by Keean Persaud
Published on 8 February 2011
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| Features: | Project Management & Collaboration, Task Management, Time Tracking & Billing, Calendar & Meeting, Bug Tracker, iPhone App available | | Industry: | Non Specific | | Customers: | Small and Medium Business | | Geography: | All markets | | Languages: | English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese (Brazil), Chinese, Danish, French, Polish, Turkish, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, Korean, German | | Cost: | Free for 1 project, Starting at 20US$ / Month for 20 projects and unlimited users |
This review constitutes an analysis based on a product demonstration and software review by qualified system software experts at Eval-Source The demonstration Eval-Source received from the vendor was based on their own custom vendor script, designed to validate and/or disprove vendors' claims. The script was specifically prepared to identify functionalities and form an impartial analysis and software review for Project Management.
In this era of cloud service-oriented architecture (CSOA), organizations are faced with the dilemma of how to keep their existing infrastructure and/or supplement it with a cloud solution. Organizations have now accepted the cloud/SaaS technology model as a viable IT delivery mechanism for products and services. These new options have created the opportunity for vendors to offer a wide assortment of applications, services, infrastructure, and even platforms as cloud solutions.
Organizations are leveraging technology to maximize resources and reduce operating costs. Today's business environment has enabled companies to operate virtually. Companies are collaborating more frequently with many internal and external partners, and as a result, diversified project teams are in demand now more than ever before. The adoption of best practices has made project management a staple operation within a company as to how they execute project management initiatives. Project management methodologies-even the nature of what is considered a project-are constantly changing. This evolution has created a significant need for project management solutions to be intuitive and incorporate the fundamental methodologies of project management.
The five phases of project management, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), are initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing. Organizations that require project management solutions should always be cognizant of the basics of project management and how a vendor's solution addresses these five phases of project management. It is by examining what your organization requires to execute projects and matching those needs to the appropriate software that you will find the best solution.
Zoho Corporation has created a platform that addresses the needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) by offering 22 online applications. The ability to use a web browser to communicate globally has reduced the need for project teams to be centrally located and under one roof. The Zoho architecture provides the correct infrastructure that incorporates business, collaboration, and productivity applications for smaller organizations. This product solution review will analyse the Projects module from Zoho and will examine functionality, target markets, functional and technical specifications, and the overall perception of the solution.
Due to the internal design of the application, Ticket Management, Asset Management, Inventory Management, internal/external support and collaboration coexist in one convenient package. This makes administrative tasks and customer support far simpler and easier to manage.
Zoho Corporation's main target for the Zoho Projects application is the SMB market , but it does offer scalability for larger firms. The Projects module can exist as a standalone or be integrated with rest of the Zoho business applications. It can also be integrated with Google Apps for extended functionality. Zoho Projects is targeted to organizations looking for project management, collaboration, and bug tracking capabilities. Zoho Projects can cater to many types of businesses and industries as well as a variety of verticals.
Organizations that require management of one or multiple projects can utilize the Projects module for internal and external project requirements where collaboration is needed. Zoho Projects is a great tool for organizations that do not have a formal project management office (PMO) or employees with project management (PM) designations, such as certified project manager (PMP). For organizations that require a tool to manage projects but that may not have employees with deep project management skill sets or experience, Zoho Projects might fit the bill. That said, Zoho Projects is a robust enough tool for someone with a project management background to use.
Zoho Projects supports a wide range of languages , including Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (US), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
Zoho Projects targets several types of organizations, but is not limited to these business models:
Zoho Projects has convenient, flexible payment options, namely, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and PayPal. A cheque transfer is also an option should you decide to pay yearly, and further discounts may apply. Cheque transfers are arranged by Zoho as another payment option.
Zoho Projects is available in five editions that can accommodate any level of enterprise. These five editions are Free, Standard, Express, Premium, and Enterprise. Three add-ons of Project Wiki, Project Chat and Bug Tracking are available for further collaboration purposes. The Bug Tracking add-on is available only for Express, Premium and Enterprise versions. The pricing for Projects differs from the traditional user-license model: the solution is charged by project, not the number of named users. Projects' pricing is based on the number of concurrent projects that your organization requires. This model allows for an unlimited number of users in each project. The packages scale up depending on individual corporate project needs. Since it is a monthly service, there is no annual contract to sign, and therefore organizations can cancel at any time.
