Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Ease of use is an important consideration, especially when evaluating a collaboration platform in which users of varying skill level will be participating. If the features are difficult to find when you need them or another user cannot navigate their way around the work area it's safe to say the application is not easy to use. It's a good bet that anything you try will work in Internet Explorer, but you want to ensure the application functions equally well in Firefox, Safari or other popular browser. Ease of use includes the availability of a mobile app for your droid or iPhone. The key to success is understanding that ease of use is proportional to a user's level of frustration. The lower the frustration level, the easier the tool is to use.
Reliability is critical to successful integration of collaboration tools into your group's work. If the software has glitches causing it to freeze, requires you to download software in order to function correctly, or any number of inconveniences that interrupt your work flow you may want to consider another solution. If the solution you're using doesn't work well or smoothly your client, customer, or team may begin to think you might not be the one for the job.
I recommend the "try before you buy" method of purchasing a solution. I've had great success determining reliability of a service during the trial period. Taking software for a test drive is also useful for determining how easy it is to use. For example, an application I used had a nasty habit of immediately starting my webcam when our group wanted to use the voice feature for teleconferencing so I had to unplug my webcam before connecting. Another product I used, and dropped quickly, continually locked up my computer and caused the connection to drop regardless of ISP or computer configuration. These meeting wreckers were things I discovered during the free trial.
Cost should not be the number one reason you choose or eliminate an application or other product although cost is part of the decision and should not be taken lightly. Groupware solutions range in price from free to over $100 per month per user. You want to pay a reasonable amount for a good product you can rely on. My preference is to use open source, web-based tools for collaboration, data storage, and productivity. Open source software is affordable, usually innovative, and for the tech-savvy a great platform for tweaking tools to suit your particular needs.
There are numerous conferencing and presentation tools available; Citrx' GoTo Meeting, WebEx, RealTalk, Zoho Meeting are just a few. Even skype allows for desktop sharing during a conversation. None of these however allow for true, real-time collaboration the way Google Wave or SAP's new offering, StreamWork does. Though now discontinued, Google Wave was promoted as a hosted conversation. In many ways Wave is email raised to a higher plane. SAP StreamWork is a true collaboration space that provides multiple users with real-time, simultaneous access to the data.
SAP is known for their enterprise solutions, but StreamWork is an easy to use, reliable, and pleasantly affordable, spelled free, collaboration platform for smaller companies. It has a series of modules you can move around your screen. Any of the group participants can drag and drop agenda items. You can link dedicated folders from a Box.net account thereby utilizing less storage space on the SAP servers (and saving costs, too). Using integrated planning and evaluation tools makes StreamWork a valuable tool for project teams. If anyone from the group is unable to attend a meeting they can log into StreamWork at another time and quickly catch up. This robust, easy to use, and clean web-based application works just as well for a company my size as for large multi-nationals.
Additional web-based applications I include in my collaboration toolkit are Skype for general international communication, DimDim for webinars and presentations, RTM for simple task management, Box.net for document storage and sharing, Zoho Project, Google Apps, and Second Life. There are more, but these are the mainstay of my "corporate" infrastructure and all of them save time and money thereby increasing effectiveness, efficiency, and ultimately profitability.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
David Korten is one of my favorite visionaries. He posted a direct call to action piece on his blog yesterday. In it he says we have yet to have a much needed conversation about the 2008 Wall Street debacle. He calls for a meaningful conversation that goes beyond finger-pointing. Here's part of what he said.
"We have yet to engage in a much-needed national conversation that addresses essential, yet unasked, questions. For example:
- Do Wall Street institutions do anything so vital for the national interest as to justify opening the national purse strings and showering them with trillions of dollars in order to save them from the consequences of their own excess?
- Is it possible that the whole Wall Street edifice is built on an illusion that has no substance yet carries deadly economic, social, and environmental consequences for the larger society?
- Might there be other ways to provide necessary and beneficial financial services with greater effectiveness and at less cost?"
To read the entire article go to Yes! Magazine and begin following his series on "Agenda for a New Economy."
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
We all have them. Post-it notes pasted everywhere or maybe it's a pocketful of random notes on paper scraps, receipts, and napkins. Each and every one of them filled with important numbers, reminders, to-do items, sketches of the new office layout; all of them very important. Then we empty our pockets or gather the post-its only to discover we can't remember who's number that was, or we missed the due date for that to-do item.
