» Archive for the 'Collaboration' Category

In the briefing room: Yammer

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Cody Burke

A Yammer site shown in Dutch, with the activity feed in the center.

Microblogs and activity feeds, à la Twitter and Facebook, are the kinds of technology tools that can be both alluring and confusing.  Being able to quickly send out short missives about one’s activity and see updates from others in a condensed activity stream is sexy; it is the interface we have grown used to thanks to consumer social software, and the movement to bring that metaphor of communications and collaboration into a business setting is only natural.

The problem is that few people can clearly articulate the specific benefits that an activity stream-based social software tool brings into the workplace.  There is much talk about the positive impact resulting from ambient awareness of what is going on in an organization, the reduction of e-mail loads as users use the software to communicate, and the ability to reach out to experts with questions.  The tricky part is actually demonstrating, in terms of cost, how knowledge workers are made more productive through use of these tools.

We recently sat down with Yammer’s CEO, David Sacks, and Dee Anna McPherson, vice president of communications, to discuss this very point.

Yammer is a social software tool for businesses that allows employees of an organization to set up networks using their work e-mail addresses.  The network is restricted to those within that e-mail domain, which allows for private groups to form organically within the organization.  This is a plus in our view because it allows smaller groups to experiment with Yammer and show the value of the tool before wide scale adoption.  Companies can then upgrade to Yammer Premium, which gives an organization advanced administrative features and allows it to consolidate various networks that have been created by groups and individuals in the company.

Yammer features user profiles, communities, direct messaging, tagging of topics in conversations, group creation around projects or interest areas, and mobile access.  The main point of the interface is the activity feed, which, although not limited to 140 characters in the manner of Twitter, resembles a microblogging platform.

Sacks told us that he believes that Yammer can reduce e-mail loads for knowledge workers by pulling some communications out of the inbox and into the activity feed.  He also noted that some companies have used the service to replace meetings, or utilized Yammer as an expertise locator and question answering solution.

In our view, the potential for services such as Yammer that provide the activity stream interface for communication and collaboration is huge, but far more research needs to be done to show the specific benefits.  Reducing e-mail is an admirable goal; for example, if a question that is sent out in an all-hands e-mail to 5,000 people can be replaced with a post on a social networking tool that saves 5,000 people from an unnecessary interruption.  The use of the social networking tool still might not be the most efficient way to ask the question, but in the absence of a true expertise location system, it might be the best option.

While certain efficiencies can be created by reducing e-mail, it’s worth noting that the introduction of a completely new tool also has the potential to actually increase the amount of information that the knowledge worker is exposed to daily.  This is precisely why it is imperative to proceed with some caution when adopting these tools, although we do believe that tools such as Yammer have great potential for positive impact.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Lotus Gets Social

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Cody Burke

How do we connect the dots?

The talking points at this year’s Lotusphere were all about people, people, and people.  The official tagline of “Get Social. Do Business” was tempered with an emphasis on remembering that the point of social activity is not just sharing and moving documents around, but allowing individuals to communicate more effectively with one another.

The buzz word for the new generation of Lotus products is “Next.”  The gist of Next is that IBM is taking a set of social features developed in Project Vulcan (the company’s collaboration, business analytics, and aggregation user experience initiative) and applying them to the core products, namely Notes and Domino, Sametime, Connections, and LotusLive.  The underlying idea is to build a platform that incorporates various social features such as activity streams, content sharing, and automated suggestions of relevant content, people, and groups or communities.

Additionally, the new features and interfaces will be standardized across the offerings, to create more symmetry between the Notes desktop and browser-based tools such as LotusLive.  They will also include new calendaring features such as the ability for non-chairs to edit calendar entries.  The Next group of offerings will move into beta later this year.

Here is a quick look at the major collaboration and knowledge sharing announcements coming out of Lotusphere:

Activity Stream Clients for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Nokia
This set of clients will bring the new and refined activity stream functionality to mobile devices, and allow users to take action on items without leaving the mobile environment, a concept that extends to the other announcements, and is referred to by IBM as “embedded experience.”

