Google Apps Learns Business Collaboration Lessons We Learnt Years Ago

A small company issuing such a statement for tech behemoth Google, may seem delusional on the face of it. But it’s happened before, for Google, a master of search and consumer markets, cannot be everything for everyone. Its not timeline1uncommon for it to learn lessons from companies that serve niche markets, and indeed, create new niches. The hotbed of dreams that the internet is, the best ideas come most often from small companies. A few examples are YouTube, aquired by Google; Orkut, which followed MySpace; Goog.gl, which followed tiny.url etc.

The story we are talking about right now is that of Google Apps, Google’s participant in the red-hot online collaboration market, with Google mega-tonne weight behind it (remember the “Going Google” advertising blitz?).

The Google Apps Story – Head in the Clouds or Clouded Vision?

Google Apps started out in 2006 as a bundle of productivity tools (GMail, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Calendar etc). It was a proponent of the “purely online” model of where all productivity and collaboration software would lie on google-cloudthe Internet, and be freed from local desktops. This is indeed a visionary approach, because productivity tools available on the “cloud” are universally accessible from any Internet connected computer. This allows everyone on the team to work together on a common platform and common information without being tied to their local computers – an approach immensely suitable for collaboration.

Also an approach divorced from realities of business environment.

What has happened since is a gradual concession on Google’s part to business realities, and a growing awareness of business needs. This is understandable, as Google has traditionally excelled in consumer markets, which account for all of its major successes (Google Search, GMail, Google Talk, Picasa, Orkut).

Why Experience Matters

HyperOffice, on the other hand, has been serving the growing business markets since 1998, when the first incarnation of HyperOffice was born.  We may not have Google’s resources, but organizational learning is not merely a matter of shoveling in the bucks. Over 10 years in business we have done thousands and thousands of implementations across industries, faced and resolved countless operational matters, received feedback from users on a daily basis, built our solutions bit by bit around real operational needs, learnt how to promote adoption within our users’ companies, and learnt how to smoothly transition customers into fully empowered users.

Google Apps has tried to make up for this by roping in channel partners. But most of these partners lack our depth of experience, and indeed there is a divergence of interests, as consultants share Google Apps time with other profitable solutions, and the intermediate level creates a disconnect between what end users want and what Google develops.

We Beat Em’ to It

Office 2007 Support

In June 2009, Google added support for Office 2007, where docx, xlxs or other 2007 files could be imported and converted into Google Docs’ online formats. This reflected a concession on Google’s part that MS Office was vastly popular with businesses, a fact it couldn’t ignore. But it felt that business users would be happy, as long as they could convert MS Office into Google Docs, and work on Google Docs. However, fidelity between MS Office and Google Docs remains an issue as importing MS Word into Google Docs invariably results in messed up formatting.

A lesson HyperOffice learnt 5 years ago. HyperOffice has long learnt that business users, as well as others in their business network, are so used to working with MS Office that they’re just not comfortable shifting to drastically new formats. Since 2005, HyperOffice offers document collaboration features that allow business users to collaborate online on any common file type including different versions of MS Office.

Outlook Synchronization

In June 2009, Google introduced Google Apps Sync, a utility that allows users to sync mail, calendars and contacts (not tasks) between GMail and Microsoft Outlook. Google realized that MS Outlook was so popular with business users that they virtually “lived” in it, and synchronization with it was a must.

We learnt that around 4 years ago. HyperShare was launched by HyperOffice in 2006, which allows users to sync mail, contacts, calendars AND tasks between HyperOffice and Microsoft Outlook.

To-do Lists

In July 2009, Tasks were added to GMail, a rudimentary feature which allows users to manage personal to-do lists.

HyperOffice has had task management features since 2002, where users can manage not just personal to-dos but also team projects and tasks where task timelines can be set, responsibilities be assigned and progress be tracked.

