Working Together: Collaboration in the Enterprise

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As more workers go mobile or virtual—working from home, from the road or in otherwise-dispersed locations—it gets harder for team members to cooperate, communicate and collaborate effectively. Luckily, IT vendors have stepped in with tools that offer diverse functionality to help get these teams on track.

Collaboration tools offer numerous features to help teams function productively—whether the whole team is in one location or spread out across multiple time zones and locations. Most collaboration tools are actually suites of tools that all work together to help workers communicate and facilitate projects. Common functions include shared calendaring and contact information, instant messaging, task and project management, and document and information sharing. Some tools also offer Web conferencing and other similar features that allow team members to meet virtually and share their progress.

Novell’s GroupWise has been a leader in the collaboration space for some time. Its GroupWise 6.5 runs on Linux, NetWare and Windows and works across various types of clients, including Web-based and wireless. The tool provides secure, authenticated communications, including instant messaging, with anti-virus and anti-spam capabilities. The next scheduled release for GroupWise is GroupWise Sequoia, due out this summer. The latest release will enhance object application programming interfaces.

Novell also offers SUSE LINUX Openexchange Server 4.1, which works with a range of clients. Also, in a recent announcement, Novell formed Hula: an open-source collaboration server project. The project is based on code from Novell’s NetMail collaboration server product, which Novell donated in order to get the new project started. So far, Hula includes standards-based e-mail, calendaring and address book functionality. With contributions from open-source developers and other IT companies, Hula is likely to provide a wealth of innovative functionality.

Microsoft is well known for its Exchange server and other collaborative tools like Office SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services, Office Communicator 2005, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. The company recently upped the ante by announcing it will buy Groove Networks, which makes collaboration software for geographically dispersed workforces. Groove’s Virtual Office allows workers to communicate and share files, calendars, task lists and more. It’s integrated with Microsoft Outlook and Office, and will extend Microsoft’s collaboration solutions.

IBM offers multiple solutions, but here we’ll focus on IBM Workplace, a software platform that blends collaborative tools, applications and connections. IBM Workplace expands on IBM’s investments in Lotus Notes/Domino, WebSphere and other existing tools. IBM is working with AT&T to offer a packaged collaboration solution based on Workplace Services for small and medium-sized businesses. Combining IBM Workplace Services Express with AT&T Managed Internet Service, the package offers an out-of-the-box collaboration solution with an integrated portal, along with secure high-speed Internet access. Workplace Services Express offers features such as team rooms, instant messaging, document management and an integrated portal. The combined IBM/AT&T package can be installed on a single IBM xSeries eServer and supports Windows, as well as Linux-based servers and browser-based clients.

Another option is the Ipswitch Collaboration Suite (ICS), which provides e-mail and collaboration, calendar and contact list sharing. This is another tool designed specifically for small and medium-sized businesses, and is meant to reduce the burden on network administrators.

Look for wikis to start taking a hold in the collaboration space, as well. The name comes from “wikiwiki,” a Hawaiian word meaning “fast.” Wikis allow users to collaborate and quickly edit Web site content. TWiki is an enterprise collaboration platform based on a structured wiki. It’s been used to replace static intranets, as a knowledge base, to design and document software projects, to track issues, as a document management tool, to help teams collaborate on common goals and as an internal company message board. It can run on any Web browser and there are numerous plugins that offer enhanced functionality. For example, the ActionTrackerPlugin allows users to keep track of action items and notify those who need to take action via e-mail. Other plugins are designed for calendaring, chart creation, database access, news portals, drawing tools, slideshow tools and spreadsheet calculations.

This is just a small chip in a very large block of collaboration tool providers. Those who just want a tool to allow their teams to meet and collaborate via the Web will find numerous tools on the market, including Genesys Software, IBM, Interwise, Raindance, WebEx and many, many more.

Emily Hollis is managing editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at


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