» Archive for the 'Collaborative Business Environments' Category

How to Connect Your Enterprise

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Sachin Anand

Last week at LiveLinkUp 2007, Open Text announced Enterprise Connect, a solution aimed at improving the user experience in enterprise content management.  Based on .Net and Web services architecture, Enterprise Connect aims at simplifying the knowledge worker’s life.

Enterprise Connect allows knowledge workers to work with content through customizable business views from within familiar desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook.  Further, advanced application assembly is possible by knowledge workers who do not have significant programming experience.  By integrating all applications, solutions, and processes under a single user interface, Enterprise Connect provides knowledge workers with the tools to build what Basex refers to as Collaborative Business Environments by following the principle of the One Environment Rule (where the knowledge worker is able to work with all applications in one overarching environment).  Open Text created Enterprise Connect with the typical knowledge worker in mind, adopting a tagline of “Easy to Learn, Hard to Forget.”

Much of our research on knowledge worker productivity and work preferences has shown that workers generally have a desire to manage their own workspace and customize tools in order to improve their efficiency and productivity.  Managing these knowledge worker preferences and work tendencies is a challenge for managers because of the security implications of giving the knowledge worker independence in managing their own software.  Enterprise Connect is a method of allowing the knowledge worker to customize the tools but within the security of Livelink ECM10.  With version 1 of Enterprise Connect to be released in December, the impact of Enterprise Connect upon Open Text customers will be worth watching.

Sachin Anand is an analyst at Basex.

Open Text Adopts the One Environment Rule

Friday, November 17th, 2006 by Sachin Anand

This week at its annual user conference, LiveLinkUp (which I am attending), Open Text unveiled Livelink ECM 10.  Livelink ECM 10 is Open Text’s strongest move yet into supplying the tools necessary for enterprise customers to build Collaborative Business Environments that will make their knowledge workers more productive.

In compliance with the One Environment Rule (simply put, users remain in one overarching environment for their work), Livelink ECM 10 seems to have been designed from the ground up to ensure that content management is not treated as a function that is separate and distinct from other Collaborative Business Knowledge tools.

The advances present in Livelink ECM 10 lead a path towards Enterprise Transparency.  Enterprise Transparency, in the ECM world, represents the change of content management from a static process to a dynamic process that can be leveraged for business advantage by providing knowledge workers centralized tools from which they can make their decisions.

Features include Enterprise Library Services, which include integrated archival, metadata management, enterprise records management, and search capabilities.  Users can also manage the metadata and lifecycle of content stored in enterprise applications from Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle, among others, as well as business content stored in Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003, e-mail, file systems, and other repositories.  Knowledge workers can access business content in ERP systems, such as customer information, from Microsoft Office Outlook, providing a unified view of structured and unstructured business content.

Livelink ECM 10 allows companies to build and deploy solutions on any Basic Content Services offering such as SharePoint Portal Server 2003, while managing the enterprise-wide retention of the mission-critical business content with Enterprise Library Services.

Open Text didn’t forget the knowledge worker’s interface to his work.  Livelink ECM 10 features a new rich client interface, and offers seamless access to business content from Microsoft desktop tools such as Outlook 2003, Office 2003, and Internet Explorer.

Finally, to make it easier for customers to integrate their content with Livelink, Open Text is providing published Web services APIs for Enterprise Library Services and Livelink Content Services.

Sachin Anand is an analyst at Basex.

IBM’s New Workplace (Part II)

Monday, August 7th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira


This is the second of a two-part look at IBM Workplace.  Click here for part one.

IBM Workplace is not something you can buy; rather, you have to buy into IBM’s vision for a strategy and vision that is predicated upon delivering role-based clients that include collaborative tools.  IBM sees the Workplace concept as eventually permeating all of its collaboration and knowledge sharing offerings.  In the meantime, however, customers will purchase either IBM Lotus Notes/Domino or IBM WebSphere Portal Server.  Both are part and parcel of Workplace and are starting points on the road to the IBM Workplace vision.

