Collaboration plug-in for Outlook unveiled

An e-mail collaboration tool developer seeks to capitalize on the familiarity of a worker’s natural habitat – e-mail – to bring the plethora of individual collaboration technologies to a single platform, said the vendor’s CEO and founder.

The idea of collaboration isn’t new, yet businesses don’t have a clear path for transitioning from basic collaboration tools like e-mail to the many technologies out there, said Karim Yaghmour of Sherbrooke, Que.-based Kryptiva Inc., which offers Collaboration Suite geared at small to medium sized businesses.

“Being able to leverage e-mail for providing additional collaboration mechanisms has a value in and of itself,” said Yaghmour.

The tool, currently in pilot version until the end of the first quarter of 2008, integrates with Microsoft Outlook by way of plug-ins to allow users to launch instant message chats and share files from their inboxes.

The Collaboration Suite is independent of the customer IT infrastructure as long as the directory service can work with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), he said. The platform also works with any mail exchange server.

Customers have the option of deploying the technology onsite or having it hosted by an application service provider (ASP). Among the user feedback, the software as a service model has garnered a “high level of interest”, said Yaghmour, adding that the expectation is that SMBs will prefer the hosted option.

He said that while the amount of e-mail produced has significantly increased to the point of overload, the mode of communication remains central, and the Collaboration Suite in particular offers an “alternative to having these internal back and forth discussions with various parties by grouping things into a work environment that allows for more fluid discussions.”

Providing that context toward more productive communication, he said, is also granted for file sharing between users.

Jayanth Angl, a research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, agreed that it’s not e-mail traffic that slows worker productivity, rather the culprit is the over reliance on e-mail. “That’s really the source of the productivity issues.”

Given that e-mail is so central to the way people communicate, the platform makes sense, he said.

While there are other available similar collaboration suites, the fact that this one builds on e-mail, a ubiquitous platform, the tool will have minimal impact on a customer’s infrastructure, said Angl.

One point of feedback Angl would offer towards the pilot version is the absence of critical functionality like presence, or the ability to monitor the status of contacts. It would be like “skipping a step” to be able to view someone’s online availability to ascertain whether to launch a chat session, instead of initially sending an e-mail from which a chat can be launched when the recipient is deemed available.

“[Presence is] really the central capability.”

Given the company’s background in e-mail encryption, Angl said he thinks security would be central to the offering.

The fact that Collaboration Suite is a plug-in offered by a niche vendor presents some potential adoption issues for the IT department, said Angl. Actually, he doesn’t see adoption being driven by the IT department, rather by the users themselves. “Because it’s a secure platform, and doesn’t require a significant change in infrastructure, it’s something that would be tolerated.”

There is a tendency among IT departments to dislike technologies like instant message chat because they often impede the mail server and present a compliance pain point, acknowledged Yaghmour. But, he said, with the Suite, the instant message traffic routes through a staging server independent of the company infrastructure. “We’re not slowing down any of the traffic. We’re out of the stream.”

Given the staging server is managed by the customer, it can be used to log transactions to meet compliance requirements regardless of whether the communicating parties are internal or external, he said.

Yaghmour said he hopes to add more functions based on user feedback from the pilot process. Specifically, the company is working on including a virus check capability in files stored in shared folders, and integrating the Suite with third-party auditing and archiving tools.

According to Angl, the company faces a challenge from other vendors who already offer complete collaboration suites – not just add-ons – with functionality beyond that of Kryptiva’s pilot tool.

Other vendors in the collaboration arena include WebEx Communications Inc.’s WebEx, and Ventia Pty Ltd.’s DeskNow.