Helps Company Collaborate

Just because your employee headcount doesn’t number in the thousands doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about ways to communicate more efficiently. Boston-based caters to the needs of small and mid-size businesses by providing software that lets you share files, calendars and databases with co-workers, suppliers and other business partners. (The basic rate is $59.95 per month for five users; 10, 25, 50 Workgroup plans are also available for $99.95, $229.95, $399.95 per month, respectively.)

In February, the company added conferencing to its repertoire of Web-based applications. The Web conferencing application is priced at an additional $149.95 a month for 25 users. In the coming weeks, a company spokeswoman said, will make enhancements to its Calendar application to allow users to customize their view and synchronize their calendar with Exchange 2003.

One of the advantages of’s Web-hosted approach is that it doesn’t require any upfront investment beyond the monthly subscription fee. As long as you have internet access, you don’t spend money on new hardware or networking technology — an attractive aspect for businesses that can live with its applications and data residing off-premises.

To get a sense of what it’s like to use, asked Ashley Barron, general manager of
the COSEP Meetings & Events Division — a small business that specializes in providing on-site conference teams, temporary meeting planners and permanent placement services for the hospitality and tourism industry — to talk about her experiences using the collaboration software service. COSEP implemented Web-based applications earlier this year. How and why did you choose

Barron: In the business of meeting and event staffing, orders are constantly being changed or adjusted right up to the moment the conference or meeting ends. Managing over 450 client, candidate and order schedules on a daily basis requires excellent, immediate and clear communication between our departments 100 percent of the time. Our technology advisor, John Hills, studied our systems management needs, researched options and selected What competitive products did you consider? What selection criteria did you use when you began your search process?

Barron: John has been advising the COSEP Meetings & Events Division since it was still in the development phase. He has a strong understanding of our business and is aggressive about using technology tools to maximize the quality and delivery of our service, as well as to minimize human errors and communication gaps. When a change in office location required us to find a better system for information storage and sharing, we relied on John’s selection of as a real-time solution that would continue to evolve even as we, ourselves, were evolving.

The most important criteria for COSEP began with our need for a system that allowed our team access anytime, anywhere, as the meetings industry typically requires long hours and a lot of travel. We needed the capability to create multiple databases that did not require manually inputting duplicate entries if the information was already stored in another part of the system. This was a top requirement for us as duplication of process wastes time and money. Our limited resources must be spent intelligently on products and services that will provide positive short-term impact and long-term value. Additionally, we needed a calendar to track clients, programs and internal schedules. Universally accessible document storage was another key factor. During the initial evaluation period, in addition to your technical advisor, who else at your company was involved in the decision-making process?

Barron: At COSEP, department managers play a significant role in the standards of our service, the consistency of our quality and the direction of our growth. Each manager is empowered to solve issues and to make the everyday decisions about processes and procedures for their areas of responsibility. The nature of our industry requires a significant amount of task overlap and information sharing between departments ;&151; not to mention managing a constant barrage of communications and updates from clients and candidates. As such, the managers of our three primary departments (Sales, Recruiting, Operations) were heavily involved in making the decision to go forward with Did customize the solution based on your needs?

Barron: We knew the resource was available to us at any time but chose to design our own. This ability is a key advantage of We are able to develop, construct, adapt, eliminate and revise our entire system in real time, everyday. This advantage puts in our own hands the tools we need to make each day more productive than the one before. The surge in sales we have experienced since incorporating the systems management tools provided by is representative of the value. What’s your plan for evaluating competitive products in the future? That is, how locked in are you to

Barron:As long as continues to keep pace with the evolving needs of their clients, we see no viable reason to invest valuable time in looking for another provider. How long did take to deploy?

Barron: Though the service was available immediately, we used the trial month to tinker with the many functions and options available through the system. We built several database models, ran trials, kept what we liked and simply deleted the rest. We make minor modifications to our five main databases on an almost daily basis.

At a minimum, our efficiency immediately doubled once we began using We’ve cut our paperwork by more than 50 percent. Communication gaps are virtually nonexistent. That’s really saying something when you consider that our team works out of multiple offices in four states. How were your employees impacted? How were they trained to deal with the Web-based application?

Barron: We all thought was going to be much more complicated to use than it actually is, so we put a few barriers in our own way in the beginning. However, our managers were so excited about the efficiency and function this system makes possible that we quickly adjusted the “this is going to hard, isn’t it?” mindset, overcame these self-imposed obstacles and successfully designed our ideal system. Did you — or your employees — have any concerns about going with a hosted service?

Barron: We actually consider it a plus. Work records and client histories are important to every business. Knowing that a complete backup of our files is being stored in a secure, alternate location brings peace of mind.

Working with has eliminated the need for an internal person to handle systems management, a position for which we definitely don’t have room in the budget. What benefits were immediately apparent? For example, increased sales or customers.

Barron: The difference makes to our business is extraordinary. We started our trial month in October 2003, and began using the full system company-wide in December 2003. In the first two months of 2004, we have already done 82 percent of the total business we did in 2003. As an organizational tool for the small business-especially one with multiple work is unbeatable.

For us, the era of post-it note office decor is over. Through the Task function, managers identify and log new items needing attention or action item reminders to one another or to themselves. The Activity Log, which we use in all of our databases, makes a team member from any department sound knowledgeable about an existing or pending order when speaking with a client. Can you talk a little bit about the results? Are you able to measure the return in investment (ROI)?

Barron: Quite frankly, the value of is almost embarrassing. We are able to enter, manage and store all documents, all data, all orders, all details, all conversations, and all schedules for the entire company for a price that will fit any budget. We can track invoicing and weekly payables at the touch of a button. Using the View database function, we can look at our business from many different perspectives, spotting trouble areas in plenty of time to resolve them. We can increase our efficiency by making instant changes to our system as often as we deem beneficial, and without incurring any additional fees or charges. Our team can work at home or in the office with equal success. Papers don’t get lost, details are not left out and order changes are instantly accessible to all departments. Is this Phase I of a larger deployment or initiative — if so, what comes next?

Barron: New features are coming to These additions will be factored into our business plan as they become available. asks for input and involvement regarding suggestions for additional features and options that would benefit their small business clients. We contribute as often as possible.

Dan Muse is executive editor of’s Small Business Channel and EarthWeb’s Networking & Communications Channel.

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