Recently, someone invited me to answer this question on Quora:
What technologies or software create the most leverage for business?
(i.e., CRM, Collaboration tools, data analysis, and productivity tools (feel free to name specific companies and apps). Any software, app, or technology that can save time, save money, or otherwise serve as a force-multiplier.)
Frankly, the issue is not that business “under-uses” or doesn’t know about application availability, it is that frequently, underlying business process is not consistent or mature and the attempt to computerize or automate such processes usually only results in failure at any point where inconsistency or immaturity remains unresolved.
Almost the entirety of benefit in workflow management, process automation, and related application of technology to business assumes from the start that the business has taken the time and made the effort to effectively standardize its operations to a point of consistency and maturity that can be effectively supported by technology.
The entire value of such applications and systems rests upon this assumption and it is here that most miss or fail to find the expected increase in efficiency, productivity, or return on investment (let alone improvements in business capability as a result thereof).
Saving time, money, and actualizing exponential increases in efficiency or productivity all require a baseline of process efficiency and maturity to be realized. Most businesses (particularly those who have been largely manually operated or for whom investment in technology has repeated brought failure and re-work due to the above) are reluctant to invest, citing such failures as examples of how technology can’t meet their need; the real issue is frequently that “the need” is either ignoring or missing that automation and its benefits rest upon stable process (or at least slowly changing and low-variant ones).
The analogy I like to use when training in this area is that of a delivery pizza shop. There is a reason why you can have confidence that ordering from them means you’ll get what you asked for, in a reasonable and pre-defined time frame for a reasonable and established price; that reason is because they make those pizzas the same way every time…. consistent, stable process.
When a business has the above, the discussion of “which offering is best” turns to a determination of which processes will render the largest returns of efficiency and productivity via automation and, from here, a consideration of what elements of intelligence and pro-active, preemptive alerts and automation can further refine internal and external process (responsiveness, service, decreasing lead-times for both, etc).
The above effort will render a solid “checklist” against which to vet potential offerings; the rest is the financial consideration of “build vs. buy vs. host, etc”. For this, a solid trust relationship with the IT group is essential (and to have at least one such resource in the organization to avoid putting you right back on the path of failure and rework; cost is far from the biggest consideration when looking at such offerings… though it is often the one upon which small business and technology-blind or late adopting businesses get stuck).
As for determining “best of breed” offerings, there are some “quick and easy outlets” if you’re seeking enterprise perspective: Gartner, Forrester, Juniper, et al can certainly get you started.
For a mid or small size business, I would recommend watching channel-specific outlets for news and announcements. Here are a few in the areas you mention in your comments:
Data Analysis and Analytics: http://iianalytics.com/
“Collaboration tools” are highly dependent upon what you are collaborating to do; this can be workflow management, authoring, editing, and publication, graphic design and review for publication, and a good bit besides; you’ll need to be more specific here for me to be of assistance.
The same goes for productivity tools; if you’re looking for personal solutions, that’s one thing, but productivity is a big umbrella with many spokes for business and particularly if you’re looking to enterprise management for productivity (which leads you right back to the previous and lengthy set of thoughts).
Hope this helps; specifics from you can be helpful in refining answers or pointing to specific recommendations.
For now, you may wish to consider purchasing a Gartner subscription to gain access to their archives and then, reviewing the following types of articles for your industry/segment(s)/market:
– Magic Quadrant Reports
– Market Clock ReportsNot only will this help you determine “how you measure up” in relation to your competitors, it can also give you deep insight to where Gartner’s team(s) of experts are trending progress.