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Real-Time Collaboration Takes Real Work

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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

document sharing.

”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

the company.”

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

these tools.”

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.”

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