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These commands account for nearly 32 percent of the command usage in Microsoft Word 2003. Likewise, a robust Autosave feature was built into the offering to eliminate the need for a knowledge worker to have to remember to save a working document from the start or during the creating process.

That's only one of many feature enhancements comparatively speaking. The major use case upgrade between the incumbent productivity suite and the “newbies” are the built-in collaboration features. Built on the Web 2.0 philosophies of community and the sharing of precompetitive data, apps such as Zoho make it incredibly easy to share documents between colleagues for review or the simple FYI.

What makes this sharing of documents so powerful is the removal of a formal e-mail application from process. In the past, if you wanted to share a document, you had to attach it via e-mail or save it to a directory on the server then send an e-mail informing everyone of its location. Now, you can simply e-mail the document in question to colleagues without ever leaving the application.

Saving the document on a server and pointing colleagues to it isn't as practical as one would think. Often, those with whom we collaborate live outside the firewall or outside our organization without access to our data servers. Attaching the document works well when collaborating with 2 to 4 people, but the review process becomes muddled from that point on.

Most times, half of the recipients have no clue as to what revisions have been made and time is wasted making the same or similar revisions multiple times. To mitigate this, you're forced to massage the revisions into a second draft and send that one out repeating the process. Being able to simply forward a link to all parties involved in the revision process allows all those involved to see changes made in real-time while also removing data from e-mail stores.

The aforementioned functionality presents a compelling value proposition for small businesses needing to act globally, while reducing costs on infrastructure and increasing collaboration between disparate parties within and outside of the organization. Likewise, the functionality embedded within these online applications comes at a fraction of the cost of the incumbent solution. This makes them all that much more sticky; but the questions remain of when, where and how to introduce these technologies to the enterprise.

Of course, you could rip and replace and go completely online. But that's not an appropriate strategy. Concepts such as printing and document management still pose an issue. Moreover, adoption of online productivity suite-type tools is not an all-or-nothing endeavor; rather, it's an orchestration of technologies and methodologies. Online and offline apps can cohabitate.

The first step is an assessment. What do your knowledge workers use on a daily basis and how do they navigate their environment? Is there a collaboration solution in place where all documents should live? This is a big one as any documents created in the cloud will live in the cloud thus making them invisible to the existing knowledge management or document management solution. Likewise, it's not impossible to import documents from the cloud into the offline solution, but this is an additional step knowledge workers are sure not to take.

Additionally, take into account the issue or issues an online productivity suite will mitigate. Depending on the footprint of the organization, it's possible to reduce the cost of the backup. Overall data availability is the responsibility of the service provider therefore removing the responsibility of backup and recovery and storage from the enterprise. Would you rather carry that weight or give that responsibility to someone else?

At the end of the day, the component lacking from many of these online applications is the link between the online world and the back-end, in-house data store. In a perfect world, you'd have the choice of specifying the primary and secondary Save data location. The primary would be an offline data repository within the enterprise, be it a simple file directory or a document management solution. The secondary save location could simply be a local directory. Likewise, when the primary location is available the documents would sync. Of course, all of this would happen behind the scenes without end user intervention except for the initial configuration of the Save locations. Without this component, few enterprises can realize the true cost and functionality benefits of migrating users, or even a subset of them, to an exclusively online solution.

We're not there yet. I'd guess this last piece of the puzzle is at least 12 months away. So we might see you online in 2009.

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