It's exhausting to manage all those bits of data and to add insult to injury none of them have a relationship to any other bit of data. It becomes daunting when we factor in our inability to manage paper documents and reports. The lack of good information organization has a dramatic impact on our personal and professional effectiveness. Did you know that over 70% of office trash is paper. The Boston Globe reported that 15% of all paper documents handled in the workplace is lost and 30% of our time is spent trying to find it. We lose over six weeks a year searching for lost paper.Our organizational methods for electronic data aren't any better.
There are many systems and tools available to help organize and manage our paper and electronic data. I've tried more of them than I care to admit often spending hundreds to be disappointed in them. I don't recommend trial and error, but I do emphasize careful consideration of potential new tools. Here are some thoughts on two great tools that when used together create a stress reducing double-header; David Allen's Getting Things Done system and The PersonalBrain. This isn't a campaign to sell either the GTD products or The PersonalBrain Software. Frankly, both can be used for personal data management and organizational effectiveness without costing anything.
GTD is not new, but if you're unfamiliar with it be sure to check out David Allen's GTD website and blog. The site offers free downloads of useful articles.If you use Outlook for your email and calendar consider the GTD add-in for Outlook. There is a wealth of GTD information available with a simple web search. The PersonalBrain is less prominent in the data management conversation.
The developers of the PersonalBrain call it “the ultimate digital memory.” This is an easy to use, dynamic mind-mapping software application that is non-linear and non-hierarchical. It applies visualization to your information, creating a digital map similar to paper-based mind maps you may be familiar with, but is so much more powerful. It allows you to create a network of information that is organized in a way that reflects the way you think so finding data is easier and the relationships between things is clear. Your ideas are no longer forced into a single folder or copied multiple times for various projects. Combined with basic GTD concepts Personal Brain becomes a powerful brainstorming, project management, and data storage system.
Still like carrying around paper? Seems I see more and more people carrying little leather-bound notebooks. These items are varied, attractive, and can be purchased just about anywhere. I think they're a bit expensive so, I use a pocketmod for daily note taking. You can get your own fold-up notebook at PocketMod.com. This website is set up for you to design and then print a pdf of a single-sheet, paper pocket notebook. Design it, print it, use it. I suggest designing it with GTD in mind. At the end of the day put it in your Brain. Now that's managing data effectively.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Work groups are spread far and wide these days. This has been a growing trend for the last few years and is just about the only way I work anymore. But I'm a small company and using online collaboration tools were essential to getting things done quickly and effectively without the burden of travel costs. Over the years I've watched how larger companies have begun adopting the tools I've been using since 2006 or seven or eight. This is exciting as it encourages developers to continue designing and improving the software we need and want.
My goal has been to use open source and, when possible, free web-based tools for collaboration, data storage, and productivity. Some of my favorite apps have been Skype for general international communication, DimDim for conferencing and presentations, RTM for simple task management, Box.net for document storage and sharing, Zoho Project, and, recently, Google Apps. There are more, but these have been the mainstay of my "corporate" infrastructure... until yesterday.
Yesterday I was introduced to SAP's online collaboration platform StreamWork. It took Google Wave, melded it with Zoho Project, enhanced and polished it, and won me over in one online meeting with several colleagues. I liked what Google Wave tried to create, but it wasn't smooth enough for the nongooglites of my circle. Besides, it was often difficult to explain "hosted conversations" to anyone not accustomed to collaborating outside of the conference room. Now with Wave retiring soon I was excited to see SAP offering a robust, easy to use, and clean web-based application that works just as well for a company my size as for large multi-nationals.
I was so impressed with StreamWork that I mapped out how to migrate my project management activity from Zoho. Yes, for those of you who have followed me here and on Twitter, I am at long last moving away from Zoho Projects (although their application bundle is still noteworthy). I believe Zoho had a lot of the right ideas several years ago, but has been unable to keep up with user demand for easier access and management of the data and projects hosted there. I have had to listen to my clients beg for simple things such as bulk file uploads, nested folders, sharing documents across projects, and allowing real-time group work on data or decision-making. So far StreamWork seems to have it all and what they don't offer they've partnered with others to provide.
To learn more about StreamWork go to http://streamwork.com. Post a comment. Let me know what you think. What's your collaboration tool of choice?
Monday, January 3, 2011
So often we make resolutions to change this or that about ourselves and our lives. Recently, I read an article about doing things "just for today." I'd like to recommend we all adopt the attitude that we are going to do something "just for today."
Just for today I am going to post an entry to a blog.
Just for today I am going to drink coffee at home and not at the coffee shop around the corner.
Just for today I'm going to do some filing.
At the end of today I look forward to saying, "Today I posted to a blog, drank my own coffee, and filed enough of that pile to feel like I made a dent."
Happy New Year.