While the very nature of the Internet lends itself to greater collaboration, Web-based productivity solutions present a decidedly mixed bag of features and challenges. Shortcomings include limited functionality and concerns regarding security and service availability. Whether or not Web-based productivity tools are a fit for your organization depends on multiple factors, from the size of your mobile workforce to the need for a service level agreement (SLA). If the following statements sound familiar, it's more than likely that your company is a candidate for a Web-based productivity suite.
1. My organization is struggling to keep track of multiple versions of desktop applications. It's not uncommon for companies to accumulate a hodge-podge of desktop productivity solutions over time. Fortunately, today's browser-based productivity suites allow users to access documents, spreadsheets, calendars, contacts and more, all in one place and from a single online repository.
2. There are storage limitations to my organization's ability to house applications. Maintaining on-premise versions of desktop productivity software can demand large volumes of storage space, as well as a dedicated IT professional to oversee storage flexibility. All of the documents and files created by Microsoft Office Web Applications, on the other hand, are stored in the office suite and are hosted on SkyDrive, a free online storage space. What's more, users can take advantage of low-cost, online storage services such as MozyPro and Google Docs to store their online documents and spreadsheets.
3. A large mobile workforce impedes my organization's ability to collaborate and access important information. In today's global economy, many companies lay claim to workforces that are scattered across cities — and continents. The result is a wide web of documents, reports and spreadsheets that can be accessed only after bypassing numerous firewalls, passwords, and language barriers. Web-based productivity tools can help bridge this gap. Microsoft Office Web Applications, for example, enables users to work anywhere through lightweight Web browser versions that provide access to documents from virtually anywhere and preserve the look and feel of a document regardless of device. Google Apps lets users share whole calendars companywide, and co-workers can view shared events alongside their own schedules.
4. As a small business, we require simple productivity applications that are easy to deploy and manage. If you're looking to have your basic needs met, today's Web-based productivity tools enable users to create and edit files and support multi-authoring — lightweight functionality that requires minimal training and simple deployment. Better yet, by not requiring any hardware installation, the software helps small businesses get up-and-running in record time. And many vendors, such as Zoho, offer enterprise editions of their software so that companies can grow with the solution and gradually build on a tool set's capabilities.
5. My organization has a small IT department with limited financial and technical resources. Most Web-based productivity tools do not require hardware or software and need only minimal administration, which can create significant cost savings. In fact, Google Apps offers anti-virus and spam protection, 25GB email inboxes, calendar, instant messaging, video chat and collaboration tools for $50 per user per year — a mere fraction of the cost of an on-premise productivity suite.
6. For the sake of cost savings or avoidance, my organization is willing to weather the occasional outage. Industry stalwarts such as Amazon and Google have experienced unanticipated outages so be prepared for downtime. In fact, last September, Google's Gmail Web-based email service was down for about two hours, preventing users from accessing their email accounts and contact lists. The disruption followed a one-hour disruption to Gmail that occurred earlier in the month. Having a business continuity plan in place can minimize damage. What's more, some Web-based productivity tools allow users to work offline as well.
7. Large files and bulky emails are hampering my organization's efforts to work together and pool ideas. Web-based productivity tools typically include multi-authoring features that facilitate greater collaboration. With Acrobat.com, for example, users can swap large files without having to send bulky emails or can collaborate with web conferencing software. Users of Adobe ConnectNow, for example, can use screen sharing, chat, notes, audio and video to conduct meetings online and simulate in-person meetings.
8. My organization is willing to trade lengthy deployments and costly software packages for limited feature sets. Priced for considerably less than its on-premise counterparts, Web-based productivity tools are proof that sometimes you get what you pay for. The online version of Microsoft Excel, for example, doesn't allow users to create charts or complex spreadsheets. Only Excel and PowerPoint currently enable users to create and edit files, and only Excel supports multi-authoring, whereby two or more users can work on the same document simultaneously. (Alternatives sometimes offer greater functionality but vary in their support of Microsoft Office file formats.)
In fairness, today's Web-based tools are typically derivative subsets of in-house solutions and are intended to serve as complementary tools rather than outright substitutes. For this reason, a hybrid approach to productivity tools that encompasses an online suite's remote accessibility with an on-premise's delivery of robust capabilities is a wise route for many companies.
9. Migrating our employees to new tools hinges on factors such as user-friendliness and familiarity. Although many of today's Web-based productivity tools are offered by competing companies, they are designed to work together, enabling companies to cherry-pick products for specific tasks such as email or CRM (Customer Relationship Management). For example, Zoho is comfortable territory for Microsoft Office patrons. Most Zoho applications sport interfaces that resemble Office and support Microsoft file formats and multiple browsers. But caveat emptor: while Microsoft Office Web Applications are cross-platform, running in Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari, they don't work on Google's Chrome browser.
10. My organization has strict data back-up processes in place. Because many of today's Web-based productivity suite vendors are start-ups, it's critical to keep local backups of vital documents just in case a provider unexpectedly ceases to exist. Of course, stalwarts such as Google and Amazon are more likely to be around for the long haul.
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