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Choosing a project collaboration system

Pedigree Company pedigree on the internet is a big issue. If a contract is set to run for 18 months but your extranet company goes bust after six, the result could be very damaging.

Despite this year's media furore over dot. com companies there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them, though. In any case, most of the hype surrounded consumer oriented sites, not business-tobusiness ventures.

But be aware how old the company is, who funds it, who it is partnered with and which companies are already using it.


Hosting - where the extranet site is located - is a controversial issue.

Some companies claim that hosting in the US offers a faster service than in the less developed UK. Critics say using a transAtlantic extranet host increases the risk of information loss.

Some client organisations have expressed fears that hosting extranets abroad could result in legal complications, although the experience of using extranets is so new that no specific issues have yet arisen. BAA demands its extranet provider is committed and accountable. Operating via servers in the UK is important to some because it shows a long term commitment to development of the domestic market and, quite simply, they would rather know exactly where their information is kept.

Unmarked internet data centres - buildings that are bomb, terrorist and earthquake proof - offer the security and capacity that some projects or clients require. A centre is used to host the London Stock Exchange extranet.

Cost structure

Some companies charge a flat monthly rate for the duration of a project, based on an estimation of the data storage capacity required and the number of users. Some will quote a figure for the whole project and others will charge extra per month based on how much memory the project uses. It is worth getting an estimate from a number of different service providers because superficial comparisions do not reveal much.

Terms like megabyte and gigabyte will come up again and again so it is worth noting exactly what they mean. A megabyte is approximately 50 average MS word documents and a gigabyte is approximately the amount of information that can be fitted on to 700 floppy discs. The entire project archive trail of one high profile, five year long project took up 2Gb of space. On most large projects with over 250 system users, 1Gb would be more than enough.

Data management

The whole point of a project extranet is to manage data better.

System providers have spent considerable time designing efficient document creation, management and storage areas within the extranet site.

The site should allow a user to see latest documents as well as follow a string of changes made on previous documents. Most systems will record when the document was last updated and by whom.

It is often possible for a user to see a specific selection of project trails. Most systems can be set up to fulfil the needs of each user.

Service providers offer a similiar basic package but most have their own offerings which are unique to the system. It is worth looking at a handful these to get an idea of how a system can be set up to suit project needs.

Hardened extranet users say that when choosing a system, it is best to avoid technology for technology's sake. Choose the system most suited to the needs of the project in terms of price, timescale and complexity.

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