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Grow Your Business Technology

‘Wisdom of Crowds’: Use of Collaboration Software Grows

Too many cooks may or may not spoil the broth — the jury’s still out on that bit of folk wisdom. What may apply in the kitchen, though, doesn’t necessarily spill over into the world of business. Businesses of all sizes increasingly acknowledge that two heads are better than one — and are backing up the concept with their checkbooks.

Collaboration software that allows employees to share files and information, communicate with each other and work jointly in real time has become a “must have” element of their information infrastructure for a growing number of companies.

Collaboration software can help businesses work smarter and faster. It can also slash travel expenses by enabling two or more heads to get together on the same page, even when they’re not in the same geographical location.

The list of collaboration functionality is seemingly endlessly; if it can be done digitally, there’s a collaborative software tool you can use.  The most popular online collaboration tools are usually a blend of structured information storage, social networking , communications, knowledge exchange and work flow tools. They can also be linked with online productivity applications and mobile devices.

Yammer, which first saw light of day in 2008 as a walled-in Twitter for corporations, has blossomed into a full-fledged collaboration suite used by more 90,000 companies worldwide, including corporate giants such as Cisco and Pitney Bowes as well as small businesses such as Groupon and Edmunds.com.

Edmunds.com, an automotive information portal that attracts 16 million unique visitors a month, has been using Yammer since January. Although most of Edmunds.com employees are located at the company’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., the company does have employees who work remotely. Yammer has helped the company bridge this critical communications area, said Carloann Kowalski, Edmunds.com’s senior knowledge manager, by encouraging multiple flows of communications up and down stream and across disciplines.

“We believe in the wisdom of crowds,” she told BusinessNewsDaily. “Good ideas come from all areas of the company, not just from the top down. We’re a learning organization. Yammer makes it very easy to have that conversation. It’s not enforced collaboration.”

Yammer also contributes to the Edmunds.com culture, which is a visible and open environment; 75 percent of all posts are articles for others to read and share, Kowalski said.

“Today, users can share ideas and ask questions in the Yammer feed and get answers and responses from other users,” she said.  “This content is tag-able and search-able, creating a knowledge base.  We also have a polls application where any user can create a poll and get real-time results as other users respond.”

For document collaboration, Edmunds.com integrates Yammer with Microsoft SharePoint 2007 and 2010.

Yammer offers a free, limited functionality version as well as a more full-featured offering for $3 per user per month and a premium service for $5 per user per month.

Bringing heads together across distance is especially critical if you work in a virtual organization with no physical office. Perkett PR is a virtual public relations agency. While most of the key executives, including president and founder Christine Perkett, live in the Boston area, other senior agency executives live in San Francisco and Detroit. Their collaboration solution is Sosius, a online collaboration, sharing and personal networking package produced by the company headquartered in the U.K.

“We rely on it a lot,” Perkett said. “We needed an easy way to share files and communicate. When we started out the cloud didn’t exist. Collaboration is really helpful. It makes it easier to access and share documents , and make sure we’re all working on the latest version. It makes it more instantaneous.”

Pricing for Sosius ranges from a team offering for up to 20 users for $50 a month to a company package for up to 50 users at $100 per month.

Another advantage of online collaboration is its ability to instantly add and delete accounts, which can provide a greater level of security for internal documents and intellectual property.

“If an employee leaves, it’s easy to cut the string,” Perkett said.

•    Small Business in 2020: Dramatic Shifts Predicted
•    Shared Leadership: How Modern Businesses Run Themselves
•    A Guide to Your Business Software Needs

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.