According to AMI Research, small businesses say key factors for producing fiscal growth include acquiring new customers, minimizing customer turnover, marketing products and services, and keeping ahead of competitors.
Katie Jordan, Microsoft senior product manager of Office product management, said the software maker designed the its Office System 2003 around these key factors that directly impact a small business’ ability to grow.
“The Small Business Edition of the Office 2003 System is designed to help small businesses connect with their customers, create sales and marketing materials in-house, as well as connect people and information together,” Jordan said.
Having taken a close look at each element included in Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition over the past several weeks — Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher — we can definitely say that the software will help small businesses organize customer and sales information better, as well as help keep marketing costs down by producing print materials and Web management duties in-house. However, in order to share and collaborate on all this new, highly organized information, small businesses will need to take a look at adding Windows SharePoint Services to the mix, and that means upgrading to Windows Small Business Server 2003.
Microsoft has been offering a Web-based collaboration system called SharePoint for a couple of years. Now in its second generation, Windows SharePoint Services — when combined with the Office Small Business Edition 2003 and Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 — provides new ways to bring small-business employees together from remote locations. As a result, small businesses can speed up the approval and review process of countless projects though SharePoint’s ability to bring people together in collaborative workspaces.
Tight integration between Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition and Windows SharePoint Services provides a collaborative workspace environment for shared documents. When employees share a workspace, they can work on a shared document, keep up to date about the status of a project, find teammates online, and add comments or results to a shared workplace.
Local files stored on employees’ PCs eventually get out of synch when working on shared document. New Document Workspaces provide a forum for small businesses to manage collaborative projects and readily share up-to-date information with colleagues, business partners and customers.
Document workspace sites make collaboration easier for small businesses in several ways. Task lists, deadlines, related documents, hyperlinks and contact information for project participants are archived within any SharePoint site. Office 2003 applications are integrated through the Shared Workspace, so the task pane in the application is nestled right beside the working document itself, allowing for each team member to keep track of the project though their personal productivity tools.
Unlike e-mail, where the original author has no way to know if any of the people asked to contribute to the project have even started working on it, the Shared Workspace task pane and Document Workspace site enables each member of the team to see the incremental progress being made on editing the shared document.
This may sound a bit complex to some, but creating a Document Workspace is quite easy. In Outlook 2003, when a user attaches an Office document to an e-mail message, all an employee has to do to share the document is select the “Shared Attachments” option in the “Attachment Options” task pane. The document is automatically sent to a Document Workspace and each employee that receives the e-mail will have access to the shared workspace. This allows a team of employees to edit, access and save the latest version of collaborative documents in a secure, central location.
With the addition of Windows SharePoint Services to the Small Business Edition of Office 2003, small businesses also gain the ability to setup Meeting Workspaces. For example, if a small business has a big presentation coming up, a meeting workplace is a great way to prepare for, conduct and follow-up on meetings.
The Meeting Workspace function is designed to provide a secure online Web destination for small businesses to coordinate a big upcoming meeting or detailed product presentation. From one, centrally located Meeting Workspace, small business can organize, share and archive all meeting-related visuals, content, notes and action items.
Once again, a Meeting Workspace site can be easily setup using Outlook 2003. All a user need do is create a “New Meeting Request,” select the “Meeting Services” button and send out the details. Each employee included in the meeting notice will have access to the Meeting Workspace. Individual employees can add pertinent links and documents to the shared environment so every employee is kept in the loop about each development from the first meeting, forward.
Meeting coordination and scheduling is coordinated through Shared Contact and Shared Calendars, which can easily be accessed by team members to facilitate meeting coordination and scheduling.
Much of the collaborative work, whether completed in a Document or Meeting Workspace, can be integrated through Shared Attachments. When a document gets passed back and forth between employees working on a project, it’s easy to lose track of the most recent version of key documents. The Shared Attachments feature built into SharePoint integrates task panes to support collaboration tools built into an Intranet to help reduce these types of inefficiencies typically associated with the collaborative process.
Minimal training and implementation time are required for small businesses to leverage SharePoint collaborative capabilities. Microsoft presents SharePoint services in its familiar menus format so functions and interfaces will appear familiar to most users.
SharePoint sites store event calendars, contacts, Web links, discussions, issues lists, announcements, and much more. By using Windows SharePoint Services, small businesses can create smart places that help employees share information and get work done more efficiently, not just save files that are quickly outdated.
If you want to start small, Windows SharePoint Services could be run on a single computer. Despite the fact that it was engineered to scale to large enterprise deployments, Windows SharePoint Services runs well in a small business, departmental, or pilot project environment.
The Standard Edition of Windows Small Business Server 2003 software is priced at $599 for a five-user license. Additional client access licenses (CALs) are $99 each. The server software can connect up to 50 PCs or users.
Microsoft SharePoint has a very personal impact on a small business’ ability to connect people with business information. It can streamline process management because it utilizes existing communications to heighten team effectiveness. In a small business, every project matters. Windows SharePoint Services, as implemented through Windows Small Business Server 2003, is one way to make each employee’s contribution to a key project matter even more. There is an “I” in teamwork when you use the “Internet” to organize and manage team-based projects.
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