Discovering Activity Explorer in the IBM Workplace Managed Client

Learn about the Activity Explorer in IBM Workplace Managed Client, a productivity tool that helps teams to better manage projects through collaboration.

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Anna O’Neal, Information Developer, IBM, Software Group

Anna O'Neal is an Information Developer in the IBM Lotus User Experience group in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. She has an M.S. degree in Technical Communication from NC State University and currently writes documentation for the IBM Workplace Managed Client. Her areas of interest include human factors, Web design, and user interfaces.



26 July 2005

IBM Workplace Managed Client (formerly IBM Workplace Client Technology, Rich Edition) delivers fully integrated server-managed collaboration to the end user's desktop. It provides flexibility and portability of client-side applications, combined with server-side control and cost savings traditionally associated with Web-based computing -- for the best of both worlds. IBM Workplace Managed Client capabilities include online and offline access to messaging, documents, instant messaging, productivity tools, data access, and a new application called Activity Explorer.

This article explains some basic concepts behind Activity Explorer and provides an overview of its functional capabilities via a tour of the user interface and a scenario-based demonstration. We assume that you have some familiarity with IBM Workplace products such as Workplace Collaboration Services.

What is Activity Explorer?

Activity Explorer is based on the idea of activity-centric collaboration, a design concept that bridges the gap between informal and formal collaboration in team environments. Informal collaboration through tools such as email and instant messaging tends to become unmanageable, unorganized, and ad hoc as projects progress, especially for mid- to large-sized projects. At the other extreme, formal collaboration through tools such as shared workspaces can be too structured to accommodate more informal ways of communicating (see figure 1):

Figure 1. Activity-centric collaboration
Activity-centric collaboration

By building on activity-centric collaboration, Activity Explorer fills the gap between informal and formal collaboration by providing a semi-structured process for completing tasks that revolve around the way users work – all in one easy-to-navigate, integrated environment that supports different work styles and schedules.

Using Activity Explorer, teams accomplish project goals by participating in individual activities. An activity can be any set of interactions that take place within the team to complete a specific part of a project goal. For example, consider a project that creates a system for collecting, storing, and responding to online customer feedback. Three examples of activities in this project could include designing the online feedback form, creating a database to store the data, and forming a team to respond to customers who have submitted feedback.

Each activity is made up of one or more shared objects. Shared objects are the basic building blocks of collaboration within Activity Explorer. They are the interactions that take place among team members relative to the project tasks and goals. For example, let’s say your manager has given you and your team the task of finding a new software product for your company. Shared objects for that activity may include a spreadsheet that lists available software products with the pros and cons of each one, meeting minutes, summaries of brainstorming sessions, threads of emails, ongoing chats among team members, and more.

The following table provides a list of the five shared objects available with Activity Explorer, along with a description of each one:

Shared objectDescription
Shared noteA "memo" in rich text format that team members can view, edit, and repost to the server.
Persistent chatAn instant message session where team members can exchange text messages in real time and save the session for others to see at a later time. Persistent chats are saved to the server in their entirety, so team members can view and add to them later, while always having the complete transcript recorded and available at any point.
Shared folderAn empty folder that team members can populate with shared objects. The shared folder can provide structure to activities.
Shared fileA file that is uploaded to the server from the creator’s local machine. Once uploaded, only one copy of the file is shared with the team.
Shared screenA screen shot that team members can open and annotate using Activity Explorer’s drawing tools.

When team members create shared objects, they can mark them as private or share them with other team members. Marking them as private allows team members to store and update drafts of objects until they are ready to be shared. Sharing objects allows team members to present ideas, post files, store chat sessions, and more, for immediate use.

To share an object, team members define a list of members who can have access to that object. Any member of a shared object can add or remove members from the object at any time. And, as a means to ensure all team members are aware of the activity status of the object, Activity Explorer alerts team members every time the object is modified.

As team members add more and more shared objects to an activity, an activity thread evolves. An activity thread is a hierarchical view of the interactions that take place in an activity. Shared objects can be at multiple levels within the hierarchy, depending on how they are posted, for example, as a reply to an existing shared object or as an added resource.

