Education Portal to try out Workplace enhancements

A Canadian organization is using Web client software developed by IBM for large corporate customers to offer a portal product to the thousands of educators and students who don’t have their own desktop PC at school.

IBM’s Lotus division

on Tuesday released a number of additions to Workplace, a bundle of e-mail, database, spreadsheet and word processing applications designed to be accessed through a Web browser. Accessible through laptops and handheld devices, Workplace was created about a year ago. Aimed at improving productivity in people-intensive businesses such as procurement, regulatory compliance and branch banking.

In a teleconference call, Big Blue executives called on partners and U.S. customers to demonstrate some of the features it has added to the suite. These include Services Express 2.0, which helps small firms collaborate through document management tools, Web forms and task lists. WebSphere Portal 5.1 was designed to link business processes with corporate portals, and Web Conferencing Service can link up users online with a browser and a telephone line.

The Collaborative Learning Network, a solution developer based in Edmonton, has been using Workplace since it launched to develop an offering called the Education Portal that is delivering online services to two school districts in British Columbia. The portal allows collaboration on school projects as well as the development of classroom Web sites.

Ken McDonald, CLN’s president, said he saw great potential for features like Web Conferencing Service for his education clients.

“”If you’re up in the boonies and the school doesn’t have a teacher who teaches Math 30, you’re kind of hooped,”” he said. “”This essentially aggregates (geographically dispersed) students into one larger cohort which is now efficient to instruct.””

McDonald said he was attracted to Workplace in part because of rich client software that can offer the equivalent to Microsoft Office. This is allowing one of his clients, Kamloops Thompson School District, to move to a Linux-based desktop environment without having to pay for MS Office licences.

The Workplace software is based on open standards that allow roles-based access, McDonald said. That means teachers, students or administrators who log on to the Education Portal only see the information that’s relevant to them. The access is particularly critical for teachers, he added.

“”They have to use the computer in the library or the computer in the classroom if they want to use a computer at all,”” he said. “”If you can provide all your services through a browser, you don’t need to provide them with their own workstation. So it saves them a ton of money.””

According to Ambuj Goyal, general manager of IBM’s Workplace, Portal and Collaboration unit, Workplace crossed the one million seat mark in September. This represents tremendous growth, but it’s not enough, he said.

“”It’s not only about seats — it’s about the way people are thinking about Workplace,”” he said. “”It’s about rationalization of infrastructure and delivering business value.””

McDonald said that same business value is important to education users.

“”The solution that IBM created for the corporate market — it turns out that in Canada, anyway, we don’t have (that many) Wal-Marts where you have 10,000 or 50,000 store employees without PCs,”” he said. “”Where we do have a perfect fit is with the school districts.””

IBM has created several versions of Workplace for specific industries, including electronics, manufacturing, finance and government, among others.

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