Almost unnoticed, UK telecoms provider BT has recently launched a web-based service, BT Workspace, aimed at helping people in small to medium-sized enterprises share information and collaborate with each other. It talks about getting rid of email clutter, and managing and controlling projects via extranet functionality, with intranet functionality also available for internal company dicussions and processes.
BT Workspace Lite is free for two people and offers 10MB storage and two Project workspaces. You can start with this and then upgrade to the main BT Workspace service which costs £7.50 (excluding VAT) per company user per month and offers 100MB space per user – pooled between all users, unlimited project workspaces and has extra storage available at £5 per month per 1GB.
This is a major step forward for online web services, particularly as it is coming from a business more commonly regarded as a telecoms provider rather than a software developer (I’m thinking of Microsoft’s Office Live here, for instance). BT is one of the UK’s best-known and most trusted brands, has a large customer base – particularly in the broadband market – and a powerful marketing machine. This Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, being so competitively priced, will doubtless appeal to many small businesses (sole traders, partnerships and other small project-oriented groupings), and could therefore prove a major turning point in the development of SaaS in the UK.
From a construction industry perspective, I don’t see this service threatening the main extranet or collaboration platform providers targetting the medium-large project market (there are just too many complexities about collaborating on CAD drawings, managing contract workflows, etc). But, particularly at the repair and maintenance and small building works end of the construction marketplace, this could be a very compelling offer indeed.
It also underlines that online collaboration is not just something dreamed up by geeky software specialists; with this move, BT could be raising awareness of on-demand solutions and and boosting their credibility. Many conservative construction people may well, therefore, be tempted to take their first steps towards using online collaboration tools as a result.