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Collaboration for CIM Users

CIMug 2.0 - Best Practices for Collaboration
 
Randy Rhodes, CIMug Utility Co-Chair
 
 
Intro
 
I was asked to speak at the Redmond CIM Users Group meeting in December 2008 about our ongoing efforts toward better collaboration. For that presentation I left Powerpoint behind and "wikified" my content. In some ways, you might view this as a short white paper, or even a brief position paper.
 
Some of you reading this may not know who I am. In the daily world of work, I am a manager at PacifiCorp, where we have a corporate membership. They have graciously supported my involvement with the CIM Users Group (CIMug), including hosting the fall 2006 meeting. In November 2007 I accepted the nomination for CIMug Utility Co-Chair. I led an overall site redesign effort during 2008. Digital collaboration happens to be an interest of mine, so I thought I would share my perspectives.
 
I want to encourage feedback. Please read this and share your thoughts - but you'll need a site account to do that. With an account, you can also receive updates when this page changes. Click here, click on Add Alert, select Meeting Wiki, and customize the Alert to your preference.
 
CIM Enterprise 1.5
The CIM User Group faces challenges many other organizations face:
  • The need for hundreds of individuals to collaborate around the globe
  • Shrinking attention spans and growing distractions
  • Clogged email inboxes
  • Thousands of files and folders, scattered across many network servers or web servers.
  • Subscribed to innumerable sources via email listservs or RSS feeds.
As I visited with attendees at the Redmond conference, I overheard many comments like "I just can't keep up. My email is overflowing. This thing is bigger than me."
 
CIMug is not alone in this. And that is why businesses are turning to "Enterprise 2.0" - the adoption of "Web 2.0" technologies. Some consider this a natural evolution, but others claim it is a paradigm shift. Check out the following presentation and judge for yourself.
I like this presentation because it reflects my own journey. I can remember the first time I used a word processor (on a Mac) and the first time I saved a file on a network server half a continent away (on Banyan Vines). I can remember the first time I pulled up a web page (vendor documentation). But the last few years I have been more impressed watching how easily my own four teenagers "connect with the cloud."
 
And so the CIM User Group is at CIM Enterprise 1.5 - we are between what was and what will be. What was = Desktop Software + the Web. What will be = what we make it, but it will certainly include some new technology options. So I'd like to explore what CIMug 2.0 might look like.
 
Collaboration Options
UCA and the CIM User Group placed bets on Microsoft Sharepoint as a collaboration platform, starting in 2004 or 2005. Was that a good bet? The following charts were provided by Gartner Group to illustrate Microsoft's position in the market. These are "Magic Quadrant" charts for the "Team Collaboration and Social Software" segment in 2007 and the "Social Software" segment in 2008. For 2009, the chart comes from "Social Software in the Workplace."
 



Gartner defines this software as "persistent and structured virtual environments" where participants can "create, organize, share information, and interact." The 2008 chart shows the proliferation of new players. There are obviously many wanna-be's in this space. It's a lot like the content management system or portal software markets a few years back. With the current economic downturn there will be undoubtedly be some significant shakeout in the market. 

There are many aspects to this software segment. The following presentation illustrates Microsoft's view of communications and collaboration during the rollout of MOSS 2007.

From this presentation we can see their view is obviously much wider than just individual applications, such as wiki software. That can be seen from this site itself. The site is built on Sharepoint and we are using a wide array of webparts with built-in business functionality. From site security to document management to on-line surveys and in-between, Sharepoint is an A-to-Z solution.
 
Microsoft launched a Sharepoint Social Computing site in June 2009, that goes into more depth on these topics. The site includes a white paper as well. And a video in which Mike Gannotti of Microsoft confesses "Is Sharepoint the best in all these social computing categories? No."  But he goes on to claim it's the best platform for building what you need.
 
Wiki Growth
That being said, we've seen rapid growth of vendors who are positioned more as specific applications within the "Web 2.0" space. Some leading wiki and social software vendors have been growing very quickly. I've tried out some of these applications and their ease of use is just phenomenal. This is one reason I am using a wiki here, and I think it deserves more exploration. 

