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Home   >Tools

Best Tools for External Collaboration

December 20, 2023
What are External Collaborations? 
External collaboration occurs when independent entities work together to achieve shared objectives. These collaborations can range in scale from small to large and can be either transactional or strategic in nature. A distinctive aspect of external collaborations is that while entities work together towards common goals, they continue to maintain their separate organizational identities and goals.
(More detail and examples)

Finding a way to synchronize efforts between the different entities, each with their unique processes and policies is precisely where much of the complexity in external collaborations lies. Addressing this complexity is crucial and underscores the need for specific technological capabilities that can enable seamless integration and effective collaboration. But what exactly are these capabilities and how should they be deployed to best support the collaborating parties? 

In this article, we delve into these critical questions, beginning with an examination of the technological capabilities essential for successful external collaborations. We will then assess the various tools and technologies currently available, scrutinizing their strengths and weaknesses. This analysis aims to unravel the intricacies of selecting the right tools to facilitate effective collaboration across organizational boundaries in a landscape often mired in technological fragmentation and inefficiency.

TakeTurns is external collaboration software that enables you to share, request, and collborate on documents and files with any external stakeholder.

Key Technological Capabilities Required to Support External Collaborations

Successful external collaborations benefit from an array of technological capabilities that support teams working across organizational boundaries. These capabilities are not just about having the right tools, but about enabling certain functionalities that are critical for seamless and efficient collaboration (while maintaining the independence of each party!). In toto, the capabilities should aim to make external collaboration secure, structured, and transparent. 

  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication Capabilities: The ability to communicate effectively in real-time and asynchronously. This dual capability ensures that all parties, regardless of time zone or schedule differences, can stay connected and informed. 
  • File Sharing: Most external collaborations are centered around an exchange of documents (e.g., contracts, agreements, etc), therefore a fundamental requirement is the ability to share files and documents securely and easily. This involves not just the transfer of documents but also ensuring that they can be accessed and retrieved by authorized personnel when needed.
  • Document Collection/Request: Often overlooked but vital, this capability involves organizing and requesting documents in a structured manner. It's about streamlining the process of gathering necessary documents from the other party, which is a common requirement in many collaborations.
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Beyond just sharing, document collaboration requires tools that allow multiple parties to work on documents.  Setting aside synchronous (e.g., real-time editing) and asynchronous document collaboration, the most important aspect of this capability is keeping track of the document versions exchanged between the parties.   
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Because external collaborations can be long-lived, this capability involves tools for tracking the progress and deadlines of the collaboration. It ensures that all parties are aware of the current status, enabling the combined to to stay on track and focused on objectives.
  • Security and Confidentiality: Ensuring the security and confidentiality of shared information is non-negotiable. This involves encryption, secure access controls, and compliance with data protection regulations to safeguard sensitive information.
  • Lightweight Interoperability: When we think about external collaboration, it’s important to note that each party has its own set of internal processes, protocols, and technologies that support the external work.  Interoperability ensures that the tools used for external collaboration can seamlessly interact and integrate with the diverse technological environments of all involved parties. This not only facilitates smoother collaboration but also brings a level of neutrality. After all, being able to interoperate with everyone’s existing operating environment means parties are not forced to deviate from their preferred methods of operation.

The next section will explore how various tools and technologies available in the market align with these capabilities, highlighting their strengths and areas where they may fall short in supporting effective external collaborations.

Best Technologies and Tools for External Collaborations

In examining the best tools and technologies for external collaborations, we find a prevalent reality: most organizations are mired in a fragmented landscape, often employing a patchwork of tools shaped more by historical accident than strategic design. Standalone capabilities like file sharing, originally developed in isolation, have been retrofitted into broader systems without a cohesive plan. This haphazard integration often forces organizations to align these mismatched tools with their internal processes and the needs of external stakeholders. 

This fragmented approach, while commonplace, leads to significant operational inefficiencies. It's characterized by a lack of coherence in communication, document management, and project tracking, often resulting in confusion, missed deadlines, and suboptimal collaboration. Such inefficiency is not just inconvenient; it's a substantial drain on productivity and a barrier to achieving the full potential of external collaborations.

