Thursday, August 12, 2004

IBM Shows Off Next-Generation Collaboration Software

IBM Shows Off Next-Generation Collaboration Software

IBM is developing next-generation collaboration software that goes beyond communications to emphasize activity-management capabilities. Some of the new technology, which executives previewed Wednesday at IBM's Lotus division headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., will be built into its Workplace messaging and collaboration software and Eclipse development tools.

"Activities will be as fundamental to future IT as transactions were in earlier generations of IT," said Mike Rhodin, Lotus development and technical support VP.

As hierarchical business structures become more decentralized, work increasingly will be organized around projects and activities, and tools will be needed to coordinate those activities, said MIT professor Thomas Malone, author of The Future Of Work, who also spoke at Wednesday's conference.

Customers are especially interested in IBM's software-integration efforts. Prudential Financial Inc. runs some 4,000 Notes applications, IBM WebSphere middleware, the WebSphere portal, and Workplace collaboration applications. "We as a company need to try to knit those applications, services, and tools together to better serve our customers," Michael Boatwright, Prudential Financial's corporate information technology VP, said at the conference.

The first tangible results of IBM's development work will be a new Workplace user interface called Activity Explorer that lists a user's projects and makes it easier for co-workers to share documents, PowerPoint presentations, and other project-related materials. For example, a user can drag an icon onto a co-worker's name from an instant-messaging system's buddy list, giving that person the ability to view and edit project materials.

Activity Explorer will also provide a screen activity tool that workers use to take snapshots of computer screens and share them with co-workers. A technology preview of Activity Explorer will be available in about a month, and Activity Explorer will be part of Workplace 2.5, which is due out by year's end.

IBM also demonstrated team collaboration software for the Eclipse development environment. Called Jazz, the software interface provides a list of development team members and their photos, indicates if they are online, and lists each member's projects. With the interface, users can initiate chat sessions with other team members. It even shows what code a programmer has checked out of a central repository to work on.

Jazz is being jointly developed by Lotus and Rational and will likely find its way into Rational development products. No timetable for its availability has been set.

IBM also demonstrated new E-mail technology that identifies messages from the same person or that are part of an E-mail string. Project manager Dan Gruen said picking out important messages from the huge volume of E-mail workers get is a growing problem. The prototype software also scans mail for notes about possible appointments and helps users add the information to their calendars. No date has been set for releasing the technology as a product.

That's the kind of built-in intelligence Boatwright is looking for in desktop tools. "There's just too much information, too much mail, too much stuff the employee has to deal with right now," he said. "That's our No. 1 challenge."

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