Lollygaggers, loose cannons and dominating personalities beware. When an organization signs on with eHuddle.com, there is no excuse for unmet deadlines, outbursts or inefficient meetings.
With eHuddle.com, group members can brainstorm, prioritize and manage tasks online and on their own time. By the time the first meeting is scheduled, the group is ready for the implementation stage, said Bill Foster, president of Slinger-based eHuddle LLC.
The Web-based program was created by a group of developers after discovering how inefficient committee meetings for both work-related and non-work related organizations can become, Foster said.
"eHuddle takes the personalities out of a meeting and bases outcomes truly on the merit of the idea instead of on the merit of a person pushing an idea," said Melinda Caughill, vice president of account services for Third Person, a Milwaukee-based Web design and advertising agency that worked on the design of the product and uses it to conduct business.
Businesses, nonprofit organizations and school systems already have found eHuddle to be beneficial for managing brainstorm sessions, tasks and just getting things done on time.
eHuddle is maintained outside of a company's network on a secured platform and can be ideal for a company that cannot afford a product such as Lotus Notes, Foster said. Vendors and suppliers can be involved in continuous discussions without gaining access to a company's internal network, he said.
The program has been in the pilot and testing stages for eight months. Currently, 43 organizations are signed on, totaling 122 committees and 770 people, said Pat Quinn, vice president of eHuddle.
Organizations pay an annual subscription fee to use the site based on the type of organization and the number of committees. Each committee designates a chairperson who acts as the administrator of the group online. The chairperson is responsible for entering the e-mail addresses of members and creating a list of questions to help generate ideas toward achieving a goal.
Whether the committee is an internal group of a business, board members of an organization or a group of volunteers, members can enter their input anonymously and at their convenience within an allotted time period. Once the deadline has passed, the first brainstorming session has been completed, and members score the ideas to create a priority list for the group.
"After the committee has a ranked list of ideas, the group can meet in person and can see the ranked list," Foster said. "Instead of talking about ideas, the discussion is focused, ideas are already prioritized and the next step is implementation."
The Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 9, a conglomeration of 22 school districts located in the Tomahawk area, has been piloting eHuddle for five months, said Dawn Nordine, Wisconsin Virtual School director for CESA 9.
"We see the advantage to making meetings more efficient, avoiding the pitfalls of someone that is not comfortable enough to speak up or someone who is dominating the meeting," Nordine said. "With eHuddle, everyone is treated as an equal, and there is a democracy to it. We can also help the districts in our region by saving time, resources and money."
The districts save money in multiple ways from eHuddle, Nordine said. Not only does the district recoup the expense of compensating staff members for gas mileage, but also expenses from staff and substitute time. Nordine and her staff have also found ways to benefit from eHuddle internally at the office.
"At any given time, we could have every employee in the office or only have the employees that are in the office every day available," Nordine said. "I can see businesses utilizing this tool very easily. And the more you use it, the better you get at thinking of questions and ideas."
eHuddle recently added a task management feature, Foster said. Now, after an implementation meeting where tasks are assigned, the chairperson can input the tasks and members responsible for the tasks can keep the entire committee updated on their progress.
"With the task management tool, you can see who is not doing their work, you can see personally if you are not doing your work and you can see the dynamics and teamwork in action," Quinn said.
Businesses have increasingly implemented eHuddle to gain a variety of competitive advantages in their market, Foster said. Third Person worked on the architecture and design for eHuddle and has found multiple uses for the site within the agency, said Michael Caughill, president and co-founder of Third Person.
"If eHuddle did not exist, I would probably have to invent it," Michael Caughill said. "Now when we build Web sites, (eHuddle) enables us to survey people. People all across an organization have input in the site that they would not have had before."
eHuddle has allowed Third Person to increase project efficiency with an international client, Melinda Caughill said. Time differences between Milwaukee and that company's divisions in countries such as China previously prevented important departments of the company from participating in meetings and conference calls.
Third Person has also implemented eHuddle internally for new business development purposes and with clients as a research methodology for phone surveys, Michael said. Employees input phone survey opinions into the idea section of eHuddle, and results are collated automatically in a ranked order, he said.
Annual subscriptions for eHuddle services begin at $1,500 for a business with one committee, Foster said. Prices fluctuate for nonprofit organizations and school systems. Value packages are available for organizations purchasing subscriptions for five committees at a time. There is no limit to number of members on a committee, Foster said.
A re-release of eHuddle is already planned for the near future, with five new functionality features that came about from customer suggestions, Foster said.
"We are small, so we are able to be fast and responsive to customer queries and that gives us a competitive advantage," Foster said.
Elizabeth Geldermann is a reporter for Small Business Times. Send technology news to her at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (414) 277-8181 ext. 121. Technology news can also be sent to: Elizabeth Geldermann, Small Business Times, 1123 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202.
March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI