What mobile apps are essential for collaboration on the go?

With a growing proportion of the workforce already being highly mobile, coupled with an increasing number of workers are expecting to bring their own devices to work, it’s clear that picking the right collaboration apps to keep workers productive while on the go is vital to business success. But what apps do mobile workers need to get their jobs done? A new Forrester report (s forr), Mobilize Your Collaboration Strategy, has identified eight “must have” categories of mobile collaboration apps. Here’s a run-down of all the categories outlined, together with some of GigaOM’s recommendations for apps to use in each category:

Email and calendars. Email is, unsurprisingly,  still the most important mobile app. According to Forrester, 87 percent of smartphone workers use email on their devices (which leaves me wondering what other 13 percent use their smartphones for), and collectively, they do 32 percent of their email on a smartphone. While most smartphones come with their own email and calendaring tools most users will use, there are some third-party options worth considering:

  • Gmail and Google Calendar. If you use Gmail (s goog), it’s worth noting that the mobile-optimized versions of the Gmail and Google Calendar sites are pretty good. They are fast and have a great UI, and one of the advantages of using them is that you can seamlessly switch from device to device without having to set up IMAP details in your various devices’ email clients.
  • Touchdown. Brings superb Microsoft Exchange support to Android devices.

Document-based collaboration. Mobile workers need to be able to access their documents while out of the office on any of their devices. Cloud-based document collaboration tools need to include mobile access to be truly effective.

  • Documents to Go. Dataviz’s Documents to Go is a popular mobile document editing app. It’s available for a variety of platforms, including iOS (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm), Android and Palm (s hpq). When combined with a cloud file sync service like Dropbox or box.net, it enables users to access and edit their documents no matter where they are.
  • Soonr. Soonr is a cloud-based document sync service. However, it also offers integrated MS Office document editing capabilities (s msft), which means users don’t need to use a separate app like Documents to Go.

Web conferencing. According to Forrester, 18 percent of information workers and 34 percent of senior staff use web conferencing at least weekly. Mobile access means being able to attend meetings even while away from the laptop.

Activity streams. Forrester thinks activity streams are becoming a critical resource for organizations that work collectively: sales teams, project teams, and executive staff, for example. Mobile support is crucial as it enables workers to stay updated no matter where they are.

Presence and chat. Knowing whether a colleague is available or not is a killer feature when out of the office. While this category of app lags today, Forrester expects adoption to accelerate. These types of features are often also often included in other mobile collaboration tools.

Social collaboration. In this category, Forrester includes access to internal blogs, wikis, community sites, and social networks from a tablet or smartphone. Mobile access allows every professional will remain connected and part of the collaborative process.

Expertise location. Forrester says this type of application is on the rise as firms look for ways to make mobile employees productive by helping them identify experts from anywhere. This type of app brings together presence, notifications, social profiles and data from HR. Many social business tools provide this kind of functionality, including:

Video conferencing. Skype has some 170 million active monthly users, and 39 percent of those people use Skype for work. Web conferencing vendors are also adding video to their products. Due to heavy resource requirements, there are few multi-party mobile video conferencing apps, though.

Personally, I’m not convinced expertise location is really a “must-have” category of mobile collaboration app just yet. Do you agree with Forrester’s categories of “must-have” apps, and which apps do you recommend for each category?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Yagan Kiely