LotusLive Symphony
This cloud-based release of the company’s office productivity suite will feature real-time co-authoring, in-line commenting, presence integration, the ability to assign sections to specific authors, notifications of edits, versioning, and auto save.  It will be available as a technical preview next week, and is expected to be released in full in the second half of 2011.

LotusLive Next
LotusLive Next will benefit from the new activity stream, which looks quite powerful and uses complex algorithms to filter and surface relevant content, people, and groups for the individual user.  The stream presents relevant applications, content, people, activities, mail, and even voicemail.  A useful feature is the ability to hover over suggested content to see why it was suggested, such as mutual interests or past projects.  As in the mobile activity stream clients, users can view and take action on items in the stream.

Connections Next
New features will include a new media gallery for video and photo sharing, ideation, enhanced community moderation capabilities, a Microsoft Outlook social connector, ECM library integration via widgets, and plug-in connectors for Notes files.  Another new feature is a share box, which allows quick and painless sharing of content without having to leave the environment.

Sametime Next
Sametime will be seeing advancements in the mobile realm, with an upcoming (second half of 2011) native Android client that provides the full functionality of the current Nokia, RIM, and browser-based iPhone applications.  Additions include support for location information and voice-to-text and text-to-voice capabilities.  Further down the road, IBM expects to release native iPhone and Symbian3 applications and increase its focus on audio and video functionality.

For the desktop client, Sametime Next will feature video conferencing, browser-based online meetings, and audio and video functionality via browser plug-ins.

Notes and Domino Next
The big news around Notes and Domino Next is, of course, the social aspects that the features and interfaces that have emerged out of Project Vulcan, such as the activity stream and share box.  Domino will also be moving towards cloud deployment, and users of LotusLive will be able to run Domino applications via the cloud.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Richard Nixon and the E-mail Mess

Thursday, July 29th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The term “expletive deleted” entered the lexicon in the 1970s when President Richard Nixon provided edited transcripts of internal White House discussions to the public with profane words and phrases indicated thusly.

President Nixon announcing his resignation in 1974.

Although most knowledge workers wouldn’t need this type of redacting, the problem of profanity in e-mail at Goldman Sachs has apparently reached critical mass and the firm announced that it will enforce a strict policy of no dirty words in electronic messages.  This action is notable because a June 2007 e-mail from a Goldman executive was extensively quoted at Senate hearings this past April, including the phrase  “that … was one s—– deal.”  The firm’s policy covers instant and text messages in addition to e-mail messages.

Our research tells us that the typical knowledge worker will receive 93 e-mail messages each day in addition to dozens of instant and text messages, not to mention phone calls and messages sent via social networks.

Knowledge workers have long complained that there is simply too much e-mail but, until recently, profanity in e-mail was not a huge concern.  However, the use of naughty words in some organizations has reached epic proportions.  The news about Goldman and e-mail has been making headlines in the business press and one comment posted on the Wall Street Journal Web site was telling.

Arun Nisargand wrote: “I am amazed at the lack of professionalism on the Wall Street and the investment banking community.  In the engineering community and large Fortune 500 corporation where I work, profanity has never been a issue.  It is not used or tolerated.  In verbal, written or e-mail communication.  There is no written policy or directive.  We just know how to behave.”

While cleaning up one’s language may indeed be an admirable pursuit, the emphasis on dirty words (think George Carlin) obfuscates the real problem, which is that we send too much e-mail period.

Perhaps, however, some good will come out of this, namely that the 34,000 people will, as a result of the new policy, end up sending fewer e-mails messages each day, and that the practice will spread beyond Wall Street.

Expletive deleted, maybe eliminating obscene e-mail is the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Plato Turns 50

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 by David Goldes

Imagine a world without the collaborative tools we take for granted today. Decades before the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web, computer pioneers were building Plato, a system that pioneered chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, online forums and message boards, and remote screen sharing. 

