SMB global collaboration

* How one small company works across 23 time zones

It shouldn't be hard to coordinate seven employees, should it? And a fairly limited number of suppliers?

If you say yes, step into the shoes of Dan Callahan, CEO of Vintage Imports. Callahan may have a small group of employees, but since one of his major lines comes from New Zealand and others from France and Argentina, he juggles nearly two-dozen time zones to keep in contact with his suppliers. Have you ever tried to make a call to someone who's one day and eight hours ahead?

After trying unsuccessfully to use Microsoft Outlook to coordinate everyone, Callahan tried HyperOffice and found what he needed to handle standard shared calendars and task coordination. But he had some unusual requests that don't appear on the "standard feature" page of any collaboration applications.

"We send large graphic files back and forth between ourselves, government agencies for label approval, and even individual liquor stores hosting a tasting party," said Callahan from his Washington, D.C. office. "HyperOffice made it easy to put files on our site and authorize only certain companies for access."

When a liquor store schedules a tasting, Vintage creates the advertising flyer for them announcing the tasting and product details. If you sell a product through demonstrations, you know that better advertising means a better turnout, so Callahan must make it simple for the stores to use his flyers. By placing the flyer on his HyperOffice company portal with a password for the store, Callahan makes it easy for stores to download the flyer, print it and hand it out to customers.

They could probably e-mail graphics to the store, but if the file gets too big e-mail servers choke. And while a store flyer may be under the 10M-byte choke point for most e-mail services, hig- resolution graphics for labels and other advertising balloon into dozens of megabytes. Lucky for Callahan, HyperOffice accepts files up to 100M bytes.

Now weaned completely from Microsoft Outlook, Callahan uses HyperOffice for all e-mail as well as address book, calendar and project notes. If he wants, he can take advantage of discussion groups and even have users vote in an online poll.

One great benefit occurs when Callahan travels, which he does constantly. "I don't need a laptop, PDA or BlackBerry," he says, "because I can borrow any computer with a browser and get access to all my company information."

That's secure access, as well. HypeOffice offers a Secure Sockets Layer connection option, meaning all Callahan's communications are encrypted over the Internet. That's better than many companies who use Outlook Web Access or some other POP3 e-mail service for mobile workers, because those systems send messages in clear text across the Internet unless you install and activate special security options.

Callahan had a printing problem with HyperOffice, but the company response was impressive: "A year ago we had a special request for printing. They fixed it for us, and decided it was a good idea and improved their printing support for everyone."

Pricing for HyperOffice almost always stays around $6 to $8 per month, per user. If you've looked at an e-mail solution for remote workers using Microsoft Exchange, you know the price starts at four figures and jumps to five if you have many users and need a high-availability server. Getting global collaboration and e-mail services for little or no upfront cost, and a few dollars per user per month, wins that price comparison every time.

I asked Callahan if he had any last words about HyperOffice: "Tech support answers the phone immediately." How many of your national vendors answer your technical support calls immediately?

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