The pricing levels for the respective packages are as follows:
| Free: | 1 project; unlimited users; (optional add-ons Wiki, Chat) 1 Wiki, 1 Chat | | Express: $20 per month: | up to 20 projects; unlimited users; (10$ optional add-ons Wiki, Chat) 10 Wikis, 10 Chats | | Premium: $35 per month | up to 50 projects; unlimited users; ($20 optional add-ons Wiki, Chat, Bugs) 20 Wikis, 20 Chats, Bug tracking for 20 projects | | Enterprise: $80 per month | unlimited projects; unlimited users; ($40 optional add-ons Wiki, Chat, Bugs) unlimited Wikis, unlimited Chats, Bug tracking for unlimited projects |
Zoho Projects charges by active projects. Archived and completed projects are not included in the monthly subscription to count toward open projects within the monthly subscription.
Eval-Source has identified 18 key areas in which organizations should consider when purchasing SaaS and cloud technology. These items reflect areas that will determine the monthly cost of the subscription. From the component checklist below, this is how Zoho Projects fared:
| Tenancy-multi or single | Multi-tenancy | | Cloud structure-public or private | Public | | Database Licenses Subscription terms | Monthly and yearly | | Data center-online or offline | Online | | Data security standards by vertical | No specific verticals, data security at network level. See https://www.zoho.com/privacy.html for full details | | Business continuity/data recovery | Yes | | Hardware Maintenance Encryption type | 128/256 bit SSL encryption | | Version release schedule | Not available | | Current version released | Version 3.0 | | Session management | Yes | | Application level security | Yes | | Current version released | None, pricing based on number of concurrent projects | | User limits | Yes, for additional costs depending on current data and system needs | | Offer data migration services | Yes (on request) | | Offer free trials/sandbox testing | Yes (only Logo, Themes, Date & Time formats, and Tab management) | | Setup fee (admin fee) | No | | Application customizable by vendor | No | | Charge for additional space | No |
As a part of the TCO equation Eval-Source has identified 11 further components that organizations should investigate in regards to the monthly subscription price. In a SaaS based offering usually these items are included and if not, organizations should inquire as to how it is priced in addition to the monthly subscription fee. The monthly subscription only includes application services. Others concepts are intrinsic to the SaaS Grid.
In addition, On-line demos are available upon request.
The matrix below presents the different packages and a feature function list of what each package includes, along with pricing.
Zoho as a company is well diversified in its global reach, as can be seen by the 16 languages in which its business applications are offered. The customer demographic in terms of usage is as follows: North America, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and Africa, respectively. The ability to globally support multiple countries suggests a complete infrastructure, especially for its data centres. See the technical section of this analysis for further details on security.
A PM software solution should provide an infrastructure, framework, and methodology and should facilitate the tasks associated with PM. Zoho Projects is an intuitive application that offers the small or medium business a framework of PM methodology. This application assembles all the necessary components of PM to facilitate and complete an organization's projects.
Smaller companies that do not have a PMO or a PMP on staff can easily create new projects by following a common sense approach to completing a project. No extensive setup or configuration is required to be able to utilize the application immediately. The end user is able to customize the interface without the need of vendor assistance. A WSIWYG configuration allows for individual customization, which may lower the learning curve if a company's staff is familiar with its own vernacular. The project framework of task management, collaboration, document tracking, reporting, and Gantt charts are all provided and contained within a single application. The single point of engagement for all PM operations provides the repository and structure for storing, tracking, and executing all PM-related tasks.
The key differentiators of Zoho Projects are its integration with Google Apps , internal integration with Zoho's Business Suite, time tracking, and bug tracking.
