What are the Benefits of Collaboration Tools for Business?

Use of Collaborative Tools

Only a few years ago, in major companies, IT departments would carefully select a collaborative platform which they then presented to (and imposed upon) their users. A collaborative platform typically comprised email, a collaborative intranet, an instant messaging application, and often a corporate social network. The goal was to make sure that all exchanges of information took place within this unique “corporate” platform.

The individual users within the corporation, however, adopted other tools, which they found to be more cutting-edge, easier to use, easier to deploy, and more collaborative, but which contradicted official IT corporate strategies. This resulted in several problems in the corporate environment, among them, the creation of many undocumented information silos. The arrival of tools such as Microsoft Access and Lotus Notes portended these issues 20 years ago, and the growth of the cloud has recently accelerated them even further.

It became a game of cat and mouse in which users sought a fast and effective response to their needs, while IT departments tried to keep users within the officially approved solutions that had stringent requirements in terms of maintenance and security.

Small businesses, on the other hand, often had to get by without any collaborative tool at all, due to the expense and complexity of platform solutions.

While today’s state-of-the-art collaborative platforms (such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook) are now accessible to small businesses (thanks to the cloud), they must coexist with other tools that provide specific services to various departments within the company. The challenge is no longer to eradicate these tools, but to support their adoption and find a place for them in an everchanging environment.

Tables or Spreadsheets, How to Choose?

Many professional tasks involve the organization of data in tabular form, such as listings of actions, individuals, places, objects or licenses.

For the most critical of these tasks, if a suitable budget is available, you can acquire a dedicated application that specifically meets your needs. If you have sufficient resources, you may even consider having an application developed specifically for you.

But for other tasks, when you can’t justify the expense of a specialized application (or wish to limit the proliferation of tools within your enterprise), you may use what you have on hand: This may often be a spreadsheet, circulated via your preferred communication tool, such as email, social media, or an organizational tool such as Trello or Slack.

Spreadsheets were not originally designed for the collective sharing of information

Why choose a spreadsheet?

According to Microsoft, Google, and Wikipedia, a spreadsheet is a program that is capable of creating and manipulating sheets of calculations. Of course, not all spreadsheets are the same. The standard version of Excel provides sophisticated data analysis, while Google Sheets and Excel Online are more oriented toward user collaboration.

Use spreadsheets for what they do best: calculations and data analysis.

Online spreadsheets have not become significantly more collaborative since they originally appeared over 10 years ago. Their “collaborative” evolution is limited to a couple of access features that have been added to the traditional data-analysis functions. They do not offer real collaborative capabilities such as the ability to distribute data entry among different individuals while rigorously controlling access to information. However, they do now make it possible for several people to work on the same spreadsheet at the same time. (Only a few years ago this was a source of intense frustration when using Excel. Who has never fumed at the message “The file is locked for editing by another user”?)

But whether the spreadsheet is online or locally installed, unless you want to share all the information with absolutely everyone, your alternative is to send a copy to each contributor and then aggregate all copies by means of a tedious copy/paste exercise — while hoping to avoid human error in the process. Indeed, it is still very difficult to gather information from more than one person without having all the data visible and editable by everyone. The manipulation of images and attachments can be difficult or even impossible when using spreadsheets. The same goes for exchanging comments within the specific context of the information in a table

A New Category of Applications has Emerged

Each worksheet is a self-contained island of information with no connection to other worksheets much less any other application. Aside from these long-standing shortcomings, spreadsheets were originally designed to enable calculations and data analysis. Yet, the majority of the spreadsheets created today do not even provide for calculations! Spreadsheets are used primarily to list information: tasks, opportunities, amounts, people, contracts, licenses, and ideas. Occasionally a spreadsheet may include a “totals” row or a column of calculated data, but only rarely more than that.

To meet collaboration and productivity challenges in the context of information tables, in recent years a new category of applications has emerged: collaborative online tables.

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