Everyone is familiar with wikis as a result of Wikipedia, so not much more needs to be said here about that. But, not everyone will be familiar with how widely wikis are being used across all industries, both within corporate firewalls and across corporations.

For another viewpoint, here is a presentation by a senior exec at Atlassian. They are in the Visionary quadrant - one of the up-and-coming wiki vendors wanting to challenge Microsoft in the collaboration software market. This presentation explains why they believe the wiki is a significant part of the future.

How do organizations like CIMug use wiki software? One example is http://wiki.dataportability.org/dashboard.action. If you click through to their project site, you can experience how fluid and flexible the wiki environment is. They use Confluence from Atlassian, the vendor just mentioned.

Another contender is Twiki, from the open-source camp. Founder Peter Thoeny provides this excellent (wiki-based) presentation called Wikis at Work: How Enterprise Wikis bring Web 2.0 into the Workplace.

For a good analysis of wiki vendors, you might think to check Wikipedia - and you'd be right. They have an excellent Comparison of Wiki Software. Here's another comparison engine:  WikiMatrix.

How about the Sharepoint wiki experience? (That's what you're looking at right now.) Like most individual collaboration functions within Sharepoint, it's okay but not great.

  • If you asked a group of wiki experts to assess Sharepoint wiki, you might get more criticisms than kudos. In fact, that's what happened at the WikiSym conference in 2008...see WikiSym Viewpoints. They point out that Sharepoint is at its root a document management system, and that isn't likely to change any time soon.
  • If you'd like to read more, check out this article on Wiki's in Sharepoint 2007 written by a knowledge management consultant.
  • There is even an open-source development effort underway to improve Sharepoint wikis. For details, see comments on the CKS Expanded Wiki Edition Beta 3 Feature List.

So wiki software is a strong influence within the "Social Software" segment. There are many other functions, too many to discuss here. One resource I did uncover is the document Managing Social Networking with Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007. That is dated December 2007. (There is probably more current material available.) UCAIug is running Sharepoint Server (not MOSS), so some comments may not apply to our environment.

Frankly, I have wondered at times whether we missed the boat and would do better to start up with a separate wiki vendor. Others are adopting wiki software for specific applications:

But - if we return to a wider perspective, it's likely that we can deliver more overall value to our members with Sharepoint. Its document and content management capabilities are more important to standards development and application, as well as the out-of-the-box templates for business functions like help desk management and issue management. That is, if we can make it friendly enough for users!

Does Collaboration Really Matter?
So what does this mean for you and me? Do we really need all these capabilities in the CIM User Group, or the wider community of UCAIug groups, IEC groups, etc.? Who has time to learn all of this, anyway?

Well if your viewpoint is that there is too much to learn, you might be right. The Microsoft collaboration suite is wide and deep. For example, here is an example syllabus - Sharepoint Essentials - I posted this to give everyone an idea of how much there is to learn if we really want to make our collaboration environment work for us.

BUT - another view might be that there is very little to learn. For a wiki environment, it really amounts to two steps:

   and  

Look familiar? This is so simple it can confound many of us --- well, more mature engineering types. We've been trained to keep and control our information. The hard disk on our PC was more reliable than the Internet connection or the web server. We may not embrace the idea that our thoughts and contribution could be stored "out there" - one edit, one save, one time, one place in cyberspace...like what you are reading right now.

But for recent college graduates who have been tweaking their MySpace and FaceBook pages for the last four or five years, an Enterprise 2.0 environment is more reliable than their PCs. They've lost Word documents but can still find their MySpace posting from several years back. And, online apps are generally more intuitive for them. On the other hand, they wouldn't label it intuitive -- since, well, using a refrigerator doesn't require intuition.

As Don Tapscott pointed out in his book Growing Up Digital, for the Internet Generation (Net-Gen individuals), the Internet is an appliance - they use it like Baby Boomers use the refrigerator. It's how they build their social networks. But they don't call it "social networks" for them, it is just LIFE. Ask parents of teenagers and they will nod very knowingly.

