Creating your own network database doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Thanks to Microsoft Office Groove 2007, a collaboration software program that comes with most Microsoft Office packages, creating shared workspaces and storing group-accessible documents is no longer just for the tech-savvy.

Wes Phillips, of Bryant-Phillips Associates, uses a Microsoft Office Groove workspace to track all of his leads (bottom image). At a glance, he's able to view a lead's source, status, scope of work, and more. Phillips also uses Groove to create project schedules (top image), which are viewable by all employees and subs.
Bryant-Phillips Associates Wes Phillips, of Bryant-Phillips Associates, uses a Microsoft Office Groove workspace to track all of his leads (bottom image). At a glance, he's able to view a lead's source, status, scope of work, and more. Phillips also uses Groove to create project schedules (top image), which are viewable by all employees and subs.

Groove creates a Web-based workspace that can be viewed and modified by any number of users, whether from the office, the field, or from home. Workspaces come in predetermined categories — there are calendar, discussion, and file-sharing spaces, among others — but workspace templates can be customized to precisely fit users' needs.

DAILY MOVES Wes Phillips, president of Bryant-Phillips Associates, in Apex, N.C., uses Groove not only to help manage construction projects but to streamline day-to-day business activities as well. He has a number of workspaces (separated by “tabs”) that keep him apprised of daily activity in the field.

“I have a locator tab that tells me [on which jobsite] each crew member is working every day,” Phillips says. “I can also look at job history [on a separate tab] to get a complete breakdown of what happened on the site yesterday and what's supposed to happen today,” he adds. And because Groove is Web-based, Bryant-Phillips Associates' project managers can make updates from the field or from home.

Phillips also has a discussion workspace that, he says, “essentially acts as a blog” for employees to post questions, concerns, or updates. Additionally, he has a tab where all of his subs are listed with their contact information and performance reviews.

There is also a file-sharing space “where all of our forms, templates, and letterheads are available,” Phillips says.

While he's on-site, Ben Kelley of Building Shelter, in Vineyard Haven, Mass., uses Groove on his tablet PC to keep in touch with his office manager. For Kelley, the biggest benefit is having instant access to all the information stored at the office. “If a client or sub has a question about their payment or scope of work, I can instantly pull it up in Groove and deal with it,” he says. “I don't have to run back to the office to dig through things. It's like having my whole database on hand.” And when changes are made to documents in Groove, every user is notified of the change when they log on.

Groove also integrates other applications such as Word, Power Point, and QuickBooks. Using Groove, Kelley can instantly access accounting adjustments made by his bookkeeper in QuickBooks, he says. And if he has any questions, he can shoot her an instant message using Groove's IM component.

BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS As with other programs like it, Groove provides the tools but requires a bit of effort to get started. “Groove gives you a blueprint, a starting point,” Phillips says. “ To customize it took a couple of weeks. To fine-tune it and get all of our forms into it took about two months.”

But the capabilities it provides are invaluable, Phillips says. He even credits Groove with preventing him from having to hire duplicate personnel for the satellite office he recently opened. “Thanks to Groove, we can manage more space with fewer people,” he says. “We didn't need to hire new office personnel [for the satellite office] because everything is processed through the main office.”