August 26, 2008

Collaboration is the Key

By Burns, Michael

Have you ever watched a teenager carry on multiple conversations on Facebook? Younger people seem to instinctively know the value of pooling resources. They tend to share information more easily than their elders do. At a corporate level, working together toward a common goal is called collaboration. The concept is gaining ground among successful companies, which see it as the cornerstone to improving business process and attaining business goals. Those goals could be anything from completing an annual budget to building an airplane.

Sharing documents is key to collaboration and several options are available. Many allow users to check out a document, make changes and check it back in. The system maintains a history of changes.

Collaboration can be more complex if access security, work flow, project management and tracking status/reporting are also required. With security, you can specify access rights by person. With work flow, you can send alerts when documents are changed.

Microsoft has bundled collaboration tools in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, which is targeted to enterprises. Office SharePoint Server 2007 is the fastest-growing server-based (e.g., Windows Server and SQL Server) Microsoft product. This year, Office SharePoint Server racked up more than $1 billion in revenue. It consists of content management (management of documents such as Word or PowerPoint as well as Web pages), work flow (review and approval of documents), business intelligence (key performance indicators and dashboards) and collaboration (sharing documents). Office SharePoint Server is also being used by organizations as a development tool.

If you have limited sharing requirements, check out the beta version of Microsoft Office Live Workspace. You can control who can view, comment and edit your documents over the Internet. At the time of writing, you still needed Microsoft Office but by publication time, this may have changed. Microsoft has recently announced a new product, codenamed Albany, which will soon provide a subscription service for Microsoft Office tools.

Albany is probably an attempt on Microsoft's part to protect Office against Google Docs, a free Web-based word processor and spreadsheet. Google Docs allows you to share and collaborate online. And you can now work on your Google document while not connected to the Internet, then synchronize when reconnected. Microsoft is fighting a war with Google, which partly explains its bid to acquire Yahoo for more than $46 billion.

Sharing your desktop (showing what is on your screen) is a great way to collaborate. It can be used for a Web conference or to show a problem to IT support as it happens. With Web conferencing, the audience sees your report, slides or system on their computers or projection system, hears your voice but does not see your face. There are a number of products available, including GoToMeeting, Webex and Microsoft Office Live Meeting.

Microsoft has also released a beta version of SharedView, which is a free lightweight alternative to Microsoft Office Live Meeting. SharedView allows you to invite up to 15 people to view your desktop and requires Vista. I was recently out of town and was able to speak over Skype and share my desktop from my hotel room.

The stakes are high for the vendors of collaboration tools. As they duke it out, the rest of us benefit from increased productivity at lower costs.

For an expanded version of this article that discusses other collaboration tools such as e-mail, blogs and wikis, visit

Sharing your desktop - showing other users what is on your screen - is a great way to collaborate

Michael Burns, MBA, CA, is president of 180 Systems (, which provides independent consulting services, including business process review, system selection and IT audit. Contact 416-485-2200; [email protected]


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