As an aside, there are signs that this social networking phenomenon has it's drawbacks. Watch this video for one illustration:  http://www.vimeo.com/610179

And note this commentary on the latest malady:  Social Network Fatigue.

And this perspective, from TheGapingVoid.com:

But I digress. It's not likely that many CIMug members are experiencing SNF, based on the age demographics of the group. Many of us are on LinkedIn...maybe even on Facebook. Maybe even on Ning, and possibly on Twitter. I'm on two of those four, and I'm already feeling some SNF. (How many "groups" do we need?) We are rapidly becoming a hypernetworked generation. 

 

The Road Ahead

 

You might be asking questions like these as you investigate what is available within the CIMug and other UCA sites:

  1. Is it possible that everyone on our working group or project store information only one time, in only one place, and have it be accessible every time, from every place?
  2. Can I really synchronize the activities of a widely dispersed, overloaded, intensely detail-oriented group of high-paid professionals and get them to meet deadlines?
  3. On the other hand, if I do commit to using the UCA/CIMug Sharepoint environment, will I be herding cats? Am I setting myself up for frustration?

The answers to all these questions is a resounding YES. Guess what - change always takes effort. The opportunity here is to steer our collective ongoing efforts toward CIMug Enterprise 2.0.

I have personally been taking a three-pronged approach to helping us move ahead.

  1. Walk the Talk. I have been using all the capabilities of our Sharepoint environment in the Processes Working Group. Especially, I work the wiki and hurl the URL - every day, every way.  That's what I'm doing here. One of these days I'll add a page on "Collaboration Tips and Best Practices" to explain what that means in more detail.
  2. Coach and Educate. I use GotoMeeting software to collaborate with site owners. Those individuals might be leading projects or working groups, or they might be wanting to create a site to focus CIM efforts within their own utility or vendor setting. We have a UCA Member Training site available also, where you can create new sites and play to your heart's content. There are links to training resources that can help us come up to speed quickly.
  3. Explore Options. During the first half of 2008 we had a very significant site redesign project, which resulted in what you are working with now. At this point I began to realize that in order to go the next level, I would have to pull together people who cared and create a strategy and focus for the next step. How would we do that? Well, again, we pick up the very tools we have to get us to the next stage. I created a site called UCA CoLab. (Sorry, that's a dead-end link for most everyone - for now, this site is limited to invited members. Of course they're all too busy to show up...maybe I need to reconsider.) We are looking at our biggest challenge - integrating "Yahoo Group-like" email listserv capability with Sharepoint groups. We have made some improvements for alerts management. Essentially, this is where we incubate and hatch the next significant site enhancements on the road to "CIMug 2.0".

Questions for Discussion

Here are some questions that come to my own mind. Feel free to add to this list, or to insert comments at the end of this page.

  1. How are "Meet Charlie - Enterprise 2.0" skills learned? Are they taught or caught?
  2. Does the demographic within CIMug affect our interest in this topic? Are collaboration features something we can put on the shelf for a few years?
  3. What are best practices for CIMug project and working group leaders? How can we demonstrate those?
  4. How does email addiction prevent adoption of Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasts, screencasts, etc.)? Does RSS present a better way to help heavy email users (rather than Sharepoint Alerts)?
  5. Who could or should lead the learning (or training) in order to help CIMug members all get more done in less time? Would CIMug members welcome a monthly open training webconference, where they could get coaching in how to use site tools?

Thoughts and Comments

Feel free to add anything that comes to mind after reading this. If you're a CIMug member and you're logged in, you can edit this page. But anything you contribute is publicly visible, so don't include your email address or say anything you might regret later...

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Comment 1 - Does it make sense to get a public site template from the Processes working group, since the best ideas and practices are in that site, but the content is not appropriate to be public?   - Kendall Demaree

Reply - At the presentation on Thursday morning I did share the Process WG site. I don't know if I can claim that it is best practice - it's really my way of doing things. Others in the group don't complain too much about my constant experimenting, and the site does seem to work pretty well. I will save it as a site template and add some more comments here when I have that done.

