Story 2014-11-17 2V33 Ask Pipedot: small office collaboration/messaging

Ask Pipedot: small office collaboration/messaging

in ask on (#2V33)
Here's the situation: you've got a small office of 8-20 employees who work in a consulting business and whose main products/deliverables are reports, spreadsheets, occasional CAD drawings, Gantt charts, project plans, and the like. Not only do they produce those things, they receive reports for which they produce comments/observations. Much of what they produce is collaborative or iterative (ie, not necessarily 'live editing' of spreadsheets, but several people must all contribute to a doc over the space of a week or so). To do so, they need efficient means of communication, discussion, versioning, etc.

Needs: document repository, shared editing of many types of documents, a messaging system for internal office communication, "sharing" system that permits clients to upload or download large files, a managed-content "front page" web site, an internal intranet, shared calendars, contacts lists, some sort of system to produce and maintain office policies and procedures, and otherwise manage internal communications and office admin. Some considerations for discussion, so I'm intentionally not specifying: (1) ideally, systems are usable by different OSes. Obviously there are going to be problems ensuring total OS independence. (2) ideally, the system doesn't require full-time online presence. Should a consultant wind up in a basement office with no internet, he won't be totally lost (again, not perfect). Note: no obligation for Free/Open Source software, although they are preferred. The goal here is an office that communicates and collaborates efficiently.

Ten years ago, you'd be sitting in a cube farm, using Microsoft Office and a shared drive and emailing documents back and forth. Later they'd have added Sharepoint. These days, there's been a ton of innovation in these areas, and there's consensus that collaboration-by-email is not fun. And there are lots of new approaches to these age-old problems.

So, how would you do it?
Reply 12 comments

Engage A Consultant (Score: 1, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-11-17 15:46 (#2V3A)

These days, there's been a ton of innovation in these areas, and there's consensus that collaboration-by-email is not fun. And there are lots of new approaches to these age-old problems.

So, how would you do it?
I'd hire a consultant.

OK, seriously, what you are describing is nowadays referred to as a CMS - which can variously refer to call, contact, customer, configuration or content management system.

Some of the Wikipedia articles I'm about to cite identify some of the attributes that people care about, such as the ability to interact with the system via an electronic mail interface, or a web interface, or support for a specific operating system, or adherence to a specific license.

Each of those attributes translates into a choice of different software packages, which it is worth your while to negotiate if only to keep the results manageable, so that, after the dust settles down, you don't have three or four different, contending open source RDBMS installed.

And so we return to the original advice: engage a consultant.

My personal favorite is RedMine, but the last time I chedked they didn't support FreeBSD too well, and there was that horrible dependency upon Ruby.

Many people like Trac, but the last time I looked, it didn't have security.

Re: Engage A Consultant (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2014-11-17 17:34 (#2V3G)

Good advice, but your own response seems to me a reminder that there are no integrated systems that completely fit the situation (no surprise there) and it takes serious professional help to identify and install relevant systems.

Just discovered, which is a doc repository that allows for check-in/out, team editing, and such. There used to be a similar system called o3spaces (Dutch), but they turned their attention to some kind of new Android/iOS app that does team writing, and they've let the collaboration system lapse, which is too bad - it was based on Tomcat and ran well. There are probably a few others out there. O3spaces had neat plugins for OpenOffice and MS Word so you could check out, edit, and then check back in your docs. That was awesome, but since the OO.o-LibreOffice split I haven't seen anyone updating their plugins and this model seems to be falling out of favor in lieu of constant-connection online editing, which is good if you're all plugged into fat connections but bad news otherwise.

On the messaging side, the ycombinator folks are crazy about something called which seems like running your business on twitter (internal communications) with links to Trello, Github, others. Seems pretty neat, but the messages don't get organized in a tree, so you've kind of got a running feed, which annoys me. I'd almost prefer an internal NTTP site (no peering, sharing) instead of corporate email, which sucks.

Google Apps for Business (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2014-11-17 17:12 (#2V3F)

Excellent email, Google Drive does all the document collaboration you could ask for including offline access and multiple platform support, great calendaring, chat, etc. It's $50/user/year. You can't even buy a server for that.Google sites will take care of the intranet needs. What am I missing here?

