Introducing IBM LotusLive Engage

In this article, we give an overview of IBM® LotusLive Engage and describe its unique features. In other articles in this series, we examine each offering in more detail.

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Amit M. Surana (amitsurana@in.ibm.com), Software Engineer, IBM

Amit Surana has been with IBM India Software Labs from November 2007. Amit is currently part of the LotusLive Integration development team focusing on integration of various products and services in LotusLive for customers. His research and development interests cover a broad range of current technology trends including Atom, REST, JAX-WS, OSGi, OpenSource, Web 2.0, and Eclipse related technologies. You can reach him at amitsurana@in.ibm.com.



Dattatreya S. Vellal (davellal@in.ibm.com), Software Engineer, IBM

Dattatreya S Vellal has worked for with IBM India Software Labs since July 2007. He is associated with the LotusLive team for usability testing and LotusLive usage scenario development. His area of interests includes Eclipse-based technologies, Expeditor on devices, and cloud computing. You can reach him at davellal@in.ibm.com.



Rajkiran Guru (Rajkirang@in.ibm.com), IT Architect, IBM India Software Labs

RajKiran Guru has been working with IBM since 1999. He is the Technical Lead and Architect for the LotusLive Customers Integration Center. Guru also plays the role of Technical Evangelist, enabling partners, customers, and IBMers on LotusLive capabilities. He has published several articles for developerworks and external publications and has co-authored two IBM Redbook publications. You can reach him at Rajkirang@in.ibm.com.



10 December 2009 (First published 21 September 2009)

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Introduction

IBM LotusLive is designed to allow organizations to work and collaborate in smarter ways with an emphasis on simplicity and ease of use. The LotusLive online services give organizations of all sizes access to rich collaboration tools. To learn more, refer to our introductory article, "Introducing IBM LotusLive." In this developerWorks® article, we examine one of the service offerings in more detail: LotusLive Engage.


LotusLive Engage

LotusLive Engage is an integrated suite of tools that combines your business network with Web conferencing and collaboration capabilities, such as file storing and sharing, instant messaging, and chart creation. LotusLive Engage facilitates collaboration in your business seamlessly and without regard for location and geography.

LotusLive Engage services include the following:

  • Web meetings is an always-ready, on-demand online meeting room. You can easily host meetings and invite others to join the meetings.
  • Store and share lets you share targeted business materials quickly with an entire group or with an individual.
  • Activities allows you to create, prioritize, and share information, documents, and to-do lists.
  • The networking service lets you add customizable, shareable contact information and leverage social networking features to connect with others.
  • Instant messaging helps you to locate a contact in the LotusLive community and start a real-time discussion with that contact. You can also start a chat session during meetings.
  • Forms service allows you to create a survey and quickly visualize the survey data through different types of charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps.
  • You can upload or create data sets and let live charts service create an instant graphical view to share with others.

Unlike many other vendors’ software as a service (SaaS) offerings, all these services are integrated in LotusLive Engage to make the best use of Web 2.0 capabilities and online collaboration. Integration here means that all charts created using the live charts service are stored as a file in the Store and Share Library, ready for sharing with other users. Web meetings are integrated with activities and to-do lists to let the host take notes, and any participant can chat with other participants using the integrated instant messaging tool.


LotusLive dashboard

When LotusLive Engage users log in, they see the LotusLive Engage Dashboard shown in figure 1. The dashboard is the entry point to various services offered by LotusLive Engage. It can be used to start or join meetings, navigate to various services, and check updates that provide an overview of what is happening in the user’s network. Figure 1 shows a typical LotusLive Engage dashboard. The user interface (UI) is consistent throughout the LotusLive Engage services and provides rebranding capabilities for customers.

