During the London roadshow, a gentleman came up to me and asked about a solution to allow CAD designers to synchronize jobs across two branch offices. Basically his problem was that the ADSL connection between the offices was too slow to easily transfer large CAD files back and forth. Another problem was that multiple designers on one project caused a huge versioning problem, meaning at any given point designers were not confident that they were working on the latest version of the file.
This individual was asking if a SharePoint environment would allow for synchronization and better collaboration. My response to him was, "yes, but it depends on what functionality you want and how much you want to spend." If this was the Microsoft of the old days, I would have stated the monumental productivity benefits he could realize with deploying a $20,000 SharePoint environment; instead I took on the role of a trusted advisor and gave him phased approach to addressing multiple issues.
It would have been too easy to say "well you need a faster Internet connection which should then be linked by two ISA servers, and then you need to deploy MOSS 2007 so that you can have a secure central repository where you can check-in and check-out project files." *gasping for air* Instead, I drilled down to the exact business problem he was trying to solve using a Microsoft technique called Precision Questioning (PQ). Here is what I asked him:
Q: What kind of content are you looking to synchronize?
A: CAD design files
Q: How big are the files?
A: What do you mean? blah blah blah *long story*
Q: No no, what I mean to ask is the order of magnitude, megabytes, gigabytes, kilobytes? Less than 1GB per project, less than 100MB?
A: Okay, less than 100MB
Q: How many designers do you employ?
A: around 10
Q: Great. Is there more than one person working on a project at any given time or is it one person per project?
A: Many people
Q: Does your CAD software have file-level version control or track changes capability?
A: Not sure
These 6 questions probably saved this guy over $15,000 because I was able to recommend a combination of Microsoft Office Groove 2007, which is available individually or as part of the Microsoft Office Ultimate and Enterprise suite, and Windows SharePoint Services, which is free with Windows Server. *as in beer*
With only ten designers, having a strict check-in and check-out policy isn't a requirement and since the files are very small, designers can actually store most of the active projects in a Groove Workspace which would then be duplicated across all of their machines. Furthermore, utilizing, WSS's storage capabilities *network share on steroids*, any inactive or completed project could be archived in a central repository via Groove by the project lead and removed from all machines.
Specifically around syncing, Groove not only synchronizes files between users automatically, but it gives real-time presence about when changes occur so that people know there is a new version of a document to review. To remedy the slow ADSL connection, Groove uses binary-differencing to send only the changes over the wire meaning a 400KB change to a 100MB file will only push out around 400KB.
Revision control is the interesting question. If the CAD software stores revision information within the file, then it is not necessary to explicitly use WSS's document revision control. My recommendation in this case was to evaluate the necessity of strict revision control in a "phase two" plan but in the mean time get people synchronized on Groove to address the collaboration pain points.
Within fifteen minutes, we had an actionable three-tiered execution roadmap to address collaboration concerns, information management concerns, and finally infrastructure optimization in order of priority
There are so many things I could talk about around Groove, but at the end of the day all we really care about is the being in the green. Maybe it's a coincidence that Groove's icon color is green, or maybe someone's just trying to say that real collaboration doesn't have to send your organization in the red. Regardless, new tools that are being released in the marketplace are only making it cheaper to have advanced collaboration functionality. Finally, don't believe collaboration snake oil messaging. Software only enables, but its up to the businesses to develop best practices in the work place.
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IT'S OVER! --VT