In this hyper-connected economy and with the rapid growth of cloud-based social technologies, collaboration applications have become an increasingly important part of how work gets done. Many companies are now using these tools to improve efficiencies and sharpen their business practices. With many factors to consider, choosing and implementing the most effective collaborative app(s) for your business can dramatically improve your company’s bottom line.

Collaborative Technologies


Many types of collaborative tools exist in the marketplace. Some are specific to key business applications such as project management or CRM. Others specialize in horizontal social communication or niche areas such as file storage and sharing. Some even offer broad capabilities such as collaboration, file sharing and financials, all in a single platform.

Choosing the Best Solution for your Business

Things businesses must consider when choosing a vendor are:

  • Users: Who will be using the product? Employees, clients, and/or external vendors? What permissions and administrative controls will you need?
  • Business Use Cases: How will the product be used? Is it for internal teams or to facilitate intercompany collaboration?
  • Features: What does the product offer? Collaboration and project management? File Sharing? Other business functions?
  • Usability: How easy is the product to learn and use? Is it intuitive or complex?
  • Integrations: Since no product can serve all needs, robust apps integrate with others such as email, or financial applications.
  • Costs: Pricing on collaborative technologies ranges from free to thousands of dollars a month depending on the vendor, the number of users and the complexity of the feature set.When considering Return on Investment (ROI), always balance any perceived value with the cost of the product including more intangible costs, such as training, and time to roll out and administer.

ROI Considerations

As with any business investment, the question then arises, “What is the ROI for online collaborative technologies?”Some gains are quantifiable and some are not. To get a complete cost of ownership, consider both tangible and intangibles and compare to costs.

For this niche of applications, benefits can be grouped into several categories including:

  • Productivity gains from improved internal and external communication.
  • Reduced overhead through coordination of a distributed and/or international workforce.
  • More Sales/ Clients due to increased efficiency and professionalism.

Let’s look at each of the above in detail:

Learning Opportunities

Productivity GainsAs one of the core benefits of any collaboration app, productivity gains can be achieved through:
  • Centralized internal and external group communications
  • Coordinated project management with deliverables visible to the whole team
  • File versioning and sharing
Mobile capabilities -- ability to enter all this information on the road or from a remote location.  A quick way to calculate productivity savings is to estimate how many hours were saved per employee and to multiply it by number of employees and average salary.
Reduced OverheadIn addition, collaboration tools can reduce overhead, particularly for business owners and project managers through:
  • Better organization of projects, tasks and due dates
  • Reduced duplication of effort and data entry with all information in a central location
  • Fewer email communications and less confusion due to multiple email threads
To figure out savings here, consider how fast each project is completed and whether it is increasing revenue or reducing costs. Then average over all projects.
More Sales/ClientsFaster customer acquisition is another interesting area. This occurs when customers refer you at a higher rate to their contacts due to:
  • Shorter time to get results
  • Improved brand reputation
For the first one, use the same calculation method as above. Brand reputation is a more intangible benefit but as we know, still extremely important for social proof and referrals.


A Marketing Agency who started using a collaboration app tracked the results. By using a social collaboration tool internally and with clients they determined:

  • Team productivity increased by 300 percent across the agency.
  • They were more efficient and accurate at tracking their time and expenses, incrementally increasing revenue by 10 percent.
  • Invoicing and payments were easier because clients were constantly kept abreast of activity and milestones.
  • Customers referred them at a higher rate, reducing their own marketing costs and increasing their clientele by one new client each month.


Since each business case is unique, the challenge is to determine how a collaboration tool can impact your business. Even if exact dollar results can’t be calculated; directional indications are often easy to see.Sometimes a “Gosh, that tool made my job easier” comment from employees or a “We love the tool you use” from clients is enough.

However, if the CEO or CIO is asking for numbers, creating use cases and estimating true dollar values is achievable. 

Image courtesy of suwan reunintr (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For a broader perspective on social enterprise ROI check out Deb Lavoy's Social Enterprise ROI: Measuring the Immeasurable.