Figure 1. LotusLive Engage dashboard
LotusLive Engage dashboard

The dashboard consists of following items:

  • A link to an organization’s home page along with company logo
  • An overview page with direct access to all central LotusLive Engage services
  • Access to host a Web meeting service or join one as a participant
  • A summary of all recent requests, for example, to participate in a survey or to connect to another LotusLive Engage member
  • Access to the administrator control panel from the dashboard for administrators
  • A listing of all recent updates highlighted in the update section including:
    • Any files, surveys, bookmarks, and activities that have been shared with you
    • Any notifications to requests that you made to other members to connect
    • Any updates to profiles of contacts to which you are connected
    • Any updates to files and collections that have been shared with you

The dashboard toolbar consists of the following navigation links:

  • My Dashboard: For easy navigation to your dashboard.
  • My Network:
    • Contacts: To add or modify your contacts details
    • Profiles: To edit your profile settings
    • Groups: To create or participate in LotusLive groups
    • Your organization’s directory, which lists all members of the organization to which you are affiliated
  • My Services:
    • Files: To store and share files among members in LotusLive
    • Charts: To create and share charts
    • Activities: To create and share activities and to-do lists
    • Meetings: To host or join LotusLive Web meetings
    • Forms: To create and send surveys, forms, feedback
    • Instant messaging: To collaborate with members of the organization

Single sign-on

LotusLive Engage offers a single sign-on (SSO) experience. Users access LotusLive services through a single access and authentication service. After users are authenticated, they are never asked for their credentials again. When launched, each service displays within the main browser frame without launching a separate window, and all services share a similar UI. Because all LotusLive Engage components are built on the same security infrastructure, there is no need to install any add-on on the client.


My Network service

The My Network service is a place to manage all contacts and connections. My Network can be used as more than an address book. With a single click, users can collaborate with their networks, share files, add a user to an activity, and do much more. Users can create their personal profiles, connect to other LotusLive users, create groups and share files with the entire group, and instantly chat with any user from their network. A corporate directory containing all the contacts of LotusLive Engage users belonging to a specific organization is maintained.


Web meetings

Customers, business partners, colleagues, and guests can join a Web meeting, even across the firewall. LotusLive meetings are based on the Web conferencing tool, IBM® Lotus® Sametime® Unyte®.

Figure 2. LotusLive Meetings presentation screen
LotusLive Engage: Web meetings

You can start the meeting from your dashboard or from the Meetings home page shown in figure 2. LotusLive generates a unique meeting ID for every user when the LotusLive Engage account is created. This ID can be used by customers, business partners, and others to join the meeting. At the bottom of the Meetings home page there are links for checking browser compatibility and for installing an add-on to enable application sharing during the meeting session. This add-on is not required if you want only to participate and view a Web meeting.

Figure 3. Toolbar highlighting the Publish option
The LotusLive Engage Getting Started window

After the meeting is in session, hosts can do the following:

  • Present files from their computer or open any files uploaded in the LotusLive Store and Share Library service
  • Start application sharing to share the desktop or any application with all participants
  • Use the Activities service, embedded as a sidebar, which lets you create activities and to-do items during the meeting session
  • Survey meeting attendees with the help of the Forms Service sidebar
  • Conduct a video conference (check the system requirements before using this feature)
  • Prepare for the conference before the meeting starts by publishing a number of files so that hosts can toggle between them during the conference
  • Conduct on-the-fly polling with all participants and publish the results immediately
  • Use highlighter and marker pens to navigate through any specific point during the meeting
  • Lock the conference to prevent more participants from joining the conference
  • Start a chat with any participant in the meeting using the instant messaging sidebar

Web meetings have these features:

  • They have an easy-to-use, intuitive interface.
  • There is a single point of management for the video and Web conferencing service.
  • They are accessible any time, any where through a Web browser.
  • They provide credentials-based meeting access.
  • They offer dedicated one-call customer support.
  • They provide calendar integration with IBM Lotus Notes® and Microsoft® Outlook.
  • They offer one-click start of a Web conference from IBM Lotus Sametime.

Files (Store and Share Library)

The Store and Share Library is an online space for storing and sharing documents, presentations, bookmarks, and content collections.

LotusLive makes file sharing a painless and convenient operation. Documents are first uploaded to the Store and Share Library through the browser. After the file exists in the library, you can click the Share action in the context-sensitive drop-down list of options to share the file with users you select or to make the file public. The shared files can also be presented from within the Add Files to Present sidebar in LotusLive Meetings. See figure 4.