The dynamic nature of the Workplace offerings (Notes and Portal) allows knowledge workers better customization when using the software.  As a result, customers are able to get what they are looking for depending on the overarching platform they are using.  Knowledge workers running Lotus Notes can depend on the Workplace strategy in order to provide a true Collaborative Business Environment.  Knowledge workers operating WebSphere Portal use Workplace to access a composite application framework and to unify content applications.  Also with WebSphere, knowledge workers are integrated with the Domino Server as a back-end mail server while also receiving the benefits of Workplace services such as realtime communication, workflow, and content management.  All of these products are integrated, which allows for easy interoperability and consistency – a cornerstone within the Workplace strategy.  IBM realizes the need for companies to capture and utilize their knowledge is unprecedented, and the solution lies within the strategy of the software rather than the title.  Workplace is the epitome of IBM’s collaborative strategy and will serve as a guiding vision for years to come.

Workplace is also an excellent example of IBM’s SOA philosophy.  On top of that, Workplace functions in accordance with the ODF standards.  The ODF standard was recently ratified at the end of last year by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and will provide consistency and growth for future platforms.

ODF is an XML-based document file format that allows end users to edit and create documents, regardless of the application vendor.  ODF offers consumers a choice between itself and proprietary document formats found in Microsoft Office components.  The openness of the ODF means that, unlike Microsoft, IBM’s product is interoperable with a variety of software; ODF can operate within its own format as well as within Microsoft Office or earlier versions of OpenOffice.  The fact that IBM adopts the ODF is promising for knowledge workers needing to communicate with a wide variety of companies that may or may not have IBM or ODF products.  ODF also ensures that companies will have more consistency and accessibility within their own documents.  The inclusion of ODF within a Collaborative Business Environment allows companies to make decisions based on business requirements, notwithstanding the vendor of the platform or the format of the software.

Workplace is designed around IBM’s activity-centric computing methodology.  What this means is that the platform is organized around activities performed rather than tools used.  In order to do this, Workplace provides an “activity thread,” which is an ongoing log of the sequence of interactions between employees on a project or among a team of employees working toward a common goal.  By providing this information, the technology takes care of the organizing and sorting of the relevant material so employees can reach a goal faster and more effectively.

The “activity explorer” program is the first tangible expression of the activity-centric philosophy.  The activity explorer allows knowledge workers to create, perform, track, and save their progress within the threads concept.  Knowledge workers create a document and share it with other employees working on the same project.  From there, employees can reply to the document with work of their own.  The activity explorer keeps a log of this activity so that progress is visible; it also has a presence awareness feature so employees can see who is viewing which document and what changes are being made.  The activity explorer also provides such options as shared computer screens, resembling the features of electronic whiteboards.

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

IBM’s New Workplace (Part I)

Monday, July 31st, 2006 by Jonathan Spira


IBM Workplace is the company’s high-level product strategy for Collaborative Business Environments.   Comprised of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino, IBM WebSphere Portal, and IBM WebSphere Everyplace Deployment, IBM’s Workplace offerings are designed to meet the knowledge economy needs of three sets of customers:

  • Existing Notes/Domino customers
  • Existing WebSphere Portal customers
  • New IBM customers

For Notes/Domino customers, the Workplace concept will really come into its own with the launch of the next version of Notes and Domino, code-named “Hannover.”  Hannover uses the WebSphere Portal to deliver composite applications without the help of WebSphere Portal.  However, Hannover can work with WebSphere to deliver composite applications more efficiently. 

For WebSphere Portal customers, IBM promises a Collaborative Business Environment optimized for J2EE-based portal-centric organizations.

 Workplace extends a composite framework to IBM’s offerings under what IBM refers to as Workplace services.  These include

  • Portlet Factory
  • Web Content Management
  • Enterprise Search
  • Electronic Forms
  • Workflow
  • Real-time Collaboration
  • E-mail messaging and calendar and scheduling
  • Document management/team spaces
  • E-learning

Hannover, the next generation of Notes, makes Notes a true Collaborative Business Environment by converting current Notes, Sametime, and portal applications into composite applications via a significantly enhanced user interface.  The Eclipse-based client is server managed and provisioned, and runs not only in Windows, but also on Mac OS and Linux.

