Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Janakiram MSV

Related Topics: Agile Computing, Microservices Expo, Machine Learning , Silverlight

Agile Computing: Article

Case Study: Transcending E-mail As a Platform for Multi-Person Collaboration

Design Commission Nets $2,000/month in Productivity Gains Using Wiki Technology

E-mail is extremely easy to adopt and use, and lends itself very well to certain types of collaboration. When two people are attempting to collaborate asynchronously, e-mail is usually the best solution. It's certainly far less frustrating than phone tag. But once more people are involved, email's utility rapidly degenerates. While the rise of free, open-source solutions makes it tempting to build one's own collaboration tools, on-demand or Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are the better choice for the majority of users and uses.

Design Commission, an award-winning design firm based out of Seattle, Washington, had grown from a bootstrapped startup into a thriving business. Along with a friend, David Conrad had co-founded Design Commission after working as a design lead for videogame giant Electronic Arts’ EA.com Web site.

Starting from scratch, Design Commission had built up a stable of prestigious clients like Sony, Corbis, and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Labs. David had even been recognized for his work with Sony in the Communication Arts Interactive Annual. Now, the firm had to figure out how to deal with how success had made its previous strategy of collaborating via email unmanageable.

“The studio has gone from two people to six people in the last 18 months,” said Conrad. “That doesn’t sound very big, but that’s 300% growth, and you run into the same issues of scale as you would with a big company. At the heart of these challenges is communication. Our success had made it much more difficult to make sure everyone in the team was on the same page.”

Email is still the most common tool for electronic collaboration. Everyone has it, and everyone uses it. However, email presents an extremely difficult set of challenges for organizations who try to use it for coordination and project management.

Email is extremely easy to adopt and use, and lends itself very well to certain types of collaboration. When two people are attempting to collaborate asynchronously, email is usually the best solution. It’s certainly far less frustrating than phone tag. But once more people are involved, email’s utility rapidly degenerates.

The problems with email as a platform for multi-person collaboration are the issues of accuracy and discoverability.

As asynchronous emails fly back and forth between the participants, it becomes harder and harder to ensure that the information in the email remains accurate and consistent. Who hasn’t experienced replying to an email, only to discover that another party had already given a different answer? There is no way to know which version of the information is the gold standard.

In addition, email is a poor medium for storing and discovering information. Only the recipients have access to it, and it is generally disorganized and unsearchable.

Who hasn’t experienced the pain of spending minutes or even hours fruitlessly searching for a particular lost email?

Yet because email is a critical part of our professional lives, it became the default collaboration tool for Design Commission.

"We’ve been dependent on email, and it’s a habit we're trying to break," said Conrad. "It's incredibly dispersed, and trying to find the password to Campaign Monitor takes 30 minutes when it should take 30 seconds. We wanted a common place where we could store all our important information."

Nor was his email addiction simply an issue of convenience. It had real impact on Design Commission's business and bottom line.

"Being able to organize and find information translates into real financial benefits," said Conrad. "I have more time to work on billable projects because I'm not spending that extra 29:30 hunting down information I'm not being paid to find. There's also a boost to general morale. It drives me nuts when I can't find a piece of information I need to do my job."

Since Design Commission is a professional services firm, Conrad knew that time was literally money. He resolved to find a collaboration solution that would help his firm manage its growth.

Conrad looked at a lot of different options before choosing PBwiki. “We’ve been looking at collaboration options since we started the company,” said Conrad. “There’s no shortage of potential approaches to the problem.”

One key decision Design Commission made up front was to opt for an on-demand collaboration solution.

While the rise of free, open-source solutions makes it tempting to build one’s own collaboration tools (There’s no cost! We can tailor it to our needs!), on-demand or “Software as a Service” (SaaS) solutions are the better choice for the majority of users and uses.

Even the most comprehensive and powerful collaboration tool will generate zero productivity gains if it isn’t used. Focusing on functionality first is putting the cart before the horse. Better to emphasize ease of adoption and use.

Low barriers to entry will help encourage users to experiment with collaboration tools and ease of use encourages them to keep exploring new uses for those tools. This incremental approach allows organizations to adopt technology informally and from the bottom up, rather than requiring a major top-down effort to re-engineer the enterprise. That’s as true for a 6-person organization as a 60,000 person organization.

Introducing a new software package into the datacenter generally rules out the informal, bottom-up approach. Instead, it is necessary to trigger your organization’s standard procurement and review process. Rather than being up and running in a matter of minutes, it may take weeks or even months to obtain the necessary approvals and resources from corporate IT (assuming that the request is approved in the first place). By the time the rollout is done, the original reason for introducing the tool might have disappeared.

Peter Williams, the CEO of Deloitte Digital found this out when he requested help the IT group to roll out a knowledge management solution for collaborating on new business plans. His IT group finally responded 18 months later. By that time, Williams had already brought in an on-demand solution from PBwiki, and had successfully used to generate real business benefits.

This example illustrates one of the key strengths of Software-as-a-Service: An organization can start using a hosted solution immediately, without waiting for its IT department.

