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SaaS Collaboration and Project Management


Recently I’ve had a number of reasons to look for solutions to collaboration, resource management and project management, including:

  • SME Consulting – I’ve been working closely with a local consulting firm that specialises in Financial Markets.  They are continuously looking for ways to facilitate collaboration on work products and management of their team at client sites;
  • Big Bank whose Strategic PPM isn’t live yet – an unnamed big bank has a strategic plan to roll out a PPM solution.  But like many big rollout projects, this may be a while.  So life goes on and teams need something now;
  • X Big Four Needs Platform – a local branch of what was once a big four (or was it Big Eight?) firm is now without the platform of the defunct global parent.  Therefore, they suddenly find themselves needing a solution for collaboration and PSA.

As you can see there is a fair bit of demand in this space.

The Big Incumbents

I am very familiar with the big incumbents.  Names like CA Clarity, Compuware Changepoint and IBM Rational, Microsoft Sharepoint… And they all have very mature features.  But it seems they also have some other common characteristics: like takes too long; costs too much; doesn’t really do what I want…  I don’t want to go into great detail about why this is true.

So these aren’t really viable solutions to the needs of the needy described above.

SaaS Options for Enterprise2.0 and PSA

Clearly SaaS is becoming a viable reality now.

What’s out there?

I have not done an exhaustive search to see everything that’s out there.  But here are a couple of very interesting choices to start with.

One category is the more structured team and project management or Professional Services Automation (PSA) style platforms.  Of these I’ve found two so far:

  • OpenAir – is part of the NetSuite, a leading SaaS provider of CRM and ERP.  OpenAir probably hits the mark for those looking for a global player like NetSuite.
  • TeamConnect – from TeamFrame is a quick way to get your project management collaboration environment off the ground quickly.  This is more the Aussie local outfit.  As such, it is probably very short on marketing and flash and strong on critical functionality fitting with the culture here.

The second category is less structured, more Web2.0 style intended to facilitate collaboration and social networking within the team.   Here are a couple of choices:

  • Jive SBS – is Social Business Software.  That seems pretty buz word compliant.  Actually though it touches on key categories of collaboration.  Also has Jive Express available for you to get up and running quickly for your small company, or team pilot.
  • CentralDesktop – is certainly a contender.  At least they know enough to make their listing appear in google when you search for Jive 🙂  Guess that shows their competitor is pretty respectable.

What to think about in Collaboration

Although there are many feautures and functions to evaluate, the most fundamental question for me is: structured vs unstructured.  Traditional tools are structure focused.  They including things like workflow, task list, forms based functions.   Content is found largely by navigation through the taxonomy.  In the unstructured world, each content elemnt or page lives alone with tags, keywords and meta data and a powerful search engine to help you find stuff.

Clearly we are moving more towards the unstructured world of blogs and wikis where individuals don’t have to stop and consider where in the world does my content fit in.  I just create a new page and start building and linking together with others I found by searching.

What to look out for in SaaS

I think there are two key points that concern people about SaaS that you need to explore before you jump in completely.

  • Security – before putting your precious data and delegating a critical business function to a third party you need to be sure the Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability (CIA)’s of security are covered.  One quick way to do this is see that they are certain certification such as SAS 70 compliance.
  • Lock-in – a second concern is whether you will be locked into the SaaS model for ever.   This concern exists for any software system.  How do you get your data and documents out of the thing should you decide to migrate to another platform, or bring the thing in house?  Be sure the platform has a facility to export all your data into a usable form.

Final Word

In conclusion, I think if I were faced with the challenge of making my team or firm more effective, and I didn’t already have internal infrastructure in place, I would definitely give one of the above SaaS platforms a try.

Think big, start small, move fast.

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