Shared Folders and Batch Uploads

In Oct 2009, Google introduced shared folders and batch uploads for Google Docs users. Shared folders allowed users to share entire folders with specified users, instead of each file individually. Batch uploads saved users the cumbersome process of uploading documents one at a time, and allowed multiple files to be uploaded and converted to Google Docs.

HyperOffice has had shared folders since it launched its document management features in 2005. HyperDrive rests on the users’ desktop like any other desktop folder, and allows users to simply drag and drop multiple files to their online account, and synch documents across computers and with their online folders.

Forums

In Dec 2009, Google added forums to Google Apps, which allows users to have threaded discussions.

HyperOffice has had forums since 2002, when we realized that discussion forums were an efficient way of having and retrieving discussions rather than overwhelming everyone’s inbox with email discussions.

File Storage

In January 2010, file storage capabilities were added to Google Apps can upload and store any file format on their Google Apps account (not just Google formats). A further concession from Google’s “purely online” approach. However, although Google touts that people can now collaboratively work on these files, there are no collaborative features to speak of.

Since 2005, HyperOffice has not only allowed users to store files of any format, but also includes collaboration features like versioning, notifications, permissions, audit trails which allows users to see who made changes, when they were made, revert to earlier versions, keep participants informed when changes take place, manage access etc.

HyperOffice Keeps Upgrading

Even while Google learns important lessons about the needs of businesses, HyperOffice has continued to upgrade its suite, and offers many features that Google hasn’t gotten to yet. Some recent updates – we added simple do-it-yourself database applications and web forms in October, full document search and an incredibly easy to use site publisher in late October, and group wikis in December.

THE Lesson

But our most important lesson, which Google is yet to learn is – business users, especially small businesses are looking for more than just software tools. They want assistance at every step – from being trained to use the software, to having real people who treat their problems at priority, to having business advice about how to best use software tools. They want to be less and less involved in the technical side of software, and simply concentrate on doing their work better. And it is this lesson we have incorporated in our business model.

Wikis Part of Free Upgrade to HyperOffice Collaboration Sofware

The Wiki Phenomena

wiki-blog-11We are all familiar with Wikipedia, and have come across it often as we search the internet. It is the largest encyclopedia ever compiled by man – more than 7 times Britannica, the largest traditional encyclopedia.

The incredible thing about Wikipedia is that its content is entirely contributed collaboratively by volunteers – lay users like you and me. The reason why volunteers participate is the incredible simplicity of the underlying “wiki software” ( “wiki” is Hawaiian for “quick”). The site is comprised of web pages anyone can make changes to, as simply as typing into Text Pad. As soon changes are saved, they are available to everyone across the globe. Talk about simple collaboration!

And it is exactly this fact that has lead to its gargantuan growth to the greatest repository in just 6 years.

Wikis and Your Business

The Wikipedia success story certainly has great lessons and applications for businesses – especially small businesses. Collaboration is the heart and soul of successful business in today’s age – to be able to work together effectively in a network of employees, teams, partners, vendors and customers. Wiki software allows companies to do this with incredible ease – as simply as getting on a collaborative group wiki web page, adding content, and saving it to be instantly available to everyone else in the group.

Of course, company wikis need to have more structure and policy controls than a public wiki like Wikipedia. Only group members have access to a group wiki, and there should be tools to track the collaboration process.

HyperOffice Wikis are here – Completely Free Upgrade!

In our constant attempt to bring you cutting edge collaboration software technology, and bring you the best solutions in the market – we have added wikis to our range of collaboration features. HyperOffice wikis bring wiki software molded perfectly for your small business context. And in HyperOffice tradition, this upgrade is available to all users without any additional cost. Here are some of the things you can do: –

–    In the spirit of our theme for 2010, “no geeks required”, HyperOffice wikis are an incredibly simple way to work together. Just access your group wiki, add text, images, links to other company wiki pages, files or formatting, as simply as working with a word processor like MS Word.

–    Create highly customized group wikis with branding, html code, and collaboration modules.

