Tuesday 23 December 2008

Office Suite lock-in: The same today as it was yesterday

In CIO magazine online, Rich Levin writes that:

"Today there's a bumper crop of worthy Office alternatives... None of this has been missed by Microsoft, which debuted a revamped Office Professional 2007 last year in an effort to clearly differentiate its cash cow from the bulging mass of Office me-toos, and now is promising a new version that's cloud-enabled. But the new Office user experience, "the Ribbon," is likely responsible for driving once-devoted users into the arms of alternatives."

I've always thought the interface changes for Office 2007 was a stroke of genius by Microsoft, but I guess we will never know if this was genuine attempt to improve and innovate, or just pointed-headed marketing strategy to block the copy cats.

Levin goes on to suggest a bunch of word processing/office suite alternatives, which includes the obvious ones like Open Office, Google Docs and Zoho but also:

I also saw today talk of a Windows version of KOffice, but it looks a long way off.

Still, I think the scope of the examples are quite limited. Into this mix I would also add WYSIWYG editors in Web-applications, like Wikis. Not that I would rate them as particularly mature at this stage, but as Sam Lawrence has proposed in the past, the office suite concept itself is stuck in the old siloed productivity paradigm.

And what about outlining and note taking tools like Treepad and Evernote. All offer rich text editing capabilities. Actually, in this area I think Windows Live Writer (a thick-client blog editor) excels beyond any other Web-based text editor I've seen.

All this got me thinking today that even in this world of Web 2.0, compatible file formats just don't seem to be enough. I wonder when will we see a better separation of data from the editing applications we use, so it becomes a question of which tool do you use when and where, rather than which do you use full stop. Even for me, the wiki paradigm is limited because it still requires me to go *there* to work.

How are using Office alternatives to get work done?

Thursday 18 December 2008

Where next for Enterprise RSS in 2009

Looking back on his own predictions about the RSS space, G. Oliver Young notes:

"KnowNow went out of business completely; NewsGator shifted focus and now leads with its Social Sites for SharePoint offering, while its Enterprise Server catches much less attention; and Attensa has been very quiet this year. In other words, all is not well in the enterprise RSS space...

...I’m concerned there is something more fundamental going wrong here. At the end of the day enterprise RSS is predicated on the notion that shoving all communications through email is too inefficient and must be augmented with other communications channels. Is it possible that people simply don’t feel that pain strongly enough to invest the time and effort to learn to use RSS?* And that every wiki feed will eventually dump right into email because that is what people really want?"

I'm actually encouraged by what I've seen in the last 6 months around Enterprise RSS adoption (in terms of growing awareness and interest at least), but I won't argue that it isn't a slow up hill battle. However, while I think Young is right about the user perception of RSS (a point I've discussed with many people) I think the place where leadership is really needed is within enterprise IT departments.

This need for leadership is reflected in Young's other comments that,

"[Businesses] know they have a problem, but instead of investing in RSS many bought other products like wikis, blogs, and social networking tools.'

For me the absence of Enterprise RSS (and perhaps along with other key infrastructure, like Enterprise Search and social tagging tools) in environments where we find wikis, blogs and social networking tools is a sign of tactical or immature implementations of enterprise social computing. We are just at the beginning of this journey.

Of course this isn't a sure sign that existing Enterprise RSS solutions will continue in their current forms. But what I am sure about is that if we really want to bring Web 2.0 inside the firewall, then we need Enterprise RSS functionality in that mix. And that's because the 9X email problem isn't just a barrier for Enterprise RSS adoption, but a barrier for Enterprise 2.0 itself.

In this respect, I can actually see many opportunities for integrating Enterprise RSS features into Enterprise Search solutions or into existing portal platforms (actually, Confluence is a great example of a feed friendly wiki platform - both to create and consume). And why doesn't Microsoft Exchange play a greater role in supporting sophisticated Enterprise RSS capabilities? I suppose in a way this is exactly what Newsgator are doing for the Microsoft suite.

So, Enterprise RSS is here to stay.

BTW Don't forget to check out my Enterprise RSS article, where I introduce the concept of the Enterprise RSS Value Chain to help you understand where Enterprise RSS can add value.

Actually, as a quick vote - have you or your organisation evaluated Enterprise RSS or thought about it seriously during the last year? Or is it something you plan to look at in 2009?

What are Collaborative Patterns?

