Stimulate Virtual Work Environments

If you are captive of drop-everything, produce-information-now fire drills that create hectic sorting of e-mails or other files, deliverance comes through Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp.’s (MS, www.microsoft.com) Office SharePoint Server’s collaborative technology.

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“It’s a platform for building applications for groups of people who want to share information or work together on a common project,” declares Larry Roshfeld, senior vice president of Reston, Va.-based CorasWorks (www.corasworks.net), which provides workplace-applications software for SharePoint. The MS technology excites lots of organizations, he believes. “They can build their own department applications without having to rely literally on IT (information technology groups).”

SharePoint replaces office procedures around an organization, “regardless of where it is,” declares Ronald Simmons, a scientific and technical advisor for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, www.faa.gov). He helped bring MS 2003 SharePoint to the FAA, where there are now 22,000 SharePoint end-users in the agency’s Knowledge Services Network.

Through the technology, Simmons realizes his dream of virtual work environments and making them work better. “What I think has happened in the past 10 years is that a lot of our daily processes that we use to manage programs have seeped over into e-mail,” he observes. “But I said, ‘Let’s get out of e-mail.’ ”

Real-world examples of how SharePoint overcame e-mail’s limitations come out of the U.S. Marine Corps’ (www.usmc.mil) mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom. When they found issues needing resolution, such as armor for vehicles, Marines once notified Marines Corps headquarters by e-mail in an urgent unfunded needs statement (urgent UNS). Someone in Iraq completed a Microsoft-based form, attached it to an e-mail message and launched it, says Simmons, who’s now on loan to the Marine Corps at its Quantico, Va., headquarters, as director of knowledge management integration. The request had to pass through eight or nine different processes prior to approval. “But at the end of the day, when a general staff officer asked, ‘How many urgent UNSes did I get?’ how did anyone know?”

Ask no more

By shifting the entire process to SharePoint within the past three or four months, Simmons solved that. The former e-mail-based process is now completed via a secure server, in an extranet, that creates a virtual work environment. “If anyone wants to know how urgent the UNSes are, they simply go into SharePoint. They can see where the requests are in the approval chain and how long they’ve been in it,” he states. “Now they don’t have to stop everything and complete the fire drill. In fact, the general doesn’t have to ask the question. He can access that information directly.”

This situational awareness—everyone having on-demand access to the information they need—fits squarely into Milpitas, Calif.-based SanDisk Corp.’s use of SharePoint. “We use it as our corporate intranet,” says Ramon Lim, senior IT manager in the corporation’s enterprise-process-management group. He notes that SanDisk, a provider of flash-memory data storage products, is in the midst of migrating from MS 2003 to MS 2007 Office SharePoint, which was introduced earlier this year.

“SharePoint goes beyond traditional intranet, where information is disseminated to the rest of the company,” Lim explains. While SanDisk still uses the MS technology that way, the company also uses it with approximately 2,800 employees because of its dynamic, collaborative aspect. “Some groups use SharePoint for project and/or task management. Some use it for sharing documents, tracking meeting minutes. Version control, too,” Lim adds. Some groups want to be able to have raw documents reviewed and approved, then posted quickly, he says. Others use SharePoint for information searches, through shared files or connection to the corporate intranet or Worldwide Web.

Lim also agrees that SharePoint stimulates virtual work environments. “Every single site is a collaboration site, a working space for individuals, a virtual team.” 

 

C. Kenna Amos,

 

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