Sunday, December 09, 2007

Google Calendar

I like Google Calendar for several reasons:

#1 – it’s a well designed piece of software. when I say well-designed, I mean every click is thought out, keystroke shortcuts are there, logging in is quick, adding and changing things is quick, and the whole experience is pleasant because it’s not polluted with any obvious “this doesn’t make sense” behaviors. It’s also build around a work flow rather then around the data structure (more on this later, maybe in a separate article)

#2 – consistent with the SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) principles, Google Calendar is a “loosely-coupled” service that provides very well defined interfaces.

There are several things I look for in a calendar:

1) Quick access. anything more then a single click will not work when you’re talking to someone on a phone and need to pull up your schedule.

2) Universal access. what good is a calendar that doesn’t have the latest information every time I look at it?

3) Calendar aggregation. For those not familiar with the concept, each one of us has multiple calendars they pay attention to. You may have multiple calendars of your own (work, social, etc), or may want to subscribe to other calendars (holidays, portfolio companies earnings, school, family, etc).. Tracking all these things on one calendar in a “subscription” fashion is probably one of the biggest advancements in calendaring as of late. That are only a small number of programs that allow one to do this neatly, and as the number of “calendar providers” grows (as it should), it is this feature in my mind that’s going to be worth its weight in gold. (think again about subscribing to the kids’ school calendars, or a local venue for the events)

Google Calendar has some more notable and interesting features, like built-in RSVPs, and ability to publish events or whole calendars easily.

My Wish List:

1) Since Google has another very useful service Google Maps with directions and trip time estimations, I would love it if it told me when to leave for an appointment (based again on the address that I entered in the address field of the appointment)

2) A task list that’s tied to the appointment item, and that I can then review along-side (or outside) the calendar and that can prompt me that I have an appointment coming up tomorrow but there are still 3 things outstanding that need to be done for it.

Since this blog is mainly targeted at small organizations looking to leverage the best new technology has to offer, I think Google Calendar represents a huge potential for them. Various schools and organizations can publish out their schedules without the need to call people or send out update notifications. Performance Venues can do the same by publishing and updating the schedules on the fly. Stores can publish their sales and other promotions. If you haven’t yet thought about the ways to capitalize on this technology, I strongly encourage you to do so.

UPDATE: I just downloaded GoogleSync to synchronize with Blackberry, it works like a champ!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Highrise from 37Signals

I've been thinking recently about coming up with a framework for evaluating the Office 2.0 (or for that matter any other) products out on the market. There seems to be a lot of great efforts out there to make the products ever more usable, but with that comes a challenge of determining exactly what problem them solve and for whom. I've come up with a model that I'm going to try on for a size, let me know what you think.

There are 2 basic types of organizations out there: products and services. There's are lots of variations of each, but basic principles are the same, one is all about products, the other is all about individual attention (services). Within those 2 models there are some variations. Let's take the Service businesses for example. Some of them require a substantial degree of project management (building a house, creating software), and others require general task tracking (realtors, financial planners, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, consultants..). One can argue that task tracking is a variation on project management, and I would agree, but from the systems point of view, I would keep those separate as they require different solutions.


Now, 37 Signals Highrise provides a solution for Services businesses that are not very project-management intensive (realtors, financial planners, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, consultants..) For these folks, a system like Highrise can replace the stone age ACT! or Goldmine, or perhaps even Outlook. The system has a very slick user interface and is very capable at sharing both the contacts and client-related tasks across the office. It's easy to attach notes and coordinate activities on the contact/client basis.





So overall Highrise gets the kudos for a very sexy UI and a very good contact/task management system for client-driven businesses.


If you have a lot of project-based collaboration, I would recommend Central Desktop (see this review) over Highrise.
If you're doing a lot of email marketing, I would recommend Relenta (see review here)
And finally, if you are a product organization (or want to implement a sales funnel), and looking for something closer to SalesForce.com, I recommend Zoho CRM (review here)

Update (1-31-2011)
There's a european cousin of Highrise I'd like to introduce you to - it's called Apollo and it's a cross between Basecamp and HighriseHQ, very much in style of 37Signals apps. Seems pretty capable for lightweight database and project management. More details to come.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Central Desktop

I’ve been using Central Desktop for almost a year now for project collaboration purposes and must say that it’s hard to imagine collaborating on projects without a tool like this anymore.

The product is couple steps up from Yahoo and Google groups, as neither of those provide ways to keep track of the tasks (the most important thing in running a project) Google may have one up its sleeve with their acquisition of JotSpot (is that thing still alive? it has been almost 6 month!), but I prefer an independent vendor that is motivated to make things work right and will not subject my data to any kinds of advertising analysis.