I googled the phrase "Collaborative Patterns" and was mildly disappointed to find my own blog post came up as the top result - after all I was looking for other people's ideas on this topic! :-)

Now, according to Wikipedia, the concept of pattern language itself originates in civil and architectural design but it has also been applied in software development - e.g. the Portland Pattern Repository. A pattern is typically a single problem, documented with its best solution, in a single design pattern. Each pattern has a name, a descriptive entry of the problem and solution, and some cross-references to other patterns, much like a dictionary entry.

In the context of collaboration, I think the idea of collaborative patterns are particularly relevant because my feeling is that we actually do know what does and doesn't make collaboration work. However, the technology continues to evolve so fast that it is all too easy to get caught up in the new functionality and forgetting what we already know.

Also, these technology-agnostic pattern solutions to collaboration problems are helpful because, as is typical with user-driven collaborative tools, there are many different ways to apply these tools to actually implement the solution in practice. For example:

  • Through agreed protocols and shared practices (for example, a simple 'workflow' built using folder structures or naming conventions);

  • Through non-programmatic customisation, which may also include templated and repeatable approaches; and

  • Through actual custom development of the base solutions.

During the life and investment in a particular collaborative technology or set of collaborative technologies all three approaches may be utilised at any one time. In fact, a protocol may be the basis for a template customisation, which might eventually be hard coded into the solution over time.

So what are these actual collaborative patterns? Well, I might need a little help from you all to define them - a good starting point might be the technology-specific set of patterns for wikis.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

How many people does it take to implement an information management project?

This is neither a joke or a trick question!

People are often surprised at the level of effort required and different specialists needed for information management projects in medium-sized organisations and upwards. From the current edition of Image & Data Manager magazine (I also have an article in it) is the example of an Australian property development company with 750 staff that implemented a document management system with the following project team:

  • Project Manager - 60% full time;
  • Information Manager - full time;
  • Change Manager - 50% full time for 6 months;
  • Classification Specialist - 2 months full time; and
  • DMS Administrator - full time for 6 months.

In addition they also mention a mobile training team that went from site to site and that also provided on-site support as people were learning the new system. And of course beyond the core project group there were a number of stakeholder groups that provided input into the project.

The whole initiative elapsed over a year, with the first six months spent on just developing the strategy and business case before product selection.

That actually all sounds about right based on my own experience.

One of my other rules of thumb is that it is as much about the number of documents and number of staff as it is the number of locations, departments and unique work groups involved that determine the overall complexity of an information management project. This also assumes you have all the right IT infrastructure in place before you start!

Anyway, next time someone questions why your project is looking so resource intensive, here is an example you can show them.

However, have your experiences been the same?

Tuesday 16 December 2008

The complete Enterprise RSS Value Chain article

Back in late September I mentioned I was working on an article about Enterprise RSS. To be fair to Image & Data Manager magazine subscribers I normally wait a little while before uploading a copy of the article to my online archive. However, as the published version needed to be edited down considerably due to space this time, I thought I would upload a version that combined it with the extra sections now. This includes a section that describes the Enterprise RSS Value Chain concept and connects it with the examples I provide, so I think it adds some value to the published version.

The combined article also profiles two very different Enterprise RSS solutions (Newsgator and Xenos) and some case studies, including the now 'classic' Wallem shipping example from Attensa.

As usual, let me know what you think. 

Friday 12 December 2008

Looking for feedback about securing Enterprise RSS news feeds

Samuel Peter Verhoeven (care of Samuel's blog) is looking for feedback about securing RSS news feeds:

"Last months we evaluated two Enterprise RSS solutions: Attensa Feed Server (AFS) from Attensa and NewsGator Enterprise Server (NGES) from NewsGator, to replace our self-made Enterprise RSS solution.

Both products are missing an essential feature for us, namely good support of “secured feeds” and options to share “secured feeds” with employees with the same permissions."

Both these system offer methods for securing feeds, but not in a way that suits his business requirements. Any ideas anyone?

Update: Some related posts here and here.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Not cops, but CoPs. Let YouTube explain...

Kim writes:

"Once again, I find myself in need of explaining CoPs (communities of practice) to people I’m working with... Anyway, I trawled through YouTube to see what I could find in the way of organisations and CoPs or people explaining CoPs."

Check out some useful video resources to help you explain CoPs.

Notes about MySourceMatrix

A few weeks ago I attended a half-day seminar on the MySourceMatrix Web Content Management System (WCMS). Better late than never, here are some of my notes from the presentation.

