Collaboration Technology Takes on More Critical Role

Software rollouts are the latest examples of how collaboration tools are increasingly gaining value.

Software rollouts from SAS Institute Inc., Kubi Software Inc. and Documentum Inc. are the latest examples of how collaboration tools are increasingly gaining value as integrated parts of enterprise applications.

SAS, of Cary, N.C., next month will roll out Version 2 of its SAS Drug Development platform with new collaboration capabilities. The software, which aids in clinical research and development by aggregating research documents and data, will have two new features that enable users to share documents more easily.

First, it will bundle San Francisco-based Xythos Software Inc.s WebFile Server, which uses Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning technology to give users access to shared folders. WebFile Server adds version control and document locking capabilities.

Second, Version 2 will feature Generic Access interfaces that will enable authorized researchers to access documents residing on servers at companies other than their own, officials said.

Separately, Documentum this week will announce eRoom Enterprise, the result of its acquisition last fall of eRoom Technology Inc. The software ties eRooms workgroup collaboration technology with Documentum content repositories, said Documentum officials, in Plea-santon, Calif.

eRoom Enterprise allows users to store documents, e-mail, Web pages, records and rich media generated in eRoom workspaces in Documentums content repository.

Dow Corning Corp., a joint eRoom and Documentum customer prior to the acquisition, is looking to make use of the new technology. The Midland, Mich.-based company has 20 eRoom workspaces with 135 active members and nine Documentum document databases.

"Work started in eRoom can become critical documents wed like to maintain to reposition," said Ann-Marie Hor-cher, enterprise content management architect at Dow Corning. "Some of the work stored in eRoom is not of lasting value. But some work on product specs or formulation plans can become critical information."

Horcher said shes hoping to see more integration in future releases of eRoom Enterprise.

"Its not perfect yet. Wed like to see search capabilities from eRoom to Documentum strengthened," she said. "You can store things in the Documentum repository but you just have a small subset of search capabili-ties."

For its part, startup Kubi last week released its Kubi Client, which embeds collaborative workspaces in e-mail clients from Microsoft Corp. and IBMs Lotus unit, using an interface consistent with those products. Kubi is headed by Julio Estrada, formerly the lead architect of Lotus Quickplace collaboration application,

The Kubi Client supports discussion groups, shared documents, calendaring, project contacts and timelines and task lists from within Outlook or Notes, with an interface that matches whichever e-mail client is being used. It also offers a consolidated view of discussions, tasks and calendar entries from all Kubi spaces as well as the users calendar and task list from Outlook or Notes, said officials at Kubi, in Lincoln, Mass.

Having these capabilities from within Outlook was a big selling point for Craig Potter, CRM practice leader, eastern region, at Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., which has its headquarters in Teaneck, N.J.

Potter oversees diverse and distributed project teams made up of finance, business development and sales people, as well as developers, most of whom are offshore.

"You think about it as part of your normal environment," said Potter. "Everybody works with Microsoft Outlook. E-mail is the foundation of our collaboration, we had no other tools in house."

Potter said he looked at other collaboration tools, including eRoom, but they were a different environ-ment from Outlook, despite having Outlook integration capabilities.

"Everyone would be using eRoom or Outlook, but not necessarily both. Youd have to look in two differ-ent places for project information. With Kubi, you can keep everything in one place."

Potter said non-technical users, especially sales forces, can be reluctant to learn new applications or stray too far from their trusted Outlook. Yet collaboration isnt effective without employee buy-in, he said.

"Salespeople use Outlook. Most of them dont want to use more than one place to store their informa-tion," Potter said. "Theyre on the road a lot, they dont want to have to learn a new environment.

"For collaboration to be useful, it has to be accepted by everyone in your environment or you lose a lot of the benefits associated with the software."

Not all IT managers are sold on Kubi however. Ziggy Ignatowicz, MIS manager at the Standards Council of Canada in Ottawa, has users from a number of different organizations, collaborating on forming International Organization for Standardization [ISO] and International Electrotechnical Commission [IEC] standards. They use Wilmington, N.C.-based SiteScape Inc.s Enterprise Forum, a Web-based team collaboration tool.

"It makes sense to a certain extent to have collaboration within the e-mail client," said Ignatowicz. "But our users are volunteers. Were not paying them, we cant control what e-mail client they use. Itd be no sale for them if we were only using Outlook.

"We really need [SiteScape] to be as open as possible."

Dow Cornings Horcher said collaboration embedded in e-mail was "handy," but that integration to a document repository was even more important.

Even Potter said he hopes Kubi offers such support in the future.

"What Im hoping they do is have tight integration with a full document management system," he said. "Theres no reason they couldnt integrate the back end with Documentum or some other document manage-ment system.

"Knowledge management is something were interested in. Its more than just collaboration, its the abil-ity to capture information generated and share it across projects. Thats where our competitive advantage comes from."

This story was modified since it was originally posted to add additional customer comment.