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Enterasys boosts productivity with Microsoft SharePoint alternative

Turns to cloud-based Smartsheet app to keep projects on track

By , Network World
April 30, 2013 01:28 PM ET

Network World - Enterasys Networks, the Salem, N.H., maker of networking and security products, found coordinating collaboration among staff, suppliers and partners was cumbersome using Microsoft's SharePoint so went looking for a simpler way that wound up saving money by boosting efficiency.

The solution was Smartsheet, a cloud-based task-management application that was simple enough to learn so teams actually used it and effective enough that it contributed to dramatic improvements in product quality and drops in errors, says Brad Martin, vice president of quality and engineering operations for Enterasys.

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"The time-to-market came down 50%," Martin says about products in his division, "and this tool was a big part of it." The division has reduced the rate of returned materials by 33% reduced software escalation rates by 25% and reduced prototype errors by 30% to 80%. At least some part of the credit for these improvements goes to Smartsheet, he says.

Smartsheet blends the features of spreadsheets wrapped up in a user-friendly interface that includes spreadsheets but also project tools, file sharing, team task management and social collaboration, says the company's co-founder Brent Frei. The application includes features that are usually available only through multiple applications such as Microsoft's Excel, Access, Project and SharePoint, he says.

The primary competition is Microsoft Project, which works in tandem with SharePoint and Office to keep track of what is being done on projects by date. The problem is it's hard for the average person to use in IT shops and professional services.

Frei happens to be a Microsoft alumnus -- a programmer analyst with Microsoft's Information Technology Group who helped to create international customer information systems. Later he co-founded Onyx Software, which was sold to M2M Holdings in 2004.

Smartsheet has the look and feel of a spreadsheet with formulas as well as copy and paste functions. Documents can be attached to any row of the spreadsheet, and creates Gantt charts that track the progress of components of projects and indicate which tasks depend on the completion of others.

Documents associated with projects can be attached to the spreadsheets for viewing by project participants. The actual project documents are stored in a cloud such as Google Drive or Box. The company is working on integration with Drop Box, and it works with Google Apps. This integration is done via public APIs.

It doesn't work with Microsoft's SkyDrive, but Frei expects that within a few months it will. Smartsheet relies on single sign-on for access to documents, and Microsoft's various cloud services hadn't supported that.

To use the service, customers grant Smartsheet access to their data stores and designate who may have access to shared documents. Smartsheet enforces the access rules. Documents are worked on by one user at a time so versioning isn't a problem, Frei says, although the application does have the option to co-edit simultaneously. Smartsheet keeps versions of documents so there is an historical record of changes.

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