Moving Beyond E-Mail

Published Date: November 21, 2007

The Problem

When you look around, it is easy to see that how we work together is changing. One of the biggest changes, especially for an IT organization, is the dramatic increase in collaboration between organizations. Organizations now collaborate with external business partners in ways that would have seemed inconceivable even 10 years ago. In the past, most work was done by employees and on-site contractors, whereas it is not unusual today to have project teams made up of a widely dispersed mix of on-site and off-site employees, vendor personnel, consultants, and sometimes even competitors all working together on a project. These groups come together, develop their work products, and dissolve rapidly. The benefits are obvious: teams can leverage a wide variety of perspectives and insights from experts and stakeholders wherever they are, whether inside or outside the organization. This level of collaboration can lead to better decisions, improved product designs, more effective marketing campaigns, and so on.

But the benefits of collaboration have not come without a cost. The increase in collaboration results in a huge demand on IT managers to provide tools that can facilitate collaboration with external partners. Users need collaboration tools and will use e mail for this purpose if such tools do not exist. Users demand tools that move beyond e-mail, both to help them collaborate with internal and external parties, and to help them work more efficiently. IT managers want to meet the needs of their users, but must also consider security, availability, and supportability for the tools that they provide. Although many organizations have deployed such tools internally, many shy away from external deployment of collaboration tools because of concerns about security. Unfortunately, this has a paradoxical effect. Because companies do not provide the necessary tools, users resort to less secure methods for collaboration, such as e-mail. Clearly, this solution is far from ideal.

The Needs

What organizations need is a way to respond to the reality of how work gets done today. Employees need to be able to collaborate easily and securely with people inside and outside the firewall. The collaboration tools they use must provide a level of security that is appropriate for the data being shared. Further, these tools must be easy to use to ensure that employees actually use them. Given how easy it is for users to revert to e-mail for their collaboration needs, it is critical that any secure collaboration tool have ease of use as a primary feature. In fact, it would be best for such tools to function in familiar ways, which would help ensure that users adopt their use.

Microsoft provides a wide variety of tools to help customers collaborate with their partners. These tools include Groove, Communications Server, Outlook and Exchange, Live Meeting, and, of course, SharePoint. However, with so many products to choose from, it can be difficult to know which can best meet your needs, as well as the optimal way to deploy them to provide the security and ease of use that a successful implementation requires. In addition, further guidance or tools may help to unlock the true potential of some of these products, especially in the context of secure external collaboration.

The Solution

In order to help you address your external collaboration requirements quickly and effectively, Microsoft is developing the Extranet Collaboration Toolkit for SharePoint Solution Accelerator. This Solution Accelerator comes from the same team that brought you Business Desktop Deployment 2007, the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment tool, the Data Encryption Toolkit for Mobile PCs, and the hardening guides for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and so on.

The Solution Accelerator examines various collaboration scenarios and provides recommendations about how collaboration options from Microsoft can help address them. It also provides specific planning and implementation guidance and tools to help you use SharePoint to provide secure, highly scalable, and easily managed external collaboration capabilities. This Solution Accelerator will help you leverage the SharePoint technology that you already own—and that your users know how to use—to enable collaboration between internal employees and contractors and personnel outside the organization. It will include fully tested software required to provide these capabilities.

The Specifics

The Extranet Collaboration Toolkit for SharePoint Solution Accelerator will be delivered in phases between now and the first quarter of 2008. It will consist of two primary components:

  • A collaboration options guide. This document examines various external collaboration scenarios and provides recommendations for addressing them using Microsoft technologies. This guide will be available by the end of 2007.
  • A package of secure external collaboration software and guidance. This package provides most everything you need to create a collaboration solution based on SharePoint technology. This software and guidance will be available in the first quarter of 2008.

You can find this new Solution Accelerator, and all of our other Solution Accelerators, at


The Extranet Collaboration Toolkit for Sharepoint is part of a larger series of tools and guidance from Solution Accelerators.


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