Airframe Hits Most of the Basics

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2004-10-25
 
 
 

Airframe Hits Most of the Basics


Airframe Business Software Inc.s namesake application hits three-quarters of the functionality that businesses require from enterprise applications in an inexpensive hosted application. Only financials are needed to fill out the suite.



Click here to read the full review of Airframe Enterprise.

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Airframe Business Software Inc.s namesake application hits three-quarters of the functionality that businesses require from enterprise applications in an inexpensive hosted application. Only financials are needed to fill out the suite.

The Airframe service, which went live last month, did a good job managing basic customer relationship, sales and human resources tasks in eWEEK Labs tests. Prices start at $70 per user per month for the Express edition, $95 per user per month for the Professional edition and $130 per user per month for the Enterprise edition.

eWEEK Labs tested the Enterprise edition, which allows for extensive customizations of the applications. In addition to the three aforementioned business applications, Airframe has features for project management, inventory and order management, and facilities management. (Some of the applications we tested included project management features.)

The biggest shortcoming is Airframes lack of financial applications, which would be beneficial for tying together the various components and getting a handle on costs. However, we liked the customization capabilities we found in the application, which generally compare well with the enterprise versions of comparably priced namesake applications from Salesforce.com Inc. and NetSuite Inc.

The Express edition offers no customization capabilities, whereas the Professional edition offers limited customization options.

There are also a couple of pricing wrinkles. Users have a limited amount of database and document storage on the system, and there is a $25-per-user-per-month fee for companies that want to provide customers with self-service. A plateau or concurrent-seat model for self-service would make this feature much more competitive in the customer service space.

In general, we found the Airframe services performance to be on par with that of other hosted applications. From a user standpoint, Airframe uses the common navigation element of tabs to organize and present the various applications or parts of applications. While this is similar to Salesforce.com or NetSuite, the actual application elements within a tab are organized in vertical forms and tables rather than in subtabs. We found the navigation via links along the right side of the application, as well as other link-based shortcuts, made for efficient navigation .

The screens are dense, with many shared subforms within an application form. We found this to be confusing at times. For example, many of the application forms include a Specifics subform for collecting data such as contact information and a Progress subform for managing workflow. These elements usually occupy the same area of the screen, which is good for consistency but makes one form look like another.

Linking and search are key application elements. Linking within Airframe helps users select information, such as customer data already stored within the system. Linking generally makes it easy to amend data, such as adding a contact to a customer record. We would have liked one more link option: the ability to view a customer record. As it stands, the link to view customer information requires navigating away from an open form to an editable customer record screen.

Each application within Airframe includes a set of common elements, defined broadly as responsibilities, which help users manage the workflow elements within each application. Each application set we looked at—CRM (customer relationship management), HR and facilities—covers the core features we would expect of the application.

The CRM application, for example, includes customer service, sales force automation, and marketing and business development. NetSuite and Salesforce.com offer some broader options, such as vertically focused editions, that will allow companies to get up to speed faster.

Click here to read Labs reviews of four hosted CRM systems.

On the HR side, we liked the way we could completely manage employees, from placing job ads to assigning benefits. However, companies will find broader service options from Employease Inc., which offers a hosted HR application as well as an outsourced HR help desk service and direct integration with payroll services.

Companies can extend their applications considerably in the Enterprise edition. Modifying the application is relatively easy for anyone with database administration experience; we were able to create a business object, customize a form and link that object to other application elements in less than an hour. However, Airframe does require that anyone planning to modify the application be certified or work through a certified partner.

Each application comes with its own set of canned reports, which render in table form and can be quickly exported in CSV (comma-separated values) format. The service doesnt have the portlet-based graphic views of key performance indicators found in applications such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite, something that most executives would certainly like to see.

Some areas of the application are a little less polished than we would like. For example, some screens include far more fields than the standard view, pushing the navigation elements far enough to the right to require scrolling sideways.

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

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