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The approval broker: Zapproved

It's the bare minimum of workflow, in a Web app where you--and everyone else--can see who's holding up the decision that you want to be made.

Zapproved is a fairly new and very straightforward Web app for collecting approvals. Say you have a brilliant idea at work but need your boss, and the head of marketing, and a salesperson to commit to it before it has a chance of success. You might be able get these people to verbally express enthusiasm, or respond to an e-mail proposal in the affirmative, but these approvals can be tenuous. Worse, the marketing guy may actually be withholding concrete approval, but (you know how these things are) not telling you.

Zapproved pins people down. You create a proposal on the Zapproved site, and it sends it to the people you indicate. Their options are Approve, Deny, or Comment. You--and everyone else--can see who's holding up the decision that you want to be made. It's that transparency that Zapproved CEO Monica Enand can help move decisions along, by shaming the laggards into making the call one way or the other.

You'd be a fool to say no.

The system also records approvals and collects attachments on approval e-mails; these work as audit trails of decision making and can serve as institutional memory for a company.

While the person setting up a decision process needs to use the Zapproved site to kick things off, the approvers don't need the site at all. They just get HTML e-mails with embedded Approve and Deny buttons in them. And that model is why this concept can work. Like Evite for event invitations, and TimeBridge for meeting time brokering, there's Web 2.0 goodness for everyone, even the people who respond without registering on the Web site. Of course, each approval request has a link to Zapproved on it, which spreads the word about the app. In contrast, many other (good) workflow services, like BaseCamp, require all participants to use the Web service and be registered on it.

Speaking of non-Web access to Zapproved, Enand also said her team is working on mobile versions, speech-to-text approvals, even a fax interface for when you want to get sign-off from a client who's not computer-literate. Enterprises that want their own installation of Zapproved may eventually be able to pay for a version they can install on their systems. For now, the entire system is hosted by Zapproved and is free to all.

I have a project here I've been trying to get off the ground for a year; it keeps getting attention and enthusiasm only to stall before it gets the resources it needs. I'm going to give Zapproved a shot and see if it helps. In a corporate setting, it can take only one person to kill a good project. I'm hoping this app will help me find that person.

See also: Zapproved: A Lightweight Decision Making App (ReadWriteWeb).