Chrome River - Online Expense Reporting

Last week I had the honor to take a look at Chrome River Expense - online software for expense reporting. The software is build in Adobe Flex and seems to fit well in the category "next generation web applications". Web based software that feels like desktop software.

From their website, Chromeriver.com:

"Chrome River Expense is an online expense reporting and management service that is built from the ground up specifically to meet the needs of professional services organizations. With no up-front hardware or software costs and a solution that is quickly deliverable to users around the globe, Chrome River Expense improves your firm's operations and provides a virtually instant return on investment."

Chrome River screenshot
Chrome River Screenshot (image from Chrome River website)

At first, I thought of expense reporting as something that would commonly be part of a financial management system (or practice management system). Chrome River chose to focus on only one business process and - so it seems - does that really well. The software covers every imaginable aspect of expense report and is easily accessible through a user friendly interface. Of course, it will take some effort to get everyone in a firm/organization to use the software correctly, but in the end it will make life a lot easier for everyone. Also, by keeping better track of your expenses, more will be identified as billable expenses and thus end up on your client's invoices.

Chrome River Overview
Chrome River Overview (click image for larger version)

The software has been specifically built for legal (and professional) services firms. Chrome Rivers' founders have years of experience in the legal software industry - they were previously employed with Thomson Elite. The software is offered on a "SAAS" - software as a service - model, running on hosted servers (at an ISP). I am a silent fan of software that is offered online and where you pay for the use of a product (and support) instead of purchasing a license (and then having to pay a yearly fee for maintenance and support). Unfortunately, most firms are still holding on to the more traditional approach of having everything on your own servers.

Maybe more about Chrome River later...

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Bram Braakman • 22 June 2008
Archived under: Reviews • (0) CommentsPermalink

Designing and Organizing a Corporate Intranet

Before I start, "Corporate Intranet" in this article refers to the internal (corporate) website (that is usually named "the intranet" in a firm). In a more general (and correct) sense the term intranet refers to "a private computer network that uses Internet protocols, network connectivity to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with its employees". Sometimes other terms are used to describe something similar to an intranet, for example: "enterprise portal" or "intraweb".

A corporate intranet is always a 'custom' built website/application. No matter what framework, portal server or intranet engine you have running, you will always have to customize the intranet to meet your company's needs. The first step in building/shaping your intranet: identify the needs/goals. What is the purpose of the intranet? What would you like it to do? What problems are you trying to solve with it? These are all common questions that are relevant to any project, yet they are more than often left unanswered.

"Corporate intranets facilitate communication and access to information" according to an old (but still relevant) (student) source on corporate (library) intranets. Intranets should be central to a firms' information management: sharing, creating and processing information can all be done on the intranet. Because of this central role of the intranet - the application should be able to "talk" to the other application within a firm. An intranet application can therefore soon get extremely complex. That complexity usually already starts with the wishes and goals of a firm. My advise: try to keep it simple in the beginning and build on from there.

Intranet Wish-list

To find all the items on your intranet wish-list, you can ask yourself the question: "what tasks will a (typical) employee hope to accomplish with the use of the intranet?".
Possible answers:

  • Look up the phone number of the Marketing Manager
  • Request to take some time off
  • Read the latest company news
  • Register for the company's yearly Social Event
  • Read the company's health insurance benefits
  • Enroll in a training
  • Match the name of a new colleague with a picture
  • Find Knowhow on a certain subject

From that list we can already deduct a couple of intranet functions:

  • Employee Directory with Pictures
  • Human Resources Services (form processing)
  • Company News
  • (Event/Training) Registration (form processing)
  • Company Information (HR, Policies)
  • Knowledge sharing

And with some more thinking we could add a few more things to that:

  • Questionnaires
  • Document Management
  • Company Calendar
  • Social functions (employee profiles)
  • Company Pictures (for example event pictures)
  • Financial and Marketing information (for management)

We should however be careful here to not let this list grow endlessly. As I said earlier: try and start simple in the beginning. The most basic way of starting with your corporate intranet is to only offer information on it (like a regular website). Minimally your intranet should have company news and Human Resources information - those are usually the most requested information on an intranet. In a future article I will discuss organizing your intranet further and look what is sometimes called: Intranet 2.0 (after the web 2.0 trend)

See also: Adaptive Path: Organizing Your Global Corporate Intranet

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Bram Braakman • 15 June 2008
Archived under: Information Management, Intranet • (0) CommentsPermalink

MS (Microsoft) Roundtable tip

image The name Microsoft (MS) is usually not automatically connected to computer hardware. If it is, most people will think of mice and keyboards or Xbox devices. A recent addition to Microsoft's ever growing portfolio of products is however a video communications device labeled "RoundTable". This (video)conferencing device has been released around the same time as Office Communications Server 2007. This server software adds a lot of communication options to your Microsoft Office/Exchange setup and works together with your company's PBX phone system. VOIP calling, instant messaging, user "away" status and much more, all directly available from within Outlook.

To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Microsoft. From a business perspective I am always wary of being too dependent upon one supplier (vendor lock-in). Thus having Microsoft also conquer the (phone) communication part of a company, is not what I would quickly recommend. The RoundTable is however a very impressive new product. It works best with the Microsoft software but is not limited to it. In due time, other software developers might build proper support for it. It actually holds two camera devices and can already be used with for example Skype, then simply utilizing just one camera.

The RoundTable is being advertised as a full 360 degree camera. The panoramic style of video conferencing is gaining in popularity. Compared to the more traditional video conference devices the RoundTable is a big step forward. The price is also attractive: around $ 3000 or about EUR 2100 in the Netherlands. Polycom, the company that specializes in (video) conferencing equipment asks already much more for a much simpler device. You could, of course, wait for Cisco's Holographic Video Conferencing to become available. In the meantime, I recommend you take a closer look at Microsoft's RoundTable. You might find it a good tip.

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Bram Braakman • 3 June 2008
Archived under: Reviews • (0) CommentsPermalink
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