An Argument for SaaS

3 Dec, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

A look at on-demand project management and digital rights management services.

By the time this newsletter arrives in your inbox, you may already be at Autodesk University (December 2-5, Las Vegas, Nevada). Footing the bill for your hotel, airfare, and admission to the conference couldn’t have been an easy decision for your boss, especially in this grim economy. He or she may have gone to great lengths to justify your expenses. So, while you’re at the conference, it’s incumbent upon you to pick up a few ideas that could help you become more productive and help your boss keep operating costs down.

In frugal times, the communal model -- sharing the cost of ownership and maintenance -- has a better chance to succeed. In software, this model exists under another name, software as a service (SaaS). The idea is simple: The vendor hosts the software on a secure server and lets the user access it via high-bandwidth Internet connection. The user pays a subscription fee, usually just a fraction of the cost of an individual license. This model helps keep IT costs down for the user, not to mention the headaches associated with troubleshooting and upgrading installed software. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, scouting out SaaS options should be on your agenda at AU.

Pay-As-You-Go Project Management

One SaaS vendor you’ll meet at AU is Clarizen, which offers an on-demand project management system, priced from $21.95 to $49.95 per user, per month. The product, simply called Clarizen, is now available for integration with both SolidWorks and AutoCAD. If you’re familiar with product data management (PDM) or product lifecycle management (PLM) systems, you might recognize similar components in Clarizen’s dashboard-like interface with project names, due dates, milestones, tasks, status reports, and participant setups.

Clarizen, an exhibitor at Autodesk University, plans to demonstrate how you can use its SaaS project management portal, priced from $21.95 to $49.95 per user, per month. Click on the image for a larger view.

In complex projects, you might juggle various subprojects, each with its own milestones and participants. In such cases, you might find Clarizen’s hierarchy management tools useful in getting snapshots of the relationships and dependencies among the different milestones and tasks.

Clarizen supports import from Microsoft Project. In fact, in a not-so-subtle bid to poach Microsoft Project users, Clarizen’s demonstration video clip encourages you to import your Microsoft Project folder to Clarizen and “kiss that software goodbye.”

Clarizen’s management team includes several veterans associated with SmarTeam, a product later acquired by Dassault Systemes and rebranded as ENOVIA SmarTeam. Of them, the most notable are Avinoam Nowogrodski, former CEO of SmarTeam, and Sharon Vardi, former director of IT at SmarTeam. Nowogrodski and Vardi are now CEO and vice-president of managed services at Clarizen, respectively.

With Microsoft Outlook integration, Clarizen subscribers can directly assign tasks, set deadlines, and update statuses directly from their Outlook environment. Recent AutoCAD integration makes it possible for Clarizen subscribers to access and track project information directly from AutoCAD’s main menu.

Clarizen’s online project management environment displays the status of each task and milestone with a popup preview. Click on the image for a larger view.

Tamper-Proof PDF

If PDF is your preferred medium for issuing requests for quotes (RFQs) and requests for proposals (RFPs), you can now remotely control what the recipients can and cannot do with the file you send. Vitrium Systems, a Canadian firm that exhibited its digital rights management (DMR) products at Adobe MAX conference, offers protectedpdf Small Business Edition (SBE), a SaaS offering that lets you embed a series of security measures into your PDF documents.

Since the product is SaaS, you don’t actually need to own or install any software. You implement the security features you want -- disabling printing and copying, for example -- by uploading your file to the protectedpdf portal, specifying the rights you want to grant, then downloading the tagged file back to your own local drive. Afterward, you can distribute that file as you would normally do. Since the security settings are housed on Vitrium’s server, you can, in fact, modify or revoke the rights previously granted after the document has been published and distributed.

Some of the things you can do with protectedpdf SBE include these:

  • require a password for opening the document
  • restrict the number of computers on which the recipient can view the document
  • allow or disallow offline access to protected content
  • set an expiration date to prevent access after a specific date
  • keep a log of accesses

Vitrium expects the solution will appeal to e-book publishers. The technology might be of interest to those who distribute technical papers, market reports, and user manuals. The recipient needs no plug-ins or special viewers to read the protected document. A standard PDF reader will suffice (must be v6 or higher). The security settings can be applied at a page level, so you can, for example, leave some text portions of a document unprotected, but restrict access to certain charts and figures.

Vitrium is not an exhibitor at AU, but you can view a video demo or download the PDF datasheets from protectedpdf to learn more about the company and the products (in case you’re wondering, the datasheets are not protected).

Related content:CAD Management, MCAD.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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