WebOffice

Sometimes a construction collaboration platform (or ‘project extranet’) can be too big for the project in question, and the project may not need all the construction-focused functionality associated with accessing, commenting upon and marking up of drawings. "What should we use?" I get asked sometimes.

I usually refer to generic products such as Projectplace, but I have just found another product. WebEx, better known for their real-time online meeting solutions, recently launched an "Integrated Collaboration Suite for Small Businesses and Individuals" called WebEx WebOffice. Prices start from $59.99 per month for a five-strong workgroup and up to 250MB of storage space. (The press release gives the press contact as one Colin Smith – not to be confused with BIW’s CEO!)

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/weboffice/

Changes at BuildOnline?

Two days ago, a BIW colleague asked if I had heard of any changes at BuildOnline. His question was sparked by the sudden disappearance of most of BO’s management team from the listing on its UK website (down to just two people: the chairman and CEO – gone are profiles of the VP technology, finance director, the grandiose President Americas and others). At the time, I didn’t know anything, and perhaps it’s unrelated ….

However, in my previous post I linked to a blog talking about Alfresco, and when I researched the Alfresco site more deeply, I noticed a familiar name among its people: Ian Howells. Until very recently, Ian was head of marketing at BuildOnline (succeeeding Richard Moore) and now appears to be Alfresco’s chief marketing officer – like many of Alfresco’s staff, Ian was also previously at Documentum (his CV perhaps deliberately makes no mention of his short time at BO).

I don’t think Ian was actually listed on BO’s people page (he doesn’t appear on a Google cache of BO’s French page I found – though it did list Richard Moore), but, as I understand it, the BO application was originally based on Documentum software and there are a significant number of ex-Documentum staff involved at Alfresco, so perhaps it was no surprise for him to jump ship.

Interestingly, Alfresco are based in Park Street, Maidenhead, just a couple of streets away from BO’s head office in King Street.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/changes_at_buil-4/

Asite bloggers

I have just discovered that two Asite guys have blogs.

I have met Nathan Doughty a couple of times so I was interested to read his first posts at Free Collaboration (Nathan’s blog also links to a more personal blog by his software technical architect colleague David Kaspar).

I smiled a bit when I first noticed the title of Nathan’s blog (he appears to have registered the domain name). If you watched the expansion of the project extranet market in 1999-2000, you may recall that some dot.com businesses were offering their collaboration solutions at little or even no charge to the customer – as I remarked last week, Buzzsaw was one culprit, losing millions of dollars in the process. I’m sure Nathan is not suggesting that Asite offers free collaboration (and given their recent financial results, this is hardly something Asite could afford! :-)).

From a marketing angle, however, "Free collaboration" could be quite a good blog title. It might attract hits from people looking for free collaboration software (though would they be a bit peeved to discover Nathan’s business doesn’t deliver free applications?).  On another level, the title also, I think, refers to the essence of blogging: freely being able to share personal perspectives and develop ideas drawn from a whole variety of sources. I will watch Nathan’s blog with interest (hopefully, it won’t lapse into one of his self-confessed ‘bursts of blog inactivity’ – sic).

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/asite_bloggers/

Easy internet access

First the US, now Greece. Regular readers of this blog will now that I frequently link to Peter Cochrane’s blog at Silicon.com, and his latest post is again noteworthy. Not so long ago, he was discussing the wide availability of free Wi-fi access in the States. Now, he has spent a week in Crete and found it just as easy to find free or low-cost, reliable internet access. By inference, you get the idea – again – that he wishes the same could be true of the UK.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/easy_internet_a/

Virus nightmare

A potential nightmare scenario has, I hope, been partially averted. A virus – to be more precise, a Trojan – somehow found its way into one of my machines. The Trojan itself wasn’t the problem, though, it was the incessant pop-up alert windows from TrendMicro OfficeScan. Popping sometimes more than once a second, they made work impossible. To make matters worse, the Trojan was associated with a .dll file which could not be deleted from my machine – necessitating a complete rebuild!