LotusLive stores the files securely and applies all credentials required for making the file visible only to intended users. LotusLive also provides REST APIs to access the Store and Share Library. Every call to these APIs must be secure (HTTPS) and must be authenticated with appropriate credentials.

Figure 4. Application sharing
The Store and Share Library window

Documents can contain rich text, graphics, and photographs that cause file sizes to grow. It is not uncommon to have presentation documents that are 20 MB. Most of the file-sharing sites can prevent users from uploading large files.

LotusLive Engage does not have a size limit for files. Nor does LotusLive impose different size quotas for each file type. LotusLive overcomes this barrier and allows sharing of files of any size.


Activities

Activities are the place where you can introduce new projects, track a to-do list, brainstorm new solutions, and more. The service is based on IBM Lotus Connections Activities and is virtually identical. Activities in LotusLive can be used to track details or work progress. A user can assign an activity or a to-do to any user, set priority, or delete the activity when the activity is over. See figure 5.

Figure 5. My Activities window
My Activities window

Activities can be used to create a timeline-like tracking sheet for any task. Suppose that a team has a fixed timeline to execute a project from developing to deploying to customer location. You can create an activity by breaking the entire project task into a set of to-do lists. In essence, you can structure the activity as a series of tasks and artifacts that are collected or generated along the way. These artifacts can be files, links, bookmarks, chat transcripts, or plain text. As the tasks are completed, activity members can check off the to-do items that help to mark the progress of the project. This approach offers a much more natural process because it fits the way people actually work.

Figure 6. Project Activity window
Project Activity window

All users who have access to the activity can subscribe to the activity Atom feed and get regular updates. The LotusLive meetings sidebar provides the ability to assign action items from within the meeting before they are lost or forgotten. LotusLive Activities can be integrated with Lotus Notes using a plug-in. See figure 7.


Forms

Forms is a wizard-based service that guides users through creating and publishing form-based content such as surveys and or other business forms. This service makes it easy to send out a survey and gather quick feedback from customers and colleagues. The forms service in LotusLive is based on IBM Lotus Turbo Forms.

Forms data can range from expense reports, to surveys, to defect reports. The data can be easily organized into a format that can be analyzed or visualized in a report.

Figure 7. The Forms window
The Forms window

Creating a form in LotusLive is easy. Forms do not require that a special add-on or plug-in is installed on the client side. LotusLive forms provides users with an applet-based form layout tool to assist in creating enterprise-level feedback forms and surveys. See figure 8.

Figure 8. The Forms customization window
The Forms customization window

After a form is designed in LotusLive, it is stored in the user's Store and Share Library, where it can be shared with individuals, groups, the entire organization, or the public. Users use their browser to input data, which is stored in a separate results file, which can be downloaded for offline processing. Alternatively, the results can be visualized using the LotusLive charts service. See figure 9.

Figure 9. The Forms survey
The Forms survey

Live charts

Live charts is an innovative service offered by LotusLive to quickly transform captured or uploaded data into dynamic visualizations. The service is completely browser driven and does not require any other client. Users upload a file containing the data, pick a chart type, and the data is plotted onto the chart; the entire process takes minutes. A wide variety of chart types is available, including the basic bar and pie charts and more esoteric varieties, such as scatterplots, block histograms, and networks. Free text can be plotted using the tag cloud and tree map chart types.

Figure 10. Create New chart window
Create New chart window

The chart display is linked to the underlying data so that any changes made are reflected immediately. LotusLive charts allows anyone to quickly share visual data with team members or the entire organization with almost no learning curve.


Instant messaging

Instant messaging allows users to communicate instantly with business contacts and colleagues. LotusLive Engage uses IBM Lotus Sametime, a corporate instant-messaging environment that lets users communicate with simple typed messages or documents or video. The IM environment offers impenetrable security that thwarts intrusion attempts, as well as messaging-borne malware. To use instant messaging, users can download and install Lotus Sametime from LotusLive, or they can add a LotusLive community to their Lotus Sametime client to chat with other LotusLive members.


Conclusion

IBM has redefined collaboration to take full advantage of the potential that social computing and Web 2.0 offer. LotusLive Engage is a first step in the direction of allowing users to reach beyond the confines of their traditional organizational boundaries to collaborate with customers, partners, and vendors.

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