The Power of Collaborative Software
Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group
Minutes of the 13 May 2008 meeting, "The Power of Collaborative Software"
About 20 people attended tonight's meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and
Jeremy Kohler recorded the minutes.
Microstaff (www.microstaff.com) provides refreshments, Copy Diva
(www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment, NCAR
(www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility, and ONEWARE
(www.oneware.com) sponsors these minutes.
Please note the next (July) RMIUG meeting will take place on a Wednesday,
not Tuesday as usual, due to a scheduling issue.
If you have suggestions for topics and/or speakers for any upcoming meeting,
please send them to Josh Zapin.
INTRODUCTION (Josh Zapin)
Everyone uses digital things to collaborate, like Google Documents and
Skype. Consider Metcalf's Law: as more people use something, it increases in
value exponentially. This applies almost directly to collaborative
software--basically the lifeblood of the internet. Email is the original
collaborative system, and a good example of Metcalf's Law. But it's clear
email has its detriments: it's siloed, trapped info, not readily searchable,
not easy to share like a Google document. And not secure--it's easily
hackable. It's also not a document manager and it's not great at
We've seen a massive growth in collaborative software. Lotus Notes is an
early example, the first foray. It allowed you to check documents in and
out. Microsoft is growing phenomenally in this area--they even hired the
Lotus Notes inventor. Collaborative software is a big part of where
Microsoft is moving. Their SharePoint product has seen massive growth, with
over 100 million licenses, making it the fastest growing software product in
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Mark Richtermeyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is President and CEO of
the Spitfire Group, a professional consultancy specializing in helping
clients achieve alignment between business objectives and technology
initiatives. Mark leads the team, ensuring excellence in client delivery and
operational efficiency at every level. Mark has over 15 years of leadership
experience in enterprise consulting with Hitachi Consulting, iXL, and
Managed Business Solutions, leaving him firmly placed at the top of his
The Bad in Email (or Why we need Collaboration Software)
The Spitfire Group has been around about 4 years. I started the company to
deal with midmarket clients in the rocky mountain region.
We configure and customize Microsoft SharePoint, using it as a platform for
What's collaboration? Wikipedia says it's people working together toward a
common goal--but in reality, people tend to work toward their own goals.
Collaboration is in all areas of life. Small local businesses and worldwide
corporations do it. Even musicians do it. But now the old collaborative
tools like the telephone and email have come together.
Collaboration today creates a space where we can all play together in the
same place using the same tools, like a virtual playground or a common
Toolset integration is what gives collaborative software its label.
Now, for example, we can integrate SharePoint with Outlook and with the
phone system to see who's available at any given time. That makes for better
customer service and a faster business process.
It also deals with the aging workforce. Baby boomers are retiring with
decades of corporate knowledge in their heads. But now the tools are
automatically recording this corporate knowledge. It has the same benefit
for dealing with our transient workforce: We can capture their knowledge too
and access it whenever we might need it in the future.
Collaborative software provides enterprisewide oversight: It can gather lots
of siloed information. For example, you can use it to pull together all
information relating to a particular product or event.
This can be especially helpful for looking across silos to grab stuff for
It also provides some challenges. How do you deal with change management
that cuts across information silos? Matrixed organization charts can also
give mixed priorities.
Participants will have varying levels of technical experience or interest,
and it can be hard to get people to use the same tool in the same way. This
makes it difficult to maintain consistency. But it's not about the
tool--it's about the process surrounding the tool and getting the people
into it and training them properly. You have to establish and maintain best
practices, otherwise your effort to collaborate will just create a big mess.
How It Works
In business we work in portals, extranets, intranets, legacy systems,
business intelligence systems, content management systems, intellectual
capital management systems, and of course, real-time communications systems.
All of this comes together in collaboration--you pull components of each
into one place, which makes it pretty powerful.
Collaborative technologies include messaging, conferencing, calendars,
social networking, mobile devices, etc. all working with each other.
The way companies are using collaborative technology is in support of
business processes, like recruiting, for example. It brings together teams
that are not co-located; facilitates web content creation; provides project
management tools; and helps connect with customers and business partners.
- increased revenue from improved sales support
- savings through providing customer self-service tools, which are derived
from the collaboration tools
- reduced travel costs (it goes beyond teleconferencing because you can not
only talk, you can share documents in real time)
- higher quality products
- greener work habits (more telecommuting)
- better knowledge tracking and auditing compliance (archiving requirements
and providing security)
SharePoint 2007 is a key player in the collaborative space It's hard to
describe it at first because it doesn't fit in one bucket. In certain areas,
other tools do even better and they can integrate with SharePoint.
- web content management: publishing workflows and version control.
- document management: approvals and workspaces.
- project and team management: ties Outlook calendars together, etc.
Note that it doesn't actually replace anything.
- knowledge management: wikis, blogs, search, plus a slew of aftermarket
- secure access: a nice portal tool for clients, vendors, a shared space for
- Integration with Microsoft Project.
But doing this definitely requires some business analysis to figure out what
buckets we want to put things in.
Audience comment: I think it's difficult to describe all the different
benefits to different groups because you're talking about adding to rather
IT Consulting Firm (I'm talking about Spitfire):
We do everything on SharePoint. We created a slick recruiting tool. We
recruit by having different people interviewing the candidate on different
days. SharePoint collects all the interview results. You can prioritize what
you need and the recruiters can look at the info and know what to pursue
first. It provides an interviewing calendar. As a manager, I can know
exactly where every candidate is in the process and see comments from each
of the interviewers. The system also maintains the interviewing questions,
job descriptions, etc. Finally, we can analyze the business process that the
tool is managing, see how the recruiting went for a particular position.
Managing the whole process, it tracks everything and can tell us how long it
takes to find someone.
This was a document management system to deal with process material.
It gives nurses and doctors a place to go for compliance documents and
policies. It archives documents and routes them to appropriate people and
places as required. Some really nice document management tools also
integrate with SharePoint.
This is also related to compliance. Documents are moving back and forth
between clients and the bank, and all kinds of things have to happen to them
to keep the process active. Lots of time can go by when a document is
missing from a transaction, for example. So the portal reminds users to
submit required documents, analyzes documents to see that they are in
compliance, sends documents where they need to go--and keeps everything
secure. It also mitigates confusion by preventing multiple people from
touching stuff unnecessarily. It sends email notifications.
Note that SharePoint has its own workflow server, but it doesn't do things
like draw visio charts; there's just a basic workflow tool in SharePoint.
And it's not a BPM tool in my opinion.
Software project management. It provides sharing of all the process
documents, schedules, risks, tasks, milestones, invoices, scope management,
change requests, and budgets. Everything associated with the project is in
Collaborative software is a powerful productivity tool. Where are the
people, how do I get a hold of them? The unified communications tools can
give you a face-to-face conversation right in the tool.
It's good for management of intellectual capital because all your documents
are being stored in the process, not stuck on someone's hard drive.
It provides archiving with control, which is critical for legal purposes.
It creates new social paradigms, a new way of how we work together and the
way we communicate and interact as people.
Requires planning, analysis, and forethought of what you want your business
to be. If you don't do this you can get into trouble. So it also creates
misperceptions about what this tool can be.
Q & A
Q: What does it take to set up SharePoint? Do you need training?
A: It took us a few hours to set up the recruiting tool, and if you're
familiar with the 2003 version, the complexity is about the same.
We've used SharePoint as a layer in a dot net application to export to
Q: Did the hospital system you built actually improve healthcare?
A: No, it just made sure people were following the right regulations at the
right time. It provided a good process for versioning.
Q: Can you customize the interface?
A: Yes, your views of the workspace are customizable.
Q: Are people writing interfaces for Bugzilla and stuff?
A: Yes. SharePoint is all based on dot net architecture, so you can pretty
much write whatever you want for it.
Q: How well is it set up to work with Office products?
A: SharePoint is very tightly integrated with the Microsoft Office suite.
Q: What about Google apps?
A: I don't know about that.
Q: Can you VPN into it?
A: Yes, and there are various ways to authenticate. You set up your users in
a SQL database in SharePoint.
Q: Let's say I'm not using Microsoft products for email, database, and
spreadsheets. Are there other products out there similar to SharePoint that
will work in non-Microsoft environments?
A: There's lots of tools out there for different environments--Microsoft
isn't the only game in town for collaborative software.
Q: Project.Net is like an open-source version of SharePoint. And there are
competitors like LiveLink. And maybe you can get by just using Microsoft
A: Microsoft Project comes with some lower-cost capabilities.
Q: Everything gets written down with this tool, so doesn't it require really
good typing skills?
A: Note that SharePoint also captures video and audio, so it isn't all
dependent on typing.
Q: Customer service reps at my company are using wiki forms to document and
publish information to a web knowledgebase. Do your clients use much in the
way of wikis and blogs to generate constantly updated pages?
A: Development teams use wikis a lot. It's a good way to capture
intellectual capital knowledge.
Q: What do you think of capturing development lifecycle documentation as a
wiki--like a requirements document maintained on a wiki?
A: You can do it that way, but we have a mixture of our property and client
property, so you can't easily mix it up like that.