–    Create unlimited group wikis sites for internal or external groups with as many interlinked wiki pages as you like.

–    Create policy controls around group wikis. Manage access permissions, and define role based access level.

–    Track collaboration by automatically recording the history of changes to your wiki pages, and who made changes.

–    Choose to get notified whenever changes are made to any wiki page.

HyperOffice wiki screenshot

wiki-blog

Demystifying the Software Release Process

There is an old joke in the software business that likens developers with artists that produce their work in excess purely for the love of creating. This often results in a highly developed application that falls a bit behind scheduled release.

As many of you may know, we are in the process of releasing the most significant update to our system in over ten years. Since the software release process is unique to our industry you may only know this through technical jargon like “Beta” and “Alpha”, you may ask what this really means or why is this process in place?

Currently we are using the new HyperOffice system with our staff internally, and we love it! In fact, we are eagerly awaiting the green light from development to open it up for public beta- meaning that you will soon be able to use the beta version as well.

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A view of the new calendar system in AJAX

The unique characteristic in software development is that it exists in a market that is rapidly evolving.  Being “in the cloud” we are able to quickly release updates and feature without any system downtime or installs on our client’s computers. This allows us to release the new version in phases. Many of you may already notice a few minor advancements rolling through from this release.

underconstruction1Why is the process important?

By conducting our testing in real-world environments, we are able to identify potential vulnerability, and quickly resolve it to ensure that our users never experience a compromise of data. We review all feedback and make adjustments accordingly; this creates an application that is designed by the users of the system.

Better Security and Stability
More Features and functionality
Simpler and More Intuitive User Interface

This not only makes our product feature rich and extremely stable, but it also is keeps it fast- which is very important when you are in the cloud.

What do the phases such as “Beta/Alpha” actually mean?

Simply put, these are steps in the release lifecycle. Without getting too technical, it all starts with the pre-alpha version, which contains all of the intended functionality of the final version, but precedes any extensive testing. The subsequent phases are Alpha (developed for an extensive private testing group), Private Beta (in which a limited release may be made available), Public Beta (a wider beta community) and finally full release.

Now, it is true that there are a number of other phases that are often thrown into the mix- this is a high level view.

You can help! And benefit too!

There are two ways we want you to get involved in this process. You may be involved in one of the other, or even both!

HyperOffice Product Development Committee: This is a group of HyperOffice clients that play an important part in the ongoing development and enhancement of our product. On average the commitment is about 1 hour a month, but in return, our development team hears your requests directly.

HyperOffice Beta Program: We encourage all interested clients to take part in the beta program of the new HyperOffice. This will give you full access to the new version as well as the ability to switch back to the classic version (your current version) at any time.

Click here to sign-up


Collaboration with HyperOffice Got Even Better : Full Document Search, Improved Publisher, More!

In the spirit of keeping our customers in step with the cutting edge of collaboration technology, and making our customer experience ever simpler and more powerful, we added multiple new features to HyperOffice. That’s what software-as-a-service is all about, isn’t it?

The latest up-gradations are the latest in a flurry of activity in recent months (we added HyperBase online database management features to HyperOffice, won the Skype for Business award, and partnered with Tata Communications and Etelos). Whew! Eventful year its been!

So, the new features.

1) Full Document Text Search – HyperOffice online document management features got a boost and finding corporate information just got easier. Now users can search through the entire contents of the documents they have within shared folders. Rather than having to remember the title or author, remembering any word or phrase in a document is good enough for you to find it. In addition, users can avail advanced search feature like searching by author, title, creation date etc. Although this new feature requires considerable computing power, we added it because this is something our customers have been asking for.

This new feature also gives HyperOffice the distinction of being the only online collaboration software in the market to include free full text search for documents without any additional charge.

2) HyperOffice Site Publisher got Turbo Charged! – If you thought creating intranet and extranet workspaces with the HyperOffice Site Publisher was easier before, you just gotta check out the latest version!

