the IT department, especially in companies that have grown rapidly and organically in the last few years, there’s almost definitely been significant investment in multiple communications, information, and collaboration channels. The investment will be in the form of hard currency, of course, but also there will be significant investment in the form of employees learning how to use the various tools, storing and sharing information, creating personal archives of information, and establishing the best tools for the job.
What the suppliers featured below do, then, is to connect and align the different channels already in use, to make every collaboration and communication as effective as it can be. Instead of creating an email with multiple recipients and firing off messages into the ether, the solutions below could show you who’s online, and pull all responses into a single work area.
This type of interactive-ness is what the big social networks try and engender but, as we all know, those networks both have their own agendas and aren’t suitable as working, collaborative, or comms platforms. But with specialist solutions, when properly deployed, it’s easily possible for every employee to feel more valued, better connected, and an integral part of a smoothly-functioning organization.
What to look for — essentials
Here are a few aspects of any platform or solution you’ll need to think about:
User interface, ease of use. In short, the platform must be attractive (some might demand “pretty”) and use the type of interface that won’t need learning. Native apps for phones are good, but the solution will also need a web or desktop interface too.
Integration with the services you already use. The platform needs to form bridges between Dropbox, Box, SAP, Salesforce, QuickBooks, Sugar CRM, WhatsApp, Slack, and the other hundred-plus apps, comms channels, and repositories you already use.
Integration-plus. And for those apps that everyone uses in the company that are highly specialist (CAD archives, logistics systems, machinery control — the list is probably infinite), there will need to be API access, so that a tech team can build any bridges or interfaces as required.
Intelligent search. The ability to dig out information from a year or two ago, from a person whose name you’ve forgotten that arrived via a channel you can’t quite put your finger on. This alone will save every employee literally hours every week. Priceless.
What to look for — nice-to-haves
Integration with your phone system. For call-heavy operations (sales teams, for example), linking the CRM to call software and to the rest of the infrastructure creates massive efficiencies.
Auto-archiving. The traditional intranet often became a place where files and information were dumped. Putting information or messages “live” with an archive (or auto-destruct) date and time can save money in backup space, and helps every worker develop good filing and organizational habits.
Single sign-on. Part security issue, and part ease-of-use, integration with a single sign-on solution, either built into the platform or an external service, means that one login (preferably authenticated by biometrics or another factor) will grant access to all systems.
That makes user access management a great deal easier, and allows for each user to have specific privileges as to what they can and can’t see, and so on.
Cloud options. The platforms below vary in their installation options, be that on-premise, in the cloud, or self-hosted. The final choice will be your choice, and there are advantages and disadvantages in every setting. The suppliers themselves should be able to advise what’s best for you.
The problem faced by many companies of fragmented communications and collaboration was one that also affected an award-winning NY-based design agency.
In fact, such was the scale of the problem, and so enormous were the efficiencies that were patently there to be gained, that the agency created its own solution— and Honey was born.
Think of it as an intranet, crossed with a wiki, a data storage system, and a comms hub, and then give the whole thing the most attractive user-facing interface; it’s the nicest we’ve seen in a long while.
Under the hood, however, the platform’s power means it seamlessly plugs into your existing resources, apps, and services and creates that simple but powerful interface (for want of a less impersonal term) into what’s important.
Rather than dump every channel’s outputs into one place, the Honey system can be configured to know what’s relevant for each user and presents what each user needs to know when they need it. And that’s out-of-the-box.
There’s a massive amount of customization possible, and beneficial tools that help democratize the different channels, and — we’d hope — help to democratize the workforce, too. This is a solution that lets the CEO interact with the rest of the workforce as easily as the largest workgroups that need to get access to the resources and tools they need, all in one place.
To read more, here on the pages of TechHQ, click here to see where we dig much deeper into the details and possibilities.
The Simpplr package solves practical problems for any business, ones that are solve-able, but that would otherwise take a great deal of manual activity. Take, for instance, getting employees to share about the company on their own social channels — great advertising, and free, word-of-mouth promotion — Simpplr does it.
Keeping multiple websites up to date often means in-depth training for markers, but with Simpplr, it’s all done through a single app, the same one where all feeds and information is collated.
Clearly, a good deal of thought has gone into the platform, which still markets itself as an intranet, despite its capabilities being leagues beyond what a traditional, static intranet website might have been capable of ten years ago or so.
There’s the capability for personalization on a per-employee basis, so each user gets their own design choices and needs for information addressed. That type of granular approach is also at work at the base level of the app, with the system able to configure access privileges for any part of the overall information “meta.”
Priced on a per-user, per-month basis, with a trial available for the asking, the Simpplr solution’s on-ramp couldn’t be, well, simpler.
Read more about this slick intranet+++ (that’s what we’re calling it) on the company’s website, here.
The more specialist Jive range of solutions is aimed towards phone-based businesses or, at least, phone-use heavy concerns. It’s perfect for call centers, but the capabilities go much deeper.
Sure, the voice (and video calling) capabilities are second to none, with the ability to oversee, manage, report on, and roll out entire call centers.
But there’s a fully-featured softphone so that anyone can make and receive calls via the desktop, with calls queuing up and relevant information presented onscreen, thanks to seamless CRM integration— this is perfect for sales teams too who need to see and update interactions’ history, in real-time.
Jive also offers a couple of add-ons that are specific to their platform. The first is a business continuity package, with automated failover systems that switch to alternative provisions in the case of power failure or disaster.
The other is an SD-WAN, which is a network overlay to control and manage multiple internet connections (typically found in businesses with multiple offices or call centers). These can be altered on-the-fly to ensure that the right network traffic is prioritized according to demand. As one call center goes offline, and another starts up, perhaps in a distant time zone, network speed and bandwidth can be re-allocated.
It’s the all-in-one nature of this business-oriented technology stack that many organizations find attractive in Jive, and its rota of clients numbers dozens of household names. Click here to read more.
*Some of the companies featured are commercial partners of TechHQ
20 January 2021