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Technology Focus: Employee Aids for Internal Communications

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Using software to keep enterprise employees in touch with each other can follow one of three major strategies: workflow apps, messaging apps that support social media, and web portals.

 

When an entity as large as an enterprise, or even one as modest as a project team, exceeds a certain number of participants or geographic locations, the importance of inter-employee communications starts reaching critical stages. While that critical number varies from organization to organization, a few of the factors that mandate maintaining good communications between team members include managerial oversight of project progress, the need to avoid duplication of effort, and awareness of interrelated deadlines.

Staff meetings, whether conducted in person or electronically, can only go so far in remedying communications needs, so organizations of all sizes are increasingly turning to three major types of software applications to help coordinate employee activity.

Workflow applications are the first and most formal. They include software that facilitates the tracking and coordination of group projects and information-routing within and across teams. Second are messaging and communications applications that help employees keep in touch with each other, both individually and in groups. Third are portal products, which help employees (and other authorized users) keep in touch with information published by the enterprise itself.

Considerations for Adopting Workflow Apps

Workflow applications are generally the most complex and feature-rich of the possibilities for formalizing communications between groups of employees. As such, they can also be trickiest to implement, at least according to two vendors in that market.

Paul McDonald, manager of professional services, and Bob Gleisner, director of professional services, both at LANSA, cite three common difficulties with implementing workflow application on the IBM i. First, many workflow apps are tightly coupled with line-of-business (LOB) apps and don't really offer the benefits of a generic app that can help manage business processes across an enterprise. Second, workflow apps don't let users easily create web-based GUI forms to extend or supplement existing tables with databases. Third, workflow apps lack an easily configurable way to interface with email engines or to enable integration with popular document-creation tools like Microsoft Office or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).

Wim Jongman, CTO and managing director of Remain Software, sees a somewhat different set of problems facing first-time workflow application users. "IBM i users' environments are often more complex and consist of multiple platforms. Therefore, an extensible 'platform-independent' workflow management system that can call into other IBM i applications and accept input from other platforms is vital."

A second problem can be the approach an enterprise takes to workflow implementation, states Jongman. "When companies start with a workflow system, they can get too detailed and draw out a huge workflow that should cover all the aspects and [special] cases that they can ever run into. It also includes all possible items, such as document types, tasks, requests, and many others. This is a pitfall, which can quickly result in too much time spent on implementation and lead to irritation of the team responsible for the project. Large workflows are mostly caused by enthusiasm, but we also see that there are sometimes too many people involved in the initial implementation."

At third problem cited by Jongman relates to user interfaces. "In our experience, a good home for a workflow system is the browser. The challenges we face here [are whether] users want to run the workflow app on the IBM i or [instead] on an isolated system (such as Linux or Windows) and only store the data on the IBM i. Data access can be confined to only the server running the workflow system. It can also be a tough job to install application servers on the IBM i, so the challenge is to reduce the complexity and time needed for installation," he adds.

Workflow Apps as a Supplementary Venue

When asked if it was common for their customers to use both workflow and messaging software to keep their employees in touch, all three vendor representatives agreed.

"Yes, the payback for workflow implementation is to improve business process flows," noted LANSA's McDonald and Gleisner. "All workflow solutions focus on improving throughput by identifying bottlenecks or inefficiencies within the process flow. The use of dynamic messaging…allows for real-time improvements in the business process flow. Therefore, notifications via different message protocols (such as SMTP and SMS) to actors within the workflow orchestration are critical to the success of any workflow solution."

"Sharing all project-related comments, documents, and tasks within one central system significantly increases effectiveness," Jongman observes. "Nevertheless, a small percentage of exchanged information goes…through employees only. Email and other types of messaging can be much more informal, and people need informal ways of communicating to be optimally effective. I can send an opinioned email to you, but I would not do it in a reply in a workflow system."

Looking to the Future of Employee Communications

As much as any area of application software, employee intercommunication is a moving target. For example, with social media increasingly being used by enterprises to gauge their standing with customers, and employees often tending to include work peers in their social networks, social media could easily play a significant but currently unpredictable role in workplace communications of the future.

"The influence of social media on work nowadays is worth mentioning," Jongman highlights. "Everything becomes 'social,' including work and cooperation between employees."

"Mobility is essential," he adds. "Users want their applications to work on any device they use. Modern workflow management applications need to keep up with those changes and be accessible anytime, from anywhere, so that users can be constantly up to date with anything that happens in the system [and also] the platforms these workflow systems work on. Users also expect their workflow management apps to easily integrate with software of any kind."

