The face of business productivity has drastically changed over the last five years. Gone are most of the client and client/server apps we once depended upon to do our work. Now, the speed of business is defined by the web. Web — that which drives an overwhelming majority of tasks for businesses. Because of this migration from locally installed client apps to web-based apps, you need to retool how your users get their jobs done. To that end, you need to consider web-based productivity tools.
Believe it or not, many of these tools are far more cost-effective than what you have been using. Add to that, higher reliability and you create an environment where employees can be far more productive. But which tools should you be looking at? Here are 10 solid tools that may fit into your business model.
Zoho is a powerful platform that can do just about anything. Once you have an account, you can add on tools for sales and marketing (CRM, campaigns, surveys, sites, and sales IQ), collaboration (email, docs, projects, bug tracker, meetings), customer support (support and assist), finance (books, invoice, subscriptions), HR (recruiting and people), business process (reports and database apps), and much more. I've used Zoho for a lot of tasks, especially creating marketing campaigns. The tools work really well and each one integrates seamlessly with the others. The only caveat is that you can't host the platform onsite. This is a hosted service only. Zoho also has mobile apps associated with some of its services, such as Zoho CRM.
Asana is a free and flexible cloud-based project management tool. It enables you to create departments, projects, tasks, and subtasks — and easily associate them with one another. Asana also lets you create recurring tasks for yourself or your team. Your Asana account features a real-time notification center. So once you've received notification on a project, the Asana Inbox allows you to decide when to take action on a message. And an easy-to-use dashboard gives you a quick glance of every project and assignment you have.
OTRS ticketing system is a powerful open source tool that can handle nearly any size company and any amount of field engineers or internal IT staff. Every ticket generated by the system retains a history and can automatically generate an alert email to the assigned technician. OTRS also offers an extensive plug-in system where you can find modules for everything from quick ticket close to ticket barcodes. There are two versions of OTRS: OTRS Free and OTRS Business Solution. With the Business Solution you can choose between an onsite and a hosted version.
FreshBooks is an "accounting" solution that can serve as one of your best options for cost-effective invoicing. Although FreshBooks calls itself a cloud-based accounting solution, it lacks a lot of features that are inherent in that sector, such as double-entry bookkeeping, chart of accounts, accounts payable, and general ledger. However, if you look at FreshBooks as more of an invoicing solution on steroids, all of a sudden it becomes quite powerful and useful. FreshBooks is best suited for small contractors and/or individual freelancers/contractors. Prices start at $19.95/month for an individual (with a limit of 25 clients). A free version allows for only one client but can serve as a testing ground to see if FreshBooks is the right solution for you.
Collabtive is an open source project management platform that can track projects, tasks, and milestones, as well as manage files and handle time tracking/reporting. It offers plug-ins for mobile apps, templates, project prioritization, Gantt charts, and more. If you're looking for a tool to organize what you (or your team) has to do and who has to do what — and even share documents across a team — you can't go wrong with Collabtive. It's free and can be downloaded and installed on an onsite server with PHP 5.2 and MySQL 4.1 or 5.x.
Cyn.in collaboration platform is an open source enterprise-grade tool built on the Plone content management system. Cyn.in features wikis, blogs, file repositories, event calendars, bookmark directories, discussion boards, multimedia galleries, and more. Everything is customizable in Cyn.in and different applications can be assigned to different spaces (areas of work). Each space can also contain a structured sub-space for even more granularity in your organization.
Cyn.in contains a social component where users can post statuses, interact with contextual conversations, vote and rate, and view user profiles. Three versions of Cyn.in are available (full pricing and feature matrx here).
7: eXo Platform
eXo is an enterprise-grade social collaboration tool that allows users to work together in wikis, forums, calendars, and documents, all integrated into activity streams and social networking. The platform design gives a nod to encouraging users to engage with one another and is completely customizable. Because nearly everyone uses social network tools, eXo will be a no-brainer for adoption by companies and users alike.
Comapping offers a great way for teams to meet and brainstorm. It lets you create a set of notes and files for your team where you can attach files and collaborate in real time. All ideas are captured in a flow-chart style that allows for simple data extrapolation. With each note, up to 20 people can collaborate simultaneously. You can get a five-user license for $92.00 per year or go all the way up to a 100-user license for $612.00 per year.
Genbook makes it easy to handle online booking of services for your company. You can maximize your customer scheduling, keep them coming back, and even engage with verified customer reviews — important in an age where falsified reviews can doom a company or product. Genbook offers an easy route to scheduling and rescheduling appointments 24/7. You can also embed a Genbook button into your company Facebook page. For full pricing and features, check out this matrix.
Clockspot is a time-tracking tool that allows employees to clock in and out from anywhere. It can track sick days, vacation, and holidays, as well as set up automatic accrual of paid time off. Clockspot also includes a minimal payroll feature set (for calculating payroll, job costs, overtime, etc.). Among Clockspot's customers are McDonalds, Coca Cola, and Starbucks. The pricing matrix can be found here.
Google Apps is a must-include on every list of web-based productivity apps with good reason. It serves as a one-stop-shop for business application needs. With email, cloud storage, video and text chatting, calendar, documents, collaboration, and much more, Google Docs does it all and does it well. And the price of adding more space is as cheap as you'll find anywhere ($1.99/month for 100 GB of cloud storage). Google Docs is one of the best real-time collaboration tools you'll ever use. Pricing is $5.00 per user with limited storage and $10.00 per user with unlimited storage and Vault.
When you're trying to find quality web-based productivity tools, the lists seem to go on forever. But the apps/services listed here should provide enough of what you need to maximize your productivity — and do so with the reliability of the cloud.
What web-based tools would you add to this list? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.
- Five free web-based tools that make diagramming a snap
- Obscure but handy: Five calendar apps to keep you on track
- Create real-time graphs with these five free web-based apps
- Build polished business dashboards with these five web-based apps
- Keepy our priorities on track: Five online apps for IT managers
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.