Teamwork for Techies

Bye-bye, lone programmer. Here's how to get far-flung IT professionals to collaborate.

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The wiki, which has been in place for almost a year, has become "one of the IT department's most important systems," Mark says. "Now it has a special section in the disaster recovery plan. It's one of the first systems that we have to bring up, because it has all the supporting information for all of our applications."

SAS Institute: Bringing Subsidiaries Into the Fold

Fostering global collaboration can be especially difficult when your international IT staff doesn't report to headquarters.

That's the situation at business analytics vendor SAS Institute Inc. The $2 billion company has 550 IT employees -- about 350 at its Cary, N.C., headquarters and another 200 spread among subsidiaries worldwide. Each subsidiary is a separate legal entity with its own management and its own IT staff that's free to set up systems in whatever way supports their local workforce best. That can mean a lot of IT people reinventing the same wheel, says Mark Filipowski, a senior IT project manager in Cary.

So in 2007, SAS launched a worldwide IT collaboration program to foster open communication among those scattered IT employees, identify and reduce duplication of effort, and increase efficiency, says Filipowski, who also serves as worldwide IT liaison for the program.

The program consists of a series of meetings -- usually via teleconference or Web-based videoconference -- among IT employees who share common interests. There's a leadership meeting of about 15 IT managers every six weeks, and quarterly meetings of various technical specialists, such as those involved with networking, virtualization or storage.

The groups use Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint to plan meeting agendas -- individual participants are asked to post information on current projects and their status -- and to publish reports about the meeting on the corporate intranet. "Those meeting reports are probably one of the most important resources in the IT department," says Filipowski, because they serve as repositories of information about all current projects and their statuses.

The meetings aren't mandatory, since IT staffers at subsidiaries report to managers at their local offices, not to central IT. But most IT employees are eager to participate, says Filipowski.

Indeed, Koen Vyverman, manager of technical support and IT/MIS in SAS's Netherlands office, says participating in the meetings helps him feel less isolated.

More important, however, is the fact that the collaboration makes Vyverman's job easier. He and his staff of two support 130 people and 200 systems in the Netherlands office. "The only reason our small staff can handle that is because we collaborate [with other offices in Europe] and with headquarters in Cary," says Vyverman, who once won one of the two Worldwide IT Collaboration awards that SAS gives annually.

Kraft Foods: Cubicles Down, Collaboration Up

If collaboration can be encouraged in the virtual world by more effective use of online tools, it can be encouraged in the physical world by effective design of office space. Kraft Foods Inc., which prides itself on a culture of collaboration, is trying to foster even more collaboration, both online and in-person.

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