Webforum’s characteristic clean Swedish design interfaces to rich functionality that may interest larger SMEs managing staff across multiple projects.
At a COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT) community day earlier this summer, I met Colin Payne of Sweden’s Webforum and we subsequently met up so that he could show me the company’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform. While it is not a construction-focused collaboration product, it is aimed at teams engaged in projects and so could easily be adapted to manage both modest internal projects as well as construction projects requiring cross-company collaboration.
The company’s origins can be traced back to the late 1990s and the formation of a research group at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, which aimed to develop user-friendly IT tools for planning and implementing technical projects, and for publishing information on the internet. The core product is used by some 700 public and private customers in over 20 countries, with some major Nordic building projects, including universities and urban transit schemes, deploying the system.
Building on the construction usage (see this Tyréns case study, for example), Colin is now working to raise Webforum’s UK profile, particularly among small and medium-sized construction businesses, where he thinks the platform might appeal to firms put off by the relatively high cost and apparent complexity of some sophisticated SaaS collaboration systems (we also talked about others in the SME market, including Collabor8online – June 2013 post – and Clouds UK – 2011 post). Beyond the entry level product, it also provides some good project and time management and reporting tools.
Webforum is provided in three versions: Teamwork, Project, and Professional. Prices for the Teamwork edition, covering document management and collaboration essentials, start at a competitive £8 per user per calendar month. The Project option offers more functionality, including strong project management functionality (ie: Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, etc – MS Project plans can be imported) and issue management, with prices from £12/user/month. Project-based prices are also available upon request, with a small project (under €1m) charged at €75/month (including up to 3GB of storage).
Drawing and project management
When it comes to viewing drawings, Webforum uses v14 of the Rasterex viewer, which supports over 200 file types, enabling CAD mark-up and measurements. The platform is regularly updated, and Colin told me the Autumn release will see an upgrade to Rasterex v15 and provision of a HTML5 version making Webforum available for all browsers.
I was particularly struck by the project management capabilities (not always well covered in other SaaS systems) and by Webforum’s capabilities for time management – Colin showed me how staff time-sheets could be managed, reported and then used for invoicing purposes. This makes the platform potentially attractive to firms looking to enable staff self-reporting across a portfolio of projects, and who need to enable access for employees wherever they are working; as a SaaS web-based solution, it can also be accessed via mobile devices onsite (one of the reasons Colin attended the COMIT event), and its red-amber-green traffic-light reporting interface is particularly user-friendly.
Webforum, therefore, neatly combines back-office functionality found in some intranet systems (eg: Union Square – see March 2014 post) with extranet capabilities for cross-company collaboration. Moreover, information published to the system can also be selectively reused for public access – useful if a project team wants to, say, populate a public-facing website with up-to-date information about the project. It may take time to configure the platform as a construction-oriented – rather than a generic – platform, but it is an attractive (and attractively priced) example of Swedish Software-as-a-Service.
A Projectplace note
Incidentally, in Scandinavia Webforum’s Stockholm-based rival Projectplace has long been prominent in the generic project collaboration market (I seem to recall that it was also extensively marketed in the UK during the early 2000s, though it never really gained traction in the UK construction sector). It may become even more prominent worldwide following ProjectPlace’s acquisition (for an undisclosed amount) by US enterprise resource management firm Planview. This deal will help Projectplace push more easily into the US, and Planview into Europe, while combining the former’s project-based collaboration with Planview’s executive dashboard tools.