posted 10 Oct 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 2
Trend tracker: Collaboration
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
Last month I wrote about the growth in the use of wikis to deliver low cost collaboration functions. So what is happening in the world of collaboration tools delivered by the big vendors? One feature that is almost universally provided that does not exist (yet) in wikis is presence awareness.
Presence awareness started in the world of instant messaging where it was an absolute prerequisite for users to know who else was online. Substantial development work has gone on with presence awareness over the last couple of years and it has become very much more sophisticated. The basic concept has been transferred into collaboration suites and now often appears automatically wherever the system can identify a name – regardless of whether that individual is currently online. In some cases, the name identification is an inherent part of the system– the sender of an e-mail, the author of a document, and so on. Microsoft has gone one step further with this and used its ‘smart tagging’ software to identify names wherever they occur – even if they are embedded in the middle of a piece of text.
Once a name is identified, it is highlighted and often has a status icon placed next to it. Rather than simply indicate whether someone is online, some tools gather data from that individual’s calendar. Icons can therefore indicate the status of the user, such as ‘available’, ‘busy’, ‘in a meeting’, ‘out of the office’, etc.
When you mouse over the name itself many systems now deliver a drop down menu. These can include multiple facilities that are available even if that individual is currently off-line. These may include reviewing information about the person – for example taken from the corporate ‘yellow pages’ to give you information on that person, position in the company, skills and so on; sending an e-mail; and sending a calendar appointment. If the individual is online then that range is extended to functions such as opening an instant message dialogue, starting screen sharing, initiating a voice-over-IP (VoIP) call, dialling their desk phone or mobile, and setting up a conference call possibly with fully automated dialling.
One of the complaints often raised against the use of presence awareness is that you can lose control of when people contact you. One control is provided through the availability of options to set your calendar to ‘busy’ as noted above.
A second is through the ability to set up preferred methods of contact including different phone numbers and routes (desk, mobile, VoIP etc), together with the option to set time slots for when each method should be used. These all increase the level of control that you have over when and how you can be contacted.
Presence awareness has grown hugely from its humble beginnings as a prerequisite for instant messaging. It is now an essential part of any collaboration suite and helps you to initiate just about any form of communication you can think of just by selecting the required option from a menu.