As a result, Hannover users benefit from a real-time communications and collaboration platform that supports them on virtually any device (from laptop to handheld device) for everything from e-mail and enterprise applications to locating expertise and knowledge within an organization. 

Future Fusion: WebSphere Portal and Notes/Domino Hannover

One quality of the WebSphere Portal is its integration with IBM Lotus Notes in order to provide numerous business tools within a single environment.  When Hannover is released (which is to be by 2007), the line between where WebSphere ends and Notes begins will become increasingly blurry.  Many applications and features of the two platforms are being adopted by one another, such as Hannover’s SOA model containing both composite applications and a portal model.  With functions such as these, Hannover will have portal qualities of its own while also being integrated within WebSphere Portal. 

With this said, the question for the future remains: What will separate the two platforms after 2007?  The steps IBM is taking to integrate WebSphere Portal with such platforms as Notes are admirable, but will it lead to increased customer confusion once Notes makes the transition to Hannover?  One thing that will be certain is, due to the open standards within both platforms, interoperability between functions will be a given.  These standards include workflow standards (BPEL), instant messaging standards (SIP), document standards (ODF), and many others.  Another feature within Hannover is the heavy emphasis on activity-centric computing methodology.  With this new methodology, communication between WebSphere and Hannover will become even more important for a knowledge worker’s success.  As both platforms grow, their functions will become richer, but IBM needs to make clear of the distinctions between the two.

To be continued next week. (Click here for part two.)

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

Lotusphere Report – The Future is in Sight

Monday, January 23rd, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

Including three European Lotuspheres, this year’s is the 13th I am attending.  To some that may mean that I’ve heard it all before.

In some respects, I have.  While the products add more features and colors, Lotus’ message of collaboration and knowledge sharing has remained intact.  And that’s a good thing because IBM and Lotus have been building tools that will enable companies to build true real-time Collaborative Business Environments.

But will customers know how to use these tools to their best advantage?  Today, the answer is no.  And it isn’t the fault of the tools or the vendors per se.  Rather, it stems from what is a very sudden appearance of a knowledge economy (sudden in the overall scheme of things) and a distinct lack of preparedness on the part of both the business and IT worlds.

What is proper preparation, then?  Training managers on managing knowledge workers would be one answer.  I was interviewed today by a newspaper reporter about our research on interruptions.  She asked me for suggestions on how to lessen the impact of technology-driven interruptions and one suggestion was to avoid the temptation to peeak at each e-mail as it comes it.  She told me of a friend who works at a company where her manager would never tolerate a delay in replying to one of his e-mails, that this manager would be on the phone asking why she hadn’t replied.

Clearly, that manager needs to read my book, Managing the Knowledge Workforce.

But I digress.

The theme of this year’s Lotusphere is FUTUREINSIGHT.  Lotus may have the future in sight, but there is a lot of work to be done before they – or any other vendor of collaboration and knowledge sharing tools – will have it in grasp.

The problem is not with the tools – in fact, quite the opposite (I’ll get to Lotus’ announcements in a moment).  The problem is that the IT industry as a whole – including, of course, the large subset that sells $50 billion of tools supporting collaboration and knowledge sharing each year (a market supersegment we call Collaborative Business Knowledge) – does not know how to talk to its customers.  I’ll cover that rather large issue in a future column.

Today Lotus announced a variety of new real-time communications tools and partnerships.  First, Lotus Sametime was renamed Lotus Sametime (no more IBM Lotus Instant Messaging).  Sametime 7.5 sports a brand new client and adds voice-over-IP capabilities, allowing knowledge workers to talk with colleagues through their computers.  Lotus is adding a Sametime 7.5 client for Apple’s Mac OS X version 10.4 and for Linux.

