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Solutions Update

Software tools making it easy to be apart but work together

Even kindergartners understand the importance of sharing and working together, yet adults in the workplace are still looking for simple ways to do these very things—especially when team members are in different locations.

Information scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a set of web-based tools to encourage and improve interactions among team members and the data they need.

Collaborative suite image -- Digisource, the Scoreboard, Presentation Source, the Brainstorming Tool

"[The Collaborative Suite] creates a cyber social environment. It's a place where people can share information, knowledge and tools," said Mary Sue Hoxie, a senior research scientist in information sciences and engineering.

The Collaborative Suite's four tools can be used together or independently. They include a photo library called DigiSource; a presentation library called Presentation-Source; the Scoreboard, which tracks documents and activities; and the Brainstorming Tool, used to facilitate discussions among team members.

Check it out

The DigiSource tool within the Collaborative Suite builds and manages a media library that stores electronic photo files or other graphics. Team members can browse, sort or search the images to quickly find what they need. They also can submit images so others can download them.


Similarly, the PresentationSource tool in the Collaborative Suite allows users to browse or search their group's collection of Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations. While viewing all the slides in a presentation on a single web site, users can choose individual slides to add to their "portfolio." The portfolio, with slides from one or more sources, becomes a custom presentation that can be downloaded or sent to someone via e-mail.

Who's on first

Much like scoreboards at sporting events that give fans an idea of what's happening, the Collaborative Suite's online Scoreboard gives team members a snapshot status report.

For example, the Scoreboard can be used to track a document through all phases of the review, comment and approval process. After submitting a document and selecting who needs to review it, users can log in to read others' comments or check if the document has been approved.

"This is more than an information repository. It encourages communication and interaction that are critical to collective work," said David Gillen, another senior research scientist who helped develop [the Collaborative Suite]. "Tools for collaboration—bulletin boards, real-time chats and application sharing—are built right in." Through application sharing, multiple people in different locations can open the same document at the same time and work on it together.

Let's take a vote

The fourth component of the Collaborative Suite is the Brainstorming Tool. Users can respond to a question posted on the site by a facilitator as well as review and react to the ideas submitted by their team members. This tool supports ranking or voting on ideas during online brainstorming. Facilitators can choose among different voting methods such as yes-no answers or ranking options in order of priority.

While the software provides a flexible environment for people to share information and see each other's work, it also supports security features and encryption to protect vital data. A person designated as the CollabraSuite administrator must grant access to users and can set different levels of access depending on the users' needs.

Pacific Northwest is seeking opportunities to license the Collaborative Suite to organizations that would use it directly or are interested in reselling the software tools to other industries.

Diagnostics software powers the bottom line

High operations and maintenance expenses can quickly eat away a company's profits. On the flip side, finding a way to keep equipment running efficiently can improve productivity and greatly reduce costs.

Decision Support for Operations and Maintenance (DSOM)

With that in mind, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a system that can reduce a facility's life-cycle operations and maintenance costs by 25 to 50 percent. DSOM, short for Decision Support for Operations and Maintenance, is an intelligent diagnostic operations and maintenance software program.

"This system takes facilities beyond the realm of routine maintenance," said Don Jarrell in Pacific Northwest's Energy Technology Development group. "Instead, it moves them into condition-based management, helping operators spot early signs of problems."

The web-based DSOM software integrates data input from a sensor network that constantly monitors the performance of a facility's numerous components. Driven by a customized facility database, it then diagnoses the data to let operators know in real-time if a system is malfunctioning or running below expectations.

"DSOM helps improve process efficiency and extends equipment life," Jarrell said. "If operators can recognize stresses on equipment, they can make changes to avoid failure," Jarrell said.

DSOM also identifies conditions that could lead to a problem, determines the root cause and suggests how to fix it. This information is displayed in different graphic formats according to the needs of the people in the organization. For example, one view is meant for operators, while another depicts information that would be of interest to plant engineers.

Under a contract with the New York City Housing Authority, DSOM is being installed at a central boiler plant that serves 4,500 residents in a Manhattan housing complex. It is expected to reduce operations and maintenance expenses by 37 percent.

DSOM was originally developed for the U.S. Marine Corps and was first installed in 1994 at the central heating plant of the Marine Corps' Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Since then, the facility has reduced its operations and maintenance expenses by 33 percent, saving about $450,000 a year. DSOM also is installed at the Marine Corps' Parris Island cogeneration facility in South Carolina, where annual savings of more than 35 percent are predicted.

In addition to power plants and central station heating and cooling, DSOM could be used to improve physical asset management in pulp and paper processing, pharmaceutical production, chemical plants and other operating and production industries.

Pacific Northwest is looking for new customers interested in applying this technology at their site.

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