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself. -Plato

Plato (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was the world’s first computer-aided teaching system and it was built in 1960 at Computer-based Education Research Lab (CERL) at the University of Illinois and eventually comprised over 1,000 workstations worldwide. It was in existence for forty years and offered coursework ranging from elementary school to university-level.  

Social computing and collaboration began on Plato in 1973. That year, Plato got Plato Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chatrooms), and Term-talk (instant messaging).  

Plato was also a breeding ground for today’s technology innovators. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s chief software architect, worked on the Plato system in the 1970s as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many others including Dave Woolley, who wrote Plato Notes at the age of 17, Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (the e-mail system) in 1974 at the age of 18, and Doug Brown, creator of Talk-o-matic, continued to develop collaborative technologies in their careers.  

Don Bitzer, credited by many as the “father of Plato,” is the co-inventor of the plasma display and has spent his career focusing on collaborative technologies for use in the classroom.  

This week we celebrate Plato’s 50th anniversary. Why a week and not a day? I spoke with Brian Dear, whose book on Plato (The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the Plato System and the Dawn of Cyberculture) will be published later this year,told me “[I]t’s hard to pin down an exact date, due to a) it being open to interpretation as to what qualifies as the first day — when the project got green-lighted? when they started designing it? when a system was actually up and running? when they did the first demo? — and b) there’s little lasting documentary evidence from those earliest weeks.”  

“May 1960 was when Daniel Alpert’s interdisciplinary group that had held meetings for weeks about the feasibility of the lab embarking on an automated teaching project, finally submitted its report to Alpert. He read it, thought about it, and decided to ignore the group’s recommendation to not proceed. Instead he asked if a 26-year-old PhD named Don Bitzer wanted to have a go at it, and Bitzer agreed. Consequently, on June 3, Alpert wrote up his own report to the Dean of the Engineering School, which instead of reiterating his group’s recommendation to not go forward with a computer education project, stated that they were indeed going forward. Bitzer went right to work on it, brought in others to help with the hardware and software, and they had a prototype up and running pretty quickly that summer. The rest is history.”  




David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the briefing room: Outlook 2010

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Cody Burke

As perhaps the most widely-deployed e-mail client in the corporate world, Outlook is where many knowledge workers spend a majority of their time.

A new Outlook

E-mail is so central to knowledge work today that the inbox has evolved into the nexus for not only communication, but daily tasks, scheduling, and document and project management.  As a result, it is of paramount importance for knowledge workers to have an e-mail experience that fully supports their work.

The forthcoming version, Outlook 2010, receives multiple enhancements and features that were first introduced in other Microsoft Office applications.  Perhaps the most significant addition is the Fluent UI and Ribbon.  While the Ribbon has had its critics, notably those stalwarts who prefer the old drop down menu system, the fact remains that it is now the primary user interface for Office and adding it to Outlook was a logical step in order to create a unified user experience across the Office suite.

We found QuickSteps to be one of the most intriguing and promising new features.  Quick Steps provides one-click buttons to automate common and recurring tasks such as filing e-mails, sending e-mail messages to predetermined groups of co-workers, or initiating a meeting with all members of an e-mail chain.  To automate more complex or personalized tasks, Quick Steps also allows the user to create custom buttons that control the desired functionality.  The Quick Steps feature increases individual productivity by saving small amounts of time multiple times each day.

Outlook now also features the new Backstage View, which provides access to settings and account information (for more on Backstage, see our previous analysis).

Another enhancement that has been rolled across all the Office applications is integration with OneNote.  From the Outlook tasks list, the user can access notes in OneNote by selecting the new Task Notes function.  From within OneNote, notes can be turned into tasks that are synched with Outlook task and appear on the Outlook calendar.  The integration allows users to use OneNote to create tasks, but subsequently manage them from within Outlook.

