by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 29 September 2011
Making important business decisions was much simpler earlier, when work spaces were bunched in one location. The rise of the Internet has complicated the decision making process. Collaboration has taken a hit due to distributed work spaces that span across cities and countries. Similarly, the availability (and glut) of information has made transparency in the decision-making process impossible. Video conferencing, which is the closest option to a real-world setting is an expensive option for small businesses. This week we review a solution that might be a solution to this conundrum. We will review SAP StreamWork - a solution that makes collaboration and decision making in a distributed work place much easier. We will look at its interface, features and see how it can be of use to you.
BUT ISN'T SAP AN ERP COMPANY? You are right about that. That is why my first question to Mika Sissonen, manager of OnDemand marketing at SAP, was about SAP's foray into this space. According to him, the trigger was an effort to marry their "systems of record" with "systems of engagement."
"At the heart of our work as an ERP company are systems of record that focus on recording all business events, such as financial transactions, orders, and inventors," he says. "Over the last 10 years, SAP expanded its focus to help users employ these data and bring it together to engage customers, partners and suppliers." This engagement, according to him, resulted in insight, new strategies, and informed decisions. Part of this engagement involves business collaboration. "SAP StreamWork can help companies deliver critical work while enabling productivity, a seamless working environment, and more informed, fact-based decision-making in a secure solution that can be used across the enterprise," he says.
I found it true. SAP StreamWork is cohesive, in that it allows you to work in the context of your business, not in a separate collaborative solution that isn't integrated with your applications or processes. Using the enterprise edition of SAP StreamWork, you can integrate collaboration directly into your existing business applications, Web 2.0 applications, and business processes - so that, for instance, you can collaborate with others to close a sales opportunity, develop your company's KPIs, brainstorm and manage ideas, or analyze reports and create hypotheses.
But there are already enough free collaboration tools in the market.
So, what distinguishes SAP StreamWork from other, similar tools in the market?
According to Sissonen, the difference between SAP StreamWork and other generic tools is that the latter are not goal-oriented. "They leave users to figure out what to do with them," he says. In practical terms, this means that SAP StreamWork provides users with tangible tools, such as business templates and pro/con or SWOT tables to analyze strengths and weaknesses, to reach a decision.
COLLABORATING WITH SAP STREAMWORK I have worked with Wiki workspaces in an earlier corporate existence. So, I was intrigued with the idea of investigating a different kind of collaboration tool. But, SAP StreamWork turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Collaboration in SAP StreamWork begins with defining an activity. An activity is a shared workspace of documents, meeting notes, and other artifacts that constitute or are relevant to make important business decisions. Once you have created an activity, you can invite people relevant to the decision-making and collaboration process to that activity.
The fun starts after your team has been assembled.
Apart from marrying systems of record and engagement, SAP StreamWork also marries collaborative workspaces and social networks. Think about it as a Wiki meets Facebook and Twitter. So, your workspace for a particular activity functions as a feed, where you can like, comment or message fellow members. In addition, you can follow people to get updates based on their social profile, work status or work history.
You can also add tools (by adding them to favorites) necessary to arrive at decisions for a particular project. Each tool is organized according to different categories such as basic or deciding. For example, responsibility matrices, time management and timeline tools are available under the basic category. Similarly, you can also embed external tools such as Youtube videos to the timeline. The idea, of course, is to harness the capabilities of social networks and information available over the Internet to take decisions.
For most of us, Google Docs is already the default collaboration application. To shorten the learning curve, folks at the SAP StreamWork have collaborated with the application by integrating with popular applications such as Google Docs and Evernote. "Each of our integrations is focused on helping people work the way they already prefer to work," says Sissonen. "If you are using Google Docs for document sharing and collaboration, you can simply start sharing and editing them via SAP StreamWork instead of having to maintain login details for two applications (since we offer single-sign-on with Google accounts)."
Not only does this reduce the learning curve, it also smooths the integration process with SAP StreamWork. "You can easily bring documents and notes from those applications, if you are already using them - instead of having to upload those documents and notes to SAP StreamWork," says Sissonen.
You can also connect third-party tools using the four APIs - OpenSocial API, Method API, Integration API, and Feed API. In addition, Sissonen says "you can customize the application by either building tools to add to the SAP StreamWorks tool library or integrating activity feeds or links from SAP StreamWork into an organizational tool".
THE BASICS: WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
It looks simple, uncluttered and easy on the eyes. The application uses a two panel interface. While the main menu at the top is used to navigate the application, the side menu is used to navigate within sub-menus.
SUPPORTING THE SYSTEM System support runs the gamut of support forums, user guides, videos, and a forum to accept new ideas. The videos especially interested me because they have been made with the application. Their structure is especially interesting: pauses have been integrated immediately after each action to enable the user to replicate the action. Keeping appropriately with the social network theme of the application, each new idea receives votes from users and is promoted in the hierarchy. Interestingly, although the forum categories for ideas contains hot, new, accepted, and completed ideas. No rejected ideas. I like that!
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you are interested in a world-class solution at low costs, then the solution is definitely for you. SAP StreamWork enables real-time collaboration in a fun and socially relevant way.