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Does my business app need collaborative features to be ‘modern’?

By  
Luis Gutierrez
Luis Gutierrez
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On Apr 28, 2022 4:22:56 PM
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Does my business app need collaborative features to be ‘modern’_ (1)

This is a question we (don’t really) get from time to time, but one which I’m sure goes through our users’ minds whenever we talk about Collaboration Engine (referred to as “CE” from here on). 

In case you’ve missed the hype around it, collaboration has become one of the latest buzzwords in almost every consumer application, and it usually revolves around the concept of seeing other people present in the same workspace, and what they’re doing. In this post, I’ll try to shed some light on whether this is something you should consider for your business application, and to go beyond the typical notion of avatars, emojis and shiny colors.

Who needs collaboration in their applications?

Every application is different, and it’s impossible to map out every specific use case, so these are the high-level situations where your app can benefit from collaborative features: 

  1. Real-time / live collaboration for your application users

    There are times when your users will need immediate reaction to their actions, such as holding a live chat to follow up on something that requires them to reach an agreement, or filling a form at the same time and seeing the live updates even before submitting any changes. The use of real-time collaboration helps your users work together without the need to switch between applications to communicate, by keeping your work process in the same place.  
  2. Users working in different locations / remotely

    It’s not uncommon now for most of the work to be done in a hybrid setup (remote and on-site) and with colleagues in different time zones. Collaboration features embedded in your application reduce the friction produced by this lack of in-person interaction.
  3. Asynchronous work

    Collaborative views support asynchronous communication by adding trails of information that can help you easily see any changes made, leave questions or comments, or even get notifications that can be followed up on later.
  4. Individual work is critical

    Counterintuitively, collaboration is an advantage in those situations where the only way to avoid conflicts in crucial tasks is to keep work individual. It does so by helping users to keep out of each other’s way by seeing when someone else is working on something, modifying a form, or simply present in a determined view (or part of the application). 
  5. Live up to users’ expectations

Consumer applications set high expectations for the ways users interact with each other, and business apps need to keep up with these to maintain a high level of satisfaction. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to a feeling of using old technologies. 

You may be thinking, “I don’t want my users to be distracted from important work by adding tons of colors, notifications and moving things.” And you’re totally right. Below, I've listed some common mistakes to avoid when making your app more collaborative. 

Common mistakes with collaboration

  1. Adding collaborative features in every part of the application

    Not every view or workflow needs to be collaborative, and before you start adding these to your application, you must understand how your users will interact with it and what value they’ll get from it.
  2. Thinking your application is fine without collaboration

    The other extreme is skipping collaboration altogether and sticking to traditionally accepted practices like optimistic locking, pessimistic locking, or some combination. These can lead to a negative user experience, such as getting errors when trying to modify something at the same time as someone else, or experiencing a deadlock.
  3. Falling short with accountability management

    “Accountability management” is a loaded phrase to talk about a problem that isn’t specific to collaboration, but which can be either aggravated or produced by it. This is nothing else but the ability to keep track of who did what in your application. In business-critical areas such as handling sensitive information, asset management, etc., keeping a reliable paper trail can mean the world, especially if you’re being audited. 

Collaboration Engine, a solution to add collaboration to your business apps, the Vaadin way

  1. The best way to understand what CE is, is to see it for yourself. Go straight to our Samples. Pro tip: copy-paste the URL of a sample (you’ll see it includes a custom “topic=”) and share it with a colleague to see it in action. If there’s no one available, a different browser or an incognito tab will do. 
  2. Then, try it out yourself by following this quick start guide.
  3. Love it? Hate it? Have questions about how this could fit your project? Would you like to share some suggestions or feature requests? Drop me a line at luis@vaadin.com

Developing with CE is completely free. For production, we offer 20 unique users / month for free. If you already have a commercial subscription, request your license by filling out this form.