Archive for August, 2010

Going Virtual using HyperOffice Collaboration Suite Prevents a Charity from Closing Doors

A cloud collaboration provider, an accounts and management consultancy, and the Schizophrenia Society of Canada may sound like an unlikely coming together. Not so.

We’ve always said that HyperOffice helps clients work and compete better, cut IT overheads, save the hardware and maintenance costs associated with traditional software, and focus towards their core areas.

In a classical illustration, HyperOffice was successfully used by a not for profit organization to navigate a financial crunch, and get back on its feet. You can also read about it in BC Penny’s press release titled “Virtual Management using HyperOffice Prevents a Charity from Closing it’s Doors”.

The Challenge

BC Penny, a well-known Canadian virtual accounting and management consultancy, was looking for a green technology to help the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, which was “struggling to balance its funding and day to day operational costs”.

The Society is run fully on donations, without any Government assistance. With a shortage of funds, the Society found itself having to dig into its reserves to even manage office lease and administrative salaries. Some critical decisions needed to be made, and BC Penny was entrusted the task of finding answers to these tough questions.

The Solution

BC Penny decided that the best way to go forward was to go virtual, and divert funds that were being spent on managing a physical office space. But to pull this off, the challenge was to find a solution that would allow Society members to work effectively as a team without being together in person, and importantly, require minimal maintenance and upkeep as the Society had no funds to hire an IT expert. It was also “fundamental that the solution be user friendly as there were no available dollar resources to provide any training”.

After extensive research, BC Penny found that HyperOffice fit the bill perfectly. It’s extensive integrated features would help members communicate, share information and coordinate activities – business email, shared document manager, project management, shared calendars, intranet workspaces, online meetings, forums, wikis etc. The availability of numerous HyperOffice free training resources like webinars, videos, white papers etc was ideal for “staff and board members who were not familiar with the internet”. Moreover, since HyperOffice is fully hosted and outsourced, hardware and maintenance costs were saved as well.

The whole project was planned and implemented carefully over 18 months as the Society was converted into a virtual operation.

The Benefits

The immediate benefit was that “thousands of dollars were saved and reinvested towards the cause instead of the cost of leasing a physical office with a long term commitment and paying for full-time administrative staff.”

Going virtual also opened new vistas, now that the organization was virtual and had access to national (or international) resources rather than having to depend on local talent.

The Charity’s auditors, who are amongst the top five in the country, were pleased with the new structure and HyperOffice.

If you want to zoom in further, the entire process was chronicled and featured in Chapter 20 of a new book “The Non Profit Guide for Going Green” published by Wiley and Sons in the USA.

This implementation has real lessons on the benefits of the cloud for the non-profit sector. The cloud revolution is sweeping the for profit sector, and non profit organizations stand to benefit even more because of tight donation dependent budgets. They now have access to user-friendly collaboration software and other technologies traditionally available to large businesses that help them work more efficiently, work in new ways and serve their cause better. We are pleased and privileged that HyperOffice helped serve the noble cause of the Society.

HyperOffice Collaboration Suite Reviewed by PC Mag

Edward Mendelson, an eminent software reviewer for PC Mag just put out a review of HyperOffice, which we were eagerly looking forward to. We are glad to get a “Good” rating from Mendelson and PC Mag, known for their rigorous and stringent review standards.

It was also encouraging to find that some of the features and capabilities we hold as the key strengths of HyperOffice found echo in Mendelson’s review.

As you may know, we recently gave HyperOffice a major interface makeover, in tune with the latest trends and technologies. Mendelson had some good things to say about it: –

“HyperOffice is a slick online collaboration service that lets you store and access files, tasks, contacts, links, documents, and almost any digital file on a HyperOffice-hosted website.”

Our positioning as a fully hosted, inexpensive and hassle free Exchange and SharePoint alternative for small businesses also found resonance in the review: –

“Bottom Line – (HyperOffice is) A fully hosted alternative to building your own Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint servers.”

“Designed as a cloud-based, lower-priced alternative to Microsoft Office 2010 with components of SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange that’s accessible via any browser, HyperOffice is easy to set up as both an intranet and an extranet that lets co-workers, customers, and clients see specific data.”

As a small business ourselves, we understand the importance of customer service, and responsiveness to customer feedback for our SMB customers who often lack in house IT resources. This, we hold key to our offering, and was pointed out by Mendelson in his review as well.

“Overall, I was deeply impressed by HyperOffice’s depth of features, tight integration of all its elements, sleek appearance, and crack support team that was admirably responsive in both acknowledging the problems I discovered, and in many cases, fixing them almost as fast as I reported them.”

