Workgroups Meet on the Web

The Web has made it easier for broadly distributed knowledge workers to cooperate regardless of location, culture or time zone. But using the Web for collaboration requires more than just a central repository of shared documents. A true teamware application must also support features such as advanced task- or project-status tracking, e-mail notification, instant messaging and shared calendars.

QuickTeam from Thoughtstar of Sandy, Utah (acquired in April by iManage of San Mateo, Calif.) is a relative newcomer to this software category. Designed to run on the Web rather than adapted from an existing application, it fits into the trend toward hosted applications. QuickTeam provides a virtual collaboration space that employees, customers and suppliers can access from any Internet connection.

A free starter version can be run directly from the QuickTeam Web site (www.quickteam.com); the software also can be downloaded from Thoughtstar and set up on an organization's own server by following a set-up wizard.

"This model has a number of advantages," says David Coleman, managing director of Collaborative strategies, a consultancy in San Francisco. "It allows you to leverage work done on the back end across multiple clients. Anybody can get to it from anywhere; all you need is a browser."

Even the free version, QuickTeam Express, supports document sharing, calendaring, real-time discussions, online surveys and voting. The chat feature is similar to that offered by ICQ or an AOL chat room. Team members type questions, comments and responses, which are displayed in real time for all participants. Voting allows team members to pose questions and tally results as aids to decision-making. Threaded discussions, like those found in Internet newsgroups, provide an audit trail of the decision process that users can refer to.

The ability to capture this process in real time separates QuickTeam from older collaboration portals that simply provide a shared space. Users can mark a thread as an issue, mark it as resolved or put it to a vote. If further discussion is required, a single thread can spawn related threads, similar to breakout sessions in live meetings. The QuickTeam Professional version adds an online whiteboard, a Gantt chart utility, Palm VII integration and 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer security.

QuickTeam also differs from traditional desktop project management applications in its ability to supply what Coleman calls a social context. As widespread connections grow in the global economy, applications such as Microsoft Project are less useful because they fail to model such things as virtual corporations, supply webs or round-the-clock workflows.

"A project by its nature has social implications," Coleman says. "It requires interaction, not just information transfer. Microsoft Project plays to Microsoft's traditional strengths: You can share stuff on the Web, but it is data-focused and desktop-centric. Thoughtstar comes from a different perspective, that of the collaborative team."

QuickTeam Professional can be purchased outright for $899 for a server and five-user license or leased for $12.95 per user per month. Like QuickTeam Express, the leased version is hosted on Thoughtstar's servers.

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