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An Oracle Collaboration Suite preview

The Oracle Collaboration Suite is getting a facelift. Due out this summer, the third version of the product will be known as Oracle Collaboration Suite 10g release 1 and will feature major enhancements to its file management and group collaboration capabilities. recently sat down with Rob Koplowitz, Oracle's senior director of the Oracle Collaboration Suite product line, to find out more about the direction the product is taking. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Oracle Collaboration Suite has been around for about four years now. Can you run down a timeline describing how the product has changed over the time?
It's a really good time to chat because we've got a release coming out this summer. We're gearing up for it. If you go through top to bottom, we started off with a platform that was basically e-mail and calendaring and it had basic file management capabilities. And file management capabilities at that time consisted basically of the ability to manage files with a little bit of value-add in a relational database. As we went into the second release about two years ago, we added the first real time collaboration component, which was the Web conferencing component. We also enhanced the e-mail and calendaring capabilities and we added quite a bit to the content management capabilities in the way of workflow and approval processing etc. What can we expect from the next version of the suite?
The file management portion has changed very dramatically. We're really starting to refer to that now as a content management solution. And we're positioning it as what we call 'content management for the rest of us.' We're really not going after the high end of the content management market. We're going after a market where we think that content management is going to permeate entire enterprises. The phrase 'content management' has been something of a misnomer. If you go into most enterprises, you have a couple of key departments with critical needs that embrace content management. But generally, there hasn't been a content management [system] on my desk or the desk of the folks in sales etc. You're saying that there is a need for more folks to have access to content managment. Why?
A couple of factors are clearly changing this: One is clearly compliance. People need to have better control over all of the information in their organization, not just structured but also unstructured. And also, just the explosion of data is driving the change. It's really hard to figure out what's out there and to find information. We've grappled with information management systems and the answer doesn't seem apparent. Now I think people are moving toward this idea of rolling out basic content management to every desktop in the enterprise, so that all of the content that people create is put under a level of control. Specifically, how will Oracle Collboration Suite address this content managment need?
We've greatly enhanced the Oracle Files product to be this content management system. We want this basically to be a filer server replacement. And also, since the information is in a relational database and application is built on a service-oriented architecture (SOA), the content can also be consumed by applications wherever and however it is needed. Can you give an example of how this would come together in a real world setting?
Let's take the case of the given contract that is dropped on a file server someplace. And who needs access to that? Well, the contract management people probably take a copy of that and put it into the contract management system. Salespeople want to be able to find it so they can create new contracts and request for proposals (RFPs) based upon work that already exists. Customer service wants access to that information because they want to check the service levels that the customer has signed up for.

If you start to think of this in a relational model, you have the ability to store massive amounts of information in a relational database, and then, through a SOA, make that piece of capital available wherever and whenever you need it. So the contract management system simply surfaces the information from the content management system, as does the CRM system. It's also available through a file system paradigm. You're also adding collaborative workspaces to the suite. Can you explain this feature?
If you kind of look out at the landscape at folks like Groove Networks and Windows SharePoint Services, you see the idea of adding a rich layer of functionality around content. That includes the ability to have threaded discussions, to be able to tell who within a given workspace is available and online and connect to them with an instant messenger, share information and Web conference. They're basically templated workspaces that people can use to do either ad hoc or specific tasks. That will become an alternate front end coming up in the upcoming version.

On the real time collaboration side, we've changed things rather dramatically as well. We used to have the Web conferencing piece, but in the upcoming version we're going to add presence capabilities. That is the ability to surface whether given individuals are online in classic instant messenger form. But that also will include the ability to surface group presence.

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