With the launch of Office 365, part of the Microsoft suite was officially brought to the cloud, but Project didn’t make the cut. This raises an interesting question: if you want to manage projects in the cloud, what options do you have?
We’ve reviewed a fair few project management tools, such as Teamwork PM (see the review here). However, for this review, we’re concentrating on project management tools with one main criteria: a specific claim that they integrate with Office in some way.
Before digging into details, you’d be right to ask why you’d want to switch. In my opinion, the biggest benefit of cloud project management is the ability to share information on the web, rather than an internal network, and manage projects ‘over the air’. This allows you to bring in contractors, remote workers and third-party suppliers without the fuss of software installs.
Not all integrations are made equal, though. Manual imports and exports are one option, but a two-way sync is even better.
1. Zilicus PM
As far as project management is concerned, competition is fierce. That’s good news for the consumer; products are evolving at an extraordinary rate. Zilicus PM is emerging rapidly as a real contender, and its rapid growth highlights how quickly cloud-based applications develop.
Since the early beta of Zilicus PM (released at the back end of last year), the product has grown very quickly. As of October 2012, the latest release was version 5.0, which should tell you something about the company’s release schedule. In version 5.0, new project meeting features were added.
As a Project Management tool, Zilicus PM is a strong contender. The interface is a little bit scruffy, but it does offer an interactive Gantt chart, a nicely illustrated project tracking feature, meeting management, risk management, issue management and document management features.
How does it compare to MS Project? The Zilicus PM website offers a handy comparison chart. Zilicus PM integrates with MS Project, although the team is keen to stress that it’s more flexible.
We like to see innovation in user interfaces, and Basecamp is one product that has always excelled in this regard. There isn’t a blue menu bar in sight within Basecamp, and we think that’s a positive. In fact, Basecamp is a great example of a project management tool with a beautiful and modern looking UI.
With 8 years of development behind it, 37 Signals’ Basecamp product has a good range of features suitable project management. It also integrates with a wide range of other SaaS products to take the application beyond the basics. The latest version included a complete UI overhaul.
Does Basecamp play nicely with MS Project? Indirectly, yes: you can import MS Project files manually if you’re switching from one to the other. A third-party product, IntelliGantt, offers users the ability to share a project between Basecamp and MS Project or Sharepoint.
3. Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects is another popular cloud-based project management tool. The wider Zoho suite is particularly interesting because of its sprawling, interlocking infrastructure: CRMs, quizzes, bug tracking, accounting, quizzes, recruitment, and more – all integrated. New features are being added all the time.
Zoho Projects has all of the features you need to manage your projects from start to finish, whether you need to add tasks, milestones, bring in new users, arrange meetings or store documents. Another good feature in Zoho Projects (and many other cloud project management tools) is the ability to customise each project to remove unused features. You don’t need bug tracking? Switch it off to slim the project down.
What about MS Project? Like Basecamp, Zoho Projects has a few plugins for MS Office and Sharepoint if you just want to add Zoho functionality to what you already have. You can also perform a one-way import from MS Project to Zoho.
When it comes to customisation, few products go as far as Podio. It’s hard to label Podio as a project management application as such: it offers much, much more. (See our review for more information).
Podio is designed to be developed, built and expanded. It’s built around workspaces and apps, which can be installed from the app market or built from scratch. There are project management apps, recruiting apps, event management apps… the list is endless. Importantly, each app can be customised to suit your exact business needs. If you make your own app, you can add it to the Market.
The Podio UI resembles Facebook and looks great. The product has been acquired by Citrix Systems and has a big future, so expect to hear a lot more about this SaaS product in the future.
So does it work with MS Project? In a way, yes: there’s a one-way sync which allows you to import Excel data from MS Project. This is designed for migration rather than ongoing integration, though, and Podio does admit on its blog that the process can be tricky. If you’re thinking of trying it out, bear in mind that this is a wholly different product to MS Project and could be overkill for some businesses.
If you don’t have time to build a comprehensive system in Podio, you might be wondering if there’s another way to streamline project management without such a large investment of time. Planbox is a good alternative.
Planbox is built around the philosophy of Agile project management, i.e. management duties spread across the project team. You can read more about Planbox in our review.
Planbox is another great looking product serving a specific business need. It is based on iterations or periods of time and is designed to be collaborative. This kind of focus on a niche area is the true strength of the product and other products like it.
In terms of MS Project, Planbox offers manual imports and exports. Integration ‘on the fly’ doesn’t appear to be a priority for the Planbox team.
All of these cloud tools have their benefits. But in terms of strong MS Project integration, there are two standout products: Zoho Projects and Basecamp. Both utilise plugins for two-way syncing, making them more flexible, and giving businesses the option to retain MS Project for some tasks if they want to do that.
Bear in mind that the IntelliGantt plugin for Basecamp isn’t a 37Signals product, though, and it costs $69 on top of your Basecamp subscription fee. The Zoho Projects plugin for MS Office is free, and the Sharepoint plugin is available on a trial basis.
Category: Initial Reviews
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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