Monthly Archive February 2013

Collaboration for Clients

Over the many years I have been running a consulting business (going on 16 years) I have found that I needed to store all kinds of data from clients including, passwords, licenses files, images, etc. Often a client would lose or forget important information, so I started saving information in a secure file in QuickBooks. Over time I have also found that clients loose statements and invoices all the time, so having a place to store such information that a client could access anytime would be a real time saver. A recent project also showed the real need for an easy to use collaboration method that would be a free or low cost for the client to use. I also needed a way for a client to mark up documents, images or whatever I shared with them to communicate changes.

A cloud-based application with a local component usable in either Windows, Mac or on mobile devices such as tablets or phones running Android, Windows Mobile, or Apple IOS would fit the bill nicely. I narrowed my choices down to three Zoho Notebook, EverNote, and Microsoft OneNote. This blog really is not a comparison between the three products as much as it is a decision to go with Microsoft OneNote. I really liked Zoho’s online application but it was missing an Android and iPhone application. Evernote was another top choice with some really great features, including their handling of tags but the lack of an organizational tool like pages within a notebook made the product cumbersome for non-techies. Tags are very powerful and in a way, they can be a replacement for something like pages by creating searches based on tags, but for someone with weak computer skills, this might not be immediately obvious. The extra work of tagging everything seems unproductive when compared to just dropping the document into a section or page. So that leaves OneNote which has all of the features I needed to create a robust environment for my clients to operate in.

The best choice for OneNote is the client that comes with most versions of Microsoft Office on the desktop, for those clients without Microsoft Office or unwilling to buy the client there is the online version that is very close to the desktop version. The biggest difference being the lack of a markup tool on the WEB based tool. There are also Android and iPhone applications as well but they are very early in the development cycle and it shows, I tested the Android application and there are some holes, for example, I have tagged my Todo’s with three different priority levels. The tag icons (checkable box with a priority number of them) are lost in the Android version while they come through perfectly on the WEB version. Syncing between the Android client, SkyDrive and desktop is robust and works very well, it also seems to somewhat fault tolerant.

One of my earlier attempts at using collaboration involved using a Google drive, unfortunately, there was no application sitting on top of the drive that provided any kind of organization beyond putting things in folders. OneNote takes that problem and turns it on its head by integrating OneNote with SkyDrive (Microsoft’s equivalent to Google Drive). Skydrive provides the cloud storage necessary to pull off OneNote as a collaboration tool that can handle many document types and allow for markup and sharing. Skydrive also automatically works with touch interfaces (such as Windows 8, Android and iPhone, and iPad) and knows when to open a folder with the OneNote WEB application.

There is one other big plus for OneNote that I do not see mentioned very often, its integration with QuickBooks and for that matter just about any other application. When you install OneNote for the desktop it also installs a OneNote printer. What this does is make it possible to take any output from an application and put it directly into OneNote as a note. This means I can directly output statements or invoices right into a client’s notebook ready for them to review at any time. I can also grab the URL for that note and send it to the client as a nudge to get them to use their OneNote account. Often I have had clients take screen shots of problems and send them in email only to lose track of the information months later. Now I can put them into a client’s notebook within OneNote and by adding a tag I can make the information easy to search for in case I run into the issue with another client. That’s the power of tagging, it makes information easy to find that might be buried in a client’s notebook but that might be usable in other cases. That is where I think EverNote fails, is this requirement to add tags to everything, it makes very powerful searches possible but often there is information that will never have anything to do with another client so the extra work of tagging everything seems unproductive.

Changing people’s behavior is never easy and I can only hope all of my clients will adopt using OneNote as a way to get to their information. Some will enthusiastically use a new tool, some will remain skeptical until they need the information, and still other’s won’t even consider trying OneNote without a lot of hand-wringing and kicking and screaming. I can only hope that the kicking and screaming will be minimal and that I can convince everyone that this helps them as much as it helps my business.