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Dueling Collaboration Portals

I noticed an interesting phenomenon this afternoon; we are experimenting with SharePoint as our internal project management / collaboration portal. A nice platform to choose, because it's popularity is growing, and there are a wide selection of add-on products and development partners ready, willing, and able to help us spend our money to make it even better.

The interesting part is that we are running into other companies who are also working with SharePoint. Specifically, third-party consulting firms that want to work with us on projects - they have (wisely) set up outward-facing portals, so they can effectively connect and collaborate with the paying customers.

Basic training is clearly not an issue here - but after a few hours, some of the (ah, what's that word? oh yes ...) interesting issues come bubbling up ...

Mechanics

What's the protocol here? An internal project could start their own team site, and when the external partner isĀ  selected, we'll want to pull them into our collabora-party. Intuitively obvious, but most end-user firms do not regularly extend their intranet / SharePoint servers outside the firewall.

Of course, your external partner may be righteously convinced of the superiority of their portal-enabled project management process - leaving us with a new type of distributed version control problem. Even if we manually keep document libraries in sync - I'm to lazy to deal with dual entry of issues.

Intellectual Property

There may be an IP assumption that needs some clarity. I'd wager both parties have a certain interest in any intellectual property generated during the engagement - will this portal approach make it easier or more difficult to control? And what about the IP represented by the blogs, wikis, discussions, etc. embedded within - will the end of the project deliver an electronic version of all that stuff? You may need to revisit your Master Consulting Agreements.

Interoperability

Data sharing is straightfroward when both organizations are running SharePoint. It becomes problematic if different portal platforms are used. I'm currently not aware of any standard workflow or portal object API - possibly another great opportunity for some entrepreneur - portal synchronization over the Internet?

In Retrospect

None of these general concerns should surprise - it's just the latest iteration of a common problem when dealing with electronic meda. We've all seen engagements where organizations are on different e-mail systems, different versions of MS Office - even different platforms (Macintosh vs Windows, AutoCAD versus Pro-E). I'm sure more are on the way - Dokuwiki vs. MediaWiki? Et 2.0, Brute?

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