Welcome!

Web 2.0 Authors: Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Rick Delgado, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Web 2.0, SOA & WOA, AJAX & REA, Silverlight

Web 2.0: 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)

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
Be Among the First 100 to Attend & Receive a Smart Beacon. The Physical Web is an open web project within the Chrome team at Google. Scott Jenson leads a team that is working to leverage the scalability and openness of the web to talk to smart devices. The Physical Web uses bluetooth low energy beacons to broadcast an URL wirelessly using an open protocol. Nearby devices can find all URLs in the room, rank them and let the user pick one from a list. Each device is, in effect, a gateway to a web page. This unlocks entirely new use cases so devices can offer tiny bits of information or simple i...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
TechCrunch reported that "Berlin-based relayr, maker of the WunderBar, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware dev kit which resembles a chunky chocolate bar, has closed a $2.3 million seed round, from unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. The startup had previously raised a €250,000 friend and family round, and had been on track to close a €500,000 seed earlier this year — but received a higher funding offer from a different set of investors, which is the $2.3M round it’s reporting."
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital busines...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things needs an entirely new security model, or does it? Can we save some old and tested controls for the latest emerging and different technology environments? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, will review hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal privacy options and a new risk balance you might not expect.
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.