Collaborate in Context™
- “Better Business Outcomes”—primary objective of collaboration
- Use your reference publications as a permanent repository for valuable personal and corporate IP, and a framework for collaborative interaction
- Collaborate whilst you work with your reference publications
- Limitations of existing electronic reference publishing solutions
- Collaborate in Context—a revolutionary new concept for collaborating whilst you work
- eComPress—a secure electronic reference publishing and collaboration solution
“Collaboration will be the critical business competency of the internet age. It won’t be the ability to fiercely compete, but the ability to lovingly cooperate that will determine success.”
—James M. Kouzes, scholar and bestselling co-author of The Leadership Challenge.
“Collaboration” is the buzzword of our time.
Every computer company has delivered a white paper or announced plans for tools that manage the sharing of publications, documents, messages, and information to facilitate collaboration.
But most businesses struggle to convert all that rhetoric into profit.
Microsoft identifies in its White Paper, Creating Business Value through Better Collaboration, that the most readily identifiable business benefits of collaboration:
- shorter project cycles
- fewer meetings and
- lower travel expenses
Eurofield Information Solutions (Eurofield) notes that while reducing expenses is important, the primary goal of all collaborative effort is actually better business outcomes.
This article addresses the role of collaboration in the preparation, management, maintenance, and use of authoritative reference publications in modern companies. It is specifically concerned with how workers interact with reference publications and, most importantly, how the knowledge they glean while using those reference works can be captured and shared for individual, community, and corporate benefit.
The Challenge of Collaboration
The history of human civilization is a story of collaboration, where organized teams achieve more than the same number of individuals working alone. Technology is both the result of that collaboration and an engine that continues to power it. Modern communication technology facilitates forms of collaboration that were simply impossible fifteen years ago.
The holy grail of the modern organization is to harness this latest information revolution to enhance the knowledge base and flexibility of the organization so it can better perform for its stakeholders. One of the challenges—and this is the current hot topic in media circles—is how to guarantee the integrity and security of content in this fluid environment, while providing an easy-to-use collaborative facility with minimal administrative overhead.
It’s a problem that is particularly apparent amongst organizations that need to publish large reference works such as operational and service manuals, standards, codes of practice, and regulatory and statutory guides. Protecting the content from alteration or well-meaning edits, while at the same time creating an environment that encourages users to share relevant annotations, experiences, and knowledge in context, is a serious challenge.
What it requires is a collaborative framework that supports the delivery of information at the same time as meeting a variety of organizational, administrative, and security needs including
- ready access for online and off-line users
- uncompromising security to both control and ensure the integrity of the data or content
- the ability for knowledge workers to add, maintain, and share intellectual property
- individual control over how that knowledge may be selectively shared with others
- an ongoing role for the editor and publisher to select material from the collaborative intellectual property (IP) for future publications
Creating a Framework: The limitations of existing approaches
Just as some avid newspaper readers view Twitter as a swirling mass of inane comment, many publishers are unable to see tools like Wikipedia as anything other than a rambling collection of amateur observations. The argument goes something like this: Despite advances in electronic publishing, the printed reference book remains
- a powerful, well-structured, information-delivery mechanism
- self-archiving and reasonably permanent
- able to be read linearly, browsed randomly, or accessed via its contents or index
- independent of any power source, external software, or hardware
The counter-argument is that physical reference volumes are
- expensive to update, print, and distribute
- slow to revise, index, and produce
- costly to store and environmentally unfriendly
- lacking the exhaustive index and powerful searching possible in electronic publications
At the mission-critical end of the scale—where information-intensive manuals are used across industry, defense, and aerospace—electronic publications are gaining favor due to their minimal storage demands, permanent ready-access, powerful navigation and searching capabilities, and rapid updates. However, as some early adopters of electronic publishing have found, many of the existing approaches to electronic publishing are not without their limitations.
The simple use of Google or any other text-based search-engine across all documents on a computer network marks a significant advance on historical filing systems by providing immediate results with very little effort. However, such tools tend to return a myriad of relatively unstructured search results. A search for “software security” on the web, for example, brings up 150,000,000+ hits beginning with a number of advertisements for anti-virus programs. These are followed by a Wikipedia definition for “Software Security Assurance” before listing more advertisements for books about software security. This is a very imprecise way of locating the information you need.