"Workflow applications need to deliver solutions that support the changing UI landscape, messaging protocols, and delivery platforms such as mobile devices," McDonald and Gleisner agree. "For example, with increasing numbers of enterprise systems in the cloud, access to these systems to share critical information and accomplish tight integration sometimes seems elusive. Regarding UI, messaging protocols, and delivery platforms, consider REST, SOAP, WSDL, HTML5, and whatever comes next. Enough said?"

Compiling Communications Applications for the IBM i

Below are product listings for the three major types of internal communications aids for enterprise employees, listed separately. Workflow applications are first, messaging and communications applications are second, and third are portal products. (Not included here because they're outside the scope of this article are collaboration tools expressly for software developers, change-management or other types of applications that may contain collaborative features, and middleware products that support collaborative applications.)

Employee Internal Communication Aids for IBM i

Workflow Applications for IBM i

Ademero

Content Central

Content Central is a document- and content-management application that provides workflow capabilities for team collaboration on documents and similar projects. Features include browser access, security protections, document-routing tools, and a large repository for preset and custom-designed business rules for managing workflows.

Atlassian

Confluence

Confluence is a team environment that runs on IBM i servers using Linux, Windows, or Apache Tomcat. The product is an application for working on documents, software development, and other projects. It features a shared knowledge base, a repository for group project documents, and an interface to a separate project-tracking application.

IBM Corporation

Content Manager OnDemand

Content Manager OnDemand for i runs on IBM i and other servers running AIX, Linux, and Windows. It includes IBM Content Navigator, which organizes collaborative and mobile content, facilitates collaboration on content-related projects, and integrates with other IBM filing and archiving solutions.

Lotus Workflow

Lotus Workflow runs on IBM i servers to extend Domino capabilities to automate repetitive tasks. The product lets users build and deploy customized workflow procedures to manage business processes, track work as it proceeds through the organization, set business rules for such tasks as routing and manual processes, plan projects, and schedule document-based work and procedures.

Integrify

Integrify

Integrify is a Web-based workflow-management system that provides process definition and workflow automation for a wide variety of enterprise activities (e.g., IT, HR, finance, sales, marketing, services). Based on AJAX, the product offers a service-oriented architecture that features tools for process design, forms creation, and workflow routing, as well as a browser interface.

IntelliChief

IntelliChief

IntelliChief is a paperless process-management application for IBM i and other platforms that includes a workflow engine that is governed by user-specified business rules, tracks current approval-process status for active documents, sends alerts in the event of problems, and interfaces to enterprise resource planning applications.

LANSA

LANSA Workflow Framework

LANSA Workflow Framework is an application for monitoring and automating business processes. It lets users define all aspects of a workflow process or document, oversee each step, and integrate the process with other applications and activities. It includes configurable email reminder and notification, automates escalation processes, controls access to data based on user roles, and audits processes for later analysis.

OpenText

OpenText Content Suite Platform

OpenText Content Suite Platform is a web-based app for managing enterprise-wide content. It includes tools for building document-centric workflows that enable both structured and ad hoc routing of documents for approval, review, and feedback processes.

 

Percussion Software

Rhythmyx

Rhythmyx is a content-management system for websites that provides workflow capabilities, open and custom APIs, versioning support, and security features.

Remain Software

Gravity

Gravity runs on IBM i servers running V6R1 or later, or WebSphere, and other platforms running Linux or Windows. It provides business process–modeling tools that let users design workflows, define documents and business rules for their handling, track all tasks, and control and predict workloads.

RJS Software Systems

Enterprise Workflow

Originally designed for the IBM i, Enterprise Workflow is now web-based and automates communications between employees and team members in a wide variety of formerly paper-intensive business processes. Features include electronic routing of documents based on business rules, a design tool for creating custom workflows, and security controls.

Messaging and Communications Applications for IBM i

CommuniGate Systems

CommuniGate Pro

CommuniGate Pro is a client/server communications application for IBM i servers running Linux or Windows. It processes requests for communications services (e.g., email, groupware, instant messaging, and telephony) requested by applications on desktops, laptops, mobile devices, other servers, or other end-user systems.

IBM Corporation

IBM Connections Suite

IBM Connections Suite combines IBM Connections (a cloud-based social-media platform), IBM Connections Content Manager (an IBM Connections add-on that lets users collaborate on creating content), and IBM Sametime Complete (an integrated package that combines instant messaging, an online meeting environment, voice and video integration, and mobile-device access). The suite lets users with servers running AIX, i5/OS, and Linux work across an array of business applications, use social analytics and personalization features, and integrate with IBM Domino and Microsoft Exchange messaging services.

IBM Domino

IBM Domino is a platform for hosting social business applications and offers features similar to IBM Notes. It provides an administration client and a web-browser interface, Domino Domain Monitoring (a communications problem-solving diagnostic), Domino Configuration Tuner, encryption and other security measures, and the ability to interface with third-party or custom-built applications.

