Today’s discussion is about how to use web based tools to collaborate where team members are spread across multiple NASA centers and institutes. This discussion is not about social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook Google + and other social networking sites. We’re also not talking about technologies related to real time meetings, such as instant messaging, teleconferencing, and the like.
Project teams and working groups typically include a mix of civil servants and contractors at the centers, JPL, HQs, and can sometimes include ancillary facilities and institutes like MAF & STSI. The group’s value comes from the collective knowledge and experience of the team members, but when not physically together, how do you tap into all of that? Sometimes a problem or topic is only of interest to a sub-set of the larger group, so there needs to be a way to have side-bar “discussions”. What we’re looking for a is a virtual water cooler with a way to capture and share all the knowledge and experiences of the team members.
There are some core tools that a collaboration site needs to have. First you want to have a single repository for your group or team’s documents. Document management is key to keeping everyone working from the same “hymnal” as It were…
We’ve learned the hard way what works an what doesn’t. First of all, if you’re going to do more than just share documents, then you need everything consolidated into one site (blogs, links, discussions, etc.). Don’t use a system that requires a new username and password to remember. Single sign-on is preferred. Site navigation needs to be intuitive, don’t make the mistake of making the site look like you’re org chart. You need to be able to log into the site from off the NASA network, preferably without VPN. It should be mobile, Mac, and PC friendly. And it HASA to provide for useful notifications.
Some may think email + phones/teleconferencing and desktop sharing tools like webex are sufficient for collaboration, but email is actually non-collaborative. It also doesn’t provide an easy way to capture conversations and use them later. It is also a poor way to manage documents.
There are lots of “group spaces” sites out on the public internet that have many of the key toolsets we’re looking for, but the nature of the discussion precludes use of the public internet. Using several of the existing tools available to NASA to fill in the missing gaps creates clutter.
Does NASA have anything that works? The answer is, it depends. There a a bunch of sites and tools out there. Sharepoint seems to be the most popular, but there are others, too. All of them do some things well but are missing some key capabilities. I’ll now go through a few of these that we’ve investigated for use by the DTV Working Group.
A team or working group needs one main web site that includes announcements, a calendar, documents, a blog tool, possibly also a discussion tool, links to other sites and content, and perhaps an image view and video browser. The sight should feature single sign-on, using one of the two NASA identity systems (NDC Active Directory or Launchpad). JPL users do not have NDC credentials. Nor do other sites such as STSI. You can get them credentials but they’ll have to maintain a separate password from what they use to access their computer daily. Team members should be able to access the site from off the NASA network. The site should feature RSS capability and push notifications announcements, blogs and/or discussions. The notifications should include some of the content so the recipient has some idea of what the notification is about. Now lets look at a few available tools the DTV Program has tried to use and discuss some of their failings….
This is a collaboration site implemented at MSFC. It is called Explorenet and uses Jive software. It is limited to MSFC users only. Access requires Launchpad Credentials and is accessible from off the NASA network. RSS is broken by the Launchpad integration. Notice the tags to show you key words (tags) that are trending right now. This page is the common “all content page”. You can customize your own view if you’d like. Users are encouraged to input information about themselves much like a user profile on FaceBook, only more work related.
More from the main “all content” view on Explorenet. It shows recent blog posts, popular status updates (ala FB), recent documents, and has a link to communities. Notifications are sent to people who join groups. The notifications include the content and a link to the full discussion.
This is an example of a discussion in Explorenet. Notice there is the initial discussion item, to which “Joe” replied, and then a reply to Joe’s comment. A discussion is different from a blog in a couple of key but subtle ways. When you post a blog, each person comments to that original blog post. In a discussion, users can comment on the original posting, or on someone else’s comments. Notice the arrows showing the discussion thread. You can collapse a discussion thread so that you only see the topics if you’d like.
This is the Digital Video community in Explorenet. It was abandoned when it was decided to limit its implementation to MSFC. The elements I chose to include are all here on this main page: Sub-group communities, Discussions, Documents, Blog, polls, Events, News, Projects, and links.
This is an example of a notification from Explorenet. Note that it tells you the originator, what group it came from, includes the communication itself, and a link to view the full conversation.
This is our Sharepoint 2007 implementation. It is hosted by Ames and was to be updated to 2010 and provided for Agency support, but that has not transpired so far. Access requires NDC credentials. The site is accessible from off the NASA network. It has proven to be very slow at times, and for Mac users can be erratic when using Safari. Administration requires Internet Explorer.
Here’s what the Blog implementation looks like. Notifications doesn’t work so users have to come back in to see if there are any comments. Note that with a blog, everyone comments to the original blog post. If they want to comment on someone else’s comment, they’ll need to note that specifically in their comment.
This is what a discussion looks like in Sharepoint. The top shows what the user sees when the go into the discussion board. A list of topics and who created the discussion topic. The bottom shows what the discussion looks like. Note you can reply to the original discussion text or anyone’s reply text. Again, notifications doesn’t work, so everyone has to come back into the discussion to see the conversation.
