Social intranet tools are standard now for collaboration for SMBs and larger enterprises. One such tool is Bitrix24, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or on-premise collaboration platform that brings together many of the traditional collaboration features with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and a wiki. Bitrix24 comes in free and fee-based versions.
Inside a Bitrix24 workspaceThe first thing Bitrix24 does when you log in is provide a lot of information. The workspace main page is packed — there are three columns of links to workspaces and workgroups, an activity stream, client apps, and tasks. This page doesn't have the smooth lines and user experience of Podio or Huddle; in fact, I think it could overwhelm some new Bitrix24 users. In particular, I found some of their use of colors on the right side column to be distracting at first. Figure A shows the main page of the Bitrix24 workspace I created for this post. Figure A
The Bitrix24 main workspace page is packed. (Click the image to enlarge.)
In a future version of Bitrix24, I'd like to see an option to customize this page. Not for reasons of user experience, but rather to give users the options to assign priority access to the features they use most.
Bitrix24 gets the activity stream right. When I first created a Bitrix24 intranet, I was taken aback by the size of the activity stream when compared to its competitors. However, with tools and features like file upload, polls, and hash tags, the larger size works for it and may even make it more inviting for users who are still new to such a social tool.
Inside a Bitrix24 workgroupThe basic organizational block of Bitrix24 is the workgroup. This is a standard model across today's collaboration platforms. While I thought the workspace's main page was information overload, I didn't find that to be the case with the Bitrix24 Workgroup main page (Figure B). Figure B
Bitrix24 Workgroup main page. (Click the image to enlarge.)
Bitrix24 comes with some premade workgroups by default. It's easy to rename or delete them from the Action menu. With the information overload on the workspace main page, you probably want to delete the premade workspaces so you aren't further confusing or overwhelming your users.The Tasks feature has a clean design, making it easy to read. Adding new tasks is a very fluid process. The New Task dialog box (Figure C) is well laid out, easy to follow, and lets you specify the responsible person, priority, participants, and deadline. Figure C
New Task dialog box (Click the image to enlarge.)
You can also add tags, comments, and record time spent on the given task. A project manager and their team could really drill down into the task details with Bitrix24 and its organizational tools.I'm a fan of multiple views over task and project data in collaboration platforms and I found the Gantt chart view (Figure D) quick and responsive; in fact, I liked it so much that I would love to see Bitrix24 add more view options in future releases. Figure D
Gantt chart view (Click the image to enlarge.)
The Bitrix24 workgroup calendar is a rather traditional affair and lets you specify start and end dates, location, user availability, and the calendar where you want the event to appear.
Manage and store filesYou have the option to attach files to your Bitrix24 activity stream or to a workgroup's file library (Figure E). The file library is well laid out, it lets site users favorite documents, and it includes other features you'd expect like lock for file editing, change history, and access permissions. Figure E
An example of a file library (Click the image to enlarge.)
CRM with Bitrix24
Bitrix24 recently added a CRM feature that could be a differentiator for SMBs and freelancers who need a CRM tool but don't want to add another free or fee-based cloud system and the associated logins to the mix.
The Bitrix24 CRM lets you track customers and customer-facing activities such as sales and other customer outreach. It's a lightweight CRM solution, yet it's certainly enough for some teams and companies to get a better handle on customer data.
Build a wiki
Each Bitrix24 workgroup includes its own wiki. While there is Confluence and a number of open source wikis out there, sometimes it makes more sense to have a wiki as a feature of your collaboration platform.The Bitrix24 wiki editor sports a Graphical User Interface (GUI) or you can switch to a text editor if you want to kick it old school. Support for tags and publishing to the activity stream could be helpful for organizations wanting to make their wiki more accessible and usable to the rest of their team. Figure F shows the wiki editor open to create a first page. Figure F
Build a wiki with Bitrix24. (Click the image to enlarge.)
Settings and email responses
The Intranet Settings options are a bit bare bones. I was hoping to find some options for curing the information overload on the workspace main page; unfortunately, no such settings were available.
I'd like to see Bitrix24 fix email for password resets and invites. My Google Apps for Business and Gmail accounts treat these emails from Bitrix24 as phishing attempts. While this is just a minor annoyance, it could spook corporate spam filters and overly cautious email users.
While I only touched upon workspace and workgroups, you can extend Bitrix24 into a full corporate intranet by using its employee directory, company organization, and organization chart features.
Although I did find the main workspace page to be a bit of information overload, once you get into the platform, features like Tasks, file management, and the wiki more than make up for that initial impression. Bitrix24 is definitely worth a look.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.