Like many trends in business technology that gather momentum and become 'the next big thing', such as the quest for the fabled 'paperless office', collaboration has become a major talking point for the major vendors in the SME/SMB space.  Is it all hype or is there substance to the narrative that can deliver results that make a difference to your business success?


As technology has proliferated and permeated most aspects of our personal and business lives, the effect of consumerisation has enabled most of us to use familiar software suites such as MS Office, Google's G Suite or LibreOffice amongst others, to create, present, analyse and transform data and documents.


Traditionally we have worked on these documents and datasets in isolation and then sent copies via email, presented them in person over an AV system or, perish the thought, printed them out and distributed them physically!  


But this is 2018!  Why do we still need to print things?  What if we need to make last minute changes?  What if we want to include something from a colleague or a contributor from an external organisation? Can we track changes? Can more than one person work on the same document at the same time - what if they are working out of different locations? We don't want to jeopardise GDPR compliance, is it secure?  If we share a document how do we know for certain it can't be forwarded on or shared beyond the intended recipients?


These questions and many more can make facilitating this appear daunting, especially for SMBs with limited in house or on-site IT support.  The good news is that innovative vendors have been developing and enabling their flagship products with the ability to enable and encourage secure collaborative working. 


Solutions such as Office 365 have evolved at a rapid pace and big improvements have come on two fronts; security and collaboration. Enhanced security is a must when sharing documents especially with people outside your organisation and holds even greater importance when faced with legal compliance and regulations.


The more transformational aspect of Office 365 is the emphasis on collaboration, yet I wonder how many people are aware of the features and functions and how they help people to work together in real time?


“Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing by ourselves.” – Paul Solarz


Most people will have used Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Etc. and collaboration is built into those applications, not only allowing sharing of documents via SharePoint, but also for those documents to be co-authored in real time by people you've shared with. It also allows for recovery of earlier file versions in version control.  In Excel, you can even see who is editing which cell of a spreadsheet and you can message them using chat if you want to confirm an entry.


Delve allows you to see recently accessed content (providing you have access) displaying it as a dashboard and can be updated to show information about you and additionally your skills and what projects you are currently working on.  So, for smaller businesses this could potentially function as an intranet allowing you to see who is working on what and be able to find people with specific skills or interests.


Features such as Groups, Calendar and Planner allow you to assign people in your organisation to groups however suits your work style, share Calendar information and manage tasks and projects.  A group could be a workplace function such as marketing, or it could be a specific project like 'Christmas Marketing Campaign' the way you set it up should fit your workflow.


Yammer allows instant discussions with your group or team; faster and less formal than email.  Groups can be internal, and you can also connect to external groups outside of your company.


Organisations can further enhance their collaborative workflow leveraging SharePoint to hold documents centrally, share files both internally and with collaborators outside the organisation securely.


What about MS Teams?


MS Teams has been the most talked about and fastest growing products Microsoft has released.  But whilst it's the topic on everyone's lips, there appear to be different opinions on how it should be used and still more that don't understand it at all!


MS Teams can be used across a variety of platforms and basically brings together a number of Office 365 components in an interface centred around your team however you want that team to work.  It's possible to invite people into your team from outside your organisation so that you can all contribute on a project or task.  MS Teams has persistent chat, full feature parity with Skype for Business, and support from a plethora of 3rd party vendors providing useful add in connectors and applications.


With the foundations for collaboration seamlessly built into services from vendors such as Microsoft the time is right to see how it can help you to truly collaborate!