IT consultancies and other professional services firms need an easy to use client collaboration platform, yet they usually resort to email and sometimes remote access to their client's on-premise SharePoint sites. Huddle, a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based collaboration platform, is ideal for professional services firms that need an easy to set up and use client and extranet and collaboration platform that doesn't require a full-time administrator. Here are reasons why professional services firms should consider Huddle as their next secure client extranet.
Setup is faster than getting remote access
In order for a professional services firm to get access to the client SharePoint site, it often means:
- Navigating the client bureaucracy to gain remote access to the network. This might include client mandated security training and special clearances for outside contractors to access the corporate network.
- Securing the appropriate rights to the SharePoint libraries where the project documents are residing.
- Dealing with a SharePoint site that is largely ignored, too locked down, never reached its potential, or lost credibility in the user community due to a range of issues.
If moving project collaboration to Huddle is approved by the consultant and the client and fits within any governing compliance and security programs, it could save both parties time. Huddle workspaces can be set up in minutes based on my testing. Also, it's not a chore to add and remove users, so consultants can closely manage workspace access without needing a full-time site administrator.
If I was going to put Huddle between myself and external clients, I would make sure that using Huddle is the focal point of any collaboration and communications processes that are in place for the project.
Ease of use, administration, and adoptionEven clients with a minimum of SaaS-based application experience should be able to navigate a Huddle workspace (Figure A) with only a little hand-holding or just a job aid. Figure A
Huddle Workspace (Click the image to enlarge.)Administration of Huddle workspaces for a professional services team needs to be decentralized to support the schedules that consultants sometimes work. Huddle's administration tools shouldn't be difficult to master for any consultant with even basic SharePoint or SaaS application experience. Figure B shows the Huddle Settings screen. Figure B
Huddle Settings screen (Click the image to enlarge.)
It's too easy for clients to rebel against adopting an extranet platform when performance and usability are subpar. Neither should be an issue with Huddle. (To give you a sense of Huddle's speed, I wrote this post using my home Wi-Fi network and the free Wi-Fi at the Washington, DC Convention Center.)
Huddle provides the following easy to use document management and collaboration tools:
- Approval and workflow tools
- Upload/download tools
- Commenting on documents
- Activity monitoring over document views and creation
My only qualm (and it's a minor one) with Huddle document management is that it uses Java to power its multiple files upload. My qualm isn't Java as a technology choice; it's just that Java can be tied into semi-annual or reactive update cycles, and remote workers might be the last ones to get those updates. This could be a support ticket waiting to happen.
Status reporting and project deliverables platform
The concept of status reporting through Huddle is intriguing. While it may not always be possible for clients to break away from the Word status report template they've had in place since they went to Word, Huddle provides enough tools with audit trails for tasks, calendaring, and document sharing. A professional services firm could use a Huddle workspace for client status reporting in a secure client extranet.
Huddle could also be the preferred option for handing off documents and other deliverables between consultants and their clients without the worry of versioning conflicts, template issues, or an email inbox that doubles as a sinkhole. With a couple of clicks, folders could be set up in a Huddle workspace to include project deliverables and artifacts in one location.
Huddle's easy setup and administration, document management tools, and user experience makes it a definite option for professional services firms that want to create secure client extranets and collaboration spaces so their traveling consultants can interact with customers securely through the cloud. The ultimate benefit might be that this collaboration can happen without the management and technology overhead that traditional client extranets are known for in some organizations.
Try Huddle for free for 14 days to see if you like the platform. Then, report back and let us know what you think of it.
Read more about SaaS and the cloud
Check out the ZDNet and TechRepublic special feature Cloud: How to do SaaS right and our downloadable Executive's Guide to Best Practices in SaaS and the Cloud.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at email@example.com.