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Software tools making it easy to be apart but work together

Even kindergartners understand the importance of sharing and working together, yet adults in the workplace are still looking for simple ways to do these very things—especially when team members are in different locations.

Information scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a set of web-based tools to encourage and improve interactions among team members and the data they need.

"CollabraSuite creates a cyber social environment. It's a place where people can share information, knowledge and tools," said Mary Sue Hoxie, a senior research scientist in information sciences and engineering.

CollabraSuite's four tools can be used together or independently. They include a photo library called DigiSource; a presentation library called Presentation-Source; the Scoreboard, which tracks documents and activities; and the Brainstorming Tool, used to facilitate discussions among team members.

Check it out

The DigiSource tool within CollabraSuite builds and manages a media library that stores electronic photo files or other graphics. Team members can browse, sort or search the images to quickly find what they need. They also can submit images so others can download them.

Presenting…

Similarly, the PresentationSource tool in CollabraSuite allows users to browse or search their group's collection of Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations. While viewing all the slides in a presentation on a single web site, users can choose individual slides to add to their "portfolio." The portfolio, with slides from one or more sources, becomes a custom presentation that can be downloaded or sent to someone via e-mail.

Who's on first

Much like scoreboards at sporting events that give fans an idea of what's happening, CollabraSuite's online Scoreboard gives team members a snapshot status report.

For example, the Scoreboard can be used to track a document through all phases of the review, comment and approval process. After submitting a document and selecting who needs to review it, users can log in to read others' comments or check if the document has been approved.

"This is more than an information repository. It encourages communication and interaction that are critical to collective work," said David Gillen, another senior research scientist who helped develop CollabraSuite. "Tools for collaboration—bulletin boards, real-time chats and application sharing—are built right in." Through application sharing, multiple people in different locations can open the same document at the same time and work on it together.

Let's take a vote

The fourth component of CollabraSuite is the Brainstorming Tool. Users can respond to a question posted on the site by a facilitator as well as review and react to the ideas submitted by their team members. This tool supports ranking or voting on ideas during online brainstorming. Facilitators can choose among different voting methods such as yes-no answers or ranking options in order of priority.

While the software provides a flexible environment for people to share information and see each other's work, it also supports security features and encryption to protect vital data. A person designated as the CollabraSuite administrator must grant access to users and can set different levels of access depending on the users' needs.

Pacific Northwest is seeking opportunities to license CollabraSuite to organizations that would use it directly or are interested in reselling the software tools to other industries.

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