Recognizing this, we must confront a stark reality: the current toolset, though widely used, is fundamentally ill-suited for the complexities of modern external collaborations. While we include a range of tools in our assessment, it's clear that most of them fail to comprehensively address the key capabilities needed for effective external collaboration. Their limited functionalities, when pieced together, do not form a coherent whole, but rather a disjointed and often counterproductive system.

In light of this, the inclusion of dedicated external collaboration tools in our list is not just an option but a necessity. These tools, designed to integrate multiple required capabilities, offer a beacon of efficiency and coherence in a sea of fragmentation. They represent not just an improvement over the current standard but a fundamental shift towards a more streamlined, effective approach to collaboration across organizational boundaries.

Therefore, as we navigate through the current landscape of fragmented tools, our focus shifts towards these integrated solutions. They stand as the most promising path forward, offering a consolidated, efficient solution to the challenges that have long plagued organizations in their external collaboration efforts.

Comparing the best tools for external collaboration

Detailed Assessments

Pure-play External Collaboration Tools (TakeTurns)

Designed to integrate multiple capabilities, offering strong interoperability, document collaboration, and tracking. Security is robust, but real-time communication might depend on integration with other tools.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Good (Includes support for both realtime and asynchronous communications.)
  • File Sharing: Good (Designed to facilitate secure and efficient file sharing.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Good (Structured to streamline document collection and requests.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Good (Built to support collaborative work on documents with effective versioning.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Good (Focus on tracking the progress and milestones of collaborations.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (High priority given to the security and confidentiality of shared information.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Good (Aimed at seamless integration with a variety of other business tools.)
TakeTurns is external collaboration software that enables you to share, request, and collborate on documents and files with any external stakeholder.

Email Platforms (Gmail, Outlook)

Email excels in asynchronous communication and security but lacks in real-time communication, collaboration tracking, document collaboration, and interoperability. File sharing is limited to attachments without version control.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Good (Excel in asynchronous communication but are not designed for real-time interactions.)
  • File Sharing: Limited (Primarily support file sharing through attachments without advanced features like version control.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Limited (Can be used for this purpose but lack structured processes and tracking.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Poor (Do not support collaborative editing or version tracking within the platform.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Poor (Emails are not suitable for tracking project progress or deadlines.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Poor (Can have robust security measures but depend on user practices.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Limited (While widely used, they may not integrate seamlessly with specialized tools.)

Messaging/Chat Software (Slack, Microsoft Teams)

Most effective for real-time communication. While one can check their messages asynchronously, in most case people assume real-time or near real-time response is exepcted. Integration with other tools enhances file sharing and interoperability but falls short in structured document collaboration and tracking.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Limited (Typically used for real-time communication.)
  • File Sharing: Limited (Support file sharing but with constraints on size and organization.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Limited (Can be used for this purpose but aren't optimized for structured collection.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Limited (Allow for basic document sharing but lack advanced collaboration or versioning features.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Limited (Provide some degree of project tracking but not as comprehensive as dedicated tools.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (Often feature strong security protocols, but effectiveness depends on usage and settings.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Good (Tend to integrate well with other software, enhancing collaborative workflows.)

Project Management Tools (Monday, Trello, Wrike)

Excellent for tracking tasks, integrating well with other tools for interoperability. Weak in real-time communication and native document collaboration capabilities.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Limited (Not primarily designed for direct communication, often requiring integration with other tools.)
  • File Sharing: Limited (Support basic file sharing but not as a core feature.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Limited (Can be adapted for this use but lack specialized features.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Poor (Focus more on project tracking than on direct document collaboration.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Good (Excel in tracking project progress, tasks, and deadlines.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Limited (Security is generally robust, but not the primary focus of these tools.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Good (Often designed to integrate with a range of other business tools.)