IBM Domino Collaboration and Messaging Express

IBM Domino Collaboration and Messaging Express is an environment that supports IBM Domino, offering email, collaborative, and other business applications. Designed for companies with less than 1,000 end users, the product offers security protection, interfaces for mobile devices, and automated policy enforcement.

IBM Employee Experience Suite

IBM Employee Experience Suite runs on intranets on a variety of platforms and devices. Designed to foster online collaboration and social networking via intranets, the product includes a personalized interactive interface, content-management tools, security protections, and Web development tools for generating new apps for intranet environments.

IBM Enterprise Integrator for IBM i

IBM Enterprise Integrator for IBM i provides data-transfer and manipulation services between IBM Domino and non-Domino applications, either interactively or in batch.

IBM Lotus Quickr

Although now part of the IBM Platform for Social Business, IBM still offers Quickr as a separate product. It provides employees access to features such as content libraries, discussion forums, wikis, and team spaces.

IBM Mobile Connect

IBM Mobile Connect offers users a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that enables secure connectivity between mobile devices, server-based applications, and databases over wired and wireless networks.

IBM iNotes

IBM iNotes is a web-based edition of the IBM Notes client, which offers browser access to email, calendar, contacts, and social collaboration tools. It supports activity streams and embedded experiences for social media, tools for sorting and searching through email messages, extensive calendar support, and security protections.

IBM Notes

IBM Notes is an email software client that integrates messaging, social collaboration, and business applications into a single interface that's available for server clients and mobile devices. The product provides encrypted data replication and a calendaring and contact-management interface, as well as facilitates communications between members of designated project teams.

IBM Notes Traveler

IBM Notes Traveler is a no-charge offering that lets IBM Notes and Domino users remotely connect to email, calendars, and contacts from a variety of mobile devices.

IBM Sametime

IBM Sametime enhances social communications by providing facilities for instant messaging, community collaboration, online meetings, online presence indicators, voice and video integration, and mobile-device support for IBM i servers and servers running AIX or Linux.

IBM Sametime Gateway for IBM i

IBM Sametime Gateway for IBM i, formerly Lotus Sametime Gateway, lets WebSphere Application Server (WAS) users connect with external instant messaging communities, including AOL Instant Messager, Google Talk, Jabber, Microsoft Office Communications server environments, Yahoo Messenger, and other Sametime environments outside the enterprise firewall.

SmartCloud Notes

SmartCloud Notes is a browser-based product offered via the cloud that provides standard Notes services such as email, calendaring, contact management, instant messaging, and secure communications.

IBM Verse

IBM Verse is a soon-to-be-announced IBM product that re-imagines email services by basing them on end-user business roles. Details are unavailable at publication time, but you can sign up to be notified (at the link associated with the product name) when IBM releases more information.

OpenText

OpenText Tempo Social

OpenText Tempo Social helps enterprises build a more engaging social-media atmosphere for their businesses, both externally by use of social features (e.g., blogs, wikis, forums) and by augmenting social marketing, as well as internally by creating more socially oriented intranets, thereby creating two-way communications between employees, customers, and vendors.

SWING Software

SWING Integrator

SWING Integrator is a printing, reporting, and document automation solution for IBM Notes that helps users integrate Microsoft Office or OpenOffice with Notes and Domino applications. Examples of Integrator functions are creating PDF files, MS Office documents in Notes, and mail merge letters and labels with Notes data. It also enables development of both Domino Web and Notes client-based applications.

Web Portal Products for IBM i

BCD International

Nexus Portal

Nexus Portal provides secure access to management-designated information for employees, vendors, and customers. Product features let users design new portals, secure information, manage document flows, and organize information access via menus.

 

IBM Corporation

WebSphere Portal Enable

WebSphere Portal Enable provides the features of WebSphere Portal Server and adds portal services that personalize access to content and applications, content-management tools that facilitate website generation, and document libraries to help with content organization.

WebSphere Portal Express

WebSphere Portal Express is an SMB version of WebSphere Portal Server. It offers simplified installation and administration, social capabilities (e.g., blogs, wikis, tagging, ratings), support for document libraries, a unified page-presentation service, and a website builder with frameworks for features such as portlets, feeds, and HTML pages.

WebSphere Portal Extend

WebSphere Portal Extend combines features of WebSphere Portal Server and WebSphere Portal Enable with portal content management tools, prefabricated templates for portal content (e.g., article, blogs, wikis), individual and shared workspaces, instant messaging, social rendering services, and tools for generating electronic forms.

WebSphere Portal Server

WebSphere Portal Server offers multichannel portal service capabilities to servers running WebSphere. The product provides role-based access to applications, personalization, security, browser-based information resources, and integration with social and media-rich Web sites.

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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  • IBM i: It’s Not Just AS/400

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    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.