A few weeks ago a long time friend asked me to find a free tool to enable his small home office team to share contacts and other valuable information. He didn’t need a CRM as they were already using SalesForce.
Having left the corporate world in December 2007, I’ve had an opportunity to explore the computing environment beyond the secure walls of Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint. I don’t know what Microsoft is thinking, but my thoughts are with Google and a host of smaller third parties you can pretty much do the same thing as most of the Microsoft tools for tens of thousands of dollars less.
Let’s examine the instrumentarium most working professional use in their business week:
- Word processing
- Document storage / management
- Collaboration Tools (teleconference, telephone, web presentations, white board)
- Data backup
And if you are a mobile professional, then you’ll be needing to take the tools portable onto laptops, telephones and PDA’s. I’m going to assume that you probably have at least one PC or laptop.
If you don’t have a domain, I recommend that you pick one up. They’re less than $15 at GoDaddy.com and comparably priced via Google. I use the Google Apps web portal for all of my email access. This service, while not free, will only set you back $50 per year per user. It gives fast, easy, ad free, and nearly unlimited storage email. In addition to email it gives you a host of collaboration tools — including Google Site which is remarkably similar to the collaboration tool Sharepoint from Microsoft, word processing, spreadsheets, calendar and contacts. Recently added features include an online PDF viewer which means your email can now literally be used anywhere and anytime on any machine.
In addition, Google mail will allow you to pick up email from other services. Sometimes on consuting gigs the customer prefers I use their email system. When I need to do that all I do is temporarily add the email server settings to my Google mail account.
I recommend the Google Apps Calendar. You can have one to many calendars which can be private, shared and public. In addition a freeware application called GooSync can be used to synchronize your Google calendar with your PocketPC PDA. The only major downside that I’ve seen on the Google calendar is that you can’t start an appointment in one time zone and end it in an other…this would be especially useful for travel.
I am currently evaluating a contact sync from the same company that publishes GooSync. It has been working great except for one little bug — for which I have received an email indicating they are addressing it — which does not adequately categorize a business name lacking a contact name.
Ignoring the only bug that I’ve found, all 1,900 of my contacts are syncing accurately with my Google Contacts wirelessly over T-Mobile’s GPRS/EDGE network. Unlike the GooSync calendar, this software costs around $80 (exchange rate dependent) for a lifetime subscription.
You’ll probably be seeing a theme here — I use Google Bookmarks. Once you’re signed into your account all the bookmarks you save as well as history are stored online. Once your information is online it can easily be classified, cross referenced and searched. Google has a great tool bar in Internet Explorer; oddly enough it is missing in their new Chrome Browser. So when using Chrome you have to use the Links Java Quicklink to add files. The advantage of using the Java Quicklink is that you can add comment information to go with the link.
Word Processing, Spreadsheets and PowerPoint
For seamless editing, I recommend the Microsoft Office 2007 office suite. It can be pricey but in most cases you can find it on sale for less than $100 with just the basic components. I’ve not been able to adequately use the freeware tools for redlining and other editing. If you need to go free, then I’d recommend Google Apps, OpenOffice and ZoHo as good alternatives. Or if you can’t afford a license for every PC in your office, then I’d recommend the basic suite for the working computer and the freeware suite to present the documents when traveling.
When you are on the road, KinkosFedex has a great online printing service that prints and binds your documents. This can get pricey but in a hurry or showing that professional edge this is critical. If you join the US Chamber of Commerce — they’ll give you a variety of discounts at FedEx.
Document Management Systems
As reported in last month’s blog, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 with their Rak2U software is my system of choice. Our consultancy has helped several businesses acquire and deploy this system.
Synchronizing Files Across PC’s
I’ve been using Syncplicity. This is a freeware tool for up to 2GB of storage. It is a quick download, easy to install and receives great support/updates.
Backing up files
I’ve been using Mozy. Can’t beat $5 per month per PC and if you have less than 2GB of data it’s free. Several of American Special Projects clients have implemented this tool. A cool feature is the backup function triggered when the machine is idle — this software is a time saver.
Vyew, DimDim, Yugma, FreeConference, Vonage — take your choice. My preference is FreeConference for telephone bridges and Yugma for collaboration. Vonage‘s 12 months plan for phone service is reasonable. A runner up is Skype — however they do not offer an e911 service and no local telephone numbers for Maine.
I believe that T-Mobile at $99/mos + $19/mos for Internet access…offers the cheapest monthly plan.
We use Linksys for our private network and offer WiFi for a fee through Meraki. In beta Meraki was reasonably priced, at the moment they appear to be the lowest priced for fee package provider. We’ve examined a number of alternative WiFi mesh services. At the moment Meraki’s $149 per access point is the cheapest — at $100 increase over the beta price it caused an uproar; but compared to competitor prices which can run $39 per month they are the Yugo of pay per use WiFi.
SnagIT is our all time favorite for the Prnt Scrn button. You got to try it for free — you’ll end up buying it.
We hope this helps you. Happy Holidays and Healthy New Year.
American Special Projects (a Madison Connections Inc. company)