by Michele Nachum
Published on 21 September 2012
Many smaller companies cannot always afford or even have a reason to invest in a massive on-site CRM and content management program. This is why cloud-based applications that come in more scalable and affordable versions are so strategic for smaller businesses that need a way to organize company information, discussions, documents, and of course vendor and customer leads.
Bitrix24 is a relatively new player in the cloud space though the Russian-based company (which offers versions in many languages including English) has been in business for many years providing larger corporate enterprises on-site intranet/extranet capabilities. Their new cloud version provides a user-friendly method to organize your team's discussions, documents, leads, tasks and much more.
Bitrix24 at its heart is a social intranet for smaller companies that provides tools for company teams that allow for immediate discussions (ala Facebook) with members of their groups, the ability to share documents, tasks, incorporate leads, provide calendar and email tools and much more. The application has an easy search option as well to find employees or vendors, documents or files, and more.
This is an alternative to more complicated CRM and project management applications that are used in large corporate enterprises - but has many of the same features to help a company organize its work-flow and content. Whether you have a 10-employee or 100-employee business, you still need organization, communication and a way to watch the flow of tasks. Bitrix24 does this with fairly easy-to-use intranet and extranet tools with dashboards that has ribbons at both the right and left that allow you to start up tasks, create users, save and share files and more.
Bitrix24 scales and is free at the basic subscription level - with only 12 users and no extranet capabilities. Extranet tools are included in the paid subscriptions.
Dashboard and Activity Stream:
Team members are invited and assigned roles, permissions (which documents they can or cannot view for instance) and are made members of groups. After initial sign-up - which is quick by the way - you are presented with a fairly plain dashboard that comes alive as you populate it with team members, their photos, documents and discussions which flow through the Activity Stream in a Facebook-like mode.
When you start a discussion, you can attach files, images and the like. (See the images below - the first being my initial set up and the second a populated dashboard and Activity Stream). You can also make your discussions private if you only want to "chat" with one or a few people.
Everyday Tools: Calendar, Tasks, Email, Sharing Documents
Britix24 knows that businesses and their employees need a calendar to schedule meetings, integration with email and the ability to create tasks. Britix24 has all of these tools and they are fairly simple to use. The Calendar is very much like the Outlook calendars you may be used to - as a matter of fact the application integrates with Outlook.
Creating tasks and assigning them to the team is also a fairly straightforward. Clicking on the Task button will enable you to quickly create a task and delegate it to the appropriate team member. You can see where you are in terms of task completion with a simple Gantt chart. Projects have a dedicated group where all of the files, discussions, and tasks pertaining to that project are stored and accessed only by those users who are relevant to the project. As Bitrix24 site says, "Time spent on each task within the project can be tracked, and tasks are integrated into the group calendar. Furthermore, projects can be created in the Extranet, so clients or partners can participate fully in them."
CRM which stands for Customer Relationship Management (as if you didn't know), can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Nevertheless, Bitrix24 offers (very) basic CRM tools to help small businesses keep track of their leads, meetings and customers. You can also store data within each lead - attach the latest meeting notes for instance or even specify your client's birthday. You can choose who you want to share your CRM contacts with (e.g.: certain team members, company departments, etc.).
In addition, in the CRM you can create reports as well as send mass email out to contacts. That said, Bitrix24 does not yet have graphical email templates for mass emails.
Advance Tools for Advance Subscription Levels
In the most advanced paid subscription level, Bitrix24 offers a number of enterprise-level features such as reporting not available in other versions. That said, the free version is actually a good deal - but if you want to share contacts and information with people outside your company such as customers and vendors, the paid subscriptions will help you do that.
In the Professional edition, you can have time management tools that allow you to track employees' time and create reports from there. Bitrix24 does a good job helping you easily set up reporting on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis and there are reminders to make sure your colleagues send reports and such to help track all the activity on a regular basis. Any work report is evaluated by a supervisor and commentary can be added. Other helpful tools in this category include an Absence Chart to track employees who may be on leave or on a vacation.
The free version is for up to 12 users which is a fairly good deal. You may not get some of the more complex time sheets and work -tracking documents but you will get the basics such as tasks, activity stream and more. The next level is Standard at $99 per month which offers an unlimited amount of users plus access to the extranet. Finally the Professional edition provides the time tracking tools and reports is $199 per month.
Bitrix 24 is good for small businesses that need an easy, low-maintenance, just-the-basics tools for tracking tasks, documents, conversations, data, time reports, CRM and more. File sharing and individual tasks management are strong functionality, however some other features mentioned here do not go deep - for example if you require a more robust CRM or project management solution - this is probably not for you. The CRM tools are basic in terms of storing contact and meeting information - but mass emails with templates, for example, along with social media marketing are not included. But that is not a bad thing - Bitrix 24 is striving to be an organizational tool for businesses that just need a bit of everything to make their working lives easier.