Using Zoho for Shared Tasks

Zoho Sheet - Ghosting FlightsGetting ready for the beginning of another school year is both a daunting and overwhelming task.  There are a thousand things to get done, keep track of, anticipate, plan for, and just outright shoot from the hip on.  This year for us is no different.  In the past, we have used Microsoft Project to manage the summer, we have used (use) a plethora of Excel spreadsheets, we leverage an Access database for hardware inventory, and thousands and thousands of legal pads, post-it notes, and scrap pieces of paper to have things all come together right before the start of school.

This year really has seen little difference, We are running our hardware locations from an Access database, the hardware moves are being planned on a spreadsheet, our web development is in a Project, and we have used thousands of little pieces of paper and legal pads… However, the platform has changed a bit.  Instead of using Microsoft Products for most of the main applications, this summer we are using the Zoho Suite of applications to work a bit more collaboratively in some areas.  My Internet Assistant and I are sharing a Zoho Projects 2.0 file to plan her development for both our webserver upgrade and the development of our new site leveraging the Joomla content management system.  In addition, most of the work I have done to prepare lists for our hardware moves and re-purposing have been done by leveraging Zoho DB and Reports to create quick pivot tables and then print the underlying data. (I created the filtered multi-level pivot table for our outbound inventory in about 5 minutes in Zoho… as opposed to working for almost an hour in Access to create the same thing…) One other tool from Zoho we are leveraging is Zoho Sheet for the tracking and shared updating of our “Ghosting” (re-imaging) schedule (image above).

Now even though I have used the Zoho Suite for about 3 years, I am still far from digging deep into each of the tools overall, and this years push for Zoho to fully integrate their applications has really increased the ease of use and simplicity for integration into typical business practices.  I would really like to leverage more of their suite into my typical daily practices, but it is hard when the rest of the environment you work in is resistant to change.  In addition, since as a group overall (typical also in many many businesses) we barely scratch the surface of all of the tools and uses for the Microsoft suite of programs as well, so where is the draw to other tools in the average company especially when we/they are paying a good sum of money for Microsoft licensing…

Overall, the biggest benefit that I/we have seen for using the Zoho Suite of tools is the automatic collaborative nature of a “cloud” application.  I love the fact that I can be anywhere with an internet connection and a web browser and I have access to my files.  Depending on platform, (iPhone or computer) I can update those files as well.  It is also exciting that I/we are always using the latest version of a document regardless of who made the latest change AND we are not limited to being on our work network (hoping another person in NOT in the file we want to update at that moment). However, the real excitement is collaborating live and real-time in the applications.  This experience was the genesis for this blog post.

Yesterday we began imaging our entire building to prepare the computers for the beginning of the new school year.  In the past we have tracked this either on paper, or in an Excel spreadsheet (typically in Excel).  While Excel is great for tracking the various stages of imaging (a simple data dump from our inventory database and we are set) it is very limiting for real-time updates or even having more than one person in that file at a time.  So for this year, I opted to NOT do the usual.  As opposed to completing the data dump, (although I could have easily uploaded the information into Zoho Sheet as well) I decided to create a Zoho Sheet and began setting up our “Ghosting Flights” – the rooms to be ghosted at one time. Then I shared this sheet simply by entering my Network Specialist and Network Technicians email addresses and we were off.  While I created the initial structure and entered the initial classroom list, my NS saw that I had some o the flights crossing vLans (crossing vLans does not work well with Symantec's Ghost – it often quadruples the imaging time making a 40 minute image take 5 hours to complete if it does at all…) so he simply modified the flight room assignments to accommodate, and they were off ghosting with my NT always having the latest information as opposed to having saved a previous version and operating off old information.

I mentioned real-time updates… Here is the experience I had this morning.  For the past week most of my family has been ill and I am at crunch-time at work to get everything ready.  As such, I have been leaving at about 5:30am to get to work an arriving back home between 6-7pm… Needless to say it has been a it stressful in the household for my wife having to hold everything own (figuratively and literally) when I have not been there for support.  So, while Trish slept in this morning, I was giving my sons a bath.  However, two of my staff members were at school working to make a dent in the afore mentioned ghosting of the school classrooms.  Aside from feeling a bit guilty or both my work-life and home-life, I wanted to check in and see how things were going without interrupting the process.  Because we are leveraging Zoho sheet, all I needed to do was to open the shared Ghosting Flights sheet that we are using and viola! I have all the information I needed at my fingertips.  I could never have done this using Microsoft Excel (maybe next year with Office 2010 but that is a future post).  As a side benefit, Zoho Chat has been integrated into most of the Zoho Suite of apps, so I was able to have a quick chat with them for a few minutes to clarify some of the things I was seeing… All in all, PRETTY COOL!

Note: cross-posted at http://scottweidig.spaces.live.com

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