Published on October 25th, 2012 | by James Gardner
All-in-one collaboration solutions vs. specialized solutions
So you’re thinking about collaboration software. You’ve read up on the benefits and you’re convinced it’s a good idea and your company will really take advantage. The question then is who and what? Who should I get my solution from? What should the solution be? Tough questions for the uninitiated. What it really comes down to is: do I go for an all-in-one or a specialized solution? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each approach, starting with all-in-one solutions.
#1. Bang for your buck
All-in-one solutions, by their very nature, offer a wide feature set. So even if you pay a little more for the initial license fee, you’re actually getting a lot more for your money. Bringing in multiple systems rapidly increases the costs across the virtual product suite. Side-by-side, the cost of multiple systems working together to create a matching feature set to an all-in-one solution simply doesn’t stack up.
#2. It’s easier to upgrade and scale
When you have a boat load of features built into the system from the start, it makes introducing them a lot less of a challenge. Nearly all all-in-one solutions will allow you to turn off features that are not needed initially and then introduce them later on, most of the time through a simple administration setting. Additionally, because they have a wider feature set, they will come bundled with more comprehensive user management tools, removing any issues with scaling. You can add more users as required in a structured manner, giving them access to the tools they need, when they need them.
#3. It’s an integrated solution
This could, and probably should, have been my #1 tip. It’s not something that jumps out from the page as a feature when reading about an all-in-one solution, but it becomes invaluable as a solution grows. In an all-in-one solution, adding more functionality does not increase complexity. Features are designed to work together seamlessly. Share files through your web-conference; build online meetings into your project plan; share files and work collaboratively on them in real-time. Small details increase productivity massively.
#4. It’s better in the long-term
As we picked up in #3, all-in-one solutions are designed to be integrated. This is an approach that makes a massive difference further down the line – you’ll save yourself hours of work and a lot of the headaches that come with integrating solutions from multiple different vendors. All-in-one solutions work better in the long-term.
Four reasons why you should consider a specialized solution
#1. You have a niche requirement
The first – and main – reason why you should consider a specialized solution, is if you have a very niche requirement. Services such as Box and Dropbox are good examples of this kind of niche requirement solution. They provide only one thing: file sharing. If your organization has a need only for file sharing (or project management or web conferencing), and nothing else, then it may be worth looking at this kind of solution. They’ll plug the gap admirably.
#2. It’s cheaper to implement (sometimes)
There’s an accepted wisdom that the simpler and more focused the solution, the cheaper it is. This is partially true, but be careful of false economies. Where you take on a single solution, the cost will most likely be cheaper (sometimes even free), but if you start to need more and more of these solutions in place, the complexity and cost will soon increase. Complexity in terms of making the individual solutions work together – which will be a drain on your internal resource – and cost in terms of paying multiple license and support fees to multiple vendors. You could soon find yourself with a real monster of a problem on your hands that is inefficient for your administrators and your employees.
#3. It’s faster to roll out
Specialized solutions can be faster to roll out – not necessarily in the technical sense, although this can be the case, but in terms of time to implement. There’s less training involved – for internal support teams and employees – and communication is simpler. After all, you’re only changing one element of the work process, not all of them at one time. This is something that in turn creates…
#4. Lower barriers to acceptance
Niche solutions do very few things, but because of this they are very easy to understand, especially for those who are not comfortable with taking on new working paradigms. If we take something like file sharing, it’s an easy concept to grasp. We’re simply getting people to store their files in a new location – the technology behind the scenes is fairly invisible. This makes acceptance of these solutions a simpler affair; not something that should be underestimated. Getting staff on-board quickly and for the long-term is essential for a successful adoption of these technologies.
But which one should I choose?
It’s ultimately a matter of knowing and meeting your organization’s unique needs, but here’s one more thing to consider before you make a decision. If collaboration is the way forward for your business and you’re in it for the long-haul, integrated all-in-one solutions make more sense. Collaborative working, in the sense we discuss it here, is a fundamental shift to the way your company will operate. It removes barriers and creates larger, more virtual, working groups; it makes communication less rigid and more fluid, and it encourages sharing and removes silos. Once the floodgates open, you’ll find that your employees want to collaborate more, not less, and your needs will increase relatively. In this situation, the ability to scale quickly and easily is paramount, and it’s here that the weaknesses of multiple niche solutions can show.
So, before you make a decision, think ahead; it might be the most prudent thing you do.