Sametime 7.5 is now built on the Eclipse open source framework.  As a result, users can access a variety of plug-ins, including Google map mash-ups and audio/video extensions.  Sametime also comes with a new Web conferencing interface that simplifies the chore of managing such meetings.

A rather innovative new feature is the addition of social networking capabilities, allowing companies to access organization-wide collective knowledge, locate experts, poll users, and create communities to whom focused content or enquiries might be sent.

Finally, IBM announced connectivity with public IM services, including AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Yahoo Messenger.  IBM also announced plans to enable interoperability with Google Talk.

IBM further demonstrated the next, yet unreleased version of Lotus Notes, code-named Hannover (it was introduced at the Hannover Fair last year).  Hannover will include support for service-oriented architecture, composite applications, activity-centric computing, and support for server-managed clients.

On the IBM Workplace front, IBM announced availability of Workplace Collaboration Services 2.6, Workplace Managed Client 2.6, Workplace Forms 2.6, and Workplace Designer 2.6.  A major highlight was Workplace Forms, allowing companies to capture business data that exists or is created on paper, so it can be processed and integrated with back-end corporate data and applications.

So, dear reader, you can see it’s been a busy day here – and it’s only Day One of Lotusphere.  I’m sure we’ll have more insights soon.

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

Three Visionary Views: Basex Strategic Thinkers Conference, September 2004

Friday, October 1st, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

As frequent attendees of Basex Strategic Thinkers conferences know, one won’t find the VP of marketing from an IT company on the podium presenting his company’s 12-18 month roadmap.  Most speakers are end users, seasoned executives with experience in selecting, deploying, and managing Collaborative Business Environments (CBEs) and they speak about their experience in the trenches.

It is, however, equally important to hear from the companies that supply the tools used to build Collaborative Business Environments.  To round out the program, Basex invites senior executives from vendor companies to participate in the Visionary Vendor panel.  Each of the selected companies thrives on innovation and we ask executives to detail their long-term views on how Collaborative Business Environments will evolve and what the collaborative workplace will be like in a three to five year timeframe.  We also proscribe their presenting a 12-18 month product roadmap or infomercial.

So what did the Visionary Vendors have to say?  Elizabeth Eiss, president and chief operating officer of Xpert Universe, an expertise location company, pointed out that undocumented knowledge will be key to successful Collaborative Business Environments.  Basex’ own research demonstrates that most knowledge (as much as 80%) is stored in people’s heads, and that this resource leaves the building at the end of the day.  Managing it  – and making it accessible throughout the enterprise – will be a key challenge.  Moreover, creating rich tools with a CBE – possibly even replicating a face-to-face meeting virtually – will make all the difference.  When deploying such tools as expertise location, companies, Eiss pointed out, will need to adhere to Basex’ One Environment Rule to provide a rich user experience.

Graham Glynn, founder and CEO of Learning Management Solutions, pointed out that knowledge workers really need a single environment for accessing and organizing information – one that essentially follows them from cradle to grave, making it as simple to go to last week’s presentation file as course material from university a decade earlier.  This type of tool should serve the individual user, first and foremost, he noted, and should cover both personal and professional activities.  The challenge ahead is to connect information from multiple sources into information sets appropriate for projects and special interests.  Who hasn’t wanted to go back five or ten years, to coursework from university or notes from a chance meeting?

Eric Winsborrow, senior vice president, corporate strategy, for Cloudmark, an e-mail security company, stood in at the last moment for Cloudmark CEO Karl Jacob, and pointed out that many companies are still caught in an unsuccessful battle against spam e-mail.  If this scourge is not resolved sooner rather than later, the very effectiveness of the tools we rely upon on a minute-by-minute basis, such as e-mail, will be significantly diminished.  Spam e-mail represents a grave risk for the future of CBEs if not contained.  Attendees might’ve imagined they were suddenly in a university biology class, when Winsborrow turned his attention to the DNA of spam e-mail messages.  E-mail – as well as other documents – has a genetic map and each message a DNA.  Classifying e-mail messages by genetic similarity may provide a new means of identifying spam e-mail more accurately.  Spam e-mail has, in effect, “SpamGenes.”

