By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2004-06-14 Print this article Print

Document management and collaboration are areas in which SFA applications typically fall short, but ShareMethods LLC does a good job of addressing these shortcomings with its namesake service.

The ShareMethods hosted service provides document management capabilities designed for sales and marketing teams. The service, which was updated last month, costs $25 per user per month (site licensing is available) and provides useful tools for organizing and distributing marketing and sales content.

It will be a good fit for small and midsize companies that dont have a sales-oriented document management system in place or that need a way to collaborate actively on sales and marketing data with business partners.

ShareMethods provides a way to organize documents using standard document management capabilities, including metadata tagging, revisions mode, document feedback mechanisms and publishing capabilities.

eWeek Labs tests showed that the ShareMethods service provides better document management capabilities than those found in SFA (sales force automation) applications such as Salesforce.com Inc.s Salesforce.com. ShareMethods will be a good complement to any SFA application, and it can be integrated directly with Salesforce.com via the latter applications Sforce API.

Click here to read eWEEK Labs tests of four hosted CRM systems, including Salesforce.com. At this time, ShareMethods cannot directly integrate with any other SFA applications. In addition, the ShareMethods service doesnt offer the robust sales content creation and management capabilities found in applications such as Pragmatech Software Inc.s Proposal Automation Suite.

During tests, we liked the way ShareMethods organized content using tabs, subtabs and category folders. The competitive-analysis section, for example, includes category folders for organizing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. All these navigation elements are customizable, allowing IT managers to add or rename components to fit a particular sales and marketing process and/or company vernacular.

From a user perspective, ShareMethods provides good tools for managing access to documents. Users can perform core document management functions within the applications category folders. From within each category folder, for example, we could upload and manage documents, create revisions, and control access. We also could solicit and view feedback, which can be displayed in straight-text or vote-based ranking form.

In tests, we could quickly perform actions on single or multiple documents via convenient links on the left side of the screen. In addition, through its SMTP gateway, the system let us e-mail documents or links to documents. However, we could e-mail links only to named users of the system. ShareMethods doesnt have a way to create a public access site, so documents must be e-mailed as attachments to external users. To work around this limitation, companies could publish a link to a ShareMethods document on an extranet site.

In the document list view, users can get a brief summary of document metadata by clicking on the document link. However, it would be useful if document lists created from searches ranked documents based on metadata.

ShareMethods manages access to data via roles and groups. The services roles are administrator, content manager, distributor and reader. We found that this model generally works well. For example, content readers can see and provide feedback only on categories to which they have access. The groups feature enables companies to effectively manage access to tabs and categories from within the service.

That said, administration is the weakest part of the ShareMethods system. The service does not allow administrators to upload and manage users in bulk, for example. We also would like the ability to change the values for fields in the document management screens, as we could with the tabs and subtabs.

The system has some reporting capabilities, which will provide marketing teams with the ability to see what documents have been accessed and by whom, but the reporting should be more robust. For example, wed like to see the ability to correlate rankings and tap into content details such as geography and industry.

ShareMethods does have a rudimentary API, so companies will be able to do some basic integration with other Web-based systems such as search applications.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

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