Connected

Do I know you?

Business problems and solutions from my customer

Posted by Gia Lyons on March 19, 2008

I just finished presenting to the eBusiness team at a large consumer goods manufacturer. It was mostly communications and marketing folks, sprinkled with a few of their business partners (nice change from the usual IT-only suspects I present to!) Their IT group also talked to them about their upgrade timeline throughout 2008. Quickr 8.1, Sametime 8, and Notes 8.0.1, plus Connections 1.0.2/2.0. Busy busy busy!

The best part? I actually got to listen to them! I typically never get a chance to collaborate with my customers, so I felt extra special that they asked me to stick around and help them brainstorm about how to solve some problems that the eBusiness division had identified. What’s more, we needed to solve them within the current business constraints, as well as the current and near-future IT environment.

It was like I was back in consulting services for a few hours!

Here are a few:

Problem #1: “I get invited to too many meetings where I cannot provide value.”

R2profiles_myprofile_overview_2They described how many in their eBusiness group get invited to internal meetings when they shouldn’t be. They wished the people asking them to attend could first figure out IF they should invite someone from eBusiness, and if so, WHO in particular would provide the most value during the meeting.

Idea for #1: Add a rich-text field to their Lotus Connections Profile“Invite me to collaborate when:“ (obviously, this could be done with other profiling solutions as well). Each person could then describe situations in which they would provide the most value. Of course, for people who will never fill out a profile, seekers would need to make a judgment call based on the person’s organizational position, “frolleagues”, how others have tagged their profile, and social contributions (blog, social bookmarks, shared files, community participation, projects they’ve worked on in the past, etc.). Or, perhaps the group could use a wiki to describe how each individual contributes to the organization (assuming seekers take the time to read it, of course).

Problem #2: “I work with external business partners who do not understand us.”

They described how they frequently partner with external organizations to get work done, and continually spend time getting each organization up to speed about what they are all about before they can even begin to collaborate on a project.

Business constraint: They have not used their existing Lotus Quickplace extranet deployment to collaborate with outside folks, because the internal process to request an external team site is not an easy one (legal and security compliance constraints make collaborating externally a laborious undertaking). And frankly, sending email will always be easier than visiting a website to share documents and other information with external folks. Why? Because that’s what the majority of people out there know how to do, and won’t take time to learn anything new.

Quickr8.1Idea for #2: Set up a single external Quickr place, with general public reader access, and create “this is what we’re all about” content to which they can point their partners. Then, they could create inner rooms that can be locked down to only those partners they want to share private information with (this is a feature of Quickr). The point here is that they don’t need to request a team site for each partner; the site manager (a business user) only needs to create an inner room whenever the need arises, and invite the partner.

Once they have the Quickr site set up, they’ll still use email. How? Well, when they are about to send an email with an attachment, a box will pop up and ask if they’d like to save the attachment in a Quickr site, and just email a link to it (you can do that with Notes 7 and Quickr 8.0, too). So, they don’t have to change the way they work today, which is critical to the success of any type of new collaboration or social networking solution, IMO. They can add/delete/check in/out/version documents to the external site in Windows Explorer, since each site shows up in Windows Explorer as “just another drive”. They can also do all of this within MS Office.

Clearly, the value of Lotus Quickr (and really, any collaboration/social networking solution) lies in how it integrates with existing tools.

Quickr_sidebar_dragLinktoEmailSince they’ll be upgrading their external Lotus Quickr deployment to 8.1 (shipping March 28), and they’re deploying Lotus Notes 8.0.1 later this year, they will eventually be able to ignore the website almost completely. This is because they’ll have a Quickr sidebar in the Notes 8.0.1 client (available for Outlook clients also). They’ll be able to easily drag a document link from the external site into an email. So, they can still keep emailing with their partners, and just send links to the documents. And, they’ll be able to right-click an email and add it to the site. Great way to keep all correspondence in one spot.

The partners will be able to use the Quickr sidebar, too, if they have Notes 8.0.1 or Outlook 2003+ (I think – might need 2007, not sure). How? They’ll download the Connectors (an .msi file) from the Quickr site, and install it if they have appropriate rights to their desktop. If they can’t do this, they can always email content and documents directly to the Quickr site, since it has its own email address.

Quickr_Outlook_sidebar
IBM Lotus Quickr 8.1 sidebar in Microsoft Outlook

They also thought that they might create a profile for each individual at the partner that they work with, so that others can get a better idea of what to expect when they collaborate with him/her. Since they won’t be deploying Connections Profiles externally this year, the idea was to allow each partner to create a profile page within the Quickr site. And of course, lock down who can see which profile, or just create them within the inner rooms that are already locked down to the appropriate people.

This idea, of course, led to creating profiles for each project they work on with their partners, using Quickr’s wiki component. This would help partners get up to speed more quickly about what the project is all about, and because it’d be a wiki page, any internal team member can keep it current. This reminded me of Microsoft’s internal Micropedia effort (which I think is a very cool idea).

And then there’s Lotus Bluehouse, a SaaS offering currently in beta.

I know of another vendor that has focused primarily on external community solutions. I hear they’re adding project-focused features in a future release – it’ll be interesting to see how their, our, and other external-facing collaboration solutions play within customers’ existing business constraints, while satisfying their needs. (god, that sounded so markety and salesy, didn’t it?)

Gotta open it up, but lock it down, and work in my existing IT environment and existing user tools. All at the same time. Fun!

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