This problem is addressed to some extent by document management and collaborative software, but while such tools add a structural layer to the organization of documents so that data can be more easily managed, retrieved, and put to work, these capabilities are largely restricted to authors, editors, and others within the publishing team. Microsoft SharePoint tools, for example, support collaboration within the publishing house or department but the output of that collaboration—the publication itself, is likely to be delivered to end users in PDF, HTML, or print format. These output formats offer very limited search, annotation, or collaboration capabilities and no opportunity for the publishing team to tap into end-user experiences or comments. Further, the users themselves have no way of sharing or formally incorporating their own annotations within the publication.
To resolve this, a different layer of organization is required. The challenge, however, is to deliver additional benefits without adding significant administrative overhead. Clearly, if software can provide additional benefits by integrating with existing tasks, it will be readily adopted. Alternatively, if it involves an additional step or steps, it will meet huge resistance.
In general, software solutions organize documents by applying subjective metadata that describes the document, identifies its context, and ensures that it is given the significance it deserves. Developing an architecture capable of providing that level of organization, along with the process of creating the metadata is a substantial burden. What’s more, metadata is highly subjective in nature and requires continual updating with changes in content.
Any infrastructure—electronic or manual—that requires the involvement of a centralized IT guru or demands extensive time from a librarian and indexer is likely to impose too great an overhead for ongoing success.
Protecting Intellectual Property
Protecting IP across a computer network or over the internet is another challenge. Reference publications are often proprietary or confidential in nature, locked in some way, or only able to be read in conjunction with a central application that manages and controls user access. Protecting IP and copyright has long been a challenge with paper-based publications, and is even more so with electronic content on publicly accessible networks. Unless the content is of national security or part of an organization’s core revenue stream, it may be difficult to justify the cost associated with providing this level of security.
In short, the electronic publication provides an extremely cost effective soft distribution, coupled with the ability to readily search, extract, and utilize information for commercial purposes. While this is a boon for general business, it has become a nightmare for those publishers and users who wish to protect intellectual property, or guarantee the integrity of content.
For those who require fast access to mission critical information that must be verifiable as accurate and strictly controlled, it is increasingly difficult to guarantee that any given network is secure under all conditions and the content is authentic. This provides a strong incentive to secure the publications and make the access and integrity independent of the network environment. While this may be feasible, it adds yet another layer of complication and increases the cost of managing and accessing publications.
Accessing Publications Off-line
The electronic publication has spawned a range of software platforms that provide the tools for managing, accessing, and searching the vast quantity of data now available at our fingertips, but the data is stored on millions of servers that are only network accessible.
Mission critical information must be accessible even when the network is not available. Hence, it is critical that publications used for this purpose be available, fully searchable, and usable with all their annotations off-line. This is especially true where the reference work is used in the field on an oil rig, ship, submarine, or airplane, and the need to access the content might be mission or business critical.
Managing Individual Contributions
Besides the problem of creating an appropriate framework for collaboration, organizations also have to deal with the fundamentals of managing, encouraging, and collating collaborative publication inputs.
Anyone who has shared word processing files over a network, or emailed documents for editing to team members and used the track changes facility to incorporate comments, can understand the power of network connectivity to provide a collaborative environment. Within a small group or when dealing with short documents, such editing tools can be invaluable. However, issues such as document synchronization, ownership, and the management of collective contributions limit their effectiveness when large numbers of contributors, sizeable circulation, or large numbers of documents in the form of a publication are involved.
An entirely different mode of collaboration and a different set of challenges arise when using internet-based media such as Wikis or Facebook. These provide a way to collect and collate input from millions of people who do not necessarily have a common organizing principle. Their contributions are organized and presented in a fluid environment that is partly determined by the viewer. Such approaches provide a glimpse of a new method of harvesting intellectual property that is entirely different from the collaborative publishing environments emerging in office productivity tools. At the same time, they have one crucial limitation: they cannot exist without the network.
A truly smart publishing environment would combine the best of all these approaches. It would retain existing collaboration tools for the preparation of the publication, and it would also tap into the power of networks and the internet to enable electronic collection and collation of comments without compromising the authoritative integrity of the content.
A Framework and Publication All-in-One
What if the reference publication itself could be the central collaboration framework, providing a context for individual contributions? What if people did not need to use extra software to organize their IP or documents associated with a reference publication and could save and share notes as they worked?
Such a publication would provide a secure, stable framework that could be used locally or across networks. The framework would store the users’ input as annotations and allow them to easily share them, in context, without having to apply any additional organizational effort. In short, it would resolve all of the problems that arise when using past collaborative methods.
