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Communications and Collaboration
Create Powerful Connections with Groove and SharePoint
At a Glance:
- Creating a SharePoint document library
- Creating a Groove workspace
- Synchronizing Groove and SharePoint
- Allowing access to the workspace
IT professionals often wonder about the apparent similarity between Microsoft Office Groove 2007 (Groove) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (SharePoint), and they're unsure under which
circumstances each is appropriate. At first glance, the two products do seem very similar, since they both provide collaboration capabilities. However, once you take a deeper look at the architecture, you begin to see how these products differ.
SharePoint® offers a robust and scalable content management framework and collaboration toolset with support for structured workflows. Groove™, in contrast, is a collaboration toolset that allows rapid workspace deployment with little or no IT overhead. With support for document collaboration, threaded discussions, and calendaring among its features, Groove provides the ideal framework for dynamic, secure, ad hoc collaboration. In short, most users will naturally end up using these products in different ways.
Moreover, the release of Groove 2007 adds built-in support for SharePoint integration using the SharePoint Files tool. This tool allows Groove workspaces to be synchronized with SharePoint document libraries and, as we will see, the built-in integration means you can easily make the most of both products. In fact, combining the flexibility and dynamic nature of Groove with the sophistication and power of SharePoint will yield significant benefits for many.
Groove and SharePoint Together
Today's IT world demands ever-increasing collaboration between organizations and their partners and vendors. However, the powerful collaboration solutions that are being implemented using products such as SharePoint tend to focus heavily on internal teams and the need to make information broadly available throughout an organization. In such cases, the challenges, both from an administrative and security perspective, of providing access to users external to an organization are often significant. In the face of such challenges, the goal becomes enabling users to reach out to external partners on an ad hoc basis.
The combination of Groove and SharePoint offers exactly that solution. SharePoint provides intra-organization collaboration, content search, and a workflow framework; adding Groove lets companies extend those capabilities to include easy inter-organization collaboration. With Groove, users can quickly set up collaboration workspaces that cross company boundaries. Furthermore, support for 192-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) symmetric keys ensures that the collaboration is secure. In fact, Groove security is built-in and always on, so users don't have to worry about configuring it.
The security architecture of Groove provides a high degree of protection for these workspaces and their contents, both while stored locally and during network transmission. The SharePoint Files tool allows this information to be bi-directionally synchronized with a SharePoint document library to ensure that the information is available centrally for easy internal access. Let's use a concrete example to see how this process works.
Organizations often collaborate with many companies during day-to-day business activities. This typically involves not only external organizations but also individuals from departments that don't necessarily work together regularly, such as finance, corporate communications, and legal. Thus these organizations need both to create an ad hoc internal team that will collaborate and to make the product of this collaboration available to those who aren't involved in the collaboration process but who must have access to the final deliverable. Using SharePoint and Groove, it is easy to achieve these goals.
If you don't already have a SharePoint document library that you'd like to synchronize with your Groove workspace, the first step is to create one. To do so, connect to SharePoint and then select the View All Content link. After this page has loaded, select Create and then, as Figure 1 shows, choose Document Library from the Libraries column.
Figure 1 Creating a SharePoint document library (Click the image for a larger view)
There are a number of settings to configure on the new document library page—the name and description of the library, whether to include the library in the Quick Links section, whether to enable versioning, and the default format for new documents created directly in the library. The Document Version History selection is disabled by default, but you should enable this feature if versioning is appropriate to your environment. You should also consider some of the advanced functionality that is available with SharePoint and can be utilized as part of your Groove and SharePoint implementation. This enhanced functionality includes:
- Version history
- Approval control
- Checkout procedures
- Workflow control
- Document retention policies
- Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
These additional functions available through SharePoint can offer tremendous value when working with Groove. In my example, this additional functionality—in particular Approval control—will prove very useful. For example, suppose team members collaborate within Groove to draft a document. When the final draft is ready for review, it could be synchronized with SharePoint and then it could become subject to the approval process.
