GM to standardise on collaboration tool

General Motors has long used collaboration tools and services to set up online meetings and share business data related to vehicle sales, legal and buyer financing issues and vehicle design around the world. Now GM is seeking to standardize on a single collaboration package with appropriate security controls that GM will use on the Internet with suppliers as well as internal employees.

"With application sharing, you have the ability to see someone's work," said Nick Andreou, GM's engineering group manager for collaboration during the recent Auto-Tech Conference for auto industry suppliers. "We have engineering and sales groups all over the globe. And we need to have a way for people to do their work at home, too." In what GM calls its "ONE GM" initiative for a common collaboration tool for use by both employees and suppliers, the automaker has enlisted the help of Electronic Data Systems and Microsoft to build customized software based on Microsoft's SharePoint technologies.

Today, GM uses the Microsoft NetMeeting data collaboration software, among other tools, for online meetings among any of GM's 340,000 employees connected via GM's global private network. The automaker has to go outside its firewall to engage in online collaboration with suppliers, and for that, GM typically turns to the AT&T service based on the WebEx software for online meetings. However, GM has reservations about using a service to share sensitive data.

GM's vision for the future is to standardize on a single collaboration tool it would operate itself as a service for use by both employees and suppliers for instant messaging, whiteboard, calendaring, file sharing and perhaps video. To that end, GM has hired EDS to work with Microsoft to build a customized collaboration tool based on the Microsoft SharePoint technologies.

The customized tool, which GM calls TeamCenter Community, is tailored to be integrated into GM's LDAP-based directories and GM's IBM-based Lotus Notes messaging system to route files, store them and provide appropriate security based on a GM security login process.

Designing the appropriate security has been the biggest challenge so far in designing TeamCenter Community, says Andreou.

"We have to establish a robust security method to let suppliers into our firewall," said Andreou. Software designers are close to completing that stage of the project, and GM expects to be able to use the applications internally by year-end. Suppliers will be expected to use the TeamCenter application tool at some point in the future, licensing client software from Microsoft for it, Andreou added. But this won't be until next year at the earliest.

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