The Projects application consists of four base modules , which are available in each package-as well as the free version. The modules included in Projects are Tasks and Milestones, Documents, Project Calendars, and Meetings and Forums , all of which are part of the off-the-shelf capabilities of this application. As requirements scale up and needs intensify, the add-on modules of Bug Tracker, Time Tracking and Billing, Wiki, and Chat can be added to the packages to provide an economical solution for smaller businesses.
To comprehend the breadth of the solution, we will analyze the functional capability of each of the four base modules. Then the add-on modules will be examined. A brief description of each module's functional capabilities is included.
Tasks and Milestones: This module provides task management, project milestones, task dependency views, and reporting on any function. Gantt charts and stats of tasks-whether new, partially completed, or closed-are reported in this module. Zoho Projects actually allows you to break your existing tasks in multiple sub tasks in order to gain much deeper insights into progress of a specific task. With this new feature, you can outdent / indent an existing task to break into a sub task or summary task respectively as per your needs.
Document Management: This module allows you to create new documents, spreadsheets, and presentations using Zoho Office Suite and store within the software itself, without the need for additional software. The document management functionality allows for many types of files to be uploaded. Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, OpenOffice, StarOffice, AutoCAD, Photoshop, and ZIP files are all compatible, can be imported into Projects, and can be attached to current projects.
Project Calendars and Meetings: This module organizes meetings, events, and appointments with a browser from your desktop. Project calendars can be shared, automatic reminders can be sent, and calendars can be accessed from anywhere and any user within the project.
Project Forums : Collaboration is one of the main components of PM. With this module, interactive message boards can be leveraged so that scattered project teams can collaborate, with information accessible to anyone in the team.
Time Tracking and Billing (available in higher paid plans): This module includes time tracking functionalities and associates timesheets, enabling billing functions. Timesheets are exportable to Zoho Sheets and even to Excel. When executing a project using Zoho Projects, the Time Sheets functionality capturing project billing requirements can be exported to the Zoho Billing application. Invoices can be created from the timesheets and sent to various payroll and invoicing systems. With the latest product update, duration in hours is available for all tasks, sub tasks and dependency view of a project. With this, work is broken down, tasks are identified, and estimates are specified for each task in hours which helps in calculating the exact time spent to accomplish your work each day.
Wiki (optional add-on module): This module offers a team intranet collaboration area for adding, sharing, and creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and videos, all of which can all be managed in one place. This forms a repository for one source of project tracking.
Bug Tracker (optional add-on module): This module allows for submission of tracking and fixing bugs, configuration of workflows, and permissions for bug submission and status changes-a nice feature not usually included in PM software. The bug-tracking module is more often used internally as an incident tracker within a project. A very interesting feature is that any user can file a bug in Zoho BugTracker by sending an email to its domain email.
Chat (optional add-on module): A real-time chat room built for collaboration that is executed from the browser and offers an archiving feature. This module is very useful for white boarding and brainstorming throughout a project life cycle. The chat module can capture several conversations occurring among different work teams.
To further identify the usability of the Projects application, a dashboard is shown to highlight its reporting capabilities, project tasks, items, and users on track.
Zoho Projects has the technical attributes to support the wide range of functionality. The technical components of this analysis will focus on integration, security, and browser compatibility.
Since many SMBs are investigating methods to enhance their existing infrastructure, integration has become more important than ever. Organizations do not want to throw away their existing systems. Rather, they want to leverage their technology investment through integration. Zoho Projects adds the much-needed PM functionality to already existing Zoho CRM and Google Apps.
Zoho Projects now seamlessly integrates with Zoho CRM. The Zoho CRM and Projects integration allows customers to manage project work by leveraging the customer integration of the CRM. Users can create a new project portal for each customer, import contacts from the CRM and create accounts for the new users which can apply to internal or external contacts. Existing projects can be associated with the account, contacts and potential records of the CRM. This functionality offers the ability to reuse information without having to recreate data which lowers overall time spent on project management tasks.
Integration with GitHUB: if you host your own online repository in Github and you can easily stay on top of the latest code changes using changesets in bug tracker: you just need to link your GitHub repository in Zoho BugTracker using service hooks. Henceforth, codes checked-in in GitHub automatically gets displayed as changesets.
