How do you use eRoom?

May 30, 2008

I’ve been working with eRoom for many years now and have seen some interesting ways to use the product.  What often strikes me as fascinating is how organizations can be so different in how they use products and eRoom is no exception.  Most use eRoom to help project teams collaborate in virtual workspaces and take advantage of project plans, folders, calendars, databases etc.  Some take it a bit further by using eRoom as a rapid application development tool that does not require IT intervention. 

Some of what I have seen:

Program Management:
We’ve all see project management.  One organization takes it a bit further.  They create a room for each program area.  Within that room, there is a database of Projects that belong to that Program area.  In the attachment area for each database row that represents a project, there are various folders, calendars and even an embedded database for tasks belonging to that project.  Then, there is a “home” room that has a database of programs.  The database lists major metadata about the program including management, staff, etc and in the attachments area, there is a link to the room representing that program.  In each program room, there is also a link back to the Programs database in the “home” room.

System Change Requests:
This is not uncommon.  IT departments within organizations that own eRoom commonly use the tool to manage their own activities.  SCR’s work perfectly within the eRoom environment.  Some groups use standard databases and some use approval process databases. 

Help Desk:
I have seen lots of organizations use eRoom to manage help desk tickets, as well as support requests

Custom Workflows (BPM Lite):
End users create a new record in a training request database.  Access is limited to the submitter and approvers.  Approvers can interact with the database via custom commands which send emails to the next participant in a pseudo workflow.  Status is manipulated via the custom commands and the summary page can be grouped or filtered based on submitter, approver, status, etc.  It’s an inexpensive BPM (Business Process Management) system. 

Hiring Process:
Managers in any department, or even HR, can track applicants throughout the entire process via eRoom databases, folders and calendars that track appointments and meetings associated with the hiring process.

Manage Investigations:
Law enforcement organizations have used eRoom to track investigations, taking full advantage of databases of staff, suspects, incidents, etc.  They use calendars, project plans, folders and files.

Corporate Merger and Partnership Collaboration
Companies that merge or partner with one another often have difficulties working together in the beginning.  When HP bought Compaq computer Corp (I used to work for Compaq), they used eRoom to help manage the merge of the two companies.  It was a common work area where dispersed teams could come together to work and share.

I could spend all day here listing the various ways I have seen the product used, but I really want to hear what others have done.  If you have some unique use of the tool, please share it here.

“Conversations” in eRoom

May 22, 2008

What is eRoom?
For those that have not heard of eRoom, it is web-based collaboration software. But, what does that mean? There is no really good way to answer that question as it may be different for various organizations. From my own experience with clients, I can tell you what it means to me. To me, eRoom is a tool. It is a tool to help me manage People, Projects, Programs, Tasks and Processes. Thousands of organizations around the globe use eRoom for myriad of reasons, including many of the Global 2000 enterprises. 

Conversations in Email
Email has its’ place and time. Some of us “live” in our email client and could not imagine ever surviving without it. Personally, I think it is overused. There are some serious issues with using email and I list them as:

  • Size limitations on inbox imposed by organization, limiting attachments
  • When a user leaves the organization, often email content is destroyed or backed up, not easily retrieved
  • Conversation thread can easily branch off into sub-conversations without easy way to navigate
  • Not easy to gather all emails related to a project, program or process… requires manual intervention

Conversations in eRoom
As I mentioned above, eRoom allows us to store all content within the context of people, a project, a program or process. Rather than sending emails back and forth and not storing that information or attachments along with other related information, we should be using eRoom to conduct our conversations. This assumes that the conversation is for team consumption of course. There is always a time and place for private emails and I am not proposing that eRoom replace that. But, when we have a conversation that is meant for everyone on the team, why not use eRoom? I am referring to the use of eRoom comments feature, not inboxes. Inboxes do not put the “conversation” in the correct order, it simply stores the emails as they are sent. Using comments feature solves many of the issues we have emails.

  • Because we are not on an exchange server, we are not bound by individual mailbox size limitations. We can upload attachments, provided there is an attachments box in the eRoom item
  • When a user leaves an organization, their comments are preserved within the context of the project, program or process. If we want to know why a decision was made 3 years ago by a mid level manager who has since moved on, we can see the decision that was made in eRoom and the reason the decision was made within the comments in eRoom. No need to search for archived emails.
  • Conversation can be viewed easily from beginning to end with all branches in place. In emails, the conversation is repeated in each reply… not so with comments in eRoom
  • Very easy to gather all emails related to a project, program or process. It’s all within the context in eRoom

A traditional conversation in Outlook is not very efficient. With each reply, the message is larger than the one before and repeats the entire conversation, except branches. All of this fills up our inbox and is not stored within the context of the activity. Conversations in eRoom saves space in Outlook. If a team has 5 members and only one or two are diligently saving email related to an activity, they are most likely doing so in a way that works for them, not the whole team. If you use the comments feature in eRoom, the conversation will always be available and accessible in eRoom and full text searchable. Although comments are not individually access controlled, they do inherit the parent eRoom item access controls. So, if the comments are in a comment area of a database entry, then only eRoom members who have access to the database entry may view the comments.

“Comment Alert” Customization
The Standard and Enterprise editions of eRoom have an available API to build customizations to eRoom. We have used the API to build dozens of custom commands, core events, and helper applications that extend functionality of the eRoom product. To assist in managing conversations, we built a “Comment Alert” custom command. It appears as a button in the attachments box of a database entry. This is helpful when clients have a database of projects, tasks, processes, people, etc. eRoom users can subscribe to notifications for a given eRoom item, but that can become cumbersome, adding to your inbox everytime something minor has changed. If someone adds a comment about a task, they can hit the alert icon, choose members to send it to, modify the body of the alert and hit send. It makes more sense to have something that requires just one click. We built the “Comment Alert” command that reads a required database field called “Send Alert to:” which is a member list including all members that the alert should be sent to. When someone adds a comment, they can hit the “Comment Alert” button which immediately sends an alert to all required members, with a copy to the sender, with a link back to the item and a note indicating that a new comment has been added. A log of comment alerts is stored in the attachments area of the database entry that stores when a comment alert is sent to users and it also stores the date and time that any members click on the embedded link to view the comments.

By using “Comment Alert”, users have all the benefits of email, including tracking, with the added benefits of eRoom.

I’ll post in the near future about a product called Clearspace by Jive Software that does a pretty good job of managing “conversations”, although they do not provide any tracking of who read it.

Does your organization already use eRoom to store conversations in context?

Ask a Question

June 19, 2007

Welcome to Ask the eRoom eXpert blog.  Feel free to ask anything of the eRoom eXpert, although the answer you get will be most useful when it pertains to the eRoom product from EMC.