One of the keys to innovation is finding like-minded people to brainstorm and create with. Think Hewlett and Packard, Gates and Allen, Jobs and Wozniak. But nowadays it’s not necessarily two people in a garage or office; it can be any number and in different parts of the world, exchanging ideas at all hours via social media, e-mail, and more.
That’s the idea behind IEEE Collabratec, an online platform that offers a suite of tools members and technology professionals can use to network, collaborate, and create. Those who sign up can discover others in their fields of interest, develop professional profiles with which to showcase key accomplishments, participate in conversations around areas of expertise, receive resources based on professional pursuits, and create a virtual space in which to work on research papers and projects more efficiently. IEEE Collabratec offers networking and authoring services, as well as the convenience of accessing third-party accounts such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and cloud storage services like Google Drive, without having to leave the site.
“IEEE Collabratec builds on the idea of bringing together all of our members in one place, and that is very powerful,” says IEEE Senior Member Ralph Ford. As director and vice president of IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) in 2013 and 2014, he helped spearhead the project. “It will connect us in a much more meaningful way than in the past,” he adds.
Some 7,000 people have been using the platform since its pilot program was launched in November 2014. It’s now open for free to all IEEE members and those in the science, engineering, and technology communities.
A RICHER EXPERIENCE
“When IEEE embarked on designing IEEE Collabratec, we started with a blank sheet of paper,” says John Day, director of member products and programs for MGA, in Piscataway, N.J., who helped lead the development of the platform. “Those involved with the development effort—volunteers and staff from across the organization—recognized that people engage with IEEE for many reasons and that IEEE has distinct and overlapping audiences.” The platform is user-centric in its design and capable of offering features customized to each user’s needs and preferences, he adds.
“Fifteen years ago, the IEEE Xplore Digital Library brought together in one location the intellectual property published by the organization,” Day says. “I see IEEE Collabratec bringing together the people engaged with IEEE—creating a public square for the organization, one without borders or boundaries.”
Like IEEE, the platform brings together technical expertise that currently doesn’t exist in one location, Day notes. “IEEE Collabratec will enable users in niche technical fields or research areas to find and engage each other around the globe.”
IEEE made it easy for people to use the platform. Members sign in with their IEEE e-mail alias. Nonmembers can create an IEEE account. Once logged in, users may select from many areas of interest, such as bioengineering, nanotechnology, and robotics. Interests, profile information, and privacy settings can be updated at any time. IEEE membership comes with privileges, such as participating in certain technical communities, and a member’s profile contains a badge signifying the person belongs to the organization. To access the features linked to in this article, you must be signed in to IEEE Collabratec.
Professional Communities, for example, help users browse and join groups based on their geographic locations and technical interests. (Those who are not IEEE members may be restricted from accessing certain groups unless given permission.) Users can look for people from the search bar found at the top of each page based on their location, company, interests, and other criteria, or they can search for events by city, date, or sponsoring IEEE society. They can also add events to their personal calendars and share them with others.
Based on their interests, participants receive recommendations: new articles being added to the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, upcoming conferences and events, and people to connect with. In addition, users can stay up to date with the latest content from IEEE Spectrum and IEEE.tv.
Another feature, Communities, provides a place in which to find collaborators based on geographical or topical areas. By joining groups here, participants can spark conversation about activities and news in their local areas as well as discover upcoming events and conferences. There are also groups based on affiliation, such as IEEE Young Professionals and IEEE Women in Engineering. Others are based on technical interests, such as big data, cloud computing, or the Internet of Things.
Users may create Private Groups and invite others to join. These are by invitation only and are not discoverable by users other than the owner and the invitees. Such groups let the participants have discussions, share resources, and work together on a project. Users can create private, virtual work spaces and assemble global working groups. During the pilot program, IEEE committees created such groups to help plan upcoming events and meetings. Several college instructors have used private groups to communicate with their students.
In the future, IEEE Collabratec will also house a number of IEEE’s career resources, along with career-related and entrepreneurship communities. Job listings, mentoring opportunities, consultant communities, and links to RésuméLab will be included in future releases.
The Library feature lets people access a suite of research and authoring tools. Authors may use it to upload and store documents or create new ones and invite others to coauthor with them. They can also tap into their new communities to find people who can contribute. One of the main features is the integration of Overleaf, a tool for collaborative authoring in LaTex, commonly used by authors to create technical documents.
The library feature also offers templates for creating bibliographies and citations. It makes it easy to import citations from third-party online research platforms such as Mendeley and Zotero for those who have accounts with them. Users can sync with their IEEE Xplore Digital Library accounts. And they can also create their own research collections.
“IEEE Collabratec lets people from around the globe work together on the same document, whether it is a research paper, a grant proposal, or a presentation,” says IEEE Fellow Gianluca Setti, 2013 and 2014 director and vice president of Publication Services and Products, who helped lead the product’s development. “No other tool offers all these capabilities.”
This article was updated for the December 2015 print issue.