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By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 03-07-2007 Print

Design an environment to support the real-time and asynchronous collaboration needs for each inter-enterprise project, and build it from a standardized platform of infrastructure and tools. In the 1990s, when it built the 777, Boeing conducted all design work internally. With the new Dreamliner, Boeing relies on its global partners to concurrently design the 787 components that each partner will manufacture. For example, Boeing enlisted Nordam Group in Tulsa, Okla., with the task of designing and manufacturing the aircraft's window frames. So Nordam had to design those window frames in tandem with Boeing partners responsible for manufacturing the aircraft's fuselage components, including Tulsa neighbor Spirit Aerosystems Inc., Alenia in Italy and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan.

Boeing, on a colossal, global scale, is recreating the collaborative design environment used by engineers in the early 1900s. "Engineers worked together in a room on their own drafting boards," Griffin says. "Each part had just one drawing [and engineers] might lay their drawings side by side to ensure that, say, a bolt in one part was aligned properly with the hole in another part." Today, Boeing defines the requirements for global collaboration in concert with Dassault Systémes and other partners, providing everyone with the environment they need to work in real time. It includes the product lifecycle management software and the database that contains all the design and manufacturing data.

Boeing's Global Collaboration Environment includes team rooms set up with videoconferencing and presentation-sharing software, to let engineers in a single location gather and access a second (or third, if needed) group assembled elsewhere. Engineers rely on team rooms to exchange progress reports, place designs side by side to identify differences, and discuss design alternatives. "By its nature, design and engineering is a group activity best accomplished by gathering a variety of inputs to form the best solution," Griffin says.

Yet a large swath of collaboration efforts across many industries will likely remain too industry-specific, or to complex, to support with out-of-the box collaboration tools. Which is why third-party software and service providers extend basic collaboration platforms to include more industry- or process-specific workflows.

Reuters, the London-based, $6 billion global information provider, tapped into a need for improved real-time collaboration among financial services companies by developing a hosted real-time collaboration product based on Microsoft Corp.'s Live Communications Server. More than 90,000 traders, portfolio managers and financial services professionals subscribe to the product. Global trading desks use Reuters Messaging chat rooms to report the latest trades and prices, often replacing squawk boxes on trading floors. They also use chat rooms as a market handover between time zones. And chat rooms let those not online during the conversation review the discussions made by their cohorts, and help informed traders make decisions faster.

David Gurle, head of collaboration at Reuters, characterizes real-time and asynchronous collaboration as the "yin and yang in financial services. It is impossible to separate them." In one scenario, a market analyst publishes a report in an online workspace. The system notifies a trader of its availability. The trader downloads the report, reads it, and then may wish to question the analyst about some assumptions. The system embeds the analyst's user name and presence into the report, allowing the trader to make an instant connection. The trader reaches out across the global trading desk to share the findings, and collaborate on pending trade activity and market moves that might be influenced by the analysis.

High finance of this sort signifies an increase in fast-paced, inter-enterprise collaboration that is changing the pace and nature of Wall Street deal making. Traders once relied heavily on the telephone to collaborate, but these newer approaches make the capital markets more price efficient and introduce fewer errors. "People don't talk nearly as much as they used to," Gurle says. "Talking isn't nearly as efficient."


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