The outlook for the future of Collaborative Business Environments, according to our speakers, is bright.  CBEs will allow knowledge workers to tap experts and tacit knowledge, and will maintain that knowledge and more from cradle to grave.  The CBE will be spam free, for the most part, as tools which identify spam based on a message’s DNA will get knowledge workers the messages they need and relegate junk mail to the dustbin.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

Blend in People, Culture, and Change – and Then a Pinch of Technology

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

Earlier this week, on September 21, Basex held its 22nd Strategic Thinkers event, Managing the Collaborative Business Environment, to a full house of senior executives, practitioners, technology users and vendors.  It was rich with recipe sharing and some spirited debate about the right ingredients for creating successful Collaborative Business Environments (CBEs).

Jonathan Spira, Basex‘ CEO and chief analyst, opened the proceedings with an examination of what constitutes today’s knowledge worker and the knowledge worker’s boss.  We’ll go into detail in a future edition, but suffice it to say there are enough knowledge (or information) workers out there (more than 100 million in the U.S. alone) to make it critical for organizations to cater to their needs.  Avoiding the debate over definitions and differences, what exactly do knowledge and information workers do?  At the most basic level, they think, and generate ideas that often lead to innovations.  In the course of their activities, they create knowledge.

To accomplish their work, they require knowledge and information.  New research from the U.S. Department of Labor finds that knowledge workers spend ca. 40% of their time processing information.  And to do this they also need access to other resources such as people.  A properly-designed CBE, providing access to all of these resources in one workspace, is an essential tool for the knowledge worker, necessary to ensure productivity and growth.

The Collaborative Business Environment lies at the nexus of the knowledge, collaboration and the enterprise itself.  It supersedes the traditional desktop metaphor and brings people together – both synchronously and asynchronously – across borders.  It provides access to all of the applications, resources, knowledge, and information the worker needs.

Attendees at our Strategic Thinkers conference heard winning recipes for CBEs from knowledge leaders in business and academia.  Common to all was the focus on people, culture and change in addition to the right technology.  Barbara Saidel, CIO of Russell Reynolds Associates, stressed the importance of hiring generous people who enjoy teamwork in order to create and nurture a knowledge-sharing culture.  Lauren Steinfeld, Chief Privacy Officer at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized the need for high-level support and involving the right people, in addition to employing the proper tools and creating effective content.  And Sandeep Manchanda, Chief Information Officer, Global Development, Marsh & McLennan Cos., framed his remarks as answers to the question “Why?”  Why is collaboration so hard? (because people are rewarded most often for individual achievement).  Why create a sense of urgency in knowledge projects? (to motivate people to act).

“So what’s the single most important ingredient,?” our panelists were asked.  The answers were illuminating: be a risk taker, be a good listener and feed back (often the most critical issue is the one least well articulated), and nurture strong relationships with the people you need to make the project successful.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Next week: a look at predictions for CBEs’ future from three visionary vendors — Cloudmark, Learning Management Systems, and Xpert Universe — who participated in our Strategic Thinkers conference.

Thanks to our panelists and all who attended.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

Collaborative Government Knowledge

Friday, June 25th, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

With the release of the 9/11 commission reports, the message is clear: government agencies need to share knowlege and collaborate.  They also need to ensure that critical information makes its way up the chain to officials who can act on it. Although this will be an expensive undertaking, any money spent on systems which enhance the U.S. government’s ability to identify a potential threat is far cheaper than the millions spent protecting targets or the billions cleaning up the mess after the fact.

The corporate world has long recognized that there are myriad benefits to be derived from many Collaborative Business Knowledge activities, including facilitating knowledge worker collaboration, creating systems which allow users to actually locate information, and mining data for “invisible” relationships.