Firstly, I think we should point out that unlike other free open source WCMS (such as Drupal), MySourceMatrix really operates as a commercial open source product through Squiz.net, which they describe as follows:

"MySource Matrix is offered as ‘Supported Open Source’ whereby Squiz provides an application warranty, and product support under an Service Level Agreement, underpinned by an extensive range of available professional services."

There are a number of benefits with this approach that combine the protection of a commercial product with the ability to get under the hood of the product and contribute to its development. It also encourages a demand driven approach to improving the system and the kind of transparent and collaborative support environment that is generally associated with the open source movement. Incidentally, Squiz.net recently announced that they had "re-licensed its MySource Matrix tool under the popular GNU General Public License (GPL), nearly two years after facing criticism the software's previous licence wasn't 'open' enough". But if you want access to all the bells and whistles you do need to subscribe to the supported version. So, while I don't think you should approach this simply as a free product this doesn't mean there isn't any value in the Squiz.net model.

Now that we've got that out of the way, lets focus on what it actually does. The MySourceMatrix is pitched against other commercial WCMS like Red Dot, Interwoven and Vignette. With out me saying it, this hints at the fact that MySourceMatrix is a flexible and sophisticated WCMS with a mature and polished content management interface for site administrators. And naturally in a platform pitched at this level it meets requirements that are particularly important to government departments, like work flow, accessibility standards, content archiving and metadata. Probably the one key difference from its main competitors is that it only runs on Linux servers and either a PostgreSQL or Oracle as its primary database.

However, and this was a key point in the seminar, to get the most out of MySourceMatrix you need to focus on fully leveraging its capabilities in content reuse, templates and some features that I personally really like around remote content, data sources and asset listing-based programming. You can do a lot with MySourceMatrix to build interactive and dynamic content with requiring any actual development. For example, this can be used to aggregate different types of content across a system to make:

  • A staff directory;
  • An image library;
  • A document library;
  • A single page that summarises the content of your site;
  • An RSS feed; and
  • A product selection page for shopping.

Really describing this in words doesn't really do this capability justice - I would recommend that if you are thinking of short listing MySourceMatrix as a solution you arrange a demo of this functionality to understand better what you might be able to do with it.

Talking of RSS, one of the other important areas that I'm interested in is of course is Web 2.0 and Intranet 2.0. MySourceMatrix claims to support features such as social networking, mashUps and blogging etc through a combination of native capabilities, 3rd party solutions or the data and asset listing functionality I described above. Unfortunately we didn't really any of this demonstrated on the day, but incidentally, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Website uses MySourceMatrix and you can check out the blogging functionality there on the Digital Economy blog. Craig Thomler wasn't too impressed with it as a blogging platfrom, as was APC. However, many of those criticisms are as much about how the blog is being used rather than the tool itself. We also have to remember that MySourceMatrix is a broad WCMS, not a social computing suite.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Its never just about picking the best information technology

Reporting on the experiences of a Geekcorps' volunteer on using open source software with poor communities in Africa, Jeremy Allison from the ZDnet blogs shares an important lesson about information technology adoption:

"The local 'computer support person' resented a solution that was so easy to use that it undermined the power and prestige they received by being the person to consult when a Windows computer had problems."

Hmm. Sound familiar? Analysing the story further, he concludes:

"Sometimes, technical excellence isn’t enough. Linux and Open Source software can fail badly in the real world not because of technical issues, but because of economic issues."

But I'm not here to bash Linux, because I think the same can be said about selecting from commercial information technology options too.

In an organisation, the types of factors at play in this process can include:

  • Financial - the CFO likes vendor Y better because they will let us finance the software and pay it off over three years;
  • Political - if we support solution B, rather than the better solution A, our department or team will be in a stronger position; and
  • Social - we like the people at company X.

And when we role into implementation, variations of these same themes pop up time and time again at department, team and also at an individual level. So, just because a particular tool works in one organisation or situation, it doesn't automatically mean it will work elsewhere.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

What are your netbook requirements?

Too much spare time and money on his hands? Larry Dignam from ZDNet bought a netbook, but he doesn't like the keyboard and doesn't know what he is going to do with it...

Personally one of the key features I looked for when I purchased a netbook was the size of the keyboard because I knew I would be using it to type everything from blog posts to email to reports.

