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As the trend of using SaaS (Software as a Service) grows exponentially, more and more tools which are designed to increase productivity in the workplace become available. Some of these are free, while others justify their costs by increasing communication, business processes, and access to information. Here are five of the most useful tools available right now:
1) Google Apps: Although it has been around for a while, it is an excellent tool for any business that needs its email, documents, and calendars made shareable and online. With a little configuration on your domain, you can get Google Apps for your business and send email from your own domain (email@example.com) with Gmail as the interface. You can also easily get rid of the irritating “Sent on behalf of” message by changing a couple of settings.
Google Calendar is included as part of apps and works brilliantly for keeping track of your colleagues movements, and recording date specific information, for example employee sick days. Other apps included in the package are Docs, useful for documents shared amongst your network, Groups for mailing lists and content sharing, and Sites for intranets and team websites.
Google Apps is available as a limited Standard Edition at no cost, (except for your domain setup) and the Premier Edition costs $50 per user per year, which will also give you access to the Google Apps Marketplace which provides a number of other products and services that integrate with Google Apps.
Why it’s useful: It offers web-based access to email, documents, and calendars, some of which can be shared within a network.
Pricing: Standard Edition – Free; Premier Edition – $50 per user. (Other editions available as well)
2) MediaWiki is software originally developed for use on Wikipedia, but is available for download for use on your own domain. In my experience, MediaWiki is useful for storing and sharing information between staff like software how-to’s, design or development briefs, supplier information, and background information on our clients.
A possible alternative to MediaWiki is Google sites, but the ease of use and easy wiki editing features of MediaWiki has made it a favourite in the office where I work.
This software is free and you can download a copy of MediaWiki from their official site. It does require some basic PHP, MySQL skills for setup onto your domain or intranet. Most often you will want to configure MediaWiki to require a login to restrict access to your sensitive information.
Why it’s useful: Easy sharing, and searching of company information within a network.
Similar Tools: Google Sites.
3) Socialcast is a micro-blogging tool for your company. Much like Twitter, it enables real-time sharing of streams of regularly updated posts or files from people within your company network.
The free, basic version provides great functionality and unlimited users, which can really get your internal community talking. The Premium edition can be hosted on your server, while the Enterprise edition provide greater security and integration with your company IT systems. Socialcast also provides a host of applications from the Air app for your desktop, mobile apps, and Gmail and Outlook integration. View the Socialcast enterprise pricing structures here.
4) Wrike, (despite being tricky on the tongue) boosts your team’s productivity with intuitive online project management. Projects can be created easily from an Excel template, and tasks can be presented in a timeline or list format. An intelligent e-mail engine fits in with your existing working process by allowing the creation and editing of tasks in a project via email. It is great for mobile project management.
Managers can easily create task reports of team member activities, and automated e-mail notifications keep everyone in the team updated on their projects. Test drive the 30-day trial version of Wrike here.
5) Prezi is an innovative web-based presentation tool that uses a single large format canvas, and allows you to zoom in and out of focus areas that you create. With Prezi you create the presentations online, and download a flash-based Mac or PC file for presenting offline. It allows importing of flash animations, flash video, most image content, and even YouTube videos.
The styling is fairly limited with 9 set styles to choose from, but for $450 you can get a custom branded style for your company. Take a look at the online showcase of public Prezi apps, for some ideas to get you started.
Why it’s useful: Break from the PowerPoint mould, and create stunning presentations in seconds!
Price: 3 levels of use: Freemium, Enjoy ($59/year), Pro ($159/year)
Similar Tools: Google Docs Presentation, SlideShare, Empressr.
Of course, this is by no means a full list of online productivity and business tools. Some of these I’ve found very useful, and some have become tools that I just could not survive without. What are your favourite business productivity tools? Let me know in the Comments section.