Users of a reference work could accumulate their own valuable IP, share this IP selectively with others, and access other users’ IP via the corporate network. Or this collective IP could be accumulated on an external site for downloading onto a user’s personal computer or laptop. Once the annotations are received and dragged onto their publication, they would appear in context—within the right section and beside the pertinent text. Such notes or annotations would be stored off-line, no longer reliant on a network connection.
Perhaps most importantly, such a publication would allow comments, pictures, web, and email addresses, and other documents to be attached as personal or global annotations to the core reference publication. Individual recipients of a manual, for example, could electronically “attach” their own notes to pertinent sections of the publication, relating their own experiences, creating reminders, bookmarks, or prompts for future reference, adding explanatory notes or links to sources of further information. If individuals are team leaders, managers, or gurus on a particular topic, they may choose to selectively share their notes by simply emailing the annotations to their staff or peers. Recipients could respond in turn, creating, attaching, and circulating their own annotations.
Such a framework would also enable the editing and publishing team to review and determine whether to incorporate those annotations into the master publication prior to its next edition or release, or to maintain them as a knowledge base for reference purposes only.
The complete scenario outlined above is provided by the eComPress electronic publishing technology.
eComPress Electronic Reference Publications
The eComPress publishing environment has evolved over the past 20 years, maintaining its position at the forefront of electronic reference publishing technology. eComPress was first developed when communication bandwidth was poor and the floppy disk was the standard data transfer medium. This made compression a critical requirement and highly efficient indexing and searching fundamental.
The early adopters of electronic publishing were mostly concerned with mission critical, high value information. Consequently security and integrity were major issues and the stand-alone, encrypted publication integrated with a “Smart reader” was born.
eComPress publications contain not only the reference content work but also all of the software required to securely read, search, annotate, or copy text, ensuring that users never experience the frustration of not being able to open a publication because they have the wrong version of the viewer software. Everything they need is embedded within—and accessed through—the one application package. As well as providing reader convenience, this degree of integration delivers the added benefits of a high level of built-in security and a significantly improved speed to open and search the publication. eComPress gained distinction in the early nineties for the publication of the whole King James Bible (KJV) with its index and viewer on a single 3.5” floppy disk.
As online environments sped up the distribution of information and the technology spread to government organizations and corporations with sensitive information, these clients wanted to process their own data. Rapid client publication processing became paramount, and the eComPress Publisher Toolkit was developed.
The Australian Parliament has adopted eComPress for its House of Representatives Practice Manual incorporating the Standing Orders and Constitution. This eComPress publication is used by the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Clerk to run the House when it is sitting. This eComPress Manual is essentially an industrial strength productivity tool that enables the Clerk and Speaker of the House to address critical situations quickly, resolve questions of practice on the fly, and speed up proceedings in the House. The principal reasons for choosing eComPress were its ease of secure distribution to all Members, its data integrity, and its powerful reliable search capabilities yielding fast, relevant results.
While eComPress publications can be installed on a local or wide area network server, they can also be securely and efficiently distributed and installed on the nodes via a network, making them fully usable off-line. Whether being used by a Member in the House reviewing parliamentary proceedings on a notebook, or by a technician searching through manuals in a submarine deep under the ocean, this standalone off-line capability is critical to the eComPress success.
Collaborate in Context™
The most recent evolution of the eComPress model has seen the introduction of eComPress Notes. Notes brings the ability to record and share annotations, providing a permanent repository for a user’s valuable IP.
The power of eComPress annotations comes from its inherent ability to harness the skills of all users as they access and use the reference publications. And while the network is instrumental to the distribution, update, and collaborative process, the ability to instantly access this valuable IP off-line is critical to many organizations and individual users.
Shared annotations have elevated the collaborative power of the publishing software to new heights. Human resource consultants are using the eComPress version of the Australian Fair Work legislation to annotate and share comments with peers. By simply emailing the annotation file to any reader of the eComPress publication, the consultants ensure that all of their research and findings are selectively available to others.
Unlike a traditional newsletter that might comment on a piece of legislation, these annotations and observations are provided in context. They are permanently attached to the relevant sections of the legislation and instantly accessible in the context of the eComPress version of the legislation itself.
Publishers can provide annotations tailored to the needs of one or more sectors of their readership, attaching easy-to-read text or files to the relevant areas of the publication.
