» Archive for the 'Collaborative Business Knowledge' Category

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: Vasont 12

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Cody Burke

The enterprise equivalent of reinventing the wheel, that is, the recreation of already existing content, is a major and costly problem.  It is also a symptom of information overload.  When an organization and its knowledge workers are not able to find what they are looking for, due to too much information, they often end up recreating the work of others, wasting valuable time and energy.

To counter this trend and better leverage existing content, companies need to deploy systems that promote the reuse of content when and where it is needed.  Content is traditionally thought of at the document level; when a knowledge worker creates a document it is named, saved, tagged, and categorized in folders, databases, and document libraries.  Unfortunately, this method does not treat content as modular on a more granular level.  A knowledge worker, viewing a document in its entirety, with its corresponding file name, tags, and other metadata, may miss the fact that a single chapter in the document is relevant to another project.  Extracting that single chapter for reuse could save hours of work recreating it.

One company that does look at content management precisely in this manner is Vasont Systems, a content management software and data services company.  Its content management system, now in version 12, focuses on what Vasont calls component content management (CCM), that is, content that is organized on a granular sub-component level, not a document level.  The advantage of CCM is the ability to store content once, and reuse it in a much more precise way.  CCM is particularly useful for multilingual content delivery to multiple channels.  Content components can be translated as needed, and assembled to form the document that is required.  The benefits of CCM include increased accuracy because content is the same in all instances it is used and reductions in recreation time due to individual components being easier to locate and reuse.

As a CMS, Vasont 12 allows users to create, store, and reuse multilingual content, with all content stored in a singe repository.  The  interface is clean and relatively intuitive; on the home page the user is presented with modules including those for notifications, tasks, workspaces, collections, and queries.  If changes are made to content, the change can be reflected dynamically in all other instances of that content, or other users of that content can be alerted via a notification so they can approve the change if they wish to do so.  Changes in content are indicated by a status icon, making component status clear.

In Vasont 12, project management capabilities have been strengthened to show overall status of projects and workflows in graphical form, a collaborative review process has been added, and a new translation interface shows the number of words and the percentage of a document left to be translated.  Also new is a preview panel that shows content in XML, with comments and annotations.  Vasont 12 is available both as licensed software and via the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

Cody Burke is a senior 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.

Report from Lotusphere 2005

Friday, January 28th, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

IBM Lotus Domino

IBM announced a suite of product enhancements, tools and resources for the IBM Lotus Domino environment.  IBM Lotus Domino Designer 7 allows Domino to integrate with other systems using industry-standards based Web services.  It includes a new Web service design element that allows Domino developers the option to code the Web service using their familiar LotusScript interface or Java.  Business logic coded in LotusScript could be called from any system that supports Web services.  Lotus Domino Designer 7 also has built in support for Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and includes the ability to use IBM DB2 as an alternative data store for Domino applications.


IBM also unveiled IBM Workplace Collaboration Services.  The new offering is a single, integrated collaboration environment that allows users to collaborate in multiple modes of interaction, including online, telephone, video, in-person and real-time.  IBM Workplace Collaboration Services is built on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), providing pre-built, reusable collaborative services.  The offering includes templates and forms for event planning, sales, marketing, HR, and customer support.

IBM also introduced the IBM Flexible Hosting Solutions, Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting (WBCR) Service.  The new offering provides a Web-based repository for document and records management to help customers comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief 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.

Lotus Takes the Plunge

Thursday, January 30th, 1997 by Jonathan Spira

Lotus is talking about cool solutions with hot technology.  Albert Brooks opened the General Session advising a plunge into the pool of knowledge.  Why water?  Water is powerful and crystal clear and symbolizes connectivity.  The Pool of Knowledge is the theme for this year’s Lotusphere.

Lotus’ products have continued to raise the bar for openness.  They certainly lead in I-net client innovation, standards adoption, multi-function integration and  usability/UI integration.  They also continue to lead in mobile computing.  Their upcoming products, code-named ‘Lookout’ and ‘Maui’ will continue this trend, it would appear.

Two years ago at Lotusphere, the integrated browser in Notes was the hot thing.  Last year, the ability to select a browser for hotlinks was introduced.  This year, since Microsoft has componentized the IE browser, we can take the browser and bring it into the Notes environment.  This is way cooler than plugins.  On the server side, an IBM System/390 running Domino can support 10,000 simultaneous connections.

Lotus shared their plans for Java components (similar to the existing Active-X) components.    They also showed off how the Java components are truly cross-platform, using an IBM network computer to prove the point.

In short, Domino looked hot.  The sustaining power of Notes is on the server side and Notes object store.   But as Microsoft and Netscape hurry to create client/server groupware, Lotus can rest assuredly on its decade of experience in the area.  Microsoft and Netscape are claiming innovation through their adoption of protocols; but protocols are not features  True innovation comes from understanding what customers want and building that set of services.  This is where Notes is truly at its best.

Notes itself has become a stunningly successful integrator for information from a broad variety of sources.  Spanning time and place.  Handling information from persistent to the ephemeral.  Various delivery options from real-time to deferred.  Tools that take into account the information overload realities of the current information environment, television, telephone, voice mail, e-mail, etc.

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).