It might also be worth noting that some time ago I created a Powerpoint description of how project leaders can build a site from scratch. That is named Project Site Setup Tutorial and is stored on the UCA Members Training site in the Site Owner Tutorials document library.  At that location there is also a Site Groups Tutorial that explains how group security is set up within Sharepoint for CIMug subsites.

Note that there is more detailed information stored in the Comments field of each slide in those tutorials. (A better approach would be to develop a screencast using Camtasia with audio comments. We may get that done in 2009.)

- Randy

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Comment 2 - I would really like to see the ability to participate in the CIMug without the travel.  I think we would get a lot more support and participation if we can get on-line access to the meetings in an effective way. I am really supporting of these ideas.  I am learning and struggling sometimes with the tools, but I think they are worth the effort.  - Kendall Demaree

Reply - This year the Processes WG used GotoMeeting for around 20 web conferences and we found it very practical, in combination with the Sharepoint site. Everyone can watch and learn as key information is stored and retrieved on the Processes WG site itself. So everyone's confidence grows over time (if slowly). It is quite feasible to do some webinars in the future to help people get more done with less travel.  - Randy

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Comment 3 - It will be helpful if there is coordination between UCA/CIMug and the NIST/Gridwise Architectural Council (GWAC) for Smart Grid standards.  NIST-GWAC (http://www.nist.gov/smartgridhas established a process and a number of domain expert working groups to establish interoperability standards of Smart Grid.  Adoptation of the CIM methodology by NIST could be a positive action.  I'll be glad to help in this coordination.  - Ali Ipakchi

Reply - I followed up on this and am in touch with Andy Owens of Plexus, who is putting together the specs for their Interoperability Knowledge Base. We (UCA/CIM) do not have an official liaison to the NIST effort, but a number of experts are involved on the Domain Expert Working Groups. I will be helping Andy understand what we have done - we are a small piece of the overall standards landscape, but if our efforts can help, that would be a good thing.  - Randy

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Comment 4 - Hello Randy. I thought it might be a good idea to try and set up a CIM group on LinkedIn. My personal interest is in networking with those who are using CIM for SOA and Data Warehousing purposes. Perhaps you could post a link or a note on the User Group wiki mentioning the LinkedIn group? I'd welcome any recommendations you might have. It was good meeting you in Redmond. - Brian Bulow

Reply - Thanks Brian for setting this up. CIMug members who are already on LinkedIn can join up there. Click here to view. Interesting how LinkedIn is scrambling to add new capabilities such as discussion forums, news announcements, etc. They have invested deeply in a solution for the group email communication problems that have been such a challenge for us. I wonder whether that site will truly become a platform for professional groups. In my experience, headhunters have been a constant presence, and that can become a problem.  - Randy

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Comment 5 - A postscript note (from Randy) about Sharepoint. I have asked in a few group meetings who might have Sharepoint in daily use within their organizations, and there are always a few hands. Our own company's IT group has MOSS 2007 running and has hinted they might introduce it to the business. I'm on the business side and wheedled permission to use MOSS for an internal project. I'm also starting to move our department to its own site. This is about the eighth time I've introduced a group to Sharepoint features, and I'm getting really tired of setting up a "My Alerts" tab or link on every site. And explaining the difference between a blog, a wiki, and a discussion list.  ;-)

It's an interesting conundrum. It doesn't seem that hard to build a wiki package, host it in the cloud, and see people take to it like a duck to water. It's a whole 'nother thing to transform an enterprise into "Web 2.0" thinking. Moreover, non-profit dot-orgs like UCAIug are caught in the middle. We are dealing with standards documents protected by IEC requirements and we must protect member email addresses from spammers - so we must have enterprise-like security and reliability. But because our users are very diverse, usability must be high as well.  Is Sharepoint still the answer?   - Randy

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Comment 6 (from Randy) - I added the Magic Quadrant for 2009, since some discussion of collaboration arrived in a LinkedIn forum and someone may find their way here. UCA continues to move ahead with Sharepoint enhancements, as I described in that forum. No plans are in place for a migration to Sharepoint 2010, yet. Microsoft is in deep in their Office 2010 and Sharepoint 2010 launch as this comment is added.

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Last modified at 5/19/2010 3:48 PM  by randy.rhodes