File Sharing Platforms (Google Drive, Dropbox,Microsoft OneDrive)

Strong in file sharing and security, with some platforms offering limited document collaboration features. Generally weak in real-time communication and collaboration tracking.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Poor (Not designed for communication, focusing solely on storage and sharing.)
  • File Sharing: Good (Core functionality is robust file sharing with various access controls.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Poor (Can be used for collection but lack structured request systems.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Limited (Some platforms offer basic collaboration features but are not comprehensive.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Poor (Lack tools for tracking overall project progress or deadlines.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (Strong focus on security, especially for sensitive documents.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Limited (Generally compatible with other tools but may not fully integrate.)

Document Collection Tools (UseCollect, ContentSnare,FileInvite)

Good for document collection and security, but limited in other capabilities like real-time communication, document collaboration, and tracking.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Poor (Not designed for communication, focused solely on document management.)
  • File Sharing: Limited (Primarily focus on structured document collection rather than general file sharing.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Good (Specialize in organizing and facilitating document collection efficiently.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Poor (Lack capabilities for collaborative document editing or version control.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Poor (Not intended for tracking the overall progress of collaborations.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (Typically have strong security measures for handling sensitive documents.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Poor (May not integrate easily with a wide range of other business tools.)

Document Collaboration Tools (Google Docs, Microsoft 365,Zoho Docs)

These tools excel in enabling multiple users to collaboratively edit documents in real-time. While they offer document editing history tracking, they do not really manage versions in a manner that is useful when exchanging documents with external parties. This might lead to complexities in maintaining the integrity and clarity of document evolution.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Limited (Support some communication within the document, but not a primary feature.)
  • File Sharing: Limited (Focused on document sharing with some limitations in broader file sharing.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Poor (Not designed for structured document collection or requests.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Good (Excel in allowing multiple users to collaboratively edit documents.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Limited (Offer some tracking within documents but not for broader project management.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (Often have robust security, especially in enterprise versions.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Limited (Well-integrated within their ecosystems but may have limitations with external tools.)

Video Conferencing Software (Zoom, Google Meet)

Strong in real-time communication but lacks in other areas like document collaboration, file sharing, and interoperability. Offers limited functionality for collaboration tracking and security.

Assessment against critical capabilities
  • Real-Time and Asynchronous Communication: Good (Excellent for real-time discussions, but lack asynchronous communication features.)
  • File Sharing: Poor (Not designed for file sharing, with minimal or no support for this function.)
  • Document Collection/Request: Poor (Lack features for organized document collection or request handling.)
  • Document Collaboration/Versioning: Poor (Do not provide functionalities for document collaboration or version control.)
  • Collaboration Tracking/Docketing: Poor (Not equipped for tracking project milestones or deadlines.)
  • Security and Confidentiality: Good (Security varies by platform, often focused on meeting encryption.)
  • Lightweight Interoperability: Limited (Generally used as standalone tools with limited integration capabilities.)

Embracing the Future of External Collaboration with Integrated Tools

In summary, the landscape of external collaboration is evolving rapidly, demanding more than just a makeshift assembly of disparate tools. As we've explored, the key to successful external collaboration lies in a unified approach–one that integrates communication, document handling, tracking, and security into a cohesive whole.

The era of juggling multiple platforms for different aspects of collaboration is fading. Instead, the future beckons with tools like TakeTurns, which encapsulate the essence of efficiency, security, and interoperability. These comprehensive tools not only streamline the collaborative process but also safeguard against common pitfalls such as version confusion, security breaches, and misaligned timelines.

It's crucial for organizations to recognize that adopting integrated external collaboration tools is not merely a technological upgrade; it represents a strategic shift in how we approach collaborative endeavors. By moving towards solutions specifically crafted for cross-organizational interactions, we can unlock new levels of productivity and innovation. This transition, while it may involve an initial learning curve and investment, promises substantial long-term benefits–fromheightened efficiency to deeper, more fruitful partnerships.

In closing, the call to action is clear: let's shift our perspective from adapting to existing tools to adopting tools designed for the purpose of external collaboration. This change, although subtle, marks a significant step towards more dynamic, secure, and effective collaboration across organizational boundaries. By embracing these integrated tools, we not only ease our immediate collaboration challenges but also pave the way for a more interconnected and innovative future in business partnerships.


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