There are countless tools, programmes and applications that are supposed to make life easier for companies and employees. But which are the right tools? How do you establish them in the company? And what does such a changeover cost?
The first question companies often ask themselves when selecting digital tools such as video conferencing or collaboration software is the following: Do we need a set of highly specialised tools or would we rather have an all-in-one solution? Such a general question cannot be answered in a blanket way. Nevertheless, there are parameters that help in the decision.
"For very small companies and teams, for example, it makes sense to go for a solution that covers many processes," says Uwe Matern, Managing Director at Digitales für Unternehmen. Because there, one person usually takes on several roles, which is why it tends to wear you down to constantly switch between different tools.
"Highly specialised teams, on the other hand, are better off with a tool that is precisely tailored to their tasks and supports them perfectly," says Matern. However, the company first has to find out what these tools are internally, before possibly dazzling but ultimately useless technologies are purchased.
Avoid tool chaos
What should be avoided at all costs is tool chaos, recommends IT expert and consultant Björn Bobach. Because: "The more different platforms there are, the less clear it becomes what should happen in which tool." His expert tip is: one tool each for creating and managing shared documents, one for structuring tasks and, for large teams, an additional tool for internal communication.
When selecting the specific tools, there is a clear motto: "User first". The best tool is of no use if it does not meet the needs of the users - because ultimately it is the colleagues in the individual departments who will have to work with the future systems on a daily basis.
In order to get to know the needs of the employees, it is advisable to first organise a requirements workshop - depending on the dimension of the tool, such a workshop can last a few hours or extend over several months. The goal of such workshops is to understand where the users' shoe pinches in the current system and what improvements they would like to see in a future tool. "It becomes clear time and again that these are often completely different things than management has in mind," says Berthold Glass, founder of the Digitalisation Initiative of German Business.
In addition to employees, management and the board of directors, IT experts and the data protection officer should also be at the table right from the start when choosing the right tools in order to ensure security as well as functionality.
The best free tools for video conferencing
Facebook Messenger Rooms
With Messenger Rooms, users can set up a conference room directly from Messenger or Facebook and invite up to 20 - later 50 - participants to a video call - even if they do not have a Facebook account. There is no time limit. Participation is possible via smartphone or PC using the browser and, according to Facebook, requires no downloads. Users of the Messenger app, however, have access to various AR effects (e.g. rabbit ears) and new AI-supported functions such as immersive 360-degree backgrounds and atmospheric lighting.
Google Duo is designed as a free video telephony tool primarily for private users. The maximum number of participants in the Android and iOS app was recently increased from eight to twelve people and is set to increase further, according to Google. Duo is available as a web app for PC, Mac and Chromebook and as a mobile app for Android and iOS devices.
Google Meet enables web-based video and telephone conferences. In the free version available from May, the service allows conferences with up to 100 participants with a maximum duration of 60 minutes - but this restriction will only come into effect from October 2020. Like most Google services, Meet is designed for Google Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers and works here without plugins. In addition, mobile applications are available for Android and iOS.
LogMeIn has completely revised its GoToMeeting video conferencing software at the end of 2019 and implemented new functions. Among other things, the solution now works in the browser via WebRTC as well as via desktop and mobile apps. Subscription plans start at USD 14 per month and host for the Professional version.
An easy-to-use solution for video conferencing that still offers many features is Jitsi Meet. The free solution is based on the open WebRTC standard and can be used on the PC directly and without registration in the browser (Chrome). Apps (Android, iOS) are available for smartphones and tablets.
Lifesize offers free licences for a period of six months to companies affected by the coronavirus epidemic. Meetings and call duration are unlimited - the Lifesize solution is available for both desktops and mobile devices.
As probably the best-known VoIP service, Skype also offers a range of video chat and video conferencing functions. Skype for Business has since been replaced by Microsoft with the Teams platform.
The successor to Lync and Skype for Business is not a stand-alone product, but part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite. However, Teams is available free of charge and is suitable for small businesses with up to 300 members. Guest access as well as individual and group video calls, screen sharing are also on board.
After registration, the free Tinychat offers the possibility to open a new video conference quickly and conveniently. All you have to do is create a new "room" and send the generated URL to the conference participants.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Cisco is offering WebEx free of charge until further notice. Unlimited meetings with up to 100 participants, HD video, audio dial-in, personal conference room, screen sharing on desktop and mobile devices, as well as 1GB cloud storage and recordings are included.
Free for video conferencing with up to four participants is the Norwegian service Whereby (formerly appear.in). . The solution is WebRTC-based, which means guests can easily join via the browser without registering. Apps for Android and iOS are optionally available.
Zoom positions itself as one of the leading providers of video conferencing. The tool is primarily characterised by its ease of use and an attractive freemium offer: Video conferences with up to 100 participants are already possible with the free version.
First evaluate, then implement
Once the software has been selected, the next big step is implementation. From a financial point of view, it is advisable to evaluate the new tools in small teams before rolling them out throughout the company. Here, external specialists can provide support to increase the speed of introduction - "a factor that is crucial for employee acceptance," says Markus Dreier, Managing Director at teamwork digital.
At the latest when the tool is to be established in the entire company, there should also be common binding rules of use so that the tools are also used by everyone in the same way. Under all circumstances, it is important to avoid leaving the employee alone with the new tool, both at the beginning and in day-to-day business, advises IT consultant Bobach: "An approach à la 'Here is the tool, use it' is counterproductive."
Therefore, especially with complex tools, careful training should not be missing, explaining the functionality and advantages of the tools to the employees. Even if companies like to save money on this: Training is a real game changer. Depending on the tool, training can also be recorded as a webinar and then offered live or on demand.
Editing documents together - solutions at a glance
Amazon's WorkDocs focuses on the cloud and is designed to replace on-premise infrastructures.
In Axway Syncplicity, activity feeds provide transparency on who is editing and changing files and folders and how.
With Box, content can be controlled and managed from anywhere - even mobile.
Dropbox offers business users the possibility to store, share and edit documents.
Egnyte offers a range of security features in its content collaboration platform.
Google G Suite
With its "G Suite", Google also offers users a complete office environment in the cloud, including mail, business chat and video conferencing. The various Google services can be accessed via a dashboard.
In Microsoft's online storage One Drive, you can define who can access which documents.
Microsoft's SharePoint also serves as a content hub. However, administration can be somewhat complicated.
With Quip, Salesforce users can integrate documents and content into their project workflows.
Slack has extended its chat solution with content handling functions.
Additional costs are a necessary evil
The question of cost is very much dependent on the tool and also on how many employees use it. A small team-internal tool naturally costs less than one that is rolled out across the entire company. That's why there is a lot of leeway. "It can range from a few thousand francs to millions," Dreier explains. According to expert estimates, one should reckon with about 60 to 80 CHF per month per employee in licence costs.
In addition to the licence fees for the software, however, there are always costs for consulting, workshops and training. However, it is precisely these "additional costs" that make a decisive contribution to the acceptance and success or failure of a tool. If the software serves the digital transformation of the company and is to be used by (almost) all employees, it is essential to invest this additional money. Ideally, the productivity gain will sooner or later recoup the costs.
High expenditure, great effect
Whether large or small, the resources required for the introduction of digital tools should not be underestimated by companies. But especially in times of increasing remote work, they are becoming an indispensable tool for many. Those responsible should always keep in mind throughout the process: The digital tools should serve the employees and the company, not the other way around! Because ideally, the software relieves the employees in their daily work and creates space for new tasks and areas of activity. (Computerwoche)