Pros:

  • Very user friendly interface, lots of Ajax (in-place editing, etc)
  • Feature-rich (tasks, documents & discussions, calendaring, database, common project area)
  • Good collaboration functionality (notifications, document revisions)
  • Good outward integration (ical for the calendar, RSS feeds)

Cons:

  • I can find very few cons with the system as it stands right now.. Little (but never the less, important) things on my wish list are:
    1. add Roles to the system so I don't have to reassign all the tasks every time somebody on the project leaves or if there are several people who could tackle the same task.
    2. Project Management features like time estimation, resource leveling, dependencies are what I think is the natural next step in the product evolution.

Despite a few drawbacks, this is the only product on the market that I found so far that provides this level of functionality for the price. Their pricing I think is fair ranging from Free for small projects to $249/mo for a 100 person team.

I think it deserves 4.5 stars! www.CentralDesktop.com

Friday, February 02, 2007

Zoho CRM

I'm very picky about my CRMs having been in the CRM space for quite a while.
I started looking for the CRM for the new project I'm working on and while I've seen some of the other Zoho applications before, I never paid much attention to their CRM. I guess subconsciously I placed it in the "noise CRMs" category which quite a few of wanna-be CRMs out there fall under.

Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise! Zoho CRM turned out to be a very solid product. It's flexible enough to allow for tab, field and sales process customization; has integration with web forms (which to me is a must have these days); has potent workflows allowing for alerts and messages; I haven't tried lead assignments, but is has that as well. It has everything one needs for support including the knowledgebase and a well thought out quotation/product price management engine. But most of all, it's polished! The big problem with the software these days is that it's become "feature check mark driven" and usability improvements rarely make their way onto developer's schedules. Well, this is definitely not the case with Zoho. Two thumbs up and 5 stars!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Web2.0 - Evolution or Disruptive Innovation

I wrote an article recently for the Innovation Management course I was taking examining whether Web2.0 and Service Oriented Architecture are an evolutionary phenomenon or a disruptive innovation. For those of you who care about stuff like that, you may find it to be an interesting read.

Summary:
Advances in the internet browser technology coupled with the deep penetration of high-speed internet connections and almost ubiquitous internet access are creating a new class of software applications known as Web 2.0. Web 2.0 applications range from calendaring and blogs, to text editors and spreadsheets, to social networking and wikis, to enterprise situational software, but usually have several things in common: they use internet browser as the platform, employ service oriented architecture, and implement some aspects of collaboration. While we’re yet to see the magnitude of impact of these new technologies on software publishing, media, and social models involving personal and professional relationships, the author of this paper believes that the impact will be profound and disruptive to a lot of the existing industries.

This paper will look at the key principles behind the Service Oriented Architectures and Web2.0 applications. We will then look at the technology and innovation driving these changes and how these new concepts are affecting various industries and what affect they are having on organizations. Finally, we’ll examine whether these new technologies and mere evolutionary extensions of the existing ones or whether they truly represent disruptive forces, and what the extend of these disruptions might be.

The research methods used in the paper cover Expert Interviews using the blogs and published non-scientific articles, ethnography, using the author’s exposure in the field, relevant case studies and literature search on the subject.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Microsoft OfficeLive

The good:

  • fast
  • makes extensive use of AJAX
  • seems to be built for flexibility
  • integration with Outlook

The bad:

  • lack of continuity
  • not very intuitive
  • lacks comprehensive functionality approach

Functionality Ratings (scale 0-5):

  • Usability (4)
  • Sales Management (3)
  • Sales Automation (3)
  • Marketing Automation (0)
  • Project Collaboration (3)
  • Project Management (4)
  • Calendar, Contact and Document Sharing (4)
  • Support Management (3)
  • Support Automation(1)
  • Accounting (3)
  • Billing (1)
  • Workflow Automation (1)
  • WebPresence (4)

With Microsoft joining the ranks of hosted software companies chasing the ultimate PIM/CRM/ERP solution for SMB market under the new leadership of Ray Ozzie, the OfficeLive platform seems to be getting some serious attention within Microsoft.

While not yet viable (in my opinion) as a replacement for MS exchange environment or to compete with other hosted specialized offerings, the foundation seems to be there with Outlook integration, extensive use of AJAX and what seems to be a fairly good and flexible platform.

It usually takes Microsoft 3 tries to get things right. This particular application might follow a different path as it competes with other MS offerings and we’re yet to see how Microsoft is going to reconcile its offerings. For now, it makes a fairly good choice for new businesses looking for an inexpensive solution for web site and email hosting with a few extra features that has good potential to grow with the company.