Here Comes the Intranet

Tuesday, February 27th, 1996 by Jonathan Spira

In their February 26, 1996 issue, Business Week led with a cover story on the latest phenomonon to hit the corporate world — the Intranet. Jonathan Spira takes a look at some of the article’s assumptions and questions the reasoning that went into making them.  Business Week’s words are in italics.

Corporations are ‘seizing the Web as a swift way to streamline–even transform–their organizations.’

It is important to remember that many organizations adopted the Web and the Internet without first giving thought to their own internal business processes and planned strategies.  Because of this, many Web pioneers are, upon evaluation, unsatisfied with the fruits of their labor.  One cannot simply open for business and expect the cash register to ring.    So few organizations have been able to meld their marketing and sales strategies with their Web strategies.  Even among those who have taken the time to assess the direction of a Web strategy, many have failed to fully comprehend the paradigm of the Web.  Example:  a major German car manufacturer’s web site invites visitor communication.  How?  When the visitor to this site chooses the appropriate link,
he is invited to call an ’800′ number.  Example:  a professional medical society invites its
visitors to use their physician referral service.  Click on the link, and you get full
information on the phone-based query system, staffed during the business day only.

What’s Needed?  Most companies already have the foundation for an intranet–a network that uses the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol.

This is unfortunately not yet close to being correct.  Those companies, mostly medium- and large-sized organizations, which have internal networks have implemented Novell’s IPX/SPX protocol.  The TCP/IP protocol must be loaded on each network workstation,  and an IP (Internet Protocol) address must be assigned (and subsequently managed). This can represent a tremendous investment in systems administration time. Only those workstations running Windows 95 can easily at TCP/IP to their existing network protocols.

Intranets…pull all the computers, software and databases that dot the corporate landscape into a single system that enables employees to find information wherever it resides.

One of the major limitations that became evident to Web pioneers was the difficulty of linking your web site to a corporate database stored on a “legacy” (read: mainframe) system.  Information Systems professionals also tend to get very nervous about network security when the idea of allowing such access is discussed.  If it is done correctly, with by someone with an in-depth knowledge of such security safeguards as firewalls, it is time-consuming and expensive, but may be well worth the effort. Many organizations have not taken the time to inventory the knowledge that resides within their boundaries; consequently, glaring omissions can take place in terms of making data available corporate-wide when portions of it remain virtually hidden.  Moreover, corporate managers have not yet learned how to manage Web-based information, as evidenced by pages which still read “Last Updated, January 18, 1995″ yet purport to be current.  Even the BW article later refers to the Web as a repository of “static pages.”

Connecting all the islands of information via an intranet is sparking unprecedented collaboration.

For those organizations used to a top-down hierarchy and internal competitiveness, the idea of collaboration is anathema.  Yet, newer companies without an entrenched corporate culture that encourages the proprietariness of one’s customers and information will have an advantage here; startups and smaller firms are used to sharing such things as a necessity.  Query early users of Lotus Notes at large accounting firms: partners with 15, 25 or so years at the firm experienced tremendous culture shock when asked to make client details available to other firm members.

Furthermore, intranets “present” information, i.e. for viewing, a passive activity.  Collaboration implies groups of knowledge workers drafting, reviewing, editing, and changing documents with each member of the group having access to the same tools.

Employees from engineers to office workers are creating their own home pages and sharing details of their projects with the rest of their company

Sharing information is all very well and good, but does corporate America truly wish to turn each engineer and office worker into a mini-Webmaster?  Very few organizations have developed corporate standards to manage this outbreak, and more than just a few CEO’s would blanche were they to realize how much proprietary data were being made available to the “public” without the usual scrutiny that usual security standards would require.

It’s not just the cost of buying Notes or SAP’s R/3 and paying programmers to customize and maintain it.  The other factor tipping the scales…is the cost of training.  Corporate data owners already realize that Webmasters are not terribly less expensive than C++ programmers, if at all.  Good user interface design is universal; intranet designers are not exempted from this.  If the interface is poor, users will suffer the same problems that have faced users since someone decided that the QWERTY keyboard represented an advance in human factors engineering.  (To be perfectly honest, the QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow typists down to prevent the slow mechanical typewriters of the late 19th century from jamming; as a universally-accepted standard typewriter “operating system,” it enabled any trained typist to sit down at any workstation — excuse me, typewriter — and be production.)

Suddenly, the Web provides a simple way to do things that in the past required gobs of complex code and specialized programs.

Since very few Web applications have been created which approach the complexity of even a moderately-advanced word processing program, the true meaning of this is that the gobs of complex code have simply been transferred to Intranet Web servers which funnel requests to legacy systems, in those instances where these links have been established.

The Intranet movement represents that latest thinking in corporate information strategy.  As has been the case with past “fads,” including Client/Server and Local Area Networks (“LAN”), tools which are adopted before their “business case” is analyzed represent advanced technology without a (necessary) foundation for use, a form of “all dressed up with nowhere to go.”  It is, of course, a matter of time before many of the concepts from the Web become an innate part of corporate America, as has become the LAN.  However, recalling that the computer industry  began its LAN attack  by calling 1985 the “Year of the LAN”,  subsequently giving this designation to the years 1986 and 1987 before giving up on trying to herald the LAN’s arrival, and was successful in penetrating the corporate environment only at the end of the decade through the arrival of Novell NetWare, the implications of the Intranet in corporate America are only now starting to scratch the surface.

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).