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E-workplace apps foster collaboration for consulting teams

When far-flung project teams need to work together, a Web-based collaboration tool is usually the best solution. We examined the emerging ?e-workplace? market and found out what these applications can do for IT consultants.

A recent Gartner report asserts that collaboration has emerged as the key to building and sustaining the entire range of business relationships: from internal dealings to business partnerships to client and customer relations. The Stamford, CT-based IT research consultancy encourages today’s enterprises to understand the importance of collaboration and the processes and tools that support it.

Such tools include those in the team collaborative applications market referred to as “teamware,” “digital work space,” “virtual workplace,” and “e-workplace.” Products in this category allow users in various locations or multiple organizations to work together via the Web in virtual spaces.

IT consultants—especially those who work with multiple project teams at a range of physical sites—are likely to find a whole host of uses for e-workplace applications. In this article, we’ll take a look at what these tools can do and how they can help project teams, and we’ll also offer a quick rundown of the vendors and their offerings.

How does it work?
Most of these project-oriented tools are Web-based and include the following functions:
  • E-mail and messaging
  • Whiteboarding
  • Calendaring and scheduling
  • Threaded discussions
  • Common discussion database
  • Document repository and management
  • Meeting rooms
  • Web conferencing
  • Application sharing
  • Project and task management
  • Live chat capability
  • Group-decision support

Along with these functions, users also appreciate the ability to customize their use of collaborative software, according to Evan Knuttila, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Inovie Software, Inc. His firm created TeamCenter 4.0, an e-workplace tool that allows business team members and their outsourced partners to collaborate from disparate locations in real time.

“When you’re on a team and you’re about to begin an endeavor or project, you can decide what tools you want to bring into your workplace,” Knuttila explained. “Maybe you just want to have a place to put your documents, organize your documents, and have real-time discussions. So we allow you to just bring the tools that are appropriate into the workplace. It’s a role-based model, a security model.”

What can it do for my project team?
Gartner points out these advantages to using a Web-based, team-collaborative application:
  • Capability enhancement: increased agility through geographical reach, flexibility, speed of rollout, and the ability to experiment with new capabilities
  • Efficiency and cost reduction: 24/7 monitoring, maintenance, and support; improved customer satisfaction; cost savings or more predictable costs; improved reliability and defined service-levels; ability to concentrate on core business; keeping technology current; and alleviating in-house staff/skill shortages

KPMG Consulting, for instance, uses Inovie’s TeamCenter 4.0 for its client engagement management and proposal management. “In the stage they’re at right now, the internal team is using it,” Knuttila explained. “But the vision for where they’re going with new projects they’re working on [is that] they want to involve the customer and also other companies that are actually involved in the engagement as well. It’s not only tying KPMG consultants together, it’s tying those other companies together.”

Fairtime Consulting GMBH—a German developer of Web-based applications for markets such as human resources, public relations, wholesale distribution, and manufacturing—uses SiteScape Inc.'s Forum 5.1 for its virtual development teams spread all over the world.

"By exchanging documents and holding group discussions via Forum at various stages in the project, we saved at least three business trips and a good deal of long-distance phone calls," said Ulrich Winkler, managing director of Fairtime. "We not only increased our profit margin but [also] saved the customer money in the process."

Why it’s different from PSA and PM applications
Some consultants might look at the team collaboration software market and assume it has all the same functions as typical project management applications like Microsoft Project and professional services automation (PSA) software packages. But as Knuttila explains, one of the biggest advantages of e-workplaces applications is that they are purely Web-based, unlike most PSA and PM apps. There are other offerings exclusive to the e-workplace market that will appeal to consultants as well.

“Most PSAs don’t do the project management stuff very well,” he said. Like PSAs, Knuttila says his company does “the time tracking and cost estimates, but we’re also totally integrated with project management. We like to think of it as encompassing business collaboration, project management, document management, and executive overviews and summaries.”

Knuttila also recommends an e-workplace application as an alterative Microsoft Project.

“Microsoft Project is still a desktop, stand-alone, scheduling system. You still have to install a big client piece on your desktop,” he said. “We believe that to have the best chance of completing projects on time, keeping people on the same page, and improving visibility throughout the organization as to what’s happening, you’ve got to have a system that is Web-based and combines not just project management disciplines but also combines very strong business and document collaboration together in the same system.”

Vendors and pricing
There are several major players in the team collaboration software market. Their solutions in the space are listed here.
  • eRoomis a Web-based digital workplace for the extended enterprise that allows project teams toperform collaborative tasks, such as product development, human resources recruiting campaigns, and customer user-group forums. Cost is $9,999 per server or $249 monthly for up to 10 users and $599 for up to 40 users. It can also be purchased as a packaged application that can be deployed over an intranet.
  • Framework Technologies Corp.'s Active Project 2000allows customers to build and manage secure, dynamic Web sites (project-centric extranets) that drive information-sharing and improve communications across internal and external project teams. Cost is $79,995 for one server, 100 collaborators, and unlimited viewers.
  • Inovie Software Inc.'s TeamCenter 4.0allows project teams to synchronize activities to deliver knowledge-based services and manufactured products. Cost is $15,000 per server and $350 per user.
  • Lotus QuickPlacecalls itself “the self-service Web tool for instant collaboration.” QuickPlace allows teams to create shared workspaces on the Web, where they can organize and communicate ideas, content, and tasks around any project or ad-hoc initiative. Cost is $39 per user and $7,995 for the extranet server license.
  • OmniSpace Technologies Inc.'s OmniSpace.netfeatures integrated business coordination tools and applications via a secure hosting infrastructure. Contact the company for pricing information.
  • Open Text Corp.'s Livelinkis a collaborative commerce application designed for the development of intranets, extranets, and e-business applications. Cost is $1,000 per seat for 100 users.
  • SiteScape Inc.'s Forum 5.1 is a collaboration platform that allows users to host online discussions, share and revise documents and files, chat, schedule meetings using shared calendars, maintain personal home pages that include lists of favorite links, and review select and filtered information from news sources and Internet newsgroups. Pricing is based on the number of CPUs in the server on which the software is installed.

Do you use e-workplace applications?
Share your experiences with team collaboration applications. Have you found one that really works well for you and your project team? Post a comment below or send us a note.

 
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