We are thankful to Mendelson for conducting a thorough and objective review, and educating the market about HyperOffice. We hope you will take his advice when he says:-

“HyperOffice should be high on your list of collaboration services to consider thanks to its combination of relatively low price and up-to-date interface.”

August 2010 Upgrade

We’ve been busy this summer rolling out our second update since releasing the modern AJAX interface. Most product improvements and fixes have been reported by our users. You, as our clients, are a major part of the development process and the feedback guarantees the best collaboration suite on the planet. Here are some of the highlights in this upgrade.

Email

1. Convert an email to a task directly from the mail module. Simply click the task icon beside the email subject, and add it to your personal to-do task list, or move it into the project management system.

This small feature will drive big improvements in solving your overstuffed inbox problem. No more hunting for to-dos and team tasks in your inbox. No more missed tasks. Not only does this clear your in-box, but you get additional management tools your inbox doesn’t offer such as progress tracking, status updates, task priorities, assign and notify, etc.

2. Preview attachments. A “preview” button beside your attachment let’s you take a quick look at the attachment before you send it. This will help you when you need to make doubly sure that you are sending out the right file and the right version.

Project Management

1. Subscribe to a project. If you are part of a project you want to keep top of, or simply want to track a project you are interested in, simply click on “subscribe”. You will be notified of all changes to the project including the addition of new tasks and changes to tasks already contained within the project.

2. Task assignees are now notified when a task is completed. Whenever the status of a task is changed to “complete”, everyone who was assigned to the task will be automatically notified, and they can heave a sigh of relief.

Contacts

1. Copy text directly from the contacts screen using the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.

2. The issue in contact management where all categories were not listed has been corrected.

3. When modifying the headers in the contacts module, you may now view up to 10 columns at once.

Personal Desktop

1. Improved the personal desktop settings area. The screens are more intuitive and settings easier to manage.

2. You can now filter and adjust what tasks are seen on your personal desktop. You can view all tasks assigned to you in every group for example. Simply click the “Modify Desktop” button at the top right hand corner of the personal desktop if this is permitted by your administrator. Then click the settings gear icon located near the title of the tasks component.

Site Publisher

1. System templates. You get to choose from a number of pre-built templates whenever you want to design a new homepage in Publisher. We have built templates for a number of contexts – landing page, navigation page, informational page etc. – which can just start adding your logo and content to.

Forums

1. Fixed bug that limited the number of posts

General

1. The print button is now working in all sections

RIP Google Wave – The Lessons we Learnt

Recap

Google Wave was born over a year ago, with Google’s weight right behind it. I remember watching a video of the Google I/O ’09 conference where Wave was announced to resounding applause by the charming Lars Rasmussen, co founder of the Google Wave project.

Right from the outset, everyone recognized Wave as a revolutionary product, built with the latest internet technologies, taking the “real time” web to a new level. Lars introduced Wave as “communication and collaboration software” but “commboration” would have been a more apt description, as it blurred the lines between email, IM, documents, wikis, text streaming, social networking, image sharing and more. It set itself an ambition no less than “redefining email”, the primary communication technology for over 40 years.

It is ironical that the gap between “Google Wave launched” and “Google Wave is dead” stories was a little over than a year.

As the readers must already know, Google Wave was formally put to rest as a stand-alone product on August 4th, low adoption by users cited as a reason.

An Analysis

In the consumer market, a drastically new technology has fair chances of taking off, because consumers like to experiment, and are forever looking for something new to cater to short attention spans. The business market however, is less venturesome, and the capabilities of a technology need to be clearly mapped to organizational needs. The important question is – what can it do for us? For example social networking and tweeting may be big hits with consumers, but are only gradually finding their way into businesses, after much debate.

There’s a big debate around why Google Wave died. We have our own opinions on why Wave didn’t take off in the business market, some of which we proposed at the time Wave started to catch on. Here are our arguments:-

Ill-defined uses

Ever since Google Wave was launched, the emphasis was always on its capabilities – you could co author “Waves” in real time character by character, you could embed images and video, you could use it as a platform to build cool applications, you could replay a wave as it evolved and so on. But there was never very clear articulation around – what can you use it for?

It was clear from the outset that Google expected the market to define the use cases for Wave. It felt that if it just put this powerful and compelling technology out there – uses would emerge from the user and developer community.

This strategy may work in the consumer market, but not in businesses. The technology follows well defined uses, defined over years of experience – collaboration on documents, text communication, audio communication, tools that help manage the customer cycle and so on. Sure, technology pushes the limits of how you can work better, but the changes are always incremental, never drastic. Software-as-a-service had to prove itself for years before being widely accepted as it is now.