To address the misuse of e-mail, such as all-hands reply to alls and the unintended inappropriate e-mailing of confidential information, Outlook now has MailTips, an alert system that notifies the user when he is about to send a message that violates e-mail usage etiquette or formal rules.  Actions that would prompt an alert include sending potentially confidential information to people outside of a workgroup or the organization, large distribution lists, recipients who are out of the office, restricted addresses, recipients who are using automatic replies, and violations of size limitations for e-mail attachments.  The feature requires Exchange 2010, which works with Outlook to determine if an alert is necessary as recipients are added and the message is being composed.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

The Document Jungle

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The world of the knowledge worker is document centric.  As a group, knowledge workers spend significant time creating, managing, reviewing, and editing documents.

doc mgmt paper mountain

Danger lurks in the document jungle

[For the purposes of this discussion, we define a document as written communication created using word processing software, a typical example of which is Microsoft Word.]

A recent Basex survey of 300 knowledge workers revealed (not surprisingly) that 95% of them create and review documents on a regular basis.

The prevalence of word processing tools and e-mail have made it easy, some would say too easy, to send documents anywhere and everywhere for input from colleagues, business partners, customers, and suppliers.

A mere twenty years ago, document review was very different.  Fewer documents were being generated overall so there were fewer to review.  The review process was paper based, documents were typically stored in file cabinets, and, since making corrections and revisions often meant retyping a document, people only made important corrections and tried to get it right the first time around.

Today, the typical knowledge worker creates one to two documents a day comprised of one to two pages each.  He also receives three to five documents that are between three to five pages long for review each week.

Why the disparity in size and quantity between documents created and documents received?  People who create longer documents also create more of them and are more likely to send them out for review.  In addition, 22% of documents are not sent to anyone for review and a similar number are sent to only one colleague.

What happens when a document comes back to its creator with these edits and comments is also interesting since most documents come back with multiple edits, changes, and comments.

Despite the tools available both within word processing software and externally, the typical knowledge worker uses a fairly inefficient process to review documents, 60% of knowledge workers say they e-mail the documents as attachments to several reviewers at once.  46% report that they then compare edits and comments manually once they have received them back from reviewers.

As a result, almost 40% of knowledge workers say they miss edits and comments in the documents they get back from review.  Fewer than half of the knowledge workers surveyed say they get documents back in a timely fashion.  Another 25% of knowledge workers say they intentionally leave people out of the review process for fear of slowing it down.

All of these inefficiencies come with a significant cost to the bottom line.  Errors in documents that are overlooked can result in lost sales and lower profits.  The multiple hours a typical knowledge worker spends each week trying to manage the review process could be put to far better use.

The future for document review and revision is far from dismal.  Software companies ranging from start-ups to industry giants are tackling the problem.  Nordic River, a version management company based in Sweden, offers TextFlow, a browser-based tool that generates marked-up review copies of a document based on changes and comments made in individual versions of a document.   Microsoft, in the forthcoming Office 2010 suite, will introduce Co-authoring, a set of tools that allows for multiple users to edit a document at the same time.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Microsoft Office 2010 Navigation and Backstage

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Microsoft Office may be one of the world’s most widely deployed software packages.

A backstage pass...

A backstage pass...

Indeed, with a user base of 500 million, any changes or updates to the suite are significant for that fact alone.

In the upcoming Office 2010 release, there are many areas that have been retooled and refined; however, for the typical knowledge worker, the most obvious will be the user interface.  In this research brief, we will look at how the user interacts with a document through the new Navigation pane and Backstage view.

The new Navigation pane in Word enables users to move around a document, search for content, and change the structure and organization of headings.  This replaces the old Document Map and Thumbnail panes and brings those feature sets into one place along with Find.  Users browse through a document by heading, page, or search results.  Content in a section is moved around a document by dragging-and-dropping the tab for the heading.  Additionally, the outline of a document can be manipulated to promote or demote sections.  When sections are moved, all headings and subheadings automatically adjust.

Office 2010 also features a new way to manage documents, the Backstage view.  This new functionality extends across the entire Office suite.  The Backstage view appears when the user clicks on the File tab from within an application.  The view that opens up provides the user with access to tabs that show document info,  permissions, versioning, printing options, and sharing options.  The user has multiple options for sharing including e-mailing the document as an attachment or link, or via a blog post.