The 15 separate agencies that gather and analyze intelligence employ tens of thousands of knowledge workers, none of whom are able to access information from other agencies, let alone benefit from the more advanced CBK techniques that are becoming the norm in the enterprise.  The intelligence community has systems with largely interoperable data and a “corporate” culture that does not encourage playing together with the other agencies in the sandbox.

Until 9/11, just as it was assumed that hijackers intended on flying planes to Cuba or another third world country, the intelligence community kept its knowledge on a need-to-know basis.  During the Cold War, the atmosphere was spy v. spy and this strategy made a certain amount of sense.  Terrorists, on the other hand, don’t engage in James Bond-like escapades and haven’t been caught trying to steal state secrets.  Yet the intelligences agencies, spread through six Cabinet-level departments, had little incentive (in terms of their work) to collaborate.  In fact, the very opposite has been inbred in their culture.

The resignation of CIA Director George Tenet presents the intelligence community with a unique opportunity to start afresh.  Tenet’s replacement can create true Collaborative Intelligence Environments, places where knowledge workers in the intelligence community will be able to not only find information for which they are looking, but more imporantly, due to the interconnection of systems from the various agencies, make discoveries which heretofore were not possible.

The three tenets of Collaborative Business Knowledge are equally applicable for Collaborative Government Knowledge systems:
One Environment Rule: Users remain in one overarching environment for their work
Friction-Free Knowledge Sharing: Applications require little or no user intervention to ensure appropriate disposition of information
Embedded Community: Community and collaboration tools are embedded deeply within the work environment

This position was recently endorsed by a member of the 9/11 commission who predicted that the panel will support centralization of U.S. intelligence agencies as the only possible way to prevent future terrorist attacks.  Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” commissioner John Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy, noted that the intelligence community, at the present time, “…couldn’t distinguish between a bicycle crash and a train wreck.”  Although he didn’t go into detail as to how this would take place, Lehman advocated a centralization of information so that it reaches officials “in a position to make a difference.”

The benefits of deploying such Collaborative Government Technologies are contagious.  Once government and intelligence agency knowledge workers open the door to inter-agency collaboration and create systems that allow users to locate and share information, the potential to make agencies responsive and productive – both to citizens and each other – will be unlimited.

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

IBM’s WorldJam

Tuesday, May 29th, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.

Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited.  Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.

WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session.  The goals were threefold:

1.)    To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.)    To report to colleagues on best practices
3.)    To “jam” with friends and colleagues

For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).

There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam.  First, the technology itself.  Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions.  Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours.  And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises.  Today I concentrate largely on the first.

At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers.  Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues.  What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.

The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam.  By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect.  Some IBMers would stop by and  mine a few nuggets.  Others came to impart and share their knowledge.  Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.

The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)

WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).

One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)].  IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution.  Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site.  The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API.  The statistics themselves were stored in DB2.  Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.

Another personal favorite was a  tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.

The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page.  The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database.  Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums.  Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time.  This sent its information back to Gryphon.

Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny.  A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.

The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake.  Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale.  IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.

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

The Virtual Corporate Community

Friday, January 2nd, 1998 by Jonathan Spira

1998 should be the year of what we at The Basex Group have named the “Virtual Corporate Community”.

Groupware, long the supposed enabler of Collaborative Computing, has never really taken off.  Yes, there are umpteen million Lotus Notes seats, and for many, Notes has been a tremendous enabler of Collaborative Computing.  But it is not ubiquitous and Notes alone does not a virtual community make.

Virtual Communities, as electronic watering holes, have taken on a certain chicness in the past year, especially due to the ease of access created by heightened awareness of the Internet.  A Virtual Community is perhaps best defined as an electronic means of bringing people together, where they can develop meaningful on-line and real-life relationships.  This often takes the form of chat rooms and bulletin board-style discussion forums. A “community”, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary , is “a group of people living in the same locality and under the same government” and “a social group or class having common interests”.  If one infers that a portion of Cyberspace is a locality then an amalgam of these two definitions comes fairly close to defining a “Virtual Community”.

