A few weeks or so ago, Sam Lawrence via Twitter pointed me to a post he made at the end of last year about how office suite software (i.e. word processing, presentations, spreadsheets etc) hasn't changed in over 20 years but that:
"Traditional office software features are being absorbed into browsers and OSes. The next level of digital office work is shifting from a disjointed file exchange work model to one that's much more connected, contextual and collaborative. In the old model, users create documents in isolation and exchange them with other isolated users--all insulated from and out of sync with the bigger picture of relevant interpersonal activity. In the new collaboration model, connected people understand when, what and why to engage and they do it in a unified environment. They use file-sharing only as a supplement, when and if it's necessary. We refer to this collaboration model as Social Productivity, which frames our daily work activity in the "we" vs. "me" context and then delivers new functionality to help with these connections. This more accurately mimics our work-with-others activity vs. the produce-alone-and-distribute part of our daily equation. Now we can get context at a glance, work doesn't disappear once we hit "send," and we stay connected to the efforts most important to us."
It reminded me that many years ago I heard Dale Chatwin talk about the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a government organisations, as a Lotus Notes case study. A quick search actually turned up a case study (PDF) about this particularly story, which dates back to the 1990s. It makes interesting reading in light of Sam's ideas, since this organisation did exactly what he describes as "Social Productivity" - they developed databases:
"that permit all members of a group to work inside the same database simultaneously, so that a document that is being collaboratively created does not need to be emailed around to the members of the group with each person having a separate stored copy but is kept in a central location... The central repository and shared workspace of the workgroup databases is not only a freeing tool for collaborative co-creation of knowledge it is also a vehicle for transparency and knowledge sharing, as other persons not in the workgroup can still access the workgroup's database and see the information there and the work in its current state of progress... Almost all of the information and knowledge in the ABS is held on and processed through Lotus Notes® Workgroup Databases, and almost all persons have access to almost all databases, making the entire organisation's information and knowledgebase transparent, freely accessible and available to all members at all times."
Even closer to Sam's vision, the organisation's "elimination of desktop word processors" means that for majority of users at the time the office suite was embedded as part of the Lotus Notes "browser" (i.e. the Lotus Notes client). This doesn't mean everyone was happy with the decision - reading the case study, it looks a combination of issues affected their experience:
- Functionality in the Lotus Notes text editor versus a stand alone word processor;
- Dealing with upgrades that changed the Lotus Notes interface;
- The need to collaborate and share information externally; and
- The lack of choice.
Incidentally users still had access to a separate spreadsheet application, however one user commented:
"Lotus 123 is terrible with anything to do with Excel"
A reminder that not all office suite software is the same.
Now its been a while since I last saw Dale and I'm not sure where this organisation is these days with Lotus Notes, but I recommend you read the case study and draw your own conclusions to decided if you think their strategy was a success or not. Certainly some were positive about the approach. But what is clear is that they were unique in adopting this strategy and I don't know of any other organisation that has attempted the same thing.
I wonder if they were attempting to do this now, what would be more important - the strategic decision to implement a social productivity approach or the quality of the user experience in our Web 2.0 environment. What do you think?