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-17 18:29 (#2V3H)

I was going to say the same. I'd been working for a company that was on google for a couple of years until we got bought. Now it's Microsoft whatever.

As a remote user on a Mac, Microsoft blows.

Downsides of google:
No Gantt/project planning software.
Google drive is flexible and unstructured. Sometimes it'd be nice to have a more rigid document layout and enforcement.

Really stellar upsides:
Google Hangouts (super useful for remote users)
Drive has been very useful

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2014-11-17 19:53 (#2V3J)

I'm going to keep playing the devil's advocate here, not because I disagree but simply because it leads to more discovery. My current company standardized on a bog-standard Microsoft shared drive, which for lack of curation/management turned into a corporate document landfill. I find Google Drive to be the cloud version of the same. Yes you can store a load of documents in sub-folders and such there, but it doesn't offer more sophisticated features like check-in, check-out, versioning, and so on (as far as I know).

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 1, Insightful)

by on 2014-11-17 20:06 (#2V3K)

I'm going to keep playing the devil's advocate here, not because I disagree but simply because it leads to more discovery.
Offtopic response. But this coincides with my sayings that every forum needs a certain amount of trolls. I have seen more forums die because of a lack of trolls than because of too many trolls. Trolls might individually be disgusting, but can keep threads and discussions alive. And often this leads to new discoveries. We'll see if a devil's advocate is a sufficient troll replacement. :-D

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-17 20:48 (#2V3M)

Maybe a devil's advocate is like a troll who is too daft to post anonymously :) I think you're right. The really sad thing about Slashdot these days is that the trolling is really amateur. A good troll has to be very carefully crafted and quite subtle. These days the level of dialogue is so banal the trolls all look like wankers. Where's the sport in that?

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-17 21:10 (#2V3P)

I don't really care when on /. the members troll. It is troll articles where I draw the line. And /. has far too many of those for quite some time. I lost every bit of respect I once had for /. as platform itself.

Re: Google Apps for Business (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-17 21:31 (#2V3R)

Nope - you're totally right about google drive. On the plus side it's totally cross platform (if you include web access).

On the downside, managing it means someone has to manage it. If you have small teams and everyone picks up after themselves, it can work well. Otherwise (for those of us in the real world), it tends to get real messy real fast.

I don't know of any good solution to the problem.

Any comments on alternatives to email? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-18 11:32 (#2V40)

Was thinking that actually, Usenet technology is good for team collaboration on a project. With email, you only have access to the messages sent to you since you've arrived on the team, and you miss out on all the history. With an internal NTTP spool, all project conversation winds up in a single location, everyone has access to every message ever sent, and any new employee simply has to take the time to read through the history to see "how we got here." It also eliminates huge problems of attachments (impossible: post them to the doc repository and send a link), storage/replication of multiple mailboxes, and more. On the downside: 80 char hard wrapped, fewer and fewer useful clients, and it's different for a lot of workers who are used to Outlook + Reply All.

"Slack" is supposed to operate the same way, but doesn't thread its replies, which is inexplicable to me. I've found no other good substitutes other than perhaps a good mailing list with archive. Any suggestions for mail archive?

Re: Any comments on alternatives to email? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-11-18 14:42 (#2V43)

Yeah, I think google wave would have also been a good solution ( aside from the lack of portability and propritaryness) . But I never had the opportunity to use it to its potential. So maybe not.

But a mailing list would serve the same purpose, right? You'd just need to configure their clients to filter the messages off into the right categories. So maybe usnet would be better because it would do some of that automatically, but with lists people could use whatever client.

Confluence Jira Sharepoint Trim Lync CaServicedesk (Score: 1, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-11-18 21:47 (#2V48)

Confluence for wiki, intranet and collaboration
JIRA for task tracking and workflows.
Trim for final document management.
Sharepoint for shared document editing, personal workspace, NOT for wiki pages
Lync for IM
ServiceDesk for CRM, customer tickets, customer interaction.

Pity Jira isn't up to the same level of CRM Servicedesk can do. RT3 was previously used to good effect.

Internal IM must support file transfer. Plenty of options out there.