In the same way that email has restructured corporate communications, so eComPress has delivered a powerful new flexibility to reference publications and added the ability for users to collaborate in context by using their core reference publications as a shared framework for greater involvement and ownership at a user level, and a robust repository for valuable corporate IP.
Users can interact with each other via eComPress Notes; publishers can interact with users, authors, and editors as part of the authoring and updating process for new editions; and newly posted Note collections can be downloaded from the web for immediate integration into any reader’s publication.
eComPress Global Note collections are published on local and wide area network servers, allowing users to collaborate in context with each other. Notes can be published and protected with a password on a LAN or WAN server, and when new editions of the eComPress publication are issued and installed, all existing users’ Note collections are automatically transcribed in context. Depending on the environment those submissions are always able to be controlled by the user, are automatically filed on receipt and do not need to be moderated, collated, or controlled by a manager.
The power to create a living, interactive reference publication on your PC or network, using the core structure as the contextual framework to ensure the relevance of individual contributions, is enormous. Organizations find that corporate memory is rapidly enhanced and knowledge is rapidly collected and collated instead of being lost as can happen in a normal “publish and distribute” model.
The eComPress technology adds a new dimension to reference publications and provides the power to collaborate in context whilst you work as an intrinsic part of the reference publication!
eComPress Notes come in three forms; private (yellow), shared (green), network (blue), and
- can be keyed or dragged text, pictures, files, web, or email addresses
- are automatically transcribed in context to new and revised publications
- can be shared selectively online on a LAN or WAN, by email, or downloaded from the web
- are available off-line
- are secure and do not compromise the content in any way
eComPress solves the challenges of publishing in a collaborative world by delivering a robust stand-alone piece of software which provides a complete reference publication in a very compact, secure package with powerful navigation, search, and annotation tools. The publication contents remain secure and access can be controlled by a simple password or managed from a centralized server. Notes are stored separately from the publication so that the high level of security and content integrity is not compromised, while still allowing annotations to be shared in context among users. Further, those annotations may be centrally collected and collated for incorporation into future editions.
eComPress publications sit on the desktop like any other application. Their content can be copied and pasted, and tables and spreadsheets can be dragged and dropped from the publication into all other desktop applications with all their integrity and formatting preserved. The search and retrieval tools used by eComPress support logical searching, with any number of single or multiple character wild cards. They are designed to deliver highly relevant search results, are intuitive to use, and exceptionally fast.
eComPress publications can be stored in any file, content, or document management system and downloaded in the same way as any other form of content. Because the software reader is built into the publication to enhance security, speed, and user access, the publication does not require any other applications to be fully operable. Publications are instantly accessible from any Windows application using the eComPress Drag-on, and the content can also be made available directly to other applications on the desktop.
Publications prepared in other Office productivity applications or on collaborative platforms such as SharePoint can be rapidly processed with the eComPress Publisher Toolkit. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), for example, processes Microsoft Word documents that make up their Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) database using a purpose-built eComPress Publisher Toolkit whenever the database is updated. Those changes are distributed automatically to thousands of users on their network and are used interactively in live studios throughout the organization.
There are no keywords—the eComPress Publisher Toolkit automatically generates an exhaustive index of all words, numbers, and alphanumerics that guarantees you will find everything contained in the publication. Multiple publications can be assembled into a complete library of eComPress publications in an ad hoc manner, and can be searched contiguously without requiring re-indexing of the whole library. Whether operating on a stand-alone PC or across a network, this provides an extensible environment and brings the power of eComPress searches to entire reference libraries.
eComPress clients include the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Health Organization (WHO), International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), Australian Army, Australian Parliament, publishers Random House and LexisNexis, and Comtech Services, Inc.
Note from Author: Downloading a sample eComPress publication and incorporating your own annotations is probably the easiest way to get a practical demonstration of the power of this publishing technology. To see how eComPress could help your publishing endeavors, download a number of free publications and test annotations from Eurofield Information Solutions at www.eis-usa.com and experience the power to Collaborate in Context™.
Eurofield Information Solutions
Alfred Papallo, BSc(ENG) CEO of Eurofield Information Solutions (EIS), a software development firm based in Sydney Australia, specialising in electronic reference publishing technology.
He founded EIS in 1992, and together with his software development team created the MegaFloppy electronic publishing system. This technology has continued to develop and become medium independent, and changed its name to eComPress. It now facilitates sophisticated secure, compressed, indexed and annotatable reference publications that are securely sold and delivered throughout the world.
Alfred is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of NSW.