Setting up Approval Control
To configure this functionality, you select the Settings menu from the document library and then choose the settings item. This lets you view all of the configuration and customization options. To configure Approval, select the Workflow settings link in the Permissions and Management section to bring up the Add a workflow page. Now select the Workflow template, which in our example will be the Approval template, then enter a name for the workflow. Next you must decide whether to use an existing task list or create a new one. A new task list offers better confidentiality, but since this is not an issue in our example, just select the default.
After choosing the task list, you must decide how the Approval process should begin. Let's make it a manual process by allowing any authenticated user with the correct permissions to start the process. Other options allow you to automate this process based on versioning, if it is enabled on the document library, or whenever a new document is added or an existing document is changed.
After pressing Next to accept these configuration options, you'll need to enter some final configuration information. The first option to configure is how tasks should be assigned. Since it is possible to have multiple people in the approval process, you can assign the approvers serially, where one person approves the item and then it moves to the next person, or in parallel, where anyone can approve it at any time. You must then decide whether to allow approvers to assign tasks to other people and whether they can request a change before the task is complete.
The next step is to select the actual approvers, and then decide when the task should be completed by. Finally, you decide when the workflow is completed. The default option is that the workflow is completed when all the tasks are done. In the final configuration option, you specify whether the Approval status is updated once the workflow is complete. After you press the OK button, the Approval process is created and you can begin the process of approving documents.
Creating the Groove Workspace
Once you have created the SharePoint document library, the next step is to create a Groove workspace. To do so, first ensure you have a Groove account and at least one identity. Identities are the basis for presence and communication within Groove. Each Groove account can be associated with multiple identities, and each identity is associated with a unique contact file so you can customize your contact information for each identity you use. You can also export your Groove account and associated identities in order to use them on multiple computers.
Once you have created an account and an identity, open the Groove Launchbar by double-clicking on the Groove icon in the System Tray. Click on the New Workspace option, enter an appropriate name for the workspace, and choose a Standard type of workspace. The Groove standard workspace facilitates presence, alerts, and role assignment for workspace members. When you click OK, Groove will create the workspace and open it. Figure 2 shows a new workspace with some files added to the Files tool. At this point, the workspace is functional and you can complete its setup by configuring alerts or by adding any tools you wish.
Figure 2 A new Groove workspace (Click the image for a larger view)
Alerts can be configured at the tool, workspace, or individual file level. The four levels of alerts are none, medium, high, and auto. A setting of medium highlights new content, while high or auto will play an audio file. You can also configure alerts to notify you when a user enters a particular workspace. To configure alerts, you select Set Alerts from the Options menu. Alerts on individual files are set on the properties of the file itself; right-click on a file in the workspace and select Properties.
In addition to the Files tool for document collaboration and the Discussion tool for threaded discussions that are part of the default Standard workspace, there are a number of other tools including Calendar, Forms, Issue Tracking, Meetings, Sketchpad, and, of course, the SharePoint Files tool. Each provides valuable additional collaboration functionality. To add a tool, select the Add a tool to this workspace button on the bottom right of the workspace, then choose the one you want to add, as shown in Figure 3. It's also easy to delete a tool at any time.
Figure 3 Adding a tool to the Groove workspace (Click the image for a larger view)
Synchronizing Groove and SharePoint
After adding the SharePoint Files tool, you need to set the URL of the SharePoint site that contains the document library you want to synchronize with. To do so, you just press the Setup button in the Groove workspace, shown in Figure 4, after selecting the SharePoint Files tab at the bottom of the workspace screen.
Figure 4 Setting up the SharePoint Files tool (Click the image for a larger view)
Once you enter the URL, you will see all the libraries available on that SharePoint site. As Figure 5 shows, you then select the library you wish to use. Groove will connect and begin automatic synchronization. This means that any documents currently in the SharePoint library will be downloaded to and made available through the Groove workspace. Figure 6 shows an example.
Figure 5 After you set the URL, your SharePoint libraries will be available in Groove (Click the image for a larger view)
Figure 6 Synchronizing Groove and SharePoint (Click the image for a larger view)
The documents are displayed as unread in the Groove workspace because they have just been downloaded. Note that all files that are synchronized with SharePoint can take advantage of the SharePoint Check in/check out functionality. Furthermore, when you check out a file, you are ensuring that no other users can make changes while you are editing the document.
