TECHWISE: Cry Freedom

TO: GeoffCC: Steve, Kim, Murray, Catherine, Jen FROM: Bob SUBJECT: Project Management
Hi Geoff I just wondered with all the new projects kicking off, whether it would be good idea to get some sort of project management tool for the teams to use? Bob
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TO: Bob CC: Steve, Kim, Murray, Catherine, Jen FROM: Geoff SUBJECT: RE: Project Management
Hi Bob Project management tools can be very useful – in the right hands. They can be quite complicated to use though – has anyone here used MS-Project? What about other tools? Geoff
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TO: Geoff FROM: Steve CC: Kim, Bob, Murray, Catherine, Jen SUBJECT: RE: Project Management
Hi Geoff I’ve been using web-based tool that’s quite good. There’s couple of marketing projects I’m working on with couple of contractors – and I can give them access to the project information as well …. Quite handy! Bob – I can add you in if you like? We’ve been using it for while now. It’s great! Steve

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Comments like this strike fear into the heart of the average IT person. There are multiple servers to manage, user computers to configure, support and secure, and mobile devices to worry about. Then there’s virus-protection, spam-filtering, internet security and backups. And now, there’s new challenge – web-based applications.
Also known as software-as-a-service applications (or SAAS) this is the next big thing. The best recognised SAAS applications currently are web-based email services such as Hotmail or Google’s Gmail. But they are starting to spring up everywhere – and with them come whole new breed of challenges for the enterprise – and the IT department.
Google has launched number of SAAS applications such as web-based word processor (based on the writely.com application that it purchased) and web-based spreadsheet. These will shortly be joined by web-based presentation application.
Salesforce.com has made huge inroads with its web-based CRM package – and Microsoft looks set to follow. Open source offerings such as SugarCRM are also competing to provide web-based application functionality in the CRM market.
Then there’s raft of function-specific web-applications such as those offered by 37Signals.com: Backpack (a personal information manager and calendar), Basecamp (a web-based team project application) and recently released simple CRM called Highrise.
We have some great homegrown examples of SAAS applications: touchpoint.co.nz, Usuite.com, PlanHQ.com, and Xero.com
SAAS applications have number of advantages. They are easy to deploy, accessible from anywhere and, usually, very scalable. They can also be incredibly liberating for an organisation. Instead of having to wait until the IT department can find or build an application to serve particular need, line-of-business managers can sign up to service and be up-and-running straight away.
But SAAS is not the complete nirvana that it might appear to be on the surface. The very fact that staff members outside the IT department can potentially deploy SAAS applications without recourse to the IT department can create unforeseen problems.
While many web-applications are increasingly feature-rich, integration between web-applications is relatively immature science that can often require highly specialised and expensive expertise.
Data security can also be big issue. Is your SAAS application provider financially stable and around for the long haul? Are their systems secure? Will your critical data is always be available? Can you migrate to another service-provider down the track? Is your data backed up, and do you keep copies of it locally? Can you control who can access that data? Bear in mind, too, that SAAS applications can be expensive.
These are all issues that IT staff are trained to think about. But line-of-business managers aren’t. If you are not careful, decision to adopt web-based application to provide some part of an organisation’s IT needs might turn out to be costly mistake.
On the other hand, the lost-opportunity cost of not providing that functionality because it never gets high enough on the IT department’s priority list might also be high. Adopting SAAS solution might provide way for the business to respond more quickly to new opportunity or requirement.
Ultimately, as the SAAS concept evolves and matures, more and more IT functions will be provided this way – from file-storage and backup, to email management, telecommunications and applications, possibly even “virtual desktops”.

Mark Evans runs Techtelligence and is director of Sway.Tech, marketing, communications and strategy consultancy for hi-tech companies. [email protected]

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