The first Virtual Community was perhaps the MsgGroup, an electronic discussion formed in 1975 by Steve Walker, an ARPA program manager.  The then-existing network community needed, he wrote, “to develop a sense of what is mandatory, what is nice and what is not desirable in message services.” [Walker: "Completion Report: ARPA Network Development", Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Information Processing Techniques Office, Washington, D.C. January 1978.]  The dialogue that ensued over the next ten years created a community of peers, many having never come into personal contact with one another, but interacting as if they were long-time friends and colleagues, and also defined the standards for Internet messaging.

Thus, it may be observed, that the MsgGroup brought people together to discuss a specific business issue but also met our amalgamated definition of “community.”

The on-line services usually identified as pioneering Virtual Communities, such as The Well, started with a different mandate.  The Well sought to bring together people who shared values similar to those of the Whole Earth catalog, the organization that started the service.  Interestingly enough, The Well’s community did not exist only in the on-line world; it also sponsored an open house “pot lock” party every month for many years.

In the business world, corporate management looks to such tools as Collaborative Computing and Knowledge Management to bring the best people together, collaborating on projects and sharing expertise.  Unfortunately, when project teams are formed, the people who put the team together must make such decisions largely based on whom they know or know of.  Since many larger corporations are far-flung organizations and are not known for encouraging casual contact, the universe from which a selection is made is often very limited and can leave the best people off the team, simply because they are unknown to the team leader.  In an interview I recently had with a major software company that creates software for the purpose of collaboration and teamwork, it was stated that the assumption was that the their customers would create teams based on known entities, limiting the value of the important collaborative tools that they produce.

But what if corporations had a way for their people to interact, in an on-line corporate setting, with others of like interests, for the purpose of furthering overall enterprise-wide knowledge sharing and pooling of information?

Just as the Industrial Age widened people’s physical mobility tremendously, expanding an individual’s universe from their small area of town to (minimally) an entire city or metropolitan area, the Information Age has heightened that mobility to hundreds of millions of (interconnected) users.  However, in the business world, even within the same corporation, individuals are still largely limited by physical proximity because they have no means of interacting with other employees unless they are assigned to the same project or meet one another through happenstance.  That results in seas of resources remaining untapped which could result in an individual’s reinventing the wheel or, worse, to spinning his wheels without result.

The Information Age has brought a certain proximity to strangers in a social setting.  Yet Corporate America, which does not encourage what it considers unnecessary (read: “unprofitable”) communication through its computer networks, has yet to realize that information workers could learn to interact with one another on a higher level there, and on a more productive basis to boot. If employees had a platform with which they could be casually exposed to the variety of skills and talents within a given organization  before the “moment of truth” occurred, the result would most likely be greater productivity and job satisfaction.

By using computers to mediate the exchanges between information workers, both social and professional interaction will be impacted greatly.  To a large extent, this has already begun to take place.  A mere decade ago, virtually all interaction between individuals in disparate locations occurred through the mail, the phone or, occasionally, facsimile.  Nowadays we exchange all sorts of ideas and even conduct negotiations via electronic mail, resorting upon occasion to such other new technologies as voice mail and individualized video conferencing.  We see the beginnings of groups holding meetings in a “chat” environment on line, and these settings have been largely accepted by the on-line community for social interaction.  Universities have been requiring students to purchase computers for some time, and some professors have been using the Internet as a virtual classroom, not once convening the class in person.

The concept of the Virtual Corporate Community may lead to a rather schizophrenic lifestyle, as information workers find it possible to enjoy life in a pastoral village while maintaining an virtualized urban existence as a member of the Community.  This new breed of worker will enjoy the ability to interact as handily with colleagues in Frankfurt and Sydney and many other major metropolitan areas.  Who knows?  These colleagues may very well be in non-urban settings as well, and the downtown “business district” as we know it may become more of an information management center than a place to go to work.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).