Improved tracking with technology Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

With virtual teams cutting across department lines and even across state and national boundaries, software that allows smooth tracking of work-flow and easy collaboration on projects is becoming a key part of many firms’ information technology repertoire.

Smart Business asked Chris Scragg, an expert with Pomeroy IT Solutions, Inc. for some advice to those firms that do not yet use workflow and collaboration software. Today, workflow and collaboration has become a nebulous grouping of software-based tools, meaning different things to different people and organizations. For the magazine publisher, these tools can refer to the management of content, color and image quality. However, the prevailing view of collaboration tools revolves around communication, management and confer-encing tools.

What kinds of tools are typically used?

Communication tools are probably the most common form of collaboration applications on the market. These tools focus on sending files, data and documents to recipients. Such applications are recognized as e-mail, instant messaging, faxing and voice mail. In today’s economy, all of the applications are available in a single bundled, unified platform. Imagine all of the ways that people correspond with you: Blackberry, MS Exchange, voice mail, etc. You can now have all of these messages routed to a single application or even have them follow you around on your Blackberry.

Conferencing tools are focused on the transmission of information but in an intently interactive way. You’ll recognize these applications as Web forums, video confer-encing, application sharing, as well as online chat (chat rooms, IRC, etc). WebEx and GoToMeeting have made this form of collaboration a household name and recognized means to give presentations, demonstrations and the like, remotely.

In IT, this method of presentation isn’t the way you always want to communicate with your customers; however, it is completely acceptable to do so where appropriate.

One of the more promising forms of collaboration is the grouping of collaborative management tools, including applications like Web Content Management, SharePoint, MS Office System, Exchange, intranets and Project Management suites. Chances are you’ve heard of or are even considering an investment in one or more collaboration suites.

How does workflow and collaboration software pay off?

Collaborative systems involve a cultural change in your organization more than just adding yet another system to use. In fact, the real payoff from the use of these tools is achieved only through widespread adoption and use in your organization.

For example, Siebel will do nothing for your sales team if only 15 percent of the team uses it. You’d be better off making an investment in a boxful of lottery tickets. The real magic comes not just from the sales organization’s use of it but the senior and executive management’s use of it, as well. Well-disciplined organizations on this platform have seen dramatic efficiencies, increased revenues, realization of goals, etc.

The hallmark of a collaborative system is providing your organization with increased levels of operational efficiency, which optimize and leverage investments made in your IT infrastructure.

Can you share a success story where this has paid off?

Pomeroy recently did a project for a regional medical center to improve their current Internet site. The former site was rich with information, but it was poorly organized, difficult to maintain, quickly became stale and generally did not keep pace with the marketing efforts made to communicate the proper image of the organization to the general public.

We utilized an open-source framework for Web content management. The new site was skinned and designed to be easily updated and to be consistent with other printed marketing materials. The content management aspect of the site now allows for authors to publish content directly to the site via portal where the editor can approve and release to production the new content. Modules were developed to provide a physician database and referral point of interest. As well, now human resources can publish job opportunities with ease, and potential candidates can apply for employment directly online. For the first time, the medical center can receive donations online, which will produce a newly realized form of funding.

The interesting thing about this project was that the investment made by the medical center was actually less than the original site they created three years ago. Now, they have a site that is scalable that they can easily maintain and expand for years to come without the need of increasing their IT staff to support it.

CHRIS SCRAGG is the practice director for application development within Pomeroy IT Solutions, Inc. Chris has been delivering application-based solutions in the industry for 11 years. Reach him at cscragg@pomeroy.com.