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When One Collaboration Tool Can't Do It All

American Water's single-pane-of-glass strategy brings multiple collaboration systems together on the desktop, avoids $3 million systems migration expense.

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In an effort to improve collaboration, American Water Company took a hard look at its hodgepodge of systems from different vendors--and decided not to consolidate them.

"We decided we would rather put our effort into a multi-vendor, single-pane-of-glass environment than go to one vendor that says it does it all," said Steve Brescia, manager of enterprise architecture at the New Jersey-based company, which operates regional water utility companies across the United States.

In particular, American Water decided to stick with Lotus Notes for email, even though it is moving forward with a SharePoint implementation that might suggest now would be the time to move to a more Microsoft-centric architecture including Exchange, Outlook, and perhaps Lync for unified communications. When American Water was evaluating its options, it concluded that a migration to a single-vendor collaboration platform would have cost about $3 million--an expense it preferred to avoid, Brescia said. Instead of consolidating vendors and servers, American Water chose to integrate at the user interface level, using the Notes plugin from Harmon.ie, which makes it easier for Notes users to tap into SharePoint resources.

The rest of American Water's collaboration technology base includes Cisco IP telephony, Cisco WebEx webconferencing, and IBM Sametime for presence information and instant messaging. Harmon.ie does not address all those components, but American Water hopes to address them with the same "single-pane-of-glass" approach over time, Brescia said. "I know I'm repeating myself, but that really is our mantra."

This week's release of Harmon.ie 3.0 for Notes is now functionally equivalent to the version for Outlook, which was the first to implement SharePoint-based social media features. Although most analysts judge SharePoint an incomplete social platform, it does provide the building blocks of a social network, such as profiles and activity streams, that Harmon.ie is able to tap into.

[ Check out 10 Great Android Apps For Collaboration. ]

Brescia said he is also looking forward to implementing the upgrade for the mobile client it includes. The value he has been getting from the previous Harmon.ie for Notes release is mostly from its integration with the file management features of SharePoint. Users can browse files and share them with a team directly through the Notes interface. Instead of downloading a file from SharePoint and emailing it to a colleague as an attachment, users can more easily send a link--speeding up the process, saving on disk storage, and avoiding confusion over multiple versions of the same document, he said.

"That keeps with the spirit of what SharePoint is," Brescia said.

Harmon.ie also provides a federated calendar capability that makes it possible to synchronize the Notes calendar with a schedule maintained as part of a SharePoint Team Site or even a personal Google Calendar.

Brescia said one improvement he would like to see is automation of the function for emailing links, rather than attachments. That only works for email sent within the firewall, so files still have to be sent as attachments to external correspondents. Ideally, the system would be smart enough to decide automatically who should be sent a link and who should be sent an attachment, rather than the user having to do that manually, Brescia said.

"That's doable, but it's not an out-of-the-box feature we have in the product," said David Lavenda, VP of marketing and product strategy for Harmon.ie. It's a customization Harmon.ie can provide on a consulting basis, he said. "It comes up from time to time, but it's not a universal request."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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David Wachter
David Wachter,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2011 | 5:30:50 PM
re: When One Collaboration Tool Can't Do It All
This is a wise strategy as consolidated solutions generally tend to sub-optimize specific functions in the interest of building a single solution. In fact, I think the only consolidated solutions that have ever really been successful are the clock radio and the toaster oven - and I'm not so sure about the toaster oven.

David Wachter
CMO, Hivemine
Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2011 | 5:23:38 PM
re: When One Collaboration Tool Can't Do It All
With all the collaboration options out there these days, it seems like companies will be increasingly compelled to find ways to integrate them rather than trying to find the best ONE.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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