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IT: Great Online Tools for Your Business
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Sometimes simple website tools can be enough for your business

altNot so long ago, you would have needed a large sum of money for the software required to run a company, even for a small office. These would range from the operating system and office suits, to specialized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationships Management (CRM) and financial management software. Installation of these were time consuming and often complex, especially if companies required customization of their software.

To manage all this, each company required an IT department, as servers and networks were an integral part of the operation. Databases had to be set up and managed, email servers maintained, and backups of all work secured.

Luckily, times have changed and most software is now available for free or pay as you go. Installation has become a few mouse clicks, if indeed any installation is required, as software is now often simply run through your web browser. Even the term is slowly changing as many refer to them as tools instead of software.

Following our article about free iPhone Apps in last month’s edition, we now look at some online tools for use on your computer or for your business.

1. Office suite: Google Docs
alt Google Docs have come a long way and now offer document-, spreadsheet-, presentation-, drawing-, form- and table-editors. Though not as versatile as the good old Microsoft Office, it offers all the functionality one would possibly need for general work. The added bonus with Google Docs is how easy it is to share your work, and collaborate with others. If I am starting a project, Google Docs is almost always my first tool to use with the team, and through that we can identify if more complex tools are required at a later stage.
Google Docs is available in Chinese.

Alternative to Google Docs are for example: OpenOffice.org, iWork for Macs or Zoho

2. CRM: Zoho
alt Zoho CRM has been a rising star in the shadow of its big brother Salesforce. But Zoho is coming into its own, constantly growing and adding features, and with its much lower cost has become a real option for many. The biggest advantage of Zoho, besides the pricing, is its simplicity, as it is very easy to open and use from the first minute. It also works with all the other Zoho solutions, which can be a big plus.
Zoho is also available in Chinese.

Alternatives to Zoho CRM are for example: Salesforce, Highrise or xTools (China)

3. Finance: Quickbooks Online
alt Finding the right tool for financial management can be very tricky, as needs of users and companies are so varied. Another issue is that so many tools are created for the US market only, with no consideration of multi currency requirements, conversions, or different tax standards. The clear leader in tools for managing finance for smaller companies is Quickbooks, offered both as an online solution and as the old fashioned installable software. The downside being that it is tailor-made for the US, and so far no one has created a Chinese version.

Alternative to Quickbooks is for example: Youshang.com (China)

4. Capturing: Evernote
alt Evernote is one of those tools that are so difficult to classify while being close to indispensible. In essence, it is a collection box for all the things you find online, your ideas, and other things you want to remember. Evernote is far ahead of its competitors due to how multiplatformed it is, seamlessly syncing between all your devices. The search function is also powerful, resulting in me for example emailing to my Evernote account websites I think are useful. In the email I include keywords so at a later date I can simply search my Evernote account to find a link to the website again.
Evernote is being translated to Chinese through crowdsourcing.

Alternatives to Evernote are for example: Mknote.com (China), Springpad or Zoho Notebook

5. Online storage: Dropbox
alt The latest craze in the IT world is surely storage space in the cloud. Everyone seems to be getting in on this business, but one of the pioneers in the field, Dropbox, is still the leader. Dropbox is straightforward to use and integrates well both on PCs and Macs. The downside, as with many of these services is that unless you are simply using it for sharing files with friends, you will run out of space in a short time. You can purchase space but it can get costly.
Sadly, Dropbox is partially blocked in China.

Alternatives to Dropbox are for example: Box.net or Google Docs

6. Backup: Mozy
alt Most companies have to ensure that their data is backed up, but for smaller companies it can be a daunting and expensive task to install servers and networks for such purposes (not to mention that those can also get damaged in a fire or be stolen). A smart solution is to utilize a tool like Mozy to backup important files. Even though somewhat costly if a large amount of data has to be backed up, it is considerably cheaper and more secure than an in-house solution.

It could be said that Dropbox or any other cloud based storage system serves the same purpose, but that would be wrong. One is to store files, while the other specializes in protecting and backing up your important information.
Mozy is available in China, under the name 51eyun, which they operate with China Telecom.

Alternatives to Mozy are for example: Carbonite, Jungle Disk or IDrive.

7. Collaboration: Vyew
alt There are so many online collaboration tools available that picking one to mention is difficult. Vyew is one that offers many of the most common functions and has a freemium model (there are ads instead). You can share your screen and collaborate with other users. There is of course chat, video, and whiteboard functionality. Many recommend this as a quick and easy collaboration tool.
Vyew supports Chinese text input.

Alternatives to Vyew are for example: LiveMinutes, AnyMeeting, Campfire or GoToMeeting.

8. Project Management: Basecamp
alt If you require a special tool for organizing your projects, Basecamp might be a good place to start. One of its strong points is that it doesn’t really follow any set project management methodology, but just provides tools such as file sharing, task assignment, and communication along with the ability to comment on almost everything. However, for large-scale projects, I would say it becomes very limited as tracking and overview is not very advanced.
It is not available in Chinese, but should work fine in China.

Alternatives to Basecamp are for example: Freedcamp or Zoho Projects.

9. Communication: Skype
alt Surely we have all heard of or even used Skype, but I guess that very few are utilizing it to its full potentials. Beside the obvious chat and videoconference functionality, with a subscription it is possible to make regular phone calls on Skype. It is by far the cheapest option I have found for international phone calls and most of the time it works fine.

Another pretty clever option, especially for companies in China that want to operate around the world, is to get a local number that connects to your Skype account. People are much likelier to stay in contact if they can call a local number to reach you.
Skype is available in Chinese.

Alternatives to Skype are for example: QQ or MSN.

10. Blogging: Wordpress
alt It is almost impossible to write about online tools for small businesses without mentioning Wordpress. Gone are the times when people had to know programming in order to publish articles on the Internet. Now everyone can create his or her own little space on the World Wide Web in few steps and Wordpress had a big part in making that happen. Even mid sized companies are utilizing Wordpress due to how heavily customizable it is, while still keeping the entry of new material simple for the user. Wordpress is also quick to load and has a huge support community that constantly develops new templates and other resources.
Wordpress is available in Chinese.

Alternatives to Wordpress are for example: Tumblr, Joomla or Drupal,

The 10 online tools above are just few of thousands of great online resources. I recommend that whether you are a business or individual that you search for the tools that fit your needs before just purchasing the most recognizable one. Most of these have a free trial period and as very few require any installation, you simply need to create an account and start trying. Good luck!

by Sam Ragnarsson

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