Backstage also includes Accessibility Checker, which allows users to identify elements of a document that may cause problems when used with assistive technologies.  These functions were previously found in various Ribbon menus and, with 2010, have been separated out from functions that are needed for actual content creation.  The goal of Backstage is to help users work with documents, processes and workflows, as opposed to when you work in the document.

Features such as presence are incorporated into Backstage, making it possible to initiate contact with document authors and to see related documents.  Backstage is extensible, meaning that it can be customized to allow for a range of application data to be brought into the view.

The interfaces for Backstage and Navigation are smooth and intuitive to use, and the concept of separating these features and giving them their own panes that group like-minded features together is a good one.  Obviously getting used to features being in a different place takes some time, but Backstage and Navigation are both positive changes that increase usability .

We will be examining other important new features and enhancements in Office 2010 in the weeks to come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Mail Triage and Topika

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The Innovation Lab is one of my favorite places to spend time during Lotusphere.  For the uninitiated, the Innovation Lab is a large room with 20+ developers stationed at individual workstations showing off concepts that they are working on at the IBM Almaden Research Center.

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

What is demonstrated is the software equivalent of concept cars in the automotive world.

At Lotusphere 2010, two solutions that have the potential to significantly increase knowledge worker efficiency and effectiveness and potentially lower information overload caught my eye: Topika and Mail Triage.

Topika is a tool that attempts to resolve various difficulties in using collaborative tools (the developers of Topika, specifically exclude e-mail from being defined as a “collaborative tool” because, in their view, e-mail messages do not typically have shared materials.)  It was created by a team of researchers at IBM Research in Almaden including Tara Matthews, Jalal Mahmud, Tom Moran, Barton Smith, Steve Whittaker, and Julian Cerruti.

Topika, which integrates e-mail with collaborative tools, detects when a person is sending an e-mail message and suggests relevant social software tools that the sender could use in addition to sending the e-mail message.

In other words, when you write an e-mail, Topika suggests a place, activity, or site (such as Lotus Quickr or Connections) and stores it (including any e-mail attachments).  It adds information in the e-mail message that points to these places.  Right now the e-mail attachment remains in the e-mail message but an option to remove the attachment in future versions is under consideration.

Topika makes its recommendation by creating a work profile that is an index of an individual’s collaborative activities and the tools used.  By using Topika, knowledge workers can use e-mail to support collaboration via other tools.  Topika is in its early stages but it shows great promise.

Mail Triage and Personal Tasks is an innovative tool created by Jeff Pierce, a researcher who focuses on user sciences and experience research at the IBM Almaden Research Center.  It is one way of rethinking how we approach e-mail from mobile devices (as opposed to at a full-sized computer).  Mail Triage recognizes the fact that mobile e-mail usage is focused around triaging messages as opposed to reading them.  Knowledge workers want to know what’s new, what requires immediate attention, and what can be deleted.  Everything else can be deferred.

Mail Triage does just that.  It allows mobile knowledge workers to manage mail quickly by sorting, prioritizing, and deferring.  The top-level view of the e-mail client shows Triaged and Untriaged folders instead of the typical inbox.  It creates tasks for the user such as Call, Print, Read, Reply, Save, Schedule, Send, and Visit.

Once the user accesses his desktop computer, a Lotus Notes sidebar allows the user to access, edit, or delete tasks and further triage e-mail messages on the desktop (by dragging them to the sidebar).

Mail Triage has the potential to make the knowledge worker’s use of mobile devices more efficient and effective than is currently the case.  It will be interesting to follow this project as it develops.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Avaya’s post-Nortel roadmap

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Cody Burke

One of the final chapters in Nortel’s history has now been written.  Nortel’s vaunted Enterprise Solutions unit has been acquired by Avaya, a company that, similar to Nortel, traces its origins back to Alexander Graham Bell’s original patent for the telephone in 1874.


