How do you persuade people to share their data (Groupware)?
January 17, 2004 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone use 'Groupware'? Or put it another way, how do you persuade people to share their data? Experience from long ago says 'Lotus Notes' but there must be something better now. Is there? [MI]

It's an old problem, I've just started a new job and am amazed at the fantastic infrastructure with nothing much running on it apart from e-mail. Everyone in the department has their own data on Excel and Word, none of it ties up and no-one can find anything.

I've got a one-shot opportunity to do something about this, but not much money and no great training skills. Notes is an option but I don't know what it's like now and I don't want all of the server kerfuffle that it involves. Any other good, flexible, collaborative working products out there?
posted by grahamwell to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Wiki rule if you can get people on-board. Web forums work. There are umpteen groupware applications out there; you can search for them easily enough. Zope is a particularly interesting one, because it's open-source and wholly programmable.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:48 AM on January 17, 2004

Although, come to think of it, you'll need a server for any of those suggestions.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:48 AM on January 17, 2004

you need a server for lotus notes too (afaik), so that's not a drawback.

the free "groupware" stuff that i've tried pretty much sucks (i used phprojekt for a while, and while it does what it says on the box, it looks and feels clunky - and that seemed to be the best out there).

one that did look good, but wasn't free (except for academic use), was a german(?) university product. i got a quote from them way back, but now i can't find any info (lost in email , heh). sorry.

these lists look useful (just found them).

an alternative is to stay with email, but make it really solid. lots of filtering, searchable databases etc. i tried this, but never sorted out the searching (courier imap appears to time out searching large mailbox directories).
posted by andrew cooke at 10:17 AM on January 17, 2004

Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft

If you're a Windows shop, consider SharePoint Team Services. Here's the PCMag review so you don't have to take my biased word for it.
posted by girlhacker at 11:30 AM on January 17, 2004

Conversant is what I use for my site and it makes for a pretty short ramp-up for a hosted solution. (There's an installable product as well.) Web admin interface, plugin architecture (99% of it is served by plugins), mailing list and newsgroup integration. One friend of mine gets most people onboard by telling them it's mailing list and introducing them to more advanced features later.

I wrote a bit of a flyover of the thing. (That's an independent site, I don't work for the creators.)

"Everyone in the department has their own data on Excel and Word, none of it ties up and no-one can find anything." Admittedly, if you need serious hardcore document sharing with versioning and the like it does not have that out of the box. You can attach documents to posts pretty easily.
posted by mrmorgan at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2004

Grahamwell - The company I worked for rolled it's own.

Disclaimer: I'm a PHP developer, but I'm not currently for hire for projects like this, although I do know people who are.

After working at three or four companies and implementing diverse content management, project management and work flow systems as a consultant, I've come to the conclusion that if interoperability between companies isn't a requirement and the company doesn't currently have anything electronic in place, it's *really* hard to bring in a standardized platform. Simply put, to get people to use a software product that requires them to shrare, you first need to install a software product that replicates what they do without the software product.

So if you've got a bunch of people that store everything in excel files on their desktops...
a) Figure out what they're storing
b) Figure out what the best way to store the information is.
--- If, for instance, it's customer data ... you need a customer relationship management database. A Wiki may or may not work in this situation, but a lot of groupware packages need to be hacked to hold this kind of info well ... and to hold the specific kind of information that they're probably storing. Remember that you'll want it searchable...
--- If, for instance, it's technical data -- a wiki's a good solution, but you could also install a quick content management system that'll let people either copy their Word data up or do a word "save as html" and save it up there.
--- If there are any electronic systems in place, either subvert them into your system or replace them. Don't set up a hodge-podge. Set up an integrated system.
c) Demonstrate a need for it. Make people depend on it. This is going to involve a lot of elbow rubbing with managers and the managers' people who should use it. Question them and address their needs. Then, get the managers to establish policies that require their people to use the system. "You've got an order, Mr. Salesman? Your client needs it tomorrow? Well, let me look them up in the customer database... oh, wait, he's not in there? Please go put him in there... I can't process this order until he is." ... sounds anal, but if there aren't processes you can't control the data. That brings us to...
d) Retain control. Standardize on ONE system for ONE kind of data. (In a company I worked for, the Tech Support group maintained technical assistance fault trees, bug reports, and all kinds of technical information SEPARATELY from the bug database that IT used to fix the products. Guess what happened? Bug reports didn't make it into the IT database, and they never got fixed, and customers kept complaining and the tech support manager was livid at the IT manager because ... *drum roll* the tech support manager's people didn't put the bug report into the right database!) Don't replicate data.

*cackles to self* -- And one web service to serve them all, and in the darkness.... *ahem* oh, sorry, lost hold of myself there for a sec.

If you want to email me separately with questions, send an email to karl atnospam katzke d0t net. (Adjusted appropriately to remove spam filter foil.) ... I've been here, done that, and I have drawers full of T-shirts. ;) I can tell you specifically what would be the best way to get started if I know more about the data you need.
posted by SpecialK at 12:39 PM on January 17, 2004

SharePoint does seem to be the weapon of choice for large companies on Windows. The one I'm intrigued by is WASTE, though that's much more of a DIY thing.
posted by yerfatma at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2004

After being terribly disappointed with phpProjekt et al., I actually found dotproject to fit the bill pretty well.
posted by oissubke at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2004

I did a long tech evaluation for managment on the Sharepoint beta, with help from the folks at Microsoft Australia. Executive summary : it sucked. Whether it does still or not, I don't know. Poorly conceived, haphazadly realized.

Lotus Bloats is a nightmare, too, in my opinion, but there are those who love it.

One intriguing possibility that I was also investigating, back in the day, was Groove. A very, very cool technology, created under the auspices of Ray Ozzie, formerly of Lotus Goats fame, but distributed, peer-to-peery, and available, securely, outside the firewall too. Worth looking into. I haven't looked at it in a couple of years, but I was blown away by the technology at the time, in much the same way that I was totally underwhelmed by the Sharepoint solution. I think MS has invested heavily in Groove Networks since, not surprisingly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:29 PM on January 17, 2004

That first sentence should include '...back in 2000'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:30 PM on January 17, 2004

Sorry about the spelling irregularities. Knead cowffea.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:31 PM on January 17, 2004

I'd be happy if I had a simple system to let us check out spreadsheets, and then return them for someone else to work on. We have groupwise, but they won't turn on the "share documents" feature because of server space.

Any other way to do this that doesn't require consistent, intelligent behavior from luddite co-workers?
posted by mecran01 at 5:43 PM on January 17, 2004

The thing is, this is not a technology problem as much as it is a cultural challenge within your organization. There have been thousands of "failed" (by various definitions) groupware implementations over the past 15 years because the assumption has been that people just need the right tool and they will start taking advantage of it. This is, in fact, almost never the case; even email and the Web had a very long adaptation curve.

One has to start with the needs users actually have as well as how users perceive those needs and how they can be answered. It is not an impossible task, but the starting point has to be the users, not the system. I suggest checking out The Social Life of Information.

And what SpecialK said.
posted by tranquileye at 5:40 AM on January 18, 2004

I'd be happy if I had a simple system to let us check out spreadsheets, and then return them for someone else to work on. We have groupwise, but they won't turn on the "share documents" feature because of server space.

my company uses mostly open source type server software, but for the exact use you are describing, we purchased the commercial product perforce. we use it both for software source code, and for various company documents. (other similiar systems are cvs, microsoft source safe etc.)

and i haven't found a groupware product i like yet, tho the boss keeps asking for one.
posted by lescour at 8:40 AM on January 18, 2004

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