Using Lotus Connections: Social Software for Your Enterprise
Lotus Connections is an enterprise social software suite of tools that can be used to address various common business challenges, such as finding expertise, sharing information effectively, and enabling teams to work together. The challenges Lotus Connections helps to solve are not new to businesses. Over the past several decades, companies have searched for ways to improve collaboration among their workers. Many trends in collaboration tools have been tried and tested. Some technologies (such as email) have stayed with companies, while other trends have been replaced or have fizzled out.
Social software brings a new element to the collaborative tools landscape that is not about the technology or the tools themselves but rather how people use them. Although first emerging as consumer technologies, public profiles, blogs, and social bookmarks all have a common element of sharing from the ground up. This appeals to users who gain value from these tools and share information they find valuable. While new forms of sharing emerged on the consumer side, enterprises quickly saw their value and began applying these technologies to everyday work practices.
Lotus Connections provides social tools to employees and can even create external communities for their customers and partners. It consists of several social tools packaged together in an integrated suite:
- Profiles is a web-based company directory that displays status updates, basic contact information, job title, divisions, and geographies for every person. In addition, Profiles shows corporate structure, skills, background information, and photographs and is searchable by any of these fields.
- Communities allow groups of people with similar interests to gather. When in the community, members can exchange information and ideas, share tasks, discuss topics, and more.
- Files allow individuals and groups to upload and share files of any type publicly or privately.
- Wikis enable people to collaborate around a document or coauthor pages specific to a topic or community.
- Blogs provide a voice for people to express their ideas and have discussions despite organizational silos or time zone differences.
- Social Bookmarks, formerly referred to as Dogear, is a service that allows Internet and intranet pages to be saved for future reference and shared with the company.
- Activities is aimed at helping individuals and groups organize their work, no matter which or how many tools they use.
- Home Page is the place that brings all of this information together.
For more information about Lotus Connections features, see Chapter 2, "Introducing Lotus Connections 2.5."
In this chapter, we'll examine how a typical user might use Lotus Connections, incorporating its many components and features into the daily work routine.
A Day in the Life Using Lotus Connections
Heather is a new employee at Renovations Inc. On her first day, she goes to orientation and fills out the standard new employee forms. She is urged at the end of the orientation session to fill out her profile on the intranet and get acquainted with the collaboration tools that are available. When Heather goes to her desk, she opens the intranet site to learn about what she can do with the tools available.
Searching for Expertise
First, Heather heads into the Profiles section of Lotus Connections. Here, she can search for people based on information she might know about them, including name, phone number, or email address (see Figure 6.1). Or she can browse and/or search based on a keyword or skill. A profile search looks at the information available in the About Me, Background, Tag, and even Contact Information sections for the right match. She runs a search on people who went to her college and finds Jasmine. From here, Heather can chat with Jasmine, tag her, leave her a comment, add her as a colleague, or view some of Jasmine's contributions in her communities, blog, social bookmarks, or activities.
Figure 6.1 A typical Lotus Connections profile
Learning About an Expert Through Content Sharing
Heather wants to learn more about what Jasmine does at Renovations, so she decides to check out her blog. Here Heather learns that Jasmine is interested in technology and social software. Heather can view the conversations that people have based on what Jasmine writes about. People from all over Renovations discuss topics in blogs no matter what department or geography they are in. Using tags, Heather can navigate around the blogs to learn about the topics people in Renovations are discussing the most, and even join in the conversation herself (see Figure 6.2).
Figure 6.2 Jasmine's blog
Now Heather decides to check out what Jasmine is sharing in her social files. Here people in Renovations can share their files of interest with others, publicly or privately, allowing others to download a file from a central place rather than emailing it around. Heather can view files that are being shared with her; files that she has shared; and collections, or groupings, of files (see Figure 6.3). Files can be rated and commented on to promote social interaction, and versions can be stored.
Figure 6.3 Social files being shared
Finding Like-Minded Communities
Now that Heather has used some of the social software tools available to her, she wants to join in the conversations and work with other people. One way she can do this is to find communities of interest to her. She goes to the Communities area and browses them based on their tags and their popularity. She can also look for communities based on keywords. In the community, people have discussions, share bookmarks and feeds, and can collaboratively author wiki pages, among other actions. One community she finds matches her interest in environmental issues, so she simply clicks the Join button to be added to the members for that community (see Figure 6.4).
Figure 6.4 A Communities home page
Bringing It All Together
One of Heather's first assignments at Renovations is to help with an environmental impact assessment they are conducting at the company to see where they should be cutting back on waste and improving energy usage. Heather's boss added her to an activity in which she and several others will be working on this assessment. In this activity, all the relevant emails, chats, files, and information is stored for the team to use to do their assessment. They use the activity to organize the information they need and plan the impact report they will all be building. After the report is complete, they can mark the activity complete as well, keeping it in their completed list for future reference (see Figure 6.5).
Figure 6.5 Overview of an activity
Using Your Daily Tools
One of the benefits of Lotus Connections is that it can be used from various tools instead of (or in addition to) the web interface. Lotus Connections provides a set of plug-ins to environments such as Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, WebSphere Portal, Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint, and more so that Heather can access relevant social data when she needs it from wherever she is. Organizations like Renovations can create extensions into their own environment using the Lotus Connections API. For example, they can add Lotus Connections data to their intranet search results or create plug-ins to custom applications.