Activities – the unsung hero of IBM Connections

August 15, 2011

by — Posted in IBM Connections, Menu 2

If like me you have been hanging around in Lotus circles for more years than you care to remember, the concepts of task lists and workflow are hardly new. Notes and Domino has long dominated the workflow “groupware” environment more successfully – I would argue – than its Microsoft Outlook/InfoPath solutions and many others to boot because of its flexibility and programmability.

If you don’t have an established Domino infrastructure or don’t have the capabilities of developing a custom solution or are looking for something more “social” may I suggest you take a close look at Activities in IBM Connections.

Put simply Activities in Connections is a list of tasks that you can create, share, assign and update. These can be your own tasks, tasks for someone else, or tasks you are working on in with a team. An Activity is a collection of tasks or other information put into some sort of order which makes sense to you. IBM provides useful “sections” to allow you to group the information in an activity into a sensible order.

Individual tasks in an Activity show up in your To Do list in IBM Connections. The beauty of the To Do list is that it brings together all your tasks regardless of which Activity they appear in. This might not sound much but when you have a number of Activities on the go, each of which has a reasonable number of tasks some of which need to be done soon and others not, the To Do List means that you can focus on what’s needing done without getting overburdened with all the other stuff.

Although Activities might sound like a glorified task pad which you can share with your colleagues, it goes much further than that. Each Activity can have documents, notes, sub-tasks, grouping, emails and all sorts of other information added to them. The result is less of a task manager and more of a project management solution. It turns Activities into a customer relationship solution, incident management answer and, frankly, one of the most useful pieces of business software I have ever seen.

An Activity can be set up to manage an entire project – assigning tasks in different sections to different groups. Documents or other information created at each stage of the project can be attached in the correct place. Emails can be dragged and dropped from Outlook or Notes straight into the Activity in the context of where they are appropriate.

Now when you are catching up on progress on a project you don’t need to hunt around all over the place to find stuff. The linear or parallel path of the project is laid out in front of you. Information is attached in the context of where it applies and because of the excellent search facility in Connections and lets not forget tagging, even if you don’t know the context of something you can always find it.

Traditional project management solutions really struggle to provide the user with a single, seamless, timeline view of everything that is going on in the project. IBM Connections’ Activities does just this. Dragging an email onto a Task in an Activity lets you record the evidence that a task was done. No need to provide links or other referencing of information to the email in the file system. If there are files attached to the email, they come too.

Documents created in Excel, Word, Symphony, etc can all be uploaded to an activity’s tasks in an order which makes sense to the project.

When you remember that literally hundreds of thousands of Activities can be running all at once, each with their own hierarchy like I have described, you begin to realise that IBM has not only solved a project management issue, but has in fact solved information management for organisations in one fell swoop.

Suddenly your email administrator has a solution to all those sensitive emails which are contractual which can’t be deleted. Suddenly your project managers can focus on one area and keep track more easily. Add to that compliance solutions from people like Actiance and you have a management solution which is robust, secure and audit able.

Activities not only allow you to manage your tasks, documents, email and other work, they can be linked together and saved as templates. Thus, once you have established a standard approach for a process you can freeze-dry it and re-use it time and time again.

If you haven’t had a close look at Activities you really should. Its a whole application in its own right and comes as part of IBM Connections.

It makes project management amongst many other processes in your organisation truly socially collaborative and might just help your organisation overcome the chaos you may be facing from proprietary siloed-solutions for email management, project management, document management and sharing.