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back to index backEUROtalk February,  2005

Collaboration on the web

As the business world becomes increasingly global, collaboration among far-flung team members is crucial, yet challenging. Thunderbird's Associate Professor of Accounting Dr. Thomas Selling makes the case for web-based collaboration tools as a solution.

Today's corporate teams are not only globally dispersed, but they are also crossing organizational boundaries with greater frequency. Companies such as Dell work with manufacturers in Asia, the Americas and Ireland. Their clients, subcontractors, engineers and logistics teams span the globe. Nabisco works hand-in-hand with supply chain partners, including retailer Wegmans Grocery chain. Wal-Mart interacts with 6,000 global product suppliers and vendors daily.

With the world's more than 61,500 transnational companies and their 926,948 foreign affiliates, the demand for clear communication is critical. Such cross-company, cross-border collaboration has created an even greater need for streamlined communication and management tools that allow individuals – internally and externally – to efficiently share information.

Limitations of Familiar Technologies
While Internet technology has provided more opportunities for multi-enterprise teams to communicate, the volume and complexity of communications has spawned many challenges. Consider the limitations of some of the most commonly used tools for team collaboration:

  • Email: provides no central record of communication, places limits on the sizes of attachments and requires each team member to organize and file information.
  • Web conferencing: allows groups to conduct online meetings (sharing desktops/files, viewing the same web browser), but relies on Instant Message (IM), web camera or telephone for correspondence. Requires a specific meeting time - an especially difficult challenge when crossing time zones.
  • FTP site: limited to file sharing and often difficult to use.
  • Dedicated project management software: provides task management functions, but is often expensive, difficult to use, requires installation and extensive training; may not allow general document sharing or dispersed team members to update information.

The Solution
Asynchronous web-based collaboration tools featuring calendaring, task tracking, messaging, document management and workflow automation capabilities are solving dispersed-team communication problems.

Individuals work in secure, online collaborative workspaces (often a private website) organized to meet a team's specific project goals. Here, they can share documents too large to email, access up-to-date information, create data tables to organize issues and unique project requirements, track tasks and archive important discussions. No longer must they wade through countless emails, physically mail packages of documents and disks, fax information or try to schedule meetings across multiple time zones.

Hosted collaborative workspaces, which are administered and supported by the software provider, are an excellent solution for multi-enterprise teams and for international collaboration. They allow team members from different organizations to collaborate securely outside company firewalls. Hosted solutions are usually available on a subscription basis, eliminating the need for an expensive upfront software purchase and a lengthy installation.

Businesses can choose from a variety of general-purpose hosted or in-house collaboration tools such as GroveSite, eRoom, Microsoft's SharePoint, IBM/Lotus's Workplace, or tools that are pre-designed with a specific application in mind, such as PTC's Windchill ProjectLink (manufacturing) and Freeboarder (apparel). Thunderbird's own My Thunderbird (MTB) system is another pre-designed tool, dedicated to educational collaboration.

With so many collaboration tools available, how does one determine the right product fit for the organization's needs? Consider these factors:

  • Usability: Teams should be able to hit the ground running. Be wary of programs that require extensive staff training. Ease of use should be a top priority.
  • Security: A collaborative system should present a secure way for companies to communicate and work with outside organizations.
  • Customization: Collaborative systems should allow teams to personalize their workspace to meet specific project needs.
  • Cost: Unlike in-house web collaboration tools, hosted tools incur no software/licensing fees, require only a browser/Internet connection and include a nominal monthly service fee.

While 98 percent of businesses still rely on email communication, according to a 2004 AMR Research survey 3 , the trend toward collaborative technology solutions is increasing. Nearly 60 percent of companies surveyed report that they are regularly using online workspaces.

Companies looking to increase productivity, decrease shipping and material costs (CDs/mailers), and to increase team accountability could benefit from a web-based collaboration tool. The key, however, is choosing the tool that best suits your company's needs.


Source: by Thomas Selling, Ph. D., GlobalVista email newsletter by Thunderbird Executive Eduction - GAI

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Other articles from the same issue (February,  2005).

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Mind the money
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Central Europe faces rocky road to Euro
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Leadership spend still shows limited return on investment
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Collaboration on the web
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EU Newcomers enjoying booming economies
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Language skills critical to business success in global marketplace
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Driving down transport costs
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