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Collaboration and why content management matters

by alexandra on april 25th, 2007

Yet another Powerpoint outlining the collaboration and knowledge problem

For the past years I have been busy working on projects were collaboration have been in the focus. The overall ideas have been to enable people from different countries to work together in a smart way to solve a common problem. In my realm these problems usually have something to do with crisis management operations. Somewhere along these discussions the role of IT-support have came up and collaboration in general more or less automatically turned into collaboration technologies. Not so much about the specifics about which solutions to use for a particular problem but rather a general idea that some kind of easy web application probably could do the trick if only those IT-guys did their magic…

In the discussions around network centric warfare I have seen many Powerpoint slides outlining how people should share knowledge and gain ”situational understandning” whatever that is. However, few of these slides have any substance on how we actually can use existing or emerging technologies to do the trick. There are usually lots of millions spent on handling data from radar, infrared and motion sensors. However most military HQs end up sitting with computers where people like to send messages, write documents, show briefing slide and other ”office stuff”. Instead of treating that part of the information flow as innovativly as we do with sensor data (many millions spent on algorithms!) we keep flooding our email systems with attachments and everybody wonder how to find the information they need.

I follow all the Alfresco blogs reguarly and especially the one by John Newton, CEO of Alfresco and co-founder of Documentum. I smiled for myself when I saw a recent post from him where he presented yet another slide that illustrated the needs for people working in emergency relief operations. I recognized more or less every word in it. However, I believe John Newton not only understand how to solve that but have a product to sell that is critical in doing it.

To me the fascinating part is to look at this ”we need to share knowledge between us”-problem from above. Instant messaging is moving into the enterprise now, people like to buy project management tools that are supposed to fix everything. Wikis and Blogs gets installed. Fueled by Google advanced search engines like FAST and Autonomy are installed to enable searching from different sources. Different people sees one (or maybe two) of these technologies as the key to solve the information chaos. Unfortunately none of these are any silver bullets.The worst part of it is that none of them usually have any analysis done of what the pieces of information really are and how they should be stored to be used efficiently. Enterprise Content Managment System have been around for a while but as Alfresco like to point out only 5-10% of the companies actually have one. That means that all this critical information is not stored as it should. Vital requirements of a repository are:

– Versioning
– Metadata as tags extracted from the documents
– Document-level security
– Workflow actions instead of sending attachment over email
– Lifecycle to handle status like draft, approved and archived.
– Free-text search engine
– Server-side transformation of content between formats

Without these features in the storage chaos will prevail. On the contrary, all other systems should store its document-based information in an ECM repository. That means that project documentation in the project management tool will be stored in the repository, users online on the Corporate IM solution will send(chat) references to documents in the repository and content from an approved document is automatically uploaded to the public website in HTML or PDF-format.

It is the integration of them that can lead forward. A successful implementation of collaboration techonologies requires an analysis of what Your pieces of information look like. Then these pieces need to be stored in a smart way. Otherwise there will be no ”stuff” to collaborate around.

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