Question: Do today's new collaboration tools make it harder for IT to wrangle corporate information, or easier? Answer: Yes.
Web 2.0 collaboration tools are irresistible to end users: They're easy to set up and use and can be accessed from anywhere. Employees can upload or create documents, spreadsheets, wikis, and blogs, then invite co-workers and partners to access, edit, and download content. These apps often include productivity enhancers such as search and tagging. And not surprisingly, vendors are encouraging the trend--Microsoft and IBM have added wikis and blogging capabilities to enterprise apps including SharePoint and Lotus Quickr, while Google and upstarts like Socialtext, PBwiki, and Jive Software are luring corporate users with freebie accounts and dead-simple deployment. Departments and business units can provision users in minutes, pay with discretionary funds--and never make a single call to IT.
Sadly, all IT gets out of the deal is a big fur ball as it struggles to organize corporate content run amok. The potential for exposure of sensitive information or theft of intellectual property runs high, as do concerns about noncompliance with corporate or third-party requirements as end users scatter sensitive information around the Internet. If the company gets tangled in litigation, data relevant to discovery requests may be lurking unknown on third-party servers, exposing the organization to financial or legal sanctions.
We have to get a grip on this problem, but how?
You can ignore Web 2.0 tools, or try to shoo users away. If you take one of these approaches, let us know how it works out for you. A better approach is to embrace new collaboration methods, whether through an in-house deployment, a software-as-a-service option, or both. In "SaaS: Red Light, Green Light", we discuss the new batch of decision metrics companies need to use when evaluating delivery of any business app in a service model. Fortunately for IT, many collaboration apps include authentication, access controls, change logs, and methods for exporting data into corporate storage, all of which help manage risk.
BETTER THAN E-MAIL
E-mail stinks as a collaboration tool, particularly in today's business environment, where team members are often not in the same location at the same time. Users must send multiple copies of documents or files, wait for them to be marked up, and reconcile changes. Valuable project information may be buried inside long strings of correspondence or--even worse--users may be cc'ed on long, irrelevant discussions.
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Enter specialized collaboration apps. Whether these products are deployed like conventional software, such as Microsoft's SharePoint and IBM's Lotus Quickr, or via software as a service, they make it easy for co-workers and business partners to create and share information. Take Skanska, a global construction company with 26 U.S. offices, which worked with 40,000 subcontractors in 2007. "Collaboration is core to what we do," says Allen Emerick, director of IT, applications, and integration for Skanska's U.S. business. A typical building project involves a large cast, from clients to sales teams to architects, plus engineers and construction crews.
Employees used to rely heavily on e-mail and FTP to collaborate, but this was cumbersome. So Emerick deployed SharePoint to address the problem. Now, SharePoint is used for both internal and external communications. Internally, it acts as a portal where employees can find corporate forms and documents. Externally, clients access SharePoint to get information about ongoing projects. Emerick says these external sites are used throughout the life of a project, from sales to completion. During the sales cycle, proposals, RFPs, and presentations are put on the site for clients. In the planning phase, initial design and specification documents are available. During construction, architectural drawings are posted as PDFs, and job site photos may be added. Throughout the project, a calendar function lets parties track major milestones and meetings.
But SharePoint and Lotus Quickr aren't the only options. Doug Cornelius, a lawyer at Goodwin Procter, relies on PBwiki, a popular provider of online collaboration tools, for a variety of projects. As a member of the law firm's knowledge management department, Cornelius uses the wiki to manage meetings and agendas and to plan conferences. "It's tremendous for capturing information," he says. "Instead of a string of e-mails, you just go in and edit the wiki."
While the firm also uses SharePoint as an intranet platform, Cornelius wanted to experiment with other options. "We didn't need anyone from IT to do anything. Training and setup took 30 seconds," he says. After a year of use, the wiki has more than 100 pages and gets several edits every day. Other departments in the firm are also using the PBwiki service.
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