Zoho Projects complements Google Apps by offering collaboration and PM functionality. Having an open REST API that allows for bidirectional information flow extends the functionality of Projects and adds additional capabilities to Google Apps. The ability to work with common file types such as .doc, .xls, .xlsx, .docx .pdf, .pps, .ppt, .avi, .jpeg, .wmv, *.zip, *.mpeg, etc., demonstrates the flexibility of its integration capabilities.
A few key areas where integration exists between Google Apps and Zoho Projects include the following:
Adding users to projects through the Google Apps interface without having to leave Google Apps
Importing files directly into the project from Google Apps, thus eliminating numerous email attachments
Embedding project events directly into Google Calendar
Adding tasks to Google Calendar and leveraging the project functionality of Zoho
Adding gadgets and contextual gadgets to Gmail
Zoho Projects is capable of importing MPP/MPX files from Microsoft Project directly into Zoho Projects. The ability to import these functions enables organizations to plan projects within Microsoft and then use Zoho Projects to collaborate, which is an important part of any PM initiative. Upon contract termination, data is available in XML and ZIP formats. You can now import subtasks along with your existing tasks while you import your MS project files into Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects provides an interface named BUMP (Basecamp User Migration Program) , which allows importation of entire projects, tasks, milestones, users, and even forum posts. Should software applications need to be switched for any reason these integrations enable organizations to reuse existing work if necessary.
Zoho Projects can import information from Zoho CRM and Zoho Business. This enables the user to add bulk users within a project without having to create each new user individually. As part of the Zoho family of applications, Projects works in conjunction with the 25+ applications provided by Zoho. By creating a project ID alias, adding tasks, posting forums, filing bugs, and uploading documents can all be performed via an email.
To keep data safe, Zoho offers 128/256-bit SSL data encryption. To further secure data, there are multiple intrusion detection and intrusion prevention measures on the Zoho servers. A secured, sliced-down operating system that minimizes vulnerabilities and offers virus scanning when importing from extraneous programs is part of the Zoho network security strategy.
Single Sign-on (SSO) and Federated Sign-in: A key feature is the ability to have only one username and password across all Zoho services. In addition, Google, Yahoo and Google Apps account OpenID can be used also to Sign In directly
| Web browser optimization | Internet Explorer from 7+, Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox versions 3+, and Opera, Flashplayer required for Gantt charts | | APIs provided | Provides REST APIs which allows developers to design, push, or pull data to and from applications. The open API allows other services to be integrated to Projects as well. | | Safe harbour compliant | Yes, both American and European | | Business continuity/redundancy | Distributed SaaS grid architecture. Network, cooling, power redundancy, and Internet failovers and geo mirroring at off-site locations are part of security practices. |
Zoho Projects is targeted toward the SMB market, but it is scalable to larger enterprises. One note of distinction is in the calculation of the total cost of ownership. Zoho does not categorize its pricing based on the number of users. Rather, pricing is based on the number of concurrent projects with unlimited user capabilities.
By realizing its market space, Zoho Projects has very tight integration capabilities with Google Apps, GitHUB thereby allowing organizations to extend PM capabilities from one interface. The Gmail credentials may be used to sign in to Zoho Projects for importing email, while tasks and calendar entries are part of the shared platform in which Projects and Google Apps interact.
Zoho Projects is a good fit for small enterprises without a PMO or certified PMPs on staff. Its application provides a common sense approach to creating projects, tasks, scheduling, planning, and collaboration in order to complete a project. This application enables organizations to manage projects without hassle, thus lowering administrative costs. For smaller organizations, excess features that can clutter or confuse and extend the learning curve are not present here. The interface is quite intuitive, and users can customize their own interface by using WSIWYG configuration options. Overall, Zoho Projects is a good small business tool that offers PM capabilities without a steep learning curve. By providing the correct PM tools, Zoho Projects enables organizations to complete their projects. It is interesting to note that you can also use your iPhone and iPad to access all your Projects information.
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