Collaborative Tool Kit
-- Anjana Srikanth
The most difficult thing about information is collecting it. Then
comes the responsibility of sharing it among the right people and applications.
Transforming this information into knowledge and utilizing it efficiently
is collaboration. Collaboration options include enterprise applications,
web services, e-mail application and integration with enterprise information
portals. Document sharing tasks and project management alternatives to
email-oriented tasks provide greater access to information and thereby
increase productivity levels. Peer-to-peer networks connect groups of
people sharing files and enable all users to view information in the same
Chatting on Yahoo messenger or MSN messenger in the office just got approval!
Online chatting, once considered taboo in the workplace is now the standard
form of communication after email. Communicating with team members, sharing
information and collaborating on other tasks like online meetings and seminars
through a chat server are fast becoming commonplace in the work environment
Welcome to the new collaborative tools of the millennium! Augmenting
traditional collaborative tools like email and acquiring business-related
features like application sharing, threaded discussions and whiteboard
features, instant messaging and other collaborative tools are changing
the work place of today. Not just within the work place but also external
to the enterprise, this kind of synergy has far-reaching effects.
You may ask why? Why cant people just meet and speak like theyve
been doing since ages? Well, in scenarios where business projects get
more and more complex and people work in virtual enterprises remotely,
it becomes imperative to meet often and discuss issues and unforeseen
Also, apart from geographical distances, we are also looking at the global
workplace of different time zones. Getting all the people concerned into
the right meeting together is becoming more and more difficult.
The dispersed work forces of today have increased competition and decreased
shorter product cycles. At this critical juncture, collaboration between
employees and business partners is a must. Collaboration tools are an
important means for turning the travel time and expense of old into work
time and increased profits. Integrated collaboration tools that combine
collaboration and enterprise applications aspire to streamline the workflow
process in an organization.
Even with teams working in the same location, online discussions permit
individual thinking and introspective chatting (of course, brainstorming
in actual meetings has its advantages too) thus allowing teams to add
value through reflective thinking.
With new vendors popping up everywhere and offering an assortment of
collaborative tools ranging from web conferencing to integrated suites
that can create knowledge repositories and enable document sharing, meeting
and conversations, collaboration is predicted to be one of the top trends
today. By enabling business processes to flow smoothly both internally
and externally to the organization they ensure holistic business process
Collaboration tools range from simple to complex backend systems. Some
of the new e-mail-based collaboration software is designed to streamline
project management and workflow and allow workers to collaborate on processes
such as invoicing, purchasing, expense reporting, and project management.
The creation of dynamic project-level teams, facilitates instant collaboration
among users, and allows file sharing, attachment distribution, and creation
of polls and alerts. Collaborative project planning improves visibility
of departments and what they are doing and shares their solutions and
needs with the right people involved in the project. Deepening collaboration
in the enterprise portal can improve employee productivity and customer-facing
Collaborative virtual workspace tools
A distributed or virtual team is a group of workers who are not co-located
but need to work and collaborate together in specific projects. Designing
a virtual team and monitoring their performance on projects is even more
First generation online technologies such as email, listserv and electronic
team rooms are not really optimized for creating effective distributed
teams. Email is optimized for one-to-one communications and conference
calls cannot really sustain conversations in an extended environment.
None of these tools are fundamentally designed for enhancing the work
Collaboration tools fill in all the gaps. Gaps of all kinds, those that
exist between people, applications and organizations.
A collaborative digital workplace that ties into cross enterprise business
processes and provides a rich collaborative environment for project work
is the solution. Virtual workplaces allow team members to store files,
check calendars and conduct discussions. The digital workspace is a web-based
collaborative environment that enables companies to innovate and drive
projects to completion.
Collaboration is not limited to file sharing and static documents. Its
of a more dynamic nature and involves calendars, timelines and milestones,
planned and unplanned ad hoc interactions that in turn tightly integrate
with time management and project management applications.
It extends beyond the organization and the traditional methods of collaboration.
Asynchronous collaboration enables participants at different locales to
work together in a synchronous manner, while synchronous collaboration
supports ongoing project work and takes into account ad hoc ideas and
Phone, fax and email are the earliest examples of collaborative technologies.
Although limited in their applications they are the most pervasive forms
of collaboration. But in terms of project collaboration, they fail to
maintain information context and relevance.
Whether corresponding with colleagues across the hall or with those who
are a part of the virtual enterprise, instant messaging (IM) has tremendous
value today. Checking to see who is online and whether they are available
for immediate discussion on something urgent can be of great advantage
in todays busy work scenario. The most common kind of collaboration
tool is the desk-to-desktop kind, while the more complex applications
extend to wireless applications and handheld devices like PDAs and
Enterprise messaging tools are replacing the public Yahoo and AOL chatting
tools and they contain added security features to keep critical data from
the view of unauthorized viewers. Messaging tools for team collaboration
and knowledge management initiatives including workflow analysis open
up communication bottlenecks and combine a heterogeneous knowledge bases
thus allowing the entire organization to speak the same language.
