As technology advances, software companies rise to the challenge of providing ever more useful (and often not so useful) software to improve our lives. Since 2007 I have been exploiting one software platform more than I thought I would. Finding it especially good at collaboration with, and aiding in the management, of geographically dispersed project and programme teams.
The software is Microsoft Lync (formerly Microsoft Office Communicator). Basically it is an instant messaging client used with Microsoft Lync Server (or Lync Online available with Microsoft Office 365). So it allows users to participate in instant messaging conversations with each other. The same way Windows Live Messenger does. It enables you to see if other users are online and therefore make informed choices about when and how to contact them as they are able to set their status to several states (plus interact with Outlook calendar settings) and it also allows group conversations (by inviting other users to join a chat session). I can here you say that Windows Live Messenger does some of this, very true.
Unlike Windows Live Messenger, Lync enables extensive and easy collaboration between users. These real-time multi-client collaborative software capabilities allow teams of people to view and work simultaneously on the same documents and communications sessions. This can be as simple as instantly transferring files to other colleagues, a superb mechanism when one is in the midst of a conference call with your team (better than relying on email, especially these days when Outlook PST files appear to frequently reach the size limit imposed by IT departments).
Lync allows collaboration through whiteboard documents (ideally Microsoft Office documents). This is where the participants have great freedom to share text, drawing and graphical annotations. The presenter has the ability to allow the level of participant involvement in the whiteboarding session.
I particularly find the Microsoft PowerPoint document collaboration very powerful for geographically dispersed project and programme teams. The participants can view and control presentations, as well as allowing participants to add text, drawing and graphical annotations. Microsoft Project has proved useful too, especially when running through lengthy plans over a conference call, if only to keep everyone on the same task line.
An interesting touch is the use of polling lists. Presenters organize polls and participants can vote and see results. Ideal for getting consensus on a sticky issue!
More information can be found on http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/