We have completely redesigned the Publisher to be easier and more fun to work with. You create completely freeform pages by just dragging and dropping elements wherever you want them to be on the page. All you need to do is drag and drop text boxes, collaboration modules, navigation, images, links, buttons or any other element to any area on the page you choose. No intranet software allows you to create completely customized pages for departments, teams, clients, partners with such ease. This is easier than any full fledged website publisher I have personally ever visited.

publisher-new

Just start dragging and dropping and transform your blank canvas into a group workspace like the following literally within minutes:-

new-publisher

More – In addition, HyperOffice has made changes to site administration tools, which lets the administrator perform their tasks from a central console with ease – add or delete users, specify permissions and roles, create new groups or delegate responsibility. In addition, administrators can easily view site statistics and reports they might need to measure the effectiveness of their portal.

Changes to each user’s admin tools simplifies how each site user manages their personal account and settings.

Online Database Management for Growing Companies is Here!

We recently launched HyperBase, an online database management solution designed specifically for small to medium sized companies. We know, we know. The very mention of the phrase “database management system” sounds forbidding to most small businesses.

HyperBase is an attempt to bring database management from the behind the gilded doors of the IT department, to non expert SMB users.

HyperBase allows companies to simplify collection, storage and organization, and sharing of data with colleagues, customers, partners or vendors. In true SaaS (software-as-a-service) spirit, there is nothing to download or manage, nor any database administration expertise required.

Small businesses are used to managing data by manually entering it into Excel files, using Excel tools to sort and filter it. Data is shared by emailing Excel files back and forth whenever inputs are needed for someone.

Working with data like this is slow and error prone. Moreover Excel files lock data away on a single computer, not leveraging its full potential. Even specialized database software like MS Access lock away data on a single computer.

Not very efficient in an age which demands greater collaboration between teams, partners and customers.

HyperBase is an ideal Microsoft Access alternative, and alternative to ad-hoc data management through Excel and email. Here’s how.

HyperBase users can simplify data collection by quickly creating online forms like contact forms, feedback forms, customer surveys and questionnaires, purchase order forms or any other, by publishing them on a web page.  We are rather proud of our web form designer, which simply lets you drag and drop fields and create a web form within minutes.

The collected data is automatically stored inside the system and users can share it with colleagues and partners around the world on any internet connected PC, Mac or even mobile device.

Users can easily create customized databases and gain insights from data using simple reporting and querying tools.

Importantly, HyperBase users can build database applications, through which they can automate common business tasks like lead tracking and CRM, job applications, order processing, and customer ticketing etc. As data is entered into the system, and flows from one stage to another, reminders are automatically sent out to responsible persons when actions are required by them.

HyperBase in Action

HyperBase is fully integrated with the HyperOffice collaboration suite. HyperBase adds additional power to HyperOffice’s already extensive list of tools, making it one of the most comprehensive online collaboration softwares in the market.

Skype and HyperOffice – a winning combination in collaboration

Skype business collaboration software HyperOffice has been a big fan of Skype for many years, along with over 450 million other users who are using Skype. As of this summer Skype is delivering more international calls than any other telecom company in the world. With so many users on Skype – and its’ popularity amongst our customers, we recently changed the default IM and VOIP tool inside HyperOffice to Skype. Now clients can improve their collaboration experience inside  HyperOffice. i.e. if you are sharing documents in HyperOffice, and want to chat in real time you can click on IM (at the top right of the HyperOffice interface) and open a Skype session.  Unlike collaboration tools with private chat environments they’ve built themselves – with HyperOffice & Skype chances are the person you’re working with is on Skype too. Or lets say you’re working with shared contacts in HyperOffice, you can click on the small Skype icon next to the name to initiate a call (even free international calls if they’re Skype users) or chat with the stored contact. You can check out these two features in the video.

