|What Technology Do I Need: Project Collaboration|
Private discussions, with supervision
A site I work with has clients and several individuals who provide service to those clients. Currently, this is done by e-mail. While much of the interaction is in the e-mail bodies, occasionally document or other files are sent back and forth as attachments.
While it works well, e-mail is not an ideal solution. User hard drive failure could wipe out valuable history (although we do have backup protocols in place). Also, supervision by a senior service provider depends on getting e-mail copies.
I thought I had found the ideal solution in a product called phpCollab - this was a nifty tool that let you set up projects, assign users to form teams, have a mini-discussion forum for each project, upload and track files, etc. Users could have varying rights - a client would see only his project, a service provider would see those projects for which he was part of the team, while a supervisor/admin could look in on all projects. Although phpCollab seemed to have been released as a tool for web developers, it was just about perfect for my app. Unfortunately, the author gave up on this product, and a test implementation had some technical issues that couldn't be easily resolved.
So, I'm back to square one and I'm not sure what I need to search for. Is this a project management tool? A collaboration tool? Workflow management? A discussion tool?
Here are a few constraints: First, the solution must be web-based and easily accessible to clients and providers. Second, there is no central IT facility so Exchange Server and similar workflow tools are mostly out of the question. Third, any solution must be very simple to use. Both clients and service providers may be technology-challenged (we would configure new projects for them). Fourth, it must fast to configure a new project/client. Small projects of minimal scope are frequent - a few hours of service - so we don't want to spend a lot of time in setup.
I've even thought about discussion software - setting up a new private forum for each project, for example. I'm not sure if any BBS software would handle dozens or hundreds of private forums gracefully, though. Any thoughts on a new starting point?
We use phpCollab. It's free and seems to meet your requirements.
Sounds like a job for a wiki ...one with good admin control and rollback. Check sourceforge for "twiki."
We used phpcollab for a while, again, 'issues' coupled with the author giving it up lead us elsewhere.
We needed what was effectively a job-tracking (as opposed to full-blown project) tool, and ended up being very happy with Willow. Their site seems down at present (on HotScripts here [hotscripts.com]), but it's a great (free) piece of PHP software.
Set up groups, departments, users, with varying rights, full email notification of job creation, allocation, completion - whatever, file upload routine, and a fully archived notes and comment section which you could use for your 'forum'.
Really can't recommend it enough, so far at least. You'll need Smarty templates installed, but that's no big deal. Paid version is available if you need installation or assistance. No, no affiliation or connection, just nice to be able to recommend a tool that so nicely fits a bill.
I'd recommend oyu look at Wikis too. I've been usign one internally with different page sets and login setups, and it can be very powerfull. You migh even look at a live update one for an intranet situation, then it doubles up as persistent IM too.
(then again I implemented inter-user messaging on my online wikis as well)
ecommerce man, the lack of support/development on phpCollab is a deal-killer for us. We ran into a problem where we couldn't set up new users, even though we had admin rights. Oddly, the firm that installed it for us was able to do that with the same login. The author could have diagnosed this quickly, I'm sure, but we saw it as a portent of things to come - what if we had fifty clients up and running, and the thing locked up on us? On the plus side, it looks like the project has been restarted.
I hadn't considered a wiki solution, so I'll have to scope that out. I'll look at Willow, too... hope their site comes back up. ;)
Another one you might want to look at is Copper [copperproject.com]. It looked to fit the bill as a phpcollab replacement.