Lessons Learned from eRoom …

Once you start to use eRoom, it’s very hard to work any other way.  I have used Sharepoint, Lotus Quickr, and of course the old standard email to manage projects.   And I’m a little biased towards eRoom even to this day.    Now in full disclosure I used to work for eRoom(which became Documentum then EMC) since 1999 and I have seen the cult-like following its users have.   From early adopters like the Wharton Business School to Deloitte and Ford….. I’ve been inside too many customers to count across the globe.   

SharePoint is definitely getting better and has a developer community which will no doubt help drive it’s ultimate dominance over the market.  eRoom was definitely bleeding edge for it time and there is a lesson to be learned from it.   And the lesson is that the designers and product managers of eRoom listened to customers and listened to the people in the field who made this technology work.   As a result, eRoom was rapidly deployed and easily adopted by end users.   10 things that made eRoom implemented and accepted so quickly are:

1. Ease of setup and adoption.  eRoom was designed to be easy from the start — from install to room creation — the designers of this product recognized eRoom is a productivity tool for knowledge workers and adoption is the most important thing to consider with this type of technology.   

2.  The eRoom database feature.  Again easy — simple wizard to create a database inside a room.  If you ever used Lotus Notes, there is NO developer required here.   From a simple contact list to Q&As, to part or inventory lists to document libraries — this is probably the most used and most powerful feature inside eRoom.    Highly customizable, highly secure, AND the ability to nest any other eRoom object inside a row.  And accessible via API/XML makes this a POWERFUL feature.

3. Nesting.   This is simply smart design.  It’s much more than a folder or file inside a folder….it’s ANY object inside ANY other object.   Again, this parent-child relationship makes it secure and easy to see what belongs where — keeping everything organized within whatever “context” you desire.   This also helps you secure the workspace.  And if you are anal and like to be organized — so you can easily find things later — you’ll like eRoom’s ability to nest objects too.    

4. Communities.  Again – ahead of its time.   Tight integration with multiple LDAP vendors and native eRoom membership — this community model came out in like 2001? — before the Web 2.0 craze made this a more popular buzzword.   And one of the most critical things for these types of applications is the ability to get people quick, easy, and secure access.  We’re NOT talking about openness here.  eRoom communities help you secure your workspaces, allow you to do segment the user population, and prevent “potential” access to eRooms within a community (that is if you setup communities the right way). 

5. Flexible interface.  What I mean by this is eRoom is like a blank canvas for me to paint.  As a project manager or person “coordinating” the room — I can design the room layout however I want — and again it’s EASY!   Folders, databases, room settings for announcements or status… so so so smart!!    Other competing apps — sorry, they just don’t compare (try and mess with Sharepoint interface as a non-techy…not so easy).   eRoom is flexible because it is not as structured in its taxonomy like a Documentum content server for example.  While Documentum is powerful in its own right for heavy duty content/document management — eRoom removes alot of that complexity and provides simple document management & controls.   This is yet another example where eRoom was ahead of its time — allowing users to create their own “folksonomy” using eRoom objects like folders, databases, notes, discussions, etc…   Tagging can be done with custom fields, but not many customers have exposed that feature which is ashame.  

6. Supportability — okay, every software application has it’s problems.   Having done some technical support in my former life, it’s like seeing someone naked — all the flaws, cellulite, wrinkles, etc..   And while eRoom has some sex appeal, the app is no exception 🙂   However, most sys admins setup eRoom and let it run.  The learning curve for admins is low and the biggest issue is probably scalability – not because it doesn’t scale — you just have to scale it correctly.   So don’t take the easy supportability for granted and pay attention to both hardware and application limitations as you grow your deployment — and this will make supportability easier.   Let’s face it — growth isn’t such a bad problem to have….

7. Security.   Ahh .. the global economy and new buzzwords like open collaboration, peace, love and sharing and caring — well that was great in the 1960’s, but this is 2008 — and the real buzzword people should be saying is SECURE COLLABORATION!!!!    And eRoom is by far the most secure collaboration tool out there.  Why?  Because again designers listened to customers early on and designed it that way.  Okay, one could argue “it runs on microsoft IIS”.   Sure, like 90% of the world, we are at the mercy of Mr. Softy.  But there’s a reason why law firms, professional service firms, pharma firms, energy companies and just about every industry out there uses eRoom — and that’s because they can use it on the public internet, put highly sensitive documents and project / product information in an eRoom, and TRUST that they can securely collaborate with their extended enterprise or clients.  And eRoom 7.4 even integrates rights management around documents to make it even more secure. 

8. Document Management.  Uploading documents into eRoom is easy.  3 step process: Add file, browse, okay – you’re done.  Of course with the plugin, you drag & drop from your desktop to the browser — doesn’t get easier than that.   In an eRoom, double click on the file to read or edit it — once again easy.   You want to do some lightweight content management for your line of business or department or project or business process?  Create an eRoom database with an “attachment field”.  Keep things neat, organized, and again easy to search.   It’s all about context!   Sure, Sharepoint has a doc library — but try to nest a discussion thread under each row… not so easy,

9. Project Management.  By far the biggest use of eroom is to manage projects.  Everyone works off the same page…no emailing documents back and forth, version control, etc..  And as I mentioned earlier, I like the flexibility of painting my eRoom canvas to match my project.  Easy to add a custom banner graphic, a project plan feature, easy status reporting, easy to manage issues/Q&A/tasks/scope changes, an approval process database for change requests — simple basic project management stuff most people find painful to manage in Word or Excel.   Even better, I can setup an alert email that is sent to me immediately if someone updates something I think is important.  Or I can just opt to get a nightly email summary of changes in an eroom.  This push communications makes my life easier as a project manager.

10. Customizability.  You can build so much cool stuff on top of eRoom or push / pull data to/from an eRoom.   And you can brand eRoom to make it your own too.  You want to bring visibility into who is working on what task and when it’s due across all eRooms — and the dashboard feature doesn’t quite cut it?    It’s easy to add a custom web page that allows you to slice and dice data within the eRoom tree structure and bring transparency and accountability to the work people are doing.   You want to see more robust reporting on an eRoom database?  Easy to build and secure API/xml access.    You want to pull ERP data into an eRoom to bring visibility to it there within a “secure context” — you can do it easily.


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