Comindware Tracker is a workflow automation application with two primary functions: the organisation of tasks and the management of workflows. For the purposes of this review, workflows include any series of tasks which needs to be executed in order by one or more members of a team.
Although not yet launched as a cloud application, Comindware Tracker will be available in the cloud soon. For the purposes of this review, I used a server the team had already set up for testing, so some of the features in the screenshots may change by the time it’s released.
Comindware Tracker can also be installed on Windows as a self-hosted option costing $375 when you buy licenses for ten users (more can be added for a top-up fee). The Windows version has been available to download since October 2011. As far as I know, self-install will still be an option once the cloud product is brought online, although I haven’t been able to find a price for the cloud subscription at the time of publishing this review.
What is Comindware Tracker?
The software is comprised of two parts: the Tracker itself, plus a Task Management component to manage tasks and projects. The latter is free and imposes no limits, so it’s a good place to start if you’re thinking of trialling the software.
The Tracker application is the really clever piece of the puzzle: it surrounds the Management application, automates workflows and provides more sophisticated features. Administrator users have access to all of their projects and can create snapshots and overview reports at any time. They can control users and teams and set up the workflows those teams use to handle their work.
The aim of the application is to make both tasks and workflows visible and actionable. Tasks can optionally be visible and assignable to a team of collaborators who can work together to meet the Administrator’s goals. Comindware Tracker retains all of the information about projects in a cloud storage vault and enables staff to plan their own (and/or each others’) workload from a browser or mobile device.
With a paid subscription, the company also provide a Microsoft Outlook plugin for tight integration with your existing Office set-up. Comindware Tracker also offers AD integration and automated backups if you need them. I’m not clear on whether both of these features will be available in the cloud, although they did seem to be functional in the cloud instance I used.
Some project management clouds look quite alien to people who are used to dealing with Windows and Mac desktop applications. Comindware Tracker treads a more familiar path and has a similar layout to TriggerApp. The influence of Microsoft Office and Sharepoint is evident, but this should ensure that less technical users feel more at home.
You’ll notice that the first task description falls off the edge of the page slightly. No matter what I did with the width of my browser (Chrome), this still happened. However, I was able to resize the window by dragging the vertical bar between the task list and task details pane. If this isn’t convenient, you can also scroll left and right to read the full contents of the window.
The Panes button provides a few more useful layout options for desktop users with small monitors.
The application allows tracking and creation of tasks in the browser, and mobile devices are also supported. Tasks can be created within the application/ app or directly from any email account. Comindware Tracker can assign specific email addresses to the account: tasks are simply emailed to that address, and different email addresses can be used for different groups. Within the application itself, tasks can be grouped and assigned to different lists or people within a team. I like the feature that allows users to split a task into manageable chunks (Subtasks).
I started by working on the sample task provided in the Active Tasks list trial. Clicking the Start button in the toolbar kicks off the task. The task colour changes, as does the status. I can choose to Defer the task (in other words, pausing my work on it), or I can Complete it.
To create a new task, it’s as easy as clicking on the New button. I filled in the form and clicked the Save button in the toolbar to commit it to the Active Tasks list.
(The option to assign a task isn’t visible here because I’m adding a task to my own personal to-do list. An Assignee field appears where tasks can be assigned to a team.)
Workflows are a series of associated tasks which must be completed in a set order – in other words, a process. Comindware Tracker automatically steps through the workflow as each task in the workflow is completed, creating the necessary tasks automatically and assigning them to the correct people as the workflow continues. This automatic progression and assignment means that the team leader or manager can step out of their cycle of manual approvals and allow the software to administrate a project on their behalf. If a previous step in the workflow is not completed, the workflow will not progress.
Just like tasks, workflows can be created in the application or via email using the same unique email address as assigned on signup.
The software apparently ships with a number of handy example workflows for use in helpdesk applications, development teams, HR and facilities management. From this basis, almost anyone should be able to get to grips with the concept of a workflow and imagine the ways in which this could be helpful for their own organisation.
I didn’t have any pre-set templates, so I went about creating my own. In the Templates area, I clicked the New Templates button and created a template.
Once created, I attempted to set up a workflow.