No Structure

Business have also developed over years ways of thinking about its information – there is email, documents, IM, forums, wikis – each serving a somewhat separate purpose.

There is information we categorize as communication (email, IM), which is not highly structured, and does not need to be revisited often; and recurring use information, which is highly structured and needs to be visited often (documents).

Then there are different ways of how we work together on information – asynchronously (one person contributes at a time)(email) or synchronously (all participants contribute at the same time)(IM).

Google Wave threw all these different types of information – email, IM, documents, wikis, communication, collaboration, asynchronous, and synchronous – into a real time soup called a “wave”.

If that wasn’t already confusing, all waves were bundled together in a single inbox style interface. This was always calling for a new kind of “information overload” without even the benefit of familiar segregations in information types.

The whole structure was counter-intuitive from the start and expected a huge leap from its users.

The Workspace

Over years of working with businesses we have discovered that a collaboration solution needs to reflect the structure of an organization. Real time collaboration on information may be good for some situations but teams don’t need to work together just once, but on an ongoing basis, often on complex tasks involving sub tasks, deadlines, and sequencing of activities. They also need repeated access to the same information (forms, contract documents) and for information to be stored and archived for future access (if not for regulatory compliance).

Imagine different team members trying to find documents in their Wave inboxes.

These needs are best met by the “workspace” structure, which is the design principle of HyperOffice. A group workspace is a collection of all the information and tools a group needs to work together and coordinate activities – online document management, project management, shared calendars, wikis, shared address books and so on.

A permissions system allows only members to access group information and tools. Advanced permissions help distinguish the rights of members within the same group. This helps implement organization policy controls based on organizational roles. Policy control within Wave would have been a nightmare.

A single person can be a member of multiple team or project workspaces, just as is the case in organizations.

The workspace also helps achieve the HR objective of engaging and motivating employees. A workspace desktop is where a motto of the month may be displayed, or an “employee of the month” be recognized.

An Important Lesson

The Wave story also has strong lessons about how Google operates. It is well known that Google’s profits are overwhelmingly generated by its advertising business. Its Google Apps and enterprise software wing forms only a fraction of its profitability, and accordingly reflects its importance in the larger Google scheme. If Google finds something is not working out for it, it will simply drop that module/function/product or divert resources, manpower and development effort away. It is not primarily concerned about how much energy and resources business users may have expended transitioning to it. The skewed negotiating power of large vendors and small sized customers was nicely elaborated by Phil Wainewright in his article “Web giants and the helpless individual.”

A smaller company like HyperOffice, on the other hand, has a single minded focus on its collaboration business. Having no other product line or services, we devote all our energies and resources to our collaboration offerings  to ensure continued patronage from current users and win new users in a competitive market. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that our very livelihood depends on this.

Conclusion

Even if Google Wave had been successful it is hard to imagine to be used for more than as “email on steroids” or an ad-hoc collaboration tool. It didn’t having the makings, or maybe never even intended to be a full blown organizational collaboration software.

However, Google Wave has certainly left a legacy. It has pushed the limits of “real time collaboration”, and used cutting edge internet technologies in innovative ways. As Michael Arrington says, maybe it was just ahead of its time.

It will certainly be remembered as a daring attempt to topple email from its four-decade reign.

The Push Battle: Comparison of Push Email & Mobile Messaging Solutions

The era of the “mobile worker” is upon us. Employees are increasingly likely to be at home, traveling, on-site with the customer, or located in distributed offices. According to an IDC study published in Dec 2009, the world’s mobile worker population will pass the one billion mark by the end of this year.

This has spurred the demand for mobile messaging solutions – solutions that enable access to business information like email, calendars, contacts, tasks etc on mobile devices. This has been added to in no small measure by the comeuppance of swanky and powerful mobile devices like iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, which users now see as business devices.

Keeping with the trend, we added HyperSynch to our HyperOffice online collaboration software earlier this year, a service that lets users push email, contacts, calendars and tasks to their mobile devices, and keep them in sync across the cloud, their mobile phone and Outlook.

Solutions already exist in the market, ranging from powerful server based enterprise mobility solutions to personal information managers. With HyperSync, we sought to overcome three shortcomings we felt existed in the market, keeping our target small to medium sized company segment in mind.

Many solutions work only with a single device, forcing companies to purchase business mobile devices based on their mobile messaging software. Ideally a solution should enable any mobile phone employees already have.

The most well known solutions in the market are server based enterprise solutions, simply out of the reach of SMBs cost wise.

Other solutions are personal information managers, not ideal for team scenarios, where users also want to share information.

Based on the above, we have created a matrix comparing HyperSynch with well-known mobile messaging solutions in the market for users to see which one best fits their needs.