The first shared object in an activity thread is called the parent object, because all the shared objects that follow will stem from it and be at a lower level in the hierarchy. Any shared object in an activity thread that is not the parent object is called a child object. Child objects are responses either to the parent object or to other child objects.

For example, in the activity thread shown in figure 2, "Draft 1: Printing system design" is the parent object and all the other shared objects are child objects:

Figure 2. Activity thread
Activity thread

Team members can use shared objects to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous collaboration is in real-time, for example, a chat in which several members are communicating simultaneously. Asynchronous collaboration, on the other hand, is when team members work individually without the presence of other members of the shared object. All shared objects are stored on the server, regardless of whether collaboration is synchronous or asynchronous.


Navigating Activity Explorer

Now that you’ve learned some key features of Activity Explorer, let’s look at how to navigate through the Activity Explorer user interface.

Figure 3 shows you an example of what to expect when you first open Activity Explorer in IBM Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5. IBM Workplace Managed Client is the client running on the desktop, and IBM Workplace Collaboration Services refers to the services running on the server.

Figure 3. Activity Explorer main window
Activity Explorer main window

Now let’s look at the individual sections of the interface more closely. You may want to refer back to these sections when you read the scenario later in this article.

The Switcher bar (figure 4) is the area on the left where you switch among managed client applications. For example, to start Activity Explorer, click Activity Explorer in the Switcher bar:

Figure 4. Switcher bar
Switcher bar

The Activity List pane (figure 5) shows a list of all the activities that include you as a member. It has two tabs: Activity List and Activity Tree. The Activity List tab displays the parent object of each activity in a "flat" view. It highlights new and updated activities and allows you to customize, sort, and filter the list for your convenience. The Activity Tree tab shows both the parent object and child objects of each activity in a hierarchical structure similar to the way Windows Explorer shows a file system. The hierarchical structure allows you to see the relationships between the activities.

Figure 5. Activity List pane
Activity List pane

The Activity Thread pane (figure 6) displays the activity that is currently selected in the Activity List pane. It shows all the shared objects that are associated with that activity. You can use the Activity Thread pane to help you learn how the various objects are related to each other, which team members have contributed, and how the activity has progressed throughout the project.

Figure 6. Activity Thread pane
Activity Thread pane

The Details pane (figure 7) provides a summary of the selected object, for example, its name and creator, the member list, the date when it was last modified, and more.

Figure 7. Details pane
Details pane

The Instant Contacts pane (figure 8) displays a list of your instant contacts and shows their online status. You can right-click a person’s name in the list and start a new shared activity with that person. You can also add new members to existing activities either by dragging their names from the Instant Contacts pane onto activities in the Activity List pane or vice versa.

You must be logged into Instant Contacts before you can collaborate synchronously (in real-time). The Instant Contacts list is available from all other Workplace applications as well.

Figure 8. Instant Contacts pane
Instant Contacts pane

The Preview pane (figure 9) displays the contents of the selected object. If the object is a shared file, the Preview pane displays the file name and type. If the object is a shared folder, the Preview pane remains blank.

Figure 9. Preview pane
Preview pane

Demonstrating Activity Explorer with a real-life scenario

Now that you can identify the sections of the Activity Explorer user interface and understand the key features of Activity Explorer, such as activities, activity threads, and shared objects, we’d like to present a scenario to demonstrate how you can use Activity Explorer to complete project goals in a real-world environment.

Let’s begin the story...

Bill and Tom both work at LOTZACASH bank. Bill is a product manager, and Tom is a product designer. Together with six other employees, they are working on a project to redesign the printing system at some of the bank’s branch offices. They are using Activity Explorer, part of IBM Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5, to share information and communicate about the project.

As the product designer, Tom has just completed a presentation that outlines his ideas for the new printing system. Now he is ready for the rest of the team to review the presentation and provide their feedback. Tom decides to start a new activity in Activity Explorer by sharing the presentation file with the rest of the team.

Task 1: Starting a new activity

On the Activity List pane, Tom clicks New Activity and selects New Shared File (figure 10). The shared file will be the parent object of the activity.

