As I eased into my seat at the airport terminal, I suddenly remembered there was an electronic file that I needed to get to an associate of mine. I'm sure I'm not alone when it comes to always seeming to need something on my computer at the exact moment when that computer is inaccessible. I made a mental note of what I needed to do when I landed and I picked up a magazine. Right in front of me was an article describing the solution to my problem.
They are called Internet productivity suites, and there are a host of companies offering these applications. The main target they all have their eyes on is Microsoft. Even Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Division Product Management Group, stated, "The sharing that the Internet offers is an awesome opportunity to do things we aren't doing well today."
At the front of the pack with the biggest name recognition is Google. Google has recently launched the free Google Docs & Spreadsheets service (http://docs.google.com), which can be accessed from their main launching site under the "Business Solutions" tab. This enables the user to go out and create a spreadsheet or word document for example and then anyone with access to a Web browser (who you allow to have access) would have access to your document. Changes could be made in real time on this secure URL. You could import your own documents or create new ones from scratch. And it's free!
A couple of other companies that offer similar products include ThinkFree (www.thinkfree.com) and Zoho (www.zoho.com). Documents may be saved in a variety of formats, including HTML. Training sessions could be conducted rather easily with the PowerPoint-like presentation programs. And did I mention that they are all free? The market is currently dominated by Microsoft Office applications, but these new companies are practicing some "Art of War"-like tactics. Whereas Microsoft is the slow-moving behemoth, these other companies offer the user the ability to create easily shareable files and access them on any Internet-connected computer, regardless of the operating system and without having to install software.
As a suite, these companies offer secure, centralized repositories where you can store hundreds, if not thousands, of documents. The features and applications at its most basic level are certainly not as slick and refined as Microsoft, but then again, give it some time. As these companies evolve, the best applications and features will get enhanced and the waste will disappear. For now, the only company with sufficient cash to keep pace with Microsoft is Google, but don't count out the others just yet. Innovation moves quickly in the world of computers and technology, and these virtual offices offer a fantastic glimpse of what the Web can be and how it can make all of us more productive.
So, the next time I'm stuck in an airport and I need to share a file with an associate, I'll know just what to do.
Mike Vernon is the Technology Committee co-chair for the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, vice president of the Pennsylvania Association of Mortgage Brokers and president of FollowYourCustomer Inc. He may be reached at (877) 365-5692 or e-mail [email protected].