Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Vision for an Integrated Collaboration Environment

Developing the global community I talked about in my previous entry, turns out to be a little more challenge than originally expected. This has nothing to do with the community itself, but with how the developers are working together. Indeed, we are developing this with people from different companies, sitting on both sides of the ocean. So, you would think we just need a little collaboration space and everything would be resolved, isn’t it. Well wrong, first the traditional file sharing tools do not allow to share some types of files (eg. java scripts generated by our PowerPoint to Flash conversion tool), do not allow us to make documents publically available (e.g. Google Docs and PDF documents), and I could go on like this.

As the world becomes global, increasingly companies and people need to collaborate virtually. Unfortunately the tool providers (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) are looking myopically in silos, addressing collaboration aspects in isolation. What we really need is for a company to take the problem from a different angle, HPIM5785 starting by asking itself what is required to collaborate and then develop the integrated environment to just do that. So, let’s think a minute, what do we need to collaborate?

  • Well, first we need to share documents either with a know community, with a larger group who’s names and e-mails we do not all have, or be made publically available. These documents may just be looked at, may be downloaded, may be commented upon (with notes or voice) or may be edited by particular members of the community. Obviously we would want to keep track of any activity around the documents.
  • Second, we may have to interact, either asynchronously or synchronously, using text, sound or video, or any combination of those. Interactions may be private (between two people) or with a group. During those interactions, documents may have to be referred to and shared. Data may be made available also.
  • Third, we may have to work together at a common task, in that process we may share real-time information, documents, and we may use a common application that can be on one of our systems or in the cloud. Here again this can happen between two people or with a larger group.

A number of supporting functions should be available. These include a group calendar (that links with the calendars of the members to identify availability etc.), action item lists, a parking lot, participant information, version control, etc.

Most of what I describe here is available in one form or another on the internet, but there is  no consistency, no easy way to cobble it all together, and even if we managed, we would spend our life login on to different systems. Why is nobody looking at the collaboration needs of globally dispersed people and addressing their needs, rather than continuously coming up with incompatible tools.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Building a global Community

With a colleague we have embarked on what turns out to be a real interesting experiment. We are building a virtual community focused at a specific group of people with responsibilities. The objective is for them to be able to continue their discussions, idea generation and thought leadership exchange although they can no longer meet in  conferences, during exchanges etc.

To do this we have started by identifying what they were looking for and identified a number of specific subjects. We are now hunting for thought provoking content in those areas and are looking at experts that might be willing to trigger discussions. We believe this to be of key importance to initiate the debate and to attract the users back to the site. The objective is to release content on a regular basis. Content consists of short  sessions, up to 20-25 minutes IMG_0219_edited-1each, that can be viewed when-ever time is available. We keep the sessions short because we believe it is difficult to attract the attention of the user for longer periods of time. If the subject requires more time, we suggest the contributors subdivide the presentation in multiple parts.

Associated with the thought leadership subjects we have dialogue areas where the users can discuss the subject, respond to each others comments and initiate an open debate in the community. If they wish a more private discussion they can contact each other as the contact details of the members are known by the others. Over time we may develop sub communities, but that will not be part of version 1.0

We are also planning an open forum, where any question can be raised. This will, amongst others, serve as a source for new subjects as we expect members to ask questions about what keeps them awake at night.

A library offers background documents, links to blogs, articles, RSS feeds etc. This is really the information base the members can rely on.

We are in the early stages, ready to launch. The feedback we received from people to whom we showed the prototype are very positive. So, let’s hope it works. It is something new we are trying. All suggestions are welcome.