Figure 10. New activity
New activity

He uploads the file from his local machine and shares it with the other seven team members, thereby giving them access rights to the file. Since he is the creator of the object, he already has access rights by default. He names the activity "Draft 1: Printing system design presentation."

Tom’s new activity now appears in the Activity List pane, and the summary information for the shared file appears in the Details pane. Tom can immediately see which members are currently online because they have the presence awareness icon beside their names. Activity Explorer alerts the team that Tom has shared a new file with them.

Task 2: Posting a shared note

At this point, Tom has started a new activity and shared it with his team. Now he wants each team member to provide specific feedback about the presentation based on their areas of expertise. He decides to post a shared note instead of sending a regular email because he wants it to display as a branch of the current activity. This will make it easy for the team members to refer back to the note without having to search for it in their inboxes.

In the Activity Thread pane, Tom clicks Post and selects New Shared Note. When the dialog box opens, he notices that the new shared note has automatically inherited the members of the presentation file (the parent object). He types "Please review file" in the subject line and composes a quick note explaining what he'd like each team member to review and the date by which he’d like to receive the team’s feedback. After he posts the note, it appears as a child object of the shared file in the Activity Thread pane (figure 11).

Figure 11. Tom’s shared note
Tom’s shared note

Task 3: Opening shared objects

A little while later, Bill the product manager returns to his desk from lunch and notices the alert on his screen informing him that Tom has shared a new object with him. He also sees the new activity thread in the Activity Thread pane. Bill decides to preview the shared note in the Preview pane (figure 12).

Figure 12. Preview of shared note
Preview of shared note

Next, Bill double-clicks the presentation to open it. Located several buildings away, Tom can see that Bill has opened the file because the icon beside the object in the Activity Thread pane is now green and an alert bubble has popped up in his system tray that informs him that Bill has opened the file (figure 13).

Figure 13. Alert
Alert

Task 4: Starting a persistent chat

As soon as Tom sees that Bill has opened the file, he decides to initiate a persistent chat with him. He wants to make sure that Bill understands his review instructions. Since he’s initiating a persistent chat, he knows that other team members can refer back to the chat and participate in it at a later time.

In the Activity List pane, Tom clicks Post - Persistent Chat. Bill and Tom begin chatting about the presentation.

Task 5: Sharing a screen

While chatting, Tom decides that it will be easier to show Bill some of the areas in the presentation that need special attention. He opens the presentation and starts sharing his screen.

From the chat window, Tom launches the Shared Screen Tool (figure 14) and takes a snapshot of a specific area of the presentation.

Figure 14. Shared Screen Tool
Shared Screen Tool

Bill is alerted and can see the snapshot of the presentation on his screen. Tom and Bill begin using their drawing tools to annotate the presentation in real-time. When finished, Tom saves the presentation as a new child object in the activity thread for the other team members to refer to later.

Task 6: Posting private objects as a way to store drafts of files

Over the next few days, the team members provide their feedback by adding new shared notes to the activity thread. Tom gradually incorporates their feedback into a new version of the presentation.

Instead of keeping a draft version of the presentation on his local system, Tom decides to post it as a private object in the activity thread. This way, he knows exactly where to find the latest version of the presentation, and he doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with copies on his local machine. He also knows that he can simply turn it into a shared object as soon as he’s ready to share it with the rest of the team.

Task 7: Adding new members to an existing object

After Tom completes the second draft of the presentation and shares it with the rest of the team, he decides to give his manager Vickie access to the presentation as well. He wants to get her feedback before he presents the final version to the design team.

To add Vickie to the member list of the second presentation, Tom drags her name from his instant contacts list onto the shared object. This automatically makes her a member of the shared object and gives her access to the presentation. He does not add her to the member list of the other shared objects in the activity thread, because the presentation is the only object that needs her attention. When she returns to her desk, she’ll see the new object in her activity list.

After Vickie provides her feedback, Tom posts a final version of the presentation. This shared file is the last shared object in the activity thread. The activity is now complete, and Tom is ready to present the final presentation to the design team.


Conclusion

In this article, you learned some key features of Activity Explorer and read a scenario that demonstrated how you can use it in a team setting to collaborate and complete project goals. For more information about Activity Explorer and related topics, refer to the Resources section following this article.

Resources

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