Naturally, it is important to consider the needs and requirements of IT in the long run. While line of business managers can focus solely on business benefits, IT managers need to consider the overall safety, security, and maintainability of the organization’s technology infrastructure.

Even in this case, however, the standard arguments for hosting in-house—security and reliability—have been addressed by on-demand vendors like PBwiki. Hosted wikis provide high-grade encryption, redundant data replication, and full access controls. Additionally, because on-demand vendors focus solely on wiki hosting, rather than treating it as a single project within the IT portfolio, they generally deliver better performance and reliability. PBwiki delivers “five nines” uptime to its millions of users.

In the case of Design Commission, as boutique design firm without a formal IT group, the decision was even simpler: Avoid the hassles of hosting by only considering on-demand solutions. Based on this criteria, Design Commission evaluated three main solutions: 37Signals’ Basecamp, Google Sites, and PBwiki.

Design Commission had already used 37Signals’ Basecamp to manage client-related projects, but that tool lacked the necessary comprehensiveness and permanence:

"We manage client-related projects using Basecamp. Not because we like it; a lot of us really dislike it, but because it was the best option available at the time. The problem with Basecamp is that it doesn't let you tie everything together; there's no way to see all your different projects at once. Also, it's temporal; there's a begin date and an end date. PBwiki lets us organize information for use in perpetuity."

Conrad liked PBwiki's flexibility and openness, citing its open APIs and widget support as evidence that PBwiki gives its users the opportunity to build on top of the base platform.

“PBwiki seemed to be making efforts towards information convergence,” Conrad said. “In a closed environment like Basecamp, there’s not much flexibility. Because PBwiki offers exposures to APIs and widgets, that shows me that there’s an opportunity to do new things.”

Conrad also looked at Google Sites as a potential solution. Design Commission was already a Google customer, managing its email using Google Apps. But when Conrad reviewed the Google Sites product, he concluded it wasn't going to meet his needs.

"When Google first announced Google Sites, we started tinkering with it, but quickly found it to be a disappointing experience,” said Conrad. “It didn't do a good job of getting me into a mode where I could create useful pages. There's nothing cohesive about the experience. I don't even know the URL. I had to log into my Google account and hunt around for the link. With PBwiki, we know exactly where to go, and there's a place that's got all the content I'm looking for."

In addition, Design Commission had already had a good experience with PBwiki, thanks to one of its projects with Vulcan Labs. That recommendation helped make going with PBwiki an easy decision.

After choosing PBwiki, Design Commission moved quickly to make PBwiki an integral part of the team's workflow. Now the team members all use PBwiki on a daily basis. Among its uses:

  • Recording the notes from the company's internal meetings
  • Recording the notes from the company's partner and client meetings
  • Organizing and recording the company's staff meetings
  • Providing a central repository of login information for software and Web-based tools
  • Storing contact information, both for staff and for key vendors and partners
  • Planning and managing company projects and events

"We have a company retreat coming up in a couple of weeks, and we're storing all the information about the retreat on PBwiki," said Conrad. "Everything from logistics--directions and who's cooking what--to planning out our meeting agenda. That's temporal, but some of that information needs to live on, and PBwiki lets us do that."

And while Design Commission specializes in telling stories through design, they made the decision to use PBwiki based on cold, hard ROI. "We figure that we save on the order of an hour per week for each of our six team members, and we hope it will be more than that in the long run.”

“Conservatively, we're improving productivity at least $2,000 per month," said Conrad.

More Stories By Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh is Vice President of Enterprise Marketing, PBwiki.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Alice McLane 07/07/08 05:16:25 AM EDT

Email is still the most popular project collaboration tool - this is right. But its many draw backs are not the reason to give up on your favouite communication medium. As, you have noticed in your article, SaaS are offering more and more options for collaboration, one of them is project management software integrated with email. Our idea is to build projects by simply emailing your tasks to the system.

@ThingsExpo Stories
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Val...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CollabNet, a global leader in enterprise software development, release automation and DevOps solutions, will be a Bronze Sponsor of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, taking place from June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CollabNet offers a broad range of solutions with the mission of helping modern organizations deliver quality software at speed. The company’s latest innovation, the DevOps Lifecycle Manager (DLM), supports Value S...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Analytic. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
The age of Digital Disruption is evolving into the next era – Digital Cohesion, an age in which applications securely self-assemble and deliver predictive services that continuously adapt to user behavior. Information from devices, sensors and applications around us will drive services seamlessly across mobile and fixed devices/infrastructure. This evolution is happening now in software defined services and secure networking. Four key drivers – Performance, Economics, Interoperability and Trust ...
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists will examine how DevOps helps to meet th...
With billions of sensors deployed worldwide, the amount of machine-generated data will soon exceed what our networks can handle. But consumers and businesses will expect seamless experiences and real-time responsiveness. What does this mean for IoT devices and the infrastructure that supports them? More of the data will need to be handled at - or closer to - the devices themselves.
Grape Up is a software company, specialized in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the USA and Europe, we work with a variety of customers from emerging startups to Fortune 1000 companies.
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...