Sunday, May 1, 2011

Collaborate Using Connections... Right Inside of Microsoft Outlook

MS Outlook Desktop Reality

In companies running Microsoft Exchange for eMail, I would venture a guess that the Microsoft Outlook eMail client is the one application that most people leave running on their PC all day long, even more than Internet Explorer or MS Word.  This is because in a typical office environment, eMail remains the #1 method people communicate with each another to ask questions, assign work and share information.

As organizations move toward collaboration tools in the workplace, the hope is that eMail use will drop down by 50% to 70% as information is shared through other social tools.  The reality for most organizations is this will not happen overnight... and that old MS Exchange eMail client will be running on everyone's desktop for quite a while.

... another application to log into every day?!

My wife is a manager for a technology team of about 250 people, doing IT work for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) here in Atlanta, GA.  She (and everyone she works with) lives in MS Outlook all day as they communicate with their customers and co-workers by eMail.

I asked my wife if her company uses a social collaboration platform, one that uses web 2.0 type tools.  As I discussed the virtues of knowledge sharing, better engagement, transparency, etc.... her first response was literally "Why do I want another application to log into every day?!"

She is spot-on.  For most of us still depending on, and working out of, a MS Outlook in-box every day, the reality is ANY social collaboration web site will ADD to our cluttered desktop and be yet another application I have to swivel chair to and log in to. 

Collaboration Inside of MS Outlook

So... If I want to use cool Web 2.0 collaboration features such as following updates my colleagues post about their daily activities, tracking files they upload, or comments they leave in forums.... and I don't want another application to log into every day.... and I have MS Outlook already open on my desktop... what are my options?

IBM Connections provides a platform for secure, corporate collaboration and is quite often accessed through it's web-site, just like other collaboration tools.  What makes IBM Connections very different is that it's collaboration services can be accessed through many other means, including plug-ins for MS Office, MS Outlook eMail, Lotus Notes, MS SharePoint, Portals, and even four brands of smart phones.

IBM Connections Plug-In for MS Outlook 

The IBM Connections Plug-in for Microsoft Outlook injects powerful enterprise social collaboration capabilities right into the Outlook eMail client.  

In-fact, if you only started MS Outlook on your desktop each morning and ran no other application, you'd be able to keep up with any of the status updates, files, blogs, wikis, bookmarks, forums, comments, and recommendations across your entire network of co-workers by simply viewing their incoming eMails.

Figure 1.  (Click to enlarge) MS Outlook with a social activity stream.
Figure 1 shows Outlook 2007 providing a full view, in the lower right corner, of all of the updates that Heather Reeds has made within IBM Connections... and all I did was open Heather's email.   IBM Connections can provide a full view of all updates my co-workers make made throughout Connections... all done automatically and without me having to log into any other application or web site.  If someone updates IBM Connections through any other means such as an iPhone, Web, or a portal, it all shows up here inside of MS Outlook for me.

Figure 2.  (Click to enlarge) MS Outlook with new menus for Connections

Figure 2 shows a new menu added to MS Outlook providing new options for IBM Connections.  The menu, which is also available by right-clicking on any email, has options to show the IBM Connections Business Card or to copy the email message right into an Activity.

The ability to copy an email into an Activity is extremely useful.  It helps keep emails in context with the overall activity being worked on.  It also has the bonus of sharing the message with the entire team without re-emailing it, and without contributing to the "eMail overload" problem we all experience.

Figure 3. (Click to enlarge) The Business Card pop-up for direct access to IBM Connections Content

Finally, Figure 3 illustrates the IBM Connections pop-up Business Card available for any user.  This appears right inside of the MS Exchange email client.  The pop-up Business Card is another powerful feature and gives you direct access to all of the files, bookmarks, blogs, wikis, forums, and profile information for a co-worker.  The experience is 100% seamless and because I do not have to enter my user name and password each time I click on the business card, I can explore my co-workers' content in IBM Connections in a very fluid and easy-to-use manner through a pop-up web browser.

Socializing MS Outlook -- A Step In The Right Direction

If you are chained to your MS Outlook eMail and calendar, you can begin to take steps to become a Social Business by using IBM Connections right within your MS Outlook client.  

Because IBM Connections is a true Social Collaboration platform and not just a tool, it can be accessed from a variety of sources including Web, Mobile, Email Clients, and Portals. 

The more you use IBM Connections as an enterprise collaboration platform, by sharing files, interacting in forums, and posting status updates with your co-workers, the more you'll find that your email use in the company will drop.  You too will ultimately reap the rewards of becoming a Social Business by better engaging your staff, being more transparent, and making our organization more nimble.

IBM Connections for social collaboration, right within MS Outlook, is one of the many ways IBM Connections integrates into your company, your workforce, your business processes, and helps you work smarter.  It even has my wife interested in testing out this technology in her company.  

Please contact your IBM Representative for a demonstration this powerful feature.