HyperOffice has had a lot of success using Skype internally – so when we heard Skype for Business was holding a contest, we entered, and we won first place! You can check Skype’s blog to see how HyperOffice improve sales with the help of Skype here.

I expect Skype will only get better (faster) now that Skype has broken away from eBay, and improve its’ application in the collaboration world further as more project teams and small business jump on board their well packaged Skype for Businesses offerings.

Thank you Skype for the award!

Online Collaboration Moves East with HyperOffice

online-collaboration-indiaThese are exciting times at HyperOffice. The latest in a flurry of activity – in a pioneering move, HyperOffice has partnered with Tata Communications, the communications wing of Tata, one of India’s largest and oldest industrial groups. Under this partnership Tata Communications will offer the HyperOffice Collaboration Suite along with the high-speed data and voice tools that it delivers to business subscribers in India and 200 other countries around the world.

In the new millennia, emerging markets like India present a lucrative destination for companies, as these markets gain in affluence. India, that ancient culture, is now one of the most resurgent countries in the world, continuing to achieve astounding rates of economic growth. India has always very much been part of, and has contributed to the internet revolution. It is one of the most well connected countries in the world – the third-largest telecom market in the world and the second-largest wireless market. Broadband subscribers increased to 5.69 million in February 2009, up from 180,000 in March 2005. Research firm Informa forecasts mobile broadband revenues will reach $3.9 billion in Indian in 2013.

It is a ripe time to enter the business SaaS market in India, which is just starting to pick up. Indian companies and entrepreneurs are respected globally for their industry and professionalism. One of the largest exporters of IT services in the world, a huge number of Indian companies are part of a global network of suppliers, vendors, customers and partners.  For companies for whom working with global teams is daily fare, HyperOffice’s online collaboration software offers a low cost, quick, and user friendly way to collaborate, share documents, manage projects, coordinate schedules, have dicussions and much more .

Moreover, ISP’s like Tata Communications, which have a massive business-consumer base, are perfectly poised to promote SaaS solutions in the business market. They have well established relationships with small and medium sized companies, and a deep understanding of their business needs. SaaS solutions are synergistic with their core connectivity solutions, and can be offered as a value added service for the universal need of collaboration that exists in every organization. We expect this to become a lucrative business for Tata, and a model that ISPs in the US might want to follow.

Read our press release @ http://www.hyperoffice.com/online-collaboration-india/

What’s the Buzz? Enter Collaboration Software, Exit Email

brand-logosAs our dear readers must already know, last month Shahab co authored a white paper with tech whiz James Gaskin on the subject of “managing the email overload“. Email overload is a problem almost everyone faces, and many novel strategies have been suggested to deal with it. Our white paper was our humble take on managing the email torrent.

To rewind, we had suggested that much of the problem of email overload comes not from spam, or even pesky online salesmen, or even journals we subscribed for before the beginning of time. The problem arises from internal corporate communications, or using email for the wrong things within the corporate boundaries, namely, coordination of schedules, collaborating on documents, delegating tasks, making group decisions. We had further gone on to say that the solution was to move to online collaboration software for the above stated purposes. This would achieve the dual purpose of drastically reducing the email deluge, as well as improve business productivity.

We seem to have struck a chord. The whitepaper lead to a new torrent, albeit a welcome one. The whitepaper got wide coverage, both by niche blogs, as well as some of the most well known blogs in the tech industry. Some flattering coverage is as follows:-

ZDNet – Take the Email Test – Can collaboration tools save time and money?

CMS Wire – Working Smarter – 4 Potential Ways to Avoid Email Chaos

Smallbiztechnology.com – Get Rid of Email In Favor of Proper Tools: Boost Productivity & Reduce Your InBox

TMCNet – Email Overload or Bankruptcy?

Collabo – Collaboration Software & Email: Designing Tools for the Problem at Hand

Mac tech – HyperOffice kicks off new webinar series for SMBs

Thanks a lot guys! We hope we were able to bring value to your readership!

