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    Web-based software services can boost your productivity

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver October 11-17, 2005; issue 833

    High Tech Office column

    Web services provide a model far different from the traditional personal computer and software duet: programs are stored and run on a distant server and come to your computer across the Internet. There's nothing to install or store on your computer. You access them using a Web browser, any Web browser, running on any operating system anywhere you can connect to the Net.

    You may prefer the responsiveness of keeping your word processor installed on your hard drive. But there's a lot to be said for having your calendar and address book available wherever you happen to be.

    Kitsilano-based Function Point ( offers Web-based software targeting "creative businesses."

    It also provides customer relation management, invoicing and connections to accounting, along with an attractive user interface created by local graphics designers Fleming Design.

    Individual users can keep track of time spent on their tasks; management can stay on top of their projects' overall workflow, while drilling down as deeply as required.

    Simon Fraser University's Faculty of Applied Sciences faced a different challenge. It needed a way to allow a large number of staff to take charge of its own online content without having to learn about Web design or burden an IT staff. While there are a number of firms offering Web-based content management systems (including Vancouver-based Maestro CMS and The Level), it opted, as did UBC's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, to build its own, using the open source (and hence freely available) Plone ( They were pleased that Plone, developed in part by Vancouverite Andy McKay of Enfold Systems, was available for the wide range of computing systems found in the faculty.

    According to Barry Shell, the faculty's research communications manager, the new system has also improved workflow. Previously, to get an announcement online, for instance, it was necessary to e-mail one of a few people, who would then have to manually edit and post a Web page advertising the event.

    Now, the click of an online button brings details about an upcoming event to the attention of a reviewer, who verifies the content then with a single click posts the event online.

    Shell points out, however, that getting up and running required a part-time developer to set up and maintain the system.

    Function Point president Chris Wilson notes that his customers are finding that the system's instant feedback changes company culture. The ability to know what's happening at all phases of a project results in more profitability.

    You may not be ready to dump your word processor for a Web-based software service, but whether you roll your own or access a customized service like Function Point's, you can expect to do more and more of your job online, working anywhere you have access to a Web browser.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan