Low-cost Information Management, Communications and Collaberation Tools

Although much of the work I do is for very large organisations and extremely costly projects, being an adopted Yorkshire-man, I’ve always an eye open for a bargain! More seriously, there are many small to medium sized businesses and charities that cannot afford big IT budgets but that still are crying out for good information management, communications and collaboration tools. In this article, I’ve tried to highlight a few tools that I think are worth looking at.

I’ve not included anything in this article that requires a monthly or annual cost. All the tools here are available for free at least with limited features. The feature lists given are for the free versions with paid-for key features noted where appropriate. I also note if any of the web sites are blocked by typical enterprise firewalls.

There is a lot more than what I’ve shared here, I’ll try to update this article from time-to-time.

Office Applications

Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations are the core of an office application suite. Additional tools might be included such as email, calendar, note taking, formula editing, diagrams, mind mapping.

  • SSuite Office Software
    I’ve not tried this free, Microsoft Windows only, office suite but it certainly looks interesting.
  • Microsoft Office
    I know that it may seem strange to include this in an article about low-cost solutions. However, you can get Microsoft Office at a very low price from a number of legitimate sources. These include enterprise licenses that allow home use and student licenses if you have a full-time student in the house. Cut-down versions of the MS Office suite are also often bundled with computer sales.
  • Google Docs
    This free offering from Google provides a reasonable choice for straight-forward documents but may be blocked from some enterprise sites. You get 1GB of free space and can pay for more if you need it.
  • Gliffy
    Web-based diagramming like a simple version of Microsoft Visio. Free version is limited to 1 user, 5 diagrams and 2mb storage. Otherwise a monthly fee is required starting at US$5 per month.
  • Other options: Libre Office (forked version of OpenOffice, good enough for most people, not as good as MS Office), AbiWord, KOffice (Linux), iWork (Mac), …
  • Options not to bother with: Microsoft Live – far too simplistic, unreliable logins, poor sharing compared to Google (though you do get 25GB of free space).

Web Conferencing

Should provide instant messaging, voice, video, whiteboard (shared drawing space) and desktop sharing between computers as a minimum. May also provide meeting management tools, recordings of meetings and other facilities. Will generally be web applications that just require a web browser to access though plugins such as Adobe Flash may also be required and some may provide specific mobile tools.

  • AnyMeeting
    Web-based. Free, advert supported. Up to 200 attendees, 6-way video conferencing. Polls and surveys, invitations, registration forms, optionally charge attendees. Flexible audio options: audio broadcast, conference call, VoIP (computer microphone & headset)
  • Vyew
    Web-based, requires Adobe Flash. Free, advert supported. Up to 10 attendees. Forums, record activity, shared annotation of documents. Additional attendees and other features available on premium versions requiring monthly fees.
  • Other web-based alternatives: WebEx, GotoMeeting, GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect, Microsoft LiveMeeting.

Voice

Phone-to-phone voice calling.

  • ChatTime
    An iPhone app that uses local access numbers in many countries allowing international calls at low rates. Doesn’t require 3G or data access. Note that they still recommend using local SIM cards when roaming. International calls between 2 ChatTime users do not incur additional charges (both users have to call their local ChatTime access numbers).

Project and Task Planning

Tools that help teams and organisations plan complex tasks.

  • Asana
    Team and project online task manager. Free for up to 30 members. Calendar sync, mobile web compatible, multiple workspaces (project categories), multiple projects, email in (new tasks by email), receive email updates, activity feed for each task, SSL connection, iPhone app
  • ReqMan
    Totally free, unlimited users and projects. Project planning, time management & recording, requirements gathering, questionaires, reporting, WIKI, workflow, change requests, test cases, issues.
  • HappyToDos
    Online to-do and task management. Projects & tasks, estimate completion dates, estimate effort (hours), time reporting, team collaboration & file sharing.

Other Possibles

I’ve not yet looked at these but will do at some point

  • zeropc.com (blocked at enterprise site as possible malware)
  • https://podio.com/ (blocked at enterprise site as “Social Networking”)

Things to remember

When using web-based tools, remember that you may want more than connection security. Many tools claim to be “secure” by using SSL but that only secures the connection between you and them. Your data is unlikely to be stored encrypted on their servers and even when it is, it is even less likely that you can specify your own secure key so that server administrators at their end are prevented from accessing the data.

In addition, remember that there are rarely enforceable service level contracts with web suppliers, if their systems fail, or they themselves fail; your data is history.