At last January’s Lotusphere, IBM Lotus announced a project code-named Bluehouse.
Bluehouse is a software as a service offering that allows businesses to work in an extranet environment with outside vendors and clients.
It basically allows your business to rent project rooms outside the firewall so you can collaborate with those external sources.
IBM recently opened up Bluehouse to public beta, so we thought we would take a deeper look and let you know what to expect.
What Can You Do?
Currently, Bluehouse touts the following features:
Online MeetingsNetworking with Profiles and Contact informationStoring and Sharing of DocumentsManaging ActivitiesFilling out Forms and SurveysLive Charts from user supplied dataChat
IBM Lotus Bluehouse Menu
If you look at the list above, you can see that many of these features are available in other Lotus standalone products.
Online Meetings and Chat come from the Sametime portfolio. Profiles, Contact Info and Activities are part of Connections. Document sharing is Quickr and Forms has its roots in the Lotus Forms product.
What IBM Lotus has done is to take the best of all of these products and package them together in an easy to manage hosted website.
If you are a business without the resources to implement the standalone products in your site, Lotus hopes that this is an alternative that will be attractive to you.
Meetings And Chat
If you are used to Sametime, Meetings in Bluehouse will be very familiar to you. You have the usual array of options including screensharing, document sharing, chat, video broadcasting.
Bluehouse Meeting Room Options
They’ve even streamlined the process by adding buttons on the left side to add files to present and to invite users to the meeting by entering their email address.
You should be able to quickly call ad-hoc meetings by creating a meeting then immediately inviting the attendees.
As for the chat side of things, you can add Bluehouse as a new community to your existing Sametime 7.5.1 or 8.X client, or you can download the Sametime Connect chat client directly from Bluehouse itself.
The client was only Windows at this time, so you would have to track down the Linux or Mac clients elsewhere.
Activities and File Sharing
Activities are newer way of thinking when it comes to collaboration. Instead of going several places for information, you can tie things to a particular activity.
For example, in writing this article, I created an activity called “Writing the Bluehouse Story.” In that activity I can add files, bookmarks, to-do’s, notes and contacts.
This translates into matching the way some people work in a much better fashion. You focus all of your effort into managing your activities, and you can store all of the information necessary within the activity itself.
You can allow other people access to the activity, so they too can add and update information. Once you start working this way, you’ll have a hard time remembering how you worked without it.
An Activity To Help Me Write This Story
You can still have standard file repositories, and you’ll find pretty much everything that Quickr has to offer here as well.
There is nice granularity to allow you to share files with only the people you want to, and no one you don’t.
Within the Store & Share file area, you can also create Collections. Collections are simply a fancy word for folders.
You are supposed to group like items in a Collection, and then you can lock down the security on that Collection itself. It works well, and should make sense to most users.
Forms And Surveys
The Forms component of Bluehouse is pretty interesting. You can build your own forms and surveys directly in the web browser and then allow others to fill them out.
Maybe you have staff that goes on-site to your customers and they need to fill out a site survey for each stop. This would be a great way to capture that information.
The tools to build forms are fairly robust. You can change data types, make fields required, give each field help text that shows up when you hover over the field, change alignment of the text, populate initial field values and more.
Once you complete the survey, you can list emails to send it to, or make it public, or direct it to your own company.
It did take a little while for the system to refresh the page between adding fields, and everything about the surveys required several screen refreshes, but hopefully that will be a little faster once Bluehouse comes out of beta.
As an admin of the survey, you have the ability to check people’s answers, download the results, or create Live Charts from the data itself.
Several years ago, I was shown a project in the IBM Innovation Labs at Lotusphere called Many Eyes.
Many Eyes was a data visualization engine that would allow you to take data and view it in various charts and graphs.
Well the technology behind Many Eyes is what you now see included in the Bluehouse product.
In order to view a graph or data visualization, you need to get a data set into the system. You can enter this data in a variety of ways.
You can upload a spreadsheet, cut and paste from your computer’s clipboard, or you can import data from surveys and forms you have created in Bluehouse.
Graphs And Charts In Bluehouse
There are quite a few different chart and graph options available, and they all do a pretty good job encapsulating the data in a visually appealing way.
It’s a nice addition to make your files stand out instead of having to simply look at a spreadsheet.
Time To Go House Hunting
IBM Lotus Bluehouse is an intriguing package, and I think it will really benefit the SMB set.
It’ll be perfect for collaborating with users outside your organization, and if you are small enough, it might be a great all-in-one collaboration solution. Don’t take my word for it however, you can sign up to beta test it now at http://bluehouse.lotus.com.
About This Series
This series of articles on intranet solutions with IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and it’s companion products is intended to help readers understand the fundamental methodology and capabilities of the product and how to utilize it to deliver a feature-rich, secure, and functional corporate intranet solution.
It will include implementation strategies, case studies, industry-tested tips and tricks, and, with your input, true value to the administrator or developer who wants to utilize IBM Lotus technologies to deliver winning intranet solutions.
If you have any questions on the series, Lotus Notes/Domino, or if there’s something you’d like to see addressed, visit the Intranet Journal Discussion Forum.