Google Apps Sync – Old Wine in Google Bottle?

app-syncA few days ago, Google launched Google Apps Sync, a plug-in for MS Outlook, which allows users of Google Apps to sync mail, contacts and calendars with MS Outlook. Additionally, Google has positioned its new tool as an “Exchange alternative”, where it acts as a backend for Outlook, and saves businesses the costs and hassles of setting up Microsoft Exchange for business email, contacts and calendars.

Google has been trying to enter the enterprise market very aggressively with Google Apps, and this was the company’s acknowledgment that it is impossible to gain a foothold in the enterprise messaging and collaboration market, without offering integration with Outlook, which is THE favorite software tool of workers.

Well, what we have to say is, good morning Google.

Been There, Done that

HyperOffice has been firmly entrenched in the Exchange alternative market for SMBs since early 2006, when we had launched HyperShare, our Outlook integration plug-in.

Over many years of our experience offering online productivity solutions to growing companies, we learnt that there is a compelling need for a Microsoft Exchange alternative, especially in small to medium sized businesses. These companies would love to have the feature set of MS Exchange, which can bring great productivity gains (business email; shared calendars, contacts and tasks), but the thousands of dollars in costs and expertise needed to manage it are beyond the reach of most growing businesses.

We thought we could leverage the web based, software-as-a-service approach, where the infrastructure and management of the backend messaging system would be our responsibility, while customers could simply use the features of Outlook, by paying a low monthly subscription fees. Of this was born HyperShare.

Collateral Damage – Google’s “Micrososft Exchange Killer” Kills Outlook Search

Google Apps Sync’s release was received with great enthusiasm and fanfare, and colorful descriptions – “Google treads on Microsoft” (why do I see a big foot squashing a bug), “Google goes for Microsoft’s jugular” (gulp!).

The euphoria was short lived. Microsoft’s team soon gleefully discovered and informed the world of bugs in the Google plug-in, where the tool has a conflict with, and shuts down Outlook’s search capabilities.

Soon, Google itself discovered more issues, like the inability of Google Apps Sync to work with some Outlook plugins like Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, Acrobat PDF Maker Toolbar and Outlook Change Notifier, and more.

What about Task Synchronization Eh?

Those used to using MS Exchange as the backend for their Outlook would notice an important omission in new Google new tool’s feature set. As Google proudly announced synching for mail, contacts and calendars, one may hardly notice that it does not include synching for tasks. Shared tasks are one of the very important collaborative features of Outlook, where teams can manage team projects by creating tasks, assigning responsibilities and tracking progress.

Collaboration Software is a hit with Virtual Assistants

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Last night the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce sponsored a webinar event for their members titled Leveraging Collabortive Virtual Office Technology for Virtual Assistants and Solopreneurs, where they invited HyperOffice to present our collaboration software suite. This was the second event we have done together, in response to the tremendous amount of interest we have from the Virtual Assistant community. Seems like the downturn in the economy is leading to greater demand for Virtual Assistants – since small businesses are laying off full-time staff, yet still have to keep up with the demands of trying to grow their business.

One of the common themes during the webinar was business productivity online suites  like HyperOffice help Virtual Assistants save time in trying to service their customers, allowing them to take on more clients in the same amount of time. One time saving trick  Danielle Keister, VACOC Founder and Virtual Assistant expert, shared with the group was creating a virtual drive which can be shared with between Virtual Assistants and their clients.

Danielle demonstrated how  HyperDrive can be setup in a couple minutes to create a central document repository where documents can be stored securely while giving access to clients to view and upload files and documents. As compared to other tools on the market, HyperDrive allows you to store multiple versions of a shared document without the clutter of sifting through multiple files with built in document version controls right from your windows explorer (also available on Mac). HyperOffice welcomes the Virtual Assistant community to try HyperOffice and take advantage of our deep domain expertise on setting up your virtual office to streamline your business using HyperOffice.