Here’s the NASA Spacebook implementation. Like Facebook and Explorenet, users are encouraged to set up a profile with information about themselves, thus you can have a home page set up to show things you might be interested in. Access requires Launchpad credentials, and is limited to NASA address space, so users have to be on the NASA network or use VPN when off-site. This page is the Digital Video Working Group front page. Note there’s a front page, with links to blogs, wikis, “forums” or discussions, folders with documents, an image gallery, and links. RSS is broken by the Launchpad integration.
The rest of the Digital Video WG NASA Spacebook page. It includes links to NASA TV, NASA YouTube, a calendar, and Activity announcements. Push notifications exists for NASA Spacebook, but the message merely notifies there was a change, it doesn’t actually include the content. Every change causes a notification, so simply updating a documents means everyone gets a notification. The person who creates a group on Spacebook can maintain it, but the tools to do so are “clunky”. Uploading a file requires up to five clicks, and there is no way to do bulk uploads or to easily move something once it is in place.
Here’s what I recommend: NASA needs one ID management system and it needs to used by everyone. This makes the usefulness of a collaborative site more useful. Next, NASA needs to stop wasting time and money on multiple implementations that are flawed or limited. There are core capabilities that a true collaborative site should have: announcements, calendar, blog/discussion boards, links, wiki/document management, image viewer and a search engine. It mustprovide push notifications when content is updated.Once you have a site like this for your team, use it for adhoc interactive collaboration. Augment it with tools like Yammer, instant messaging, desktop sharing and desktop teleconferencing for real-time collaboration. Also, perhaps it is time to update NASA STD 2819, “Collaborative Tools Standards”!!!
Grubbs teams and digital collaboration pmc2012
Digitally Collaboratingwith Multi-center TeamsRodney GrubbsNASA DTV Program Manager
Work TogetherCollaborate— Verb To work with another or others on a join project Latin words “together” & “labor” Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Context for this discussion On-line digi-collaboration for multi-center teams, projects and working groups Internal NASA collaboration Solving problems and getting real work done Dialogue, knowledge capture and sharing An adhoc interactive collaboration network Like being able to have those sidebar discussions that are so fruitful at meetings, but on your own time, and you can choose when to engage or when to just drop in and listen Not discussing public social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Linkedin and so on Not discussing instant messaging, desktop video teleconferencing, desktop sharing, or using Google Voice or Skype to make a phone call Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Typical Multi-center TeamIncludes civil servants and contractors & mayinclude members from “non-center” centers likeSTScITeam’s power and usefulness comes fromfrequent information sharing and asking for helpSome content can be very esoteric to small sub-sets of the larger groupEveryone has other “day jobs” and need flexibilityto engage with the team Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Core Functional FeaturesTeam members won’t go to multiple web sites to keep up withactivities & discussions One site to to rule them all, One site to find them, One site to bring them all and in that site to bind them!Log-in needs to be simple—Utilize the same username/passwordsystem they have to use for other applicationsSite navigation needs to be simple and obvious Don’t make the site look like your org chart!Need to be able to log into the site from outside the NASA networkNeeds to work on a variety of browsers, mobile devices, PC & MacNeed notifications and RSS capability so team members can keep upwith and engage in on-going conversations Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Why email doesn’t workConversation threads become impossible to followDifficult to capture the content for later useCan be impossible to make sure everyone participates!Attachments can get dropped and version managementcompromisedExample: Email goes out to a mail list Fred on the mail “list replies all” to original note but adds Susan John on the mail list “replies all” to original note and adds Sally Susan and Sally “reply all” but neither sees the other’s response! And so it goes….. Meanwhile there’s a good chance a bunch of other people don’t care and get tired of having all these emails back and forth Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Aren’t there a lot of collaboration tools available?Public collaboration tools are just that—public! Not the place for discussing possible policy development or other topics that would get in the way of competitive procurements Confuses the public Rabbit holesToo many tools & web sites mean communicationclutter Yammer for instant “Twitter” types of communication NASA Spacebook for “Facebook” types of communication Wikis for document sharing Blog sites for blogs & comments Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
Does anything NASA has available work? Sharepoint Which version? Multiple implementations across the Agency NASA SpaceBook eTouch/Portal Wiki NASA Yammer Good Twitter/Discussion tool but not much else…. MSFC ExploreNet Great tool but limited to MSFC Google Spaces Pilot ICE NX, NASA Forward, Alfresco, Git, Windchill and who knows what else!?! Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50
If I were KingOne ID management system for all centers, JPL and the institutesOne team collaboration tool available Agency-wide Available off the NASA network Core functionalities Announcements Calendar Blog/Discussion boards Links Wiki/Document sharing Image viewer Search Engine Useful push notificationsAugment collaboration tool with Yammer, instant messaging, desktop sharing (webex) anddesktop teleconferencingMaybe we could start by updating NASA STD 2819, “Collaborative Tools Standards” Rodney Grubbs MSFC EO50