How does an online discussion help in collaboration? An entirely human
activity like conversation that is now being automated? Firstly, it saves
on meeting personally and allows the actual saving of chat transcripts.
Allowing real-time audio and video conferencing including whiteboard integration
enables application sharing and takes collaboration to another level.
Web conferencing tools
Web conferencing tools offer desktop and application sharing and can
help conduct real-time meetings and seminars. When applied external to
the organization they can be used for training and customer support.
Enterprise information portals
With the new shift in information from a document-centric model to a
dynamic one, the defining characteristics for an enterprise information
portal are changing. Common functional components are content management,
personalization, application integration and collaboration.
Content management solutions
An enterprise information portal facilitates collaborative creation and
deployment of content and also manages large volumes of content and transactions.
Increasingly, it concerns itself with document creation. Form and textual
content are separated and stored separately in a content repository. Workflows
concerned with content creation and deployment are managed and monitored
too. Currently, content management supports access to wireless devices
without any device-specific formatting.
Web based employee communication tools range from email to instant messaging
to and selecting the right one that will suit all the team members is
sometimes tricky. The portal solves this problem by hosting all these
tools and ensures that ideas and knowledge is not lost thus playing a
fundamental role in knowledge capturing and sharing.
The personalization features offer filtered and targeted content and
thus enable a user-customizable interface on the portal. The portal also
hosts search services that can offer results from various data bases,
web sites and other collaborative categories that make the search process
an easier one.
All the above collaborative tools combined with enterprise applications
are what Gartner and other analyst firms call contextual collaboration.
These tools help organizations store and share information from a centralized
location from various applications like CRM and sales force automation.
Contextual collaborations embed collaboration into other applications
such as enterprise information portals and give the user a fresh and personalized
feel. Through the creation of dynamic project-level teams that promotes
collaboration among users, allows file sharing, attachment distribution,
and creation of polls and alerts, project management and workflow are
streamlined. Alerts that tell the user what happened in his absence when
he didnt use the portal allow a collaborative web that extends beyond
the presence of the portal.
Integration with CRM applications
Organizations can tie together critical information from various applications
like CRM and SCM into a common storage from where other collaborative
applications interoperate efficiently. CRM technologies are customer-facing
technologies that represent the interface that interacts with its customers
Finally, adding web services to the existing collaboration tools like
e-mail, P2P technologies provide a better chance to create and link relationships.
Whats important is to select a common easy to use platform to implement
all collaborative ideas, like web and email and with a clear understanding
of the organizations culture and the needs that motivate such a
Selecting the right collaborative tool
Consider the current state of collaboration existing in your organization
and decide if you want to expand it or merely digitize the process. Do
u need simple chat or instant messaging? Do u need to save the chat sessions?
It is always better to select a package that offers shared services and
supports multiple file types.
Basic features of any collaborative tool should include web conferencing,
shared calendars, discussions, shared workspaces, document sharing, chat,
instant messaging, and whiteboard features, either offered individually
or as hybrids.
Selecting a product is fine, deciding how and where to deploy it within
the organization is the next step. Study your business and understand
the role that the Internet plays in interacting with suppliers and customers.
How is information shared between suppliers and customers? Across private
lines or firewalls? Find out how the service addresses firewalls and what
limitations regarding security exist.
Map your integration and customization requirements and understand them.
Understand how they integrate with backend and CRM-like systems.
Determine the length of time required for integration and customization.
How many internal resources are required for support? How easy is it to
train users? The answers to these questions will make for an easy and
Use a common easy to use interface like the web to deploy the solution.
This requires no prior setup and users from different locales remain connected
irrespective of the collaborative application that they are working with.
Collaborative systems make it easier to capture interaction between participants
in a team and respond to a crisis situation to gain insights into failures
and successes. Additionally, what they do is to:
- Increase efficiencies
- Streamline business processes
- Deliver services more cost effectively
- Enhance organizational intelligence
- Develop stronger relationships with key stakeholders e.g.,
employees, vendors, nonprofit, the business community, other levels
of government and the public
- Sharing resources
The collaborative marketplace is continuing to experiment and investigate
tools that promote teaming and efficiency in the work place. Collaboration
applications improve decisions, increase knowledge and better distribution
of knowledge, improved planning and development cycles, more functional
and productive relationships within teams. This in turn increases productivity
and increases company understanding of internal and external environment.
We offer services like Business Process Engineering, Porting Legacy applications
to the web and Enterprise Application Integration. Please contact us here
for more details.