At the Office 2.0 Conference that starts tomorrow, we're going to see several new Web-based business tools, from big and ambitious office suites to smaller, focused problem solvers, such as Approver. This little service was built to address the typical office frustration of collecting comments and approvals on documents.
Approver sends e-mail messages to the people you need to review your documents and points them to a Web page for each document. Documents can be attached to the online Approver record if you wish, or you can send your recipients URLs pointing to files, or create text in Approver itself. The service will then track who has approved your document by the deadline you set, and it will send reminders to the laggards.
The tool attempts to make simple what is actually a complex social interaction, and some nuance gets left behind--on purpose, it turns out. For example, you can leave as many comments on documents as you want, without actually approving a file, but there's no actual reject option. Approver creator Jeffrey McManus told me he's trying to do a little bit of social engineering and encourage dialogue. That's really swell, but I bet he'll have to add the big red stamp of rejection to the product as more people start asking for it.
I also think the dashboard view of documents pending approval could convey more information. Again, McManus is working on it; he showed me a prototype that looks pretty good (I approved it).
The real thing McManus needs to do, and which he is actively working on, is to make Approver into a platform that works within existing document creation systems, such as Microsoft Office, or Writely, or Zoho. The Approver concept will work best when it's integrated into workflow, not separate from it.
But even today, in its very early stage, Approver is a clear-headed and cost-effective solution to a nagging workflow issue. It's certainly a better tool for tracking the document approval cycle than e-mail, and it's worth trying. The service is free for the first document, $40 a year thereafter.
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