Collaborating From a Single Pane of Glass

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Publicly traded utility company consolidates collaboration and communication tools in the email inbox.

Enabling Centralized Access

One part of our plan to solve these problems was to enable documents from throughout the company to be housed in a single repository for centralized access. SharePoint was already used by hundreds of users and was therefore the obvious choice to provide core collaboration functions such as content management, document collaboration and enterprise search. 

The next step was to determine which email platform to use to fulfill our vision of providing access to multiple tools from the inbox. We had used Lotus Notes for more than a decade, but there was no integration between IBM and Microsoft. We could have replaced Notes with Outlook to standardize on the Microsoft stack, but we preferred to maximize investments in our existing infrastructure and spare our employees the pain of migrating to a new email environment unnecessarily.

To bring SharePoint into the Notes environment, however, we needed to find a cross-platform IBM-Microsoft solution. In addition, the solution had to offer built-in access management capabilities to ensure our ability to comply with the rigorous confidentiality requirements inherent in our business.

Eventually our search led to Harmon.ie for SharePoint, social email software that provides point-and-click access to SharePoint and other disparate communication and collaboration tools from an email sidebar in either Outlook or Lotus Notes. Harmon.ie for SharePoint, Lotus Notes Edition, makes it possible to deliver an integrated user experience across Lotus Notes and SharePoint despite the lack of integration between the two vendors’ operating systems.

With that email sidebar, users will be able to drag and drop documents from Notes or elsewhere on their desktops to the SharePoint repository, share them as document links, search and access SharePoint document libraries, and follow document updates in real time in a Harmon.ie-created SharePoint activity stream to expedite project work. In addition, they will be able to instantly connect with document writers and editors using the unified communications tools built into the same window.

Other abilities will range from accessing SharePoint profiles and searching synchronized American Water directories to scheduling team and project meetings from merged Notes, SharePoint and Google calendars.

We piloted our unified email, communications and collaboration solution to user desktops in mid-2011 as part of a migration to Windows 7, and deployment is expected to be complete by late 2013. While it is too soon to measure results, one survey indicated 90 percent support for the one-stop strategy.

In the next phase, our 2,000-plus mobile workers will be equipped with similar unified communication and collaboration capabilities. That will provide these employees with easy in-the-field access to system maps, water hydrant locations and other business-critical information stored in SharePoint from ruggedized computers in their trucks.

The success of the project rests on the two cornerstones laid at the beginning: replacing multiple disjointed tools with a single interface that eliminates application switching, and enabling employees to stay in the email environment in which they are accustomed to working. From early indications, those decisions will facilitate SharePoint adoption, information sharing, document co-authoring and other collaborative work for all American Water employees. That, of course, is the goal.

Steve Brescia is manager of ITS enterprise architecture for American Water.

This article was originally published on 2012-07-26
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