The excitement around collaboration tools is building in the IT
community. However, experts warn that companies should start preparing
now for the nuances of real-time communications.
From compliance to security to infrastructure considerations, IT groups
have a lot to think about when it comes to rolling out collaboration
tools, such as instant messaging, audio and video conferencing, and
”The basic security is pretty good — collaborative tools have
encryption and access controls,” says Mark Levitt, vice president of
collaborative computing at IDC Research in Framingham, Mass. ”But they
don’t do content filtering very well.”
Beth Cannon, chief security officer at banking firm Thomas Weisel
Partners in San Francisco, agrees. Her company’s sales force and trading
group — about 450 users in total — depend on instant messaging
programs, including AOL, Yahoo and MSN Messenger, to interact with
”Our customers would rather not have to call or fill up their e-mail
in-box with back-and-forth communications,” Cannon says. ”Instant
messaging provides a much quicker trade of information.”
But Cannon must archive and secure those rapid interactions in accordance
with the finance industry’s strict compliance rules. She layers a suite
of management, monitoring and auditing tools from FaceTime over the
myriad IM applications.
She says the monitoring tools work in conjunction with the company’s
e-mail archive policies to parse through transcripts, looking for
keywords. If any problems are found, the information is quarantined and
the company’s compliance officer is notified. ”Within 30 minutes, the
compliance officer can address the issue with the user,” Cannon says.
For the system to work efficiently, Cannon says IT managers must warn
employees about the hazards of instant messaging — much like they do
about appropriate e-mail usage. At Thomas Weisel, the employee handbook
clearly spells out the firm’s instant messaging usage policy, explaining
that users are monitored on a real-time basis and that transcripts are
logged for auditing purposes.
Francis deSouza, CEO of IMlogic in Waltham, Mass., says real-time
collaboration tools require another layer of infrastructure. ”In many
cases, the existing infrastructure companies have is not built for
real-time communications,” he says. For instance, it’s okay for e-mail
to be stored and combed through by the IT group at a later date. But with
instant communications, there are discussions you’re going to want to
stop right away because they create immediate risk, he notes.
Developing sound policies around the use of collaborative tools is
”A lot more thinking and planning needs to go into effective
collaboration networks than people think,” he says. ”You need to
determine who gets archived and who doesn’t… who can communicate with
each other and who can’t.”
For example, a consulting firm would not want two consultants with
competing clients to be able to communicate with one another — it could
be seen as a conflict. ”You need to respect those boundaries,” he says.
IMlogic’s deSouza says IT groups also should be wary of worms that could
come over the instant messaging transom. ”You want to make sure that
collaboration isn’t opening up another vector for malware to come into
Florent Buiron, CRM team leader at Steelcase International in Strasbourg,
France, says he relies on heavy encryption for real-time collaboration
tools. ”Encryption of all the data is by default so no one can tamper
with it,” he says. Buiron employs a mix of audio conferencing, video
conferencing, and voice over IP, as well as project, meeting and document
sharing via the Groove Virtual Office platform.
Today, he has 150 users worldwide employing Groove’s collaborative tools.
However, he says he expects that number to grow soon to 1,000 as he
continues to roll out the tools to more users. Buiron says the
distributed nature of Steelcase’s teams makes real-time collaboration a
must. ”We’ve got people working Brazil, Europe and Asia who all need
Buiron says Steelcase International has fully embraced collaborative
computing and a diverse cross-section of the company’s employees work
with the tools on a daily basis. A sampling of some of the worldwide
project groups employing the platform are: a team working to implement an
SAP ERP system in Germany; a team focused on the localization of Web
sites; a team looking at new real estate projects for the company; a team
managing CRM projects; the internal marketing and communications
departments, and the financial teams.
Buiron says the groups use collaborative tools for project management,
file sharing, versioning of documents, and meeting management. He adds
that Steelcase International also offers the tools to outside project
members, including consultants and partners.
But, like Cannon and deSouza, Buiron stresses the need for strict and
enforceable policies. ”If you don’t have the processes defined and the
security in place, you may have a very good tool, but it could be used in
a manner that’s risky.”