By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2006-10-16 Print this article Print

Who doesnt want better management and accountability for meetings? Ah, but what tools exist to achieve those results? GroupSystems ThinkTank 1.1 does a good job of getting teams at least partway there.

Available as either a hosted or on-premises application, GroupSystems ThinkTank 1.1 provides teams with a set of organizational tools to manage meeting discussions and decision making. Pricing starts at $54 per participant per month and $66 per session leader per month for the hosted version (the one eWeek Labs tested). Pricing for perpetual licenses starts at $12,000 for a license with 10 users and three session leaders. Additional session leader licenses cost $1,500 each. ThinkTank 1.1 began shipping in September.

Before we start talking about ThinkTanks tools, a brief explanation is in order: ThinkTank isnt a Web conferencing application such as WebEx Communications WebEx or Microsofts Office Live Meeting. Rather, its a group decision and support software solution that provides real-time tools for organizing group discussions, strategic planning and decision making. ThinkTank will be useful for strategic planning, risk management, requirements planning and group evaluation applications.

ThinkTanks tools focus on providing meeting participants with lists of talking points and voting tools. ThinkTank can complement Web conferencing applications or can function in a stand-alone fashion for in-person or conference-call-based meetings. Other tools that fill similar needs with varying degrees of structure and workflow include mind mapping software, idea management systems and pairwise comparison software.

Basically, ThinkTank provides a structure for organizing the kinds of information a meeting leader would put on a whiteboard or flip chart. There are a few things ThinkTank doesnt do, such as organizing action items and providing support for attached documents, but we still found it powerful and effective.

GroupSystems officials said they plan to evolve ThinkTank quickly. The products origins are in GroupSystems Web-based decision support software, GroupSystems II. ThinkTank doesnt have full feature parity with GroupSystems II yet, but the company plans to deliver such parity by early 2007.

ThinkTank has two types of users: session leaders and participants. Session leaders have administrative rights to create users and sessions, while participants have limited rights that allow them to create, access and edit content in a given session.

In ThinkTank, everything builds off of an agenda, and, when acting in the role of session leaders, we could build out session agendas by choosing from four agenda activities: Alternative Analysis, Categorizer, Break and Lunch.

ThinkTank isnt an overly complex tool, something we could see when acting as a session leader creating a new session. Sessions can be either scheduled or ad hoc affairs, with scheduled events supporting parameters such as start and end dates and times. Although sessions are intended to be interactive, leaders can leave sessions open so users who couldnt attend in real time can comment and vote later.

The session creation wizard also allowed us to provide session description and conference call details to participants.

ThinkTank supports as many as 50 participants in a meeting, so a little more flexibility in participant and leader management would be a useful addition. Wed particularly like to see the ability to create breakout sessions within a meeting with delegated leader roles. Session leaders do have the ability to work with a select group of users while holding others back.

We also would like to see a little more control over what participants can do, such as ordering lists in the Categorizer tool.

GroupSystems has done a good job on a number of other meeting management details. The session leaders session organizer screen provides split-screen access to session details, which allowed us to edit session details on the fly. We also could save a session to disk in XML format, essentially creating reusable session templates. In a meeting session, leaders have access to the same set of meeting management tools.

ThinkTank provides two decision support tools: Categorizer and Alternative Analysis.

In Categorizer, leaders and participants have the ability to create and manage lists through a brainstorming workflow, and session leaders drive the workflow across four steps (brainstorming, categorizing, commenting and voting).

As participants in a Categorizer session, we had a limited set of tools within each step. We could input ideas and comments as well as organize ideas and comments through copy, cut, paste, indent and outdent controls. Participant input is anonymous, making it easy to take politics and personalities out of the process.

With Categorizer, items can be moved along for vote in the Alternative Analysis tool, although Alternative Analysis also can exist as a separate agenda item prepopulated with voting items. Voting uses a rank file analysis method, so participants can vote on all alternatives across multiple criteria simultaneously.

Participants can save their votes, so they can move to another agenda item without losing the votes. ThinkTank also allows participants to abstain from a vote. Session leaders can delete votes as a way to give participants test votes. Vote result consensus is described using standard deviation on results, although the product doesnt support criteria ranking to reach a final score.

ThinkTank offers two types of reporting options. The first can capture all meeting details and save them in Microsoft Word or HTML format. Session leaders also can generate voting reports in Microsoft Excel for performing deeper analysis or for score weighting.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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