The end of an era

This week, Avaya announced its roadmap for the integration and continuation of products and services from Nortel and it’s good news for customers of both companies as Avaya management has found a way to meld the best offerings from both companies into a unified set of products.  However, there are a few speed bumps ahead.

First, customers not on the platform that becomes part of the merged product line face a forklift upgrade and significant cost in the not so distant future as the product portfolios from Nortel and Avaya were largely proprietary and incompatible with one another.

In addition, based on how past mergers of similarly-sized tech firms have fared, Avaya faces multiple challenges as it integrates multiple platforms and workgroups while trying to maintain its ability to service its customers at the levels they require and are accustomed to.  In addition, Avaya expects to support its newly-expanded product portfolio with a newly-shrunk workforce.

The flagship unified communications offering for Avaya will be Avaya Aura.  Aura will be enhanced with the addition of Avaya (formerly Nortel) Agile Communications Environment (ACE) as well as the inclusion of technology from Nortel for a common management infrastructure.  For existing Nortel customers, Aura can be added and will sit on top of existing deployments.  Likewise, Aura customers can add Nortel solutions to their deployments.

In the roadmap, Avaya laid out a move towards a SIP-based system that is multimodal with an open rules engine and conference-based communications.  To this end, Avaya Contact Center Elite will continue as the flagship enterprise solution, and Nortel Contact Center 7 will remain as a mid market solution.  The release of Contact Center 8 will add features and technology from Contact Center Elite, with the ultimate goal of improving scalability in order to enable the company to offer one contact center solution to cover everything from the middle market to high-end deployments.

For the small- and mid-sized enterprise market, Avaya plans to continue to supply Nortel Business Communications Manager, Norstar, Partner, and Integral 5, but it will eventually merge these solutions into Avaya IP Office as the flagship hybrid offering.  Nortel’s Software Communication System will be the flagship offering for SIP environments.

With regard to data products, Avaya announced it will adopt the current roadmap of data products from Nortel, including offerings for Ethernet Switching, Routers, Wireless Networking, Access Control, and Unified Management.

What Avaya has released thus far is a roadmap and there are many details that have not yet been released that should clarify further what Avaya’s combined offerings will look like.  Avaya did have plenty of time to contemplate and prepare for the merger and, if nothing else, we give them an A+ for effort here.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Intelligence Gathering Meets Information Overload

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by Cody Burke

In 2007, the Air Force collected ca. 24 years’ worth of continuous video from Predator and Reaper unmanned drones in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, a fact first reported by the New York Times in the last few days.

Shall we drone on?

Shall we drone on?

All video collected is watched live by a team of intelligence analysts, so this translates into ca. 24 years of analyst team time being used in one year.

The amount of data (and the amount of time spent watching the videos) will only grow as more advanced drones are deployed that can record video in ten (with future plans for up to 65) directions at once instead of the one direction that is currently supported.

The use of  UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) is not only an expanding phenomenon in the military but also domestically as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and local police forces begin to use these tools.  The advantages are clear: pilots are not in danger, intelligence gathering capabilities are improved, and the ability to conduct strikes in remote areas is enhanced.

There are of course myriad issues that the use of UAVs for military operations present, ranging from humanitarian arguments that drone missile strikes are more likely to result in civilian casualties to political considerations about where they can operate, as seen in recent disagreements with Pakistan.

Complicating and contributing to these issues is the huge problem of how do deal with the flood of information that drones are returning to the analysts.

Mistakes such as falsely identifying threats can lead to unnecessary and potentially tragic civilian casualties, which could then inflame international public opinion and impair the ability for the military to operate effectively.  Likewise, missing a real threat because of Information Overload could also lead to fatalities.

The use of these tools will only increase, making it critical that we develop systems to organize, parse, tag, and act upon the data that is collected in an effective manner.  The Air Force in particular is working on this problem, but will have to move quickly to stay ahead of the mountain of incoming data.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.