Other than the Acer Aspire One, which I ended up purchasing, I found the keyboards on all the 8.9 inch screen model netbooks I looked at far too uncomfortable to type with. The Aspire One keyboard is slightly bigger than similar models, however the keyboards on the 10 inch screen models, like the ASUS EEE 1000 range, are naturally much better.

In this respect I think the use case for the smaller models (unless its for a child with smaller fingers) is as a Web-access device - effectively giving you a bigger screen than a PDA or smart phone. This may also determine if you need Windows OS or not. The Linux models can run more effectively on solid state drives so you end up with a quieter, cooler and more energy efficient machine. On the other hand, all the netbooks come with plenty of ports to add keyboard, mouse and full size screen as an alternative approach to dealing with the keyboard size when you are back at home or in the office.

But what ever you option you pick, ultimately one of the major benefits of a netbook is that you will be carrying around a much smaller and lighter machine, which is great for commuters and frequent travellers.

Also, these shouldn't be treated as low power machines. The main issue of using a netbook as a laptop replacement is that some applications and Web apps don't scale to a smaller screen very well (or don't provide enough options to tweak the interface). On the entertainment front I've also found that while the display quality on my Aspire One is very good, the speakers are pretty average - but to be honest, if I'm listening to music I use headphones anyway. Also, the mobile computing orientated graphics and CPU chips do limit their use for 3D multi player gaming! Otherwise I've been able to install and use everything I had on a full sized laptop.

BTW I had some initial problems with my Aspire One, but I updated the BIOS and other than continuing to use a1ctl for fan control, I haven't had any other problems with the wifi so far.

Note: The image above isn't my Aspire One, but gives you an idea of the keyboard size.

Friday 5 December 2008

Thoughts from the panel discussion at eLearning08 yesterday

I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with Ryan Tracey from AMP and Catherine Eibner at eLearning08 yesterday, courtesy of Kate Carruthers who chaired the panel discussion.

As part of the panel discussion we also had the chance to get out into the audience and chat with people as they were brainstorming the key educational issues they faced, inspired by our initial panel discussion. I had talked earlier about the convergence of technology between different domains (I don't come from an e-learning background, but we are all starting to use the same tools for communication and collaboration) - as I got out into the crowd I heard this reflected in two key issues that are common across educational and business domains:

  • Technology can't solve every educational problem; and
  • Don't blame the technology if it fails, as its only as good as its fit for purpose and how well you use it.

People in the room also highlighted the issue of keeping up with technology developments and the impact of different levels of IT literacy in their students. My point was that we shouldn't assume issues with IT literacy is just a generational divide and the panel agreed that this is also an issue in the workplace, both in terms of training and rolling out new systems. And to keep up with the pace of change, the panel's recommendation was to embrace the ideas of Web 2.0 and to tap into the wisdom of the crowds, rather than trying to do everything on your own.

Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to hang around and talk for long due to some conflicting appointments, but it would have been interesting to discuss further the commonality between the problems educators are grappling with around the use of new technologies and those I am seeing in the workplace.

BTW I was also impressed with the way the conference organisers had embedded the use of social media tools into the even, such as a flickr photo stream and Twitter. The nice thing is that the Twitter stream was running in the background on a big screen at the back of the stage so everyone could see the comments and I believe I heard mention of a 'Twitter booth' so that anyone could send a tweet.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Book Review: Seamless Teamwork

I mentioned Michael Sampson's new book the other day and he was kind enough to send me a review copy to a look at. Seamless Teamwork is a book about using Microsoft SharePoint and other related Microsoft tools for virtual teams. When it comes to collaboration, this book fills one of the major gaps I've seen first hand in most organisations I've come across - and that is the availability of guidelines on how to actually use the technologies you have available. The need for guidelines is a general concept, but at some point you need to get specific and this is exactly what this book does for SharePoint users.

I'm really excited about this book - not because I'm using SharePoint to collaborate right now, but because I like the way Michael uses a story and weaves a combination of practical SharePoint how-to's with some useful concepts around collaboration theory and process. Read this book improve how you collaborate with SharePoint now, but even as SharePoint evolves or if you start using another platform you'll still have some useful concept to use. Some of the key concepts are the Five Phases Project Life Cycle Model (on page 20) that drives the structure of the book and the Seamless Teamwork approach (on page 86), which is built around the idea that collaboration consists of:

  • Doing the Work;
  • Coordinating the Work; and
  • Sharing the Context.