The lack of pre-defined templates in my copy really showed up my inability to use process mapping, having never done it before, so I would have appreciated something to play with to get me started. Hopefully the screenshots give some idea of what is possible, even if my knowledge leaves a lot to be desired.
I really like the visual style of the workflow builder, and the interface is incredibly easy to use (as long as you remember that all your options are in the toolbar at the top of the screen).
There are a couple of things missing here which would make this area a little more usable for someone like me who is new to workflow management. One is an Undo button, something I really did miss as I struggled to build a workflow from scratch. The other is a function to drag the configuration pane out of the way so I could review my workflow as I was building the next step.
Notifications and Discussions
I particularly liked the social aspect of Comindware Tracker. When tasks and workflows are completed, the team have the ability to comment on each step. This brings the communication about each step into the application, and it means users no longer have to search through hundreds of emails to find relevant comments and discussions. The commenting area is rich enough to handle file attachments (with versioning, a nice touch).
Comindware Tracker automatically emails users when tasks and workflows are subject to a change in status. Each change is also recorded in an attractive, accessible and familiar commenting format within the application, so even if emails are not received, the comments and status changes can be accessed through the web.
There’s also a to-do list which is automatically built according to notifications and tasks that are assigned to each user. This is a nice time saving feature and saves the hassle of checking every task or workflow to see what has changed.
Finally, Comindware Tracker provides a workspace where documents can be uploaded, stored and shared.
Viewing at-a-glance data from Comindware Tracker is really easy, and the software provides an impressive dashboard view which can be customised according to the user’s needs. The developers boast that the dashboards are flexible enough for several completely different departments to share the same data and display it in a way that’s relevant to them.
By default, the application opens on the Dashboard tab which shows a customisable set of charts giving a good overview of the status of each task list. As I’ve only got a couple of tasks in my list, the chart I have as a default is very basic.
New dashboards can be created and optionally shared with other people in the same organisation to give custom views of the same data from different angles. Dashboards can also be marked as favourites with a simple check box, making them easier to locate.
I’ve created a second Public dashboard and added a few more charts which give a better idea of the capabilities of the dashboard feature. Sign up for a trial and enter some dummy data to see just how good these widgets are – once the vault of data builds up, these charts start to become incredibly useful.
Comindware Tracker is a really capable application that has a swathe of features I couldn’t find space for in this review. Don’t be fooled by its similarity to Office and Sharepoint, and don’t write it off as an extension to an existing product. It’s a powerful management tool in its own right, and it’s got a real advantage over the competition simply because of its ease of use.
Many cloud task management systems can look quite alien to people who aren’t used to experimenting with software and trying new things. The familiar Windows-style user interface layout in Comindware Tracker will be a big plus for corporate users who want to stick with what they know (and for training teams who wish to avoid investing time in teaching people unfamiliar interfaces). The application doesn’t offer anything visually innovative, and I really did yearn to drag windows around the screen at times, but it’s neat in its execution and is easy on the eye.
I can see plenty of scenarios where this software would be useful. Service desks could use it to process tasks, and project managers could use it to keep a firm grip on a complex project. However, some of the more specialised users of Comindware Tracker may find that certain workarounds would be needed to handle some situations. In the case of my service desk example, I don’t think it’s the best solution for ticket and incident management by a long shot. For second and third line support staff, I can see that it would be useful to handle technical projects and tasks, but possibly not as useful as helpdesk software specifically designed for the job.
That’s not to say I’m discrediting this application. It’s a niche product in that it doesn’t offer anything more than tasks, workflows and associated features, but what it covers, it covers in fantastic depth and with real flair.
If all you need is a clear project and process tool, a more complex system would almost certainly be overkill and cause some confusion. In that respect, Comindware Tracker is almost certain to build a loyal following, and the gentle learning curve means almost anyone could get to grips with it right away.
The support I received from the team was truly first class, with live chat readily available to anyone who needs a quick reply to a burning question. We’ll have to wait and see what the pricing looks like before we can make a final judgement.
About the AuthorClaire Broadley is a technical author and SEO copywriter. She reviews cloud applications and SaaS products for Rated Cloud.
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