posted 28 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 7
Trend tracker | Collaboration
By Chris Harris-Jones, research director, information management, Ovum
A couple of months ago I wrote about the need for greater integration across the different collaboration tools that an organisation might implement today and focused on the improving level of integration between different components within individual suites. But an essential second level of integration is between collaboration suites from different vendors.
It is not unusual to find multiple collaboration tools in larger organisations, so at some point the need will arise for different collaboration suites to work together. This is even more likely if you need to work across corporate boundaries.
However, if I set up a discussion group, a project workspace, or any one of a whole set of collaboration tools, in one collaboration suite then the only way others can contribute effectively is by using the same tool. There is no way for multiple workspaces to inter-operate together.
With the absence of any real integration between collaboration suites the most commonly used solution is for the collaborating parties to use just one of the tools. That often means extra licences are required and will certainly mean that some people will have to learn a new piece of software. But if I want to e-mail (or telephone) someone I should not need to worry about which piece of technology the recipient is using. So why shouldn’t this be the case for collaboration suites, too?
The underlying problem is the absence of any widely agreed standards. E-mail systems use recognised standards and interoperate together very well, even if some features are not always available. Instant messaging (IM) is gradually moving in this direction, too, helped recently by the boost it received from the announcement that IBM Workplace will interoperate with AOL, Yahoo! and Google IM.
However, it still does not represent universal IM because vendors have their own versions of the session initiation protocol (SIP) and SIP for instant messaging and presence leveraging extensions (SIMPLE) standards.
There are standards for calendaring that are gaining acceptance very slowly, most notably iCalendar (iCal) and calendar server extensions for WebDAV (CalDAV) – both from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). ICal defines a standard for exchanging information between calendaring systems, and CalDAV (currently in draft) defines an access method for calendars based on HTTP and WebDAV. However as anyone who has tried to synchronise calendars using iCal will know, current implementations are often far from perfect.
Another standard that some organisations are using to try to interchange data from collaboration tools is network news transfer protocol (NNTP). This can be used to transfer text items between systems, but it is not a collaboration-specific standard so it is really a ‘work around’, rather than a true collaboration exchange. It is also intended as an off-line synchronisation method rather than a real-time transfer.
There are many other initiatives under way but these are currently too partisan for industry-wide agreement and therefore full interoperability. Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine that collaboration spaces will be fully interoperable in fewer than five years, given industry interests and the speed at which standards naturally evolve.
So at present you will just have to select your collaboration tool and hope others are happy to work with your choice – which is scarcely satisfactory.