I should also add that Michael clearly outlines all the individual steps you need to follow to configure SharePoint for your project based on these concepts - even down to how you close down and archive your project (no one ever talks about that step in practical terms!) He also talks about using other technologies, such as Groove, OneNote, SharedView and Live Meeting.

You can of course follows the steps in Michael's book to the letter - and it really is a recipe book in that sense, rather than coffee table reading. However, I think you'll get even more value if you do treat it as a recipe and adjust to taste. Ok, enough with the metaphors, what I mean is:

  • Experiment with the process described in the book and see what works best for your projects;
  • As you experiment, start to develop your own 'guidelines';
  • Configure and optimise your SharePoint configuration to help automate the setup of project spaces based on your custom guidelines - e.g. templates; and
  • Think about how you can extend your guidelines to include the other technologies you might have available.

Now because this book is neither conceptual or a technical bible (which is why it fills such an important knowledge gap), I think there are a few different people who will benefit for taking a look:

  • Obviously, anyone who has been asked to collaborate using SharePoint is going to find this book valuable;
  • Anyone thinking of implementing SharePoint for project collaboration - it will help you to evaluate how SharePoint out of the box might fit your requirements;
  • People in IT departments should read this book to understand how people in their organisations might want to use SharePoint in practice and how to maximise the investment in Microsoft's technologies; and

Ironically, I also think that anyone using other project collaboration tools may also find it useful - not only is this a good example of what 'guidelines' should look like, you can also compare options, use cases and also learn the terminology and expectations that other people using your collaboration tool might have after using SharePoint.

BTW If you buy the book you will also get access to some free additional chapters on Sponsors and Stakeholders (available now) and Beyond Seamless Teamwork (available by the end of the year).

Overall, this book should be on your essential reading list if you are using SharePoint for collaboration.

(And if you aren't using SharePoint, beat your vendor over the head and find out why no one has written a book like this for your collaboration tool.)

Register now for the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum 2009

Ross Dawson has asked me and a bunch of leading E2.0 people to participate in the next Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum, being held in Sydney early next year. Personally I'm really looking forward to hearing from JP Ragaswami, who will be talking via videoconference about 'The Future of Enterprise Technology'. I've been following JP's blog for sometime now - he is the kind of CIO I wish was working in every organisation.

I attended this event last time and it comes highly recommended.

Register now and get a $100 discount. The first 25 attendees to register will also receive a free copy of Ross' Living Networks book!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Jetstar airline's new intranet

Its nice to see an intranet success story getting coverage in the mainstream IT news, particular as it reflects the trend of extending the reach of intranets beyond the desk:

"Early last year [Jetstar airlines] began reviewing the role of its corporate intranet.

It became clear that if the intranet was going to work it needed the capacity to serve what is one of the most mobile workforces that exists, flight crews and pilots, without compromising security."

However, the claims of "100 participation" are, um, interesting to say the least. It all depends on how you measure the outcome ;-)

There is also a lot of emphasis in the article on the replacement of the legacy intranet, running on a Linux server, with a commercial intranet suite solution (Intranet Dashboard, not Microsoft SharePoint!). Their CIO comments about the old intranet that "any time we needed to change a page we had to get someone to recode it", which makes me think they simply didn't have a Web Content Management System (WCMS) in place - hardly the fault of the operating system the Web server is running on.

As a benchmark, Jetstar spent $350,000 on their new intranet.

Monday 1 December 2008

From the SocialText blog: Company-wide deployments are very different from departmental ones

Over on the SocialText blog, Michael Idinopulos talks about the difference between deploying individual social computing tools to teams and departments with rolling out social computing suites to an entire enterprise:

"Company-wide deployments are very different from departmental ones. It's like campaigning for the U.S. presidency: you're not really running one national campaign, you're running 50 state campaigns...or 5,000 regional campaigns. Each of those campaigns has its own local leadership, demographic profile, issues, and economics."

He puts forward six steps (of course):

    1. Encourage a broad range of use cases.
    2. Recruit energetic champions across the organization.
    3. Launch the tools with hands-on experiences for new users.
    4. Route repeated activities through social software.
    5. Integrate with existing systems of record.
    6. Leverage public communities.

I'm not a fan of these simplistic approaches, and suite versus ecosystem of Web 2.0 is a discussion for another day, but overall the sentiment that enterprise-wide deployments are different rings true with my ideas about Intranet 2.0.

ChiefTech rides again

Some of you who follow me closely might have noticed that a few weeks ago I went freelance again. Blame the doom and gloom of current financial crisis. Enough said