Due to a mix-up over whether the machine’s files were backed-up, the hard drive was effectively wiped clean, potentially erasing more than five years of work! At one point yesterday afternoon, I began to despair, lapsing into a stunned silence interupted only by angry expletives….

As it is, I still have the laptop which was my work-horse until about February this year. Combine this with all the files sent and received via email, and I reckon that I will be able to re-compile around 99% of my archive of work. OK, the occasional nugget may be lost forever, but I have learnt a painful but valuable lesson: keep at least two complete back-ups of your data.

This experience is – sadly – not unusual among regular computer users; one of my former BIW colleagues – now at Gleeds – knows a contractor whose email system collapsed after a virus attack and was out of action for several working days.

As far as that contractor’s inputs to the Gleeds project was concerned, though, there was no impact. The project was using the web-based BIW Information Channel collaboration platform, completely bypassing any reliance on email, so there was no impact on that project. The same, however, could not be said for other projects on which the unfortunate contractor was involved. On them, email had been a principle conduit for many project communications. Records of past data exchanges were lost, and new communications now had to be faxed, posted or couriered.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/virus_nightmare/

Making collaboration work

Catching up on my web-browsing over the weekend, I came across an August 2005 Cadalyst article by Michael Dakan describing lessons learned on implementing collaboration systems on US projects. Some key points:

  • Many of the problems are not technology issues at all, but rather basic people issues and human relations management problems.
  • For … collaboration systems to be effective, they must achieve universal participation. If people can bypass the system and fall back on old paper document management techniques … the system will lose much of its usability and effectiveness.
  • An effort must be made to eliminate paper documents ….
  • … with collaboration systems, every effort needs to be made to achieve 100% utilization as quickly as possible.
  • the elimination of “wet signature” approvals and documentation of legal requirements
  • … include adequate training prior to implementation and the inclusion of requirements for use within contract documents.
  • The one overriding ingredient … is achieving good “buy-in” by the users of the system.

To reiterate the opening point, "as is often the case with technology, successful implementation comes down to basic management issues rather than actual technology difficulties."

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/making_collabor/

Busy at Bricsnet

No fewer than three major announcements from Bricsnet last Thursday:

I wonder why they made three apparently significant announcements on the same day? Were they perhaps trying to get a big a PR splash as possible, so that the new CEO and team could be seen to be hitting the ground running? Maybe they wanted to avoid awkward questions about the old management team and the need for additional money (perhaps significant: the Bricsnet site has no archive of old releases about the company’s past exploits)?

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/busy_at_bricsne/

Datum International

By coincidence, this morning I opened my print copy of Information Age then read the digital version of Microscope. Upon reading the letters page in the latter, I experienced a strong sense of deja vu. Sure enough, Les Paul, CEO of enterprise content management specialist Datum International, had sent essentially the same letter to both publications and get himself, his company name and some good points about home working into print (good PR, Les!).

"Documents are automatically saved in the central repository, providing accurate version control and visibility of contributors. This eases the collaborative process and ensures every team member is up to date on the status of a project and has easy access to indexed, categorised information. Critically, the entire home working contribution is audited, providing management with a clear view of the equality and timeliness of work undertaken by the remote workforce…."

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/datum_internati/

Autodesk DWG TrueView

AECnews gives news of a new free, downloadable DWG/DXF viewer from Autodesk. Users may well baulk at a 100MB download and then find it difficult to use – according to Randall Newton, in Autodesk’s features comparison table, “Easy to use interface” is not checked for DWG TrueView! Honesty or an oversight?

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/autodesk_dwg_tr/

Internet ‘fundamentally changing’ UK businesses

According to Silicon.com, the web is transforming traditional business practices as UK firms increasingly use technology to communicate and transact online with customers and suppliers.

The e-Value Matters report, from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and sponsored by the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), says it is the "end of the beginning" of e-business in the UK as automation of processes evolves into more fundamental transformation of business practices. The CBI press release gives a bit more detail of the report’s highlights, noting "e-business has continued to move out of the IT department, up the corporate hierarchy and into the business mainstream".

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2005/10/internet_fundam/

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