With the increasing use of Web 2.0 systems such as blogs, wikis and online social networks, pressure on corporate ICT and top management to allow similar tools and environments within the office will increase, says Sean Boiling, who manages BEA’s systems engineers in Australia and New Zealand.
A more flexible use of office networks, particularly for collaboration on projects, can be productive, he says, whether it’s simply drafting documents and sharing them with fellow workers who may edit them, locating sources of knowledge and expertise within the company or building a full application (as one might today build a spreadsheet) to solve a specific and possible only shortlived problem.
It is logical, Boiling says, that workers will want to use in the office versions of the tools and environments they use beneficially from home.
Many IT departments see such developments as undisciplined, outside their control and therefore risky for the information architecture and ICT function of the business as a whole.
BEA has now produced a suite of applications — to be formally released later this month — which it claims will allow the IT operation to exert appropriate regulation and “governance” over such systems.
Some of the software comes from functionality already being used by BEA’s staff internally, Boiling says.
The new tools fulfil and expand on the experimental project code-named Holland (Computerworld, August 14, 2006). One of the promises of this was the “enterprise application wiki” — an editable web-page with links into corporate databases, allowing data to be pulled in.
Most of this capability will emerge in the form of an application called Aqualogic Pages. This allows simple documents to be shared and amended by a number of users, but those documents can also use corporate data. In particular “you can bring in anything that has an RSS feed,” Boiling says. This should lead to pressure to equip corporate data sources with an RSS front-end.
Pages also features a facility for building basic applications to deal with specific business challenges or information-gathering needs, so-called “situational applications”.
If a company had to recall some product owing to a failure of quality control, for example, a team can collaborate on announcement material and on mapping the outlets to which the faulty product has been distributed, so they can be optimally visited in sequence and checked off as the product is replaced.
It might take weeks for the IT department to develop and test such an application.
Today’s way of achieving this is through emailing reports and spreadsheets among staff. This loses the timeliness and “liveliness” that is part of information sharing in a team, he says. “There’s no point your working on version 1 of a document, when your colleagues [who have faster email or check it more often] may already be on version 2.”
The second new application is named Aqualogic Pathways and encourages users to release content into shared areas, tagging it with appropriate subjects and categories so other users can find it.
By keeping track of the people that release information on certain topics, the system will identify the experts in those topics, Boiling says.
There are shortcomings in the formation of this kind of “tag cloud”, he acknowledges; those who are not skilled at tagging appropriately might find their content disappears off the map. Such negative effects can be mitigated by crawler programs automatically tagging content, by automatically suggesting tags as a document is created, and/or by banning certain tags.
The third element of the trio, Ensemble, goes some way towards restoring the guiding hand of the IT department, by providing a library of standard widgets and portlets for users to build into their situational applications. These will be equipped with appropriate security layers so applications are built safely.