It is also important to remember that the SharePoint files tool provides for two-way synchronization, so if you add files to the SharePoint files tool via Groove, they will be synchronized to the SharePoint document library. While the default synchronization is set to happen automatically, you can initiate synchronizations manually by pressing the Synchronize Now button. If you do this, you will see a summary of changes for any files that require synchronization and an associated action, get (from SharePoint) or send (to SharePoint), as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7 After manual synchronization, you’ll see a summary of changes (Click the image for a larger view)
One important point to remember is that the Files tool that is deployed as part of the Groove Standard workspace is different from the SharePoint Files tool. The Groove Files tool does not synchronize with SharePoint and, depending upon your needs, may be removed. However, because it does not synchronize with SharePoint, the tool can actually be used as a storage location for temporary files that the team needs access to during the course of a project. The files stored there will still be synchronized among workspace members.
Allowing Access to the Workspace
With the basic collaboration infrastructure now deployed, you can begin to allow users access to the workspace. First, however, you need to invite them, which you can do through e-mail or Groove Instant Messaging. Alternatively, Groove allows you to export the invitation to a file. This file, with a .grv extension, which by default is associated with the Groove application, can then be delivered in some other fashion, such as placing it on a Web site and allowing the recipient to download the invitation.
Groove instant messaging includes security checks to ensure that the invitation is readable only by the recipient. When inviting by e-mail or using an invitation file, make sure that Require acceptance confirmation is checked, so you get to double-check that the person joining your workspace is the invitee you intended. This provides an additional layer of security for the workspace. You should also note that you can cancel pending invitations.
When inviting users to the workspace, you need to select a role for each recipient. Roles include Manager, Participant, and Guest, and the default assignment is Participant. Each role has specific rights within the workspace, and, as a general rule, you should restrict the Manager role to those who really need all rights in the workspace, such as the ability to delete tools. Workspace creators obtain the Manager role by default, and assigned roles can be changed at any time.
Given the ad hoc nature of the project in this article, one last task would be to delete the Groove workspace once everything was complete. After making sure you had synchronized the workspace with the SharePoint library, you would open the workspace, go to the File menu, and choose Delete workspace. You would then choose either the option to delete From This Computer or For All Members. (Each user gets a copy of the workspace on his machine, and it lives on indefinitely unless you delete for all members.)
The culmination of the project would be another opportunity to leverage the complementary nature of Groove and SharePoint. Once the final synchronization of documents has occurred, you would be in an ideal position to take advantage of the Information Management Policy settings in SharePoint. In particular, data expiration could be enabled to provide a method for automatically managing the archived data.
Enabling expiration allows you to specify a period of time for which to retain data. At the end of this retention period, SharePoint can automatically delete the data or start a workflow process. This functionality provides a great way to incorporate Groove data into your company's information lifecycle management policy. You can configure the data retention policy at any time. In fact, if you did not do this when you initially configured the library, you can do it now.
In order to enable expiration, select the Settings menu from within the document library, then choose the document library settings menu item. You can then view the Information Management Policy Settings menu option in the Permissions and Management section of the page. Once you have clicked on the Information Management Policy Settings link, you can either specify a new custom policy that you define or you can choose to enable the document library to use the policy defined at the site level.
Note that if you define a custom policy, you will need to enter some configuration information. Therefore, in my example, you would enable expiration, then select a retention period and an action to perform once this retention period had expired.
Groove is a rich collaboration client designed to provide a dynamic, intuitive, and secure framework for ad hoc collaboration. With its rich toolset, Groove provides a lightweight and adaptable collaborative platform that can be easily used within an organization or among different organizations.
If SharePoint already provides a robust and powerful content management framework and collaboration toolset for your company, I think you'll find that combining it with Groove is a compelling solution. The two products are highly complementary and when used together can add significant productivity gains for collaborative teams.
Alan Maddison is a Senior Consultant with Strategic Business Systems, a division of Brocade.
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