Learning To Share

Business-technology execs and IT vendors blend collaboration tools to enable a new level of online communication

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

March 5, 2003

3 Min Read

The company, which runs a network of hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia, wanted to pull the movement of documents out of E-mail and create a system in which versions could be tracked so documents could be finalized more quickly. Sentara has as many as 80 active SiteScape forums, online workplaces used to settle on policies and procedures, develop hospital plans, and manage IT projects.

One key area of concern was the need to satisfy conditions for hospital accreditation, a process that requires groups at each hospital to update documents that detail data such as scope of services, number of beds, and staffing. As many as 100 people touch some of these documents, and using E-mail and shared drives to have them do so made it a nightmare to track the latest version. Mistakes were common, Lanzafame says.

Given that access to Medicare and Medicaid funds hinges upon accreditation, there's no shortage of motivation for Lanzafame to get widespread adoption of the SiteScape tool. But many employees remain intimidated by the software, so there's no chance Sentara will introduce real-time collaboration soon. "We haven't even realized the full benefits of what we have," Lanzafame says.

Some companies add real-time tools only as needed. Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc. has established Documentum Inc.'s eRoom Enterprise application as its standard app for creating online workspaces. (Documentum acquired eRoom late last year.) Teams use hundreds of eRooms at any given time for research, product planning, drug discovery, and regulatory processes. Now Aventis wants to leverage the improved integration between eRoom and Documentum's document-management system to better mine data created during collaborative projects, says Peg Mitchell, senior director of drug innovation and approval information systems. That would give users more sophisticated document-management and -retrieval functionality and let them reach more content, whether it's created in the eRooms or in other applications. The system also uses Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc.'s KnowledgeMail software to scan E-mails and help employees find experts within the company. Instant messaging and conferencing tools within Exchange 2000 allow internal real-time collaboration.

But while Aventis is planning to look closely at Microsoft's RTC Server, Jeff Strohm, program manager for external alliances in the company's functional genomics unit, says he thinks spot use of WebEx Communications Inc.'s online-conferencing service is sufficient for real-time collaboration with partners. The RTC Server is expected to be expensive, and Aventis can't spend money on something it will use only occasionally.

Barclays' Swan notes that the success of any collaboration deployment hinges on gauging the staff's technical proficiency, matching the software to employees' work habits, and showing how it puts a value on people's expertise. "You have to establish trust to change behavior and get people more comfortable with sharing what they create," he says. Then, "if you give people an easier space in which to work, they're going to work there, and they're going to create knowledge without even knowing it."

But you'll know it--and eventually, so might your customers. --with Melanie Turek

Photo of Swan by Jeffery Newbury
Photo of Toro by Paul Howell/Getty Images
Illustration by Riccardo Stampatori

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