posted 7 Dec 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 4
Trend tracker: Collaboration
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
The rise of suites of collaboration software tools over the past few years implies that collaboration has become a fully integrated set of activities. However, I personally view the suites as collections of useful, but largely independent, tools rather than truly integrated suites.
For example, there are many options for communication – instant messaging, text messaging, e-mail, discussion groups, blogs, wikis, bulletin boards, project workspaces and more. One user will select one to use, but others will prefer to use different modes of communication.
This results in discussions in which multiple modes of communication are used, stored in various locations and often buried in different projects. There will be overlaps and unresolved disagreements, which need to be rationalised.
Collaboration suites focus on technologies. The problem is that users do not focus on technologies, but on what they are trying to achieve. Instead, the focus needs to be upon the factors that are central to collaboration, enabling the user to identify content by who is involved, the subject and the context (for example, which project it was about) at the very least. This would also enable topics of interest to be easily retrieved, boosting knowledge-management activities. Two vendors have made interesting moves during 2005 towards addressing this problem – IBM and Microsoft.
IBM has introduced the concept of activity-centric collaboration with Activity Explorer, part of IBM’s Workplace Managed Client. This enables users to collect together activities so that a task, such as ‘develop presentation’, can be created. This can then be used to create the first draft of the presentation, hold discussions on its development recorded as part of the activity, and thereby save the completed thread of discussions as a single unit.
Another significant change is the addition of ‘activity presence’, identifying if a piece of content is currently being edited within an activity thread. This enables users to start instant-messaging sessions at the point when a colleague is engaged in a task in the activity thread, which gives an interesting new use of the presence concept.
Microsoft Office Communicator now delivers improved integration between many of its synchronous communication methods. Voice over IP (VoIP) can connect directly to a public switched telephone network (PSTN) gateway, enabling a seamless use of VoIP and the public telephone network.
It is also possible to swap between communication modes very easily. If you initiate an instant-messaging session with one person, it is possible to add a new participant and convert the interchange directly into a conference call. The server directly calls each person automatically on their preferred method of communication.
Office Communicator can also initiate a Microsoft Live Meeting session automatically with the participants of the current exchange, rather than having to formally set up a meeting and invite participants. In all these cases the process is completely automatic once the alternative or additional collaboration technique that is required has been selected. These developments are a very welcome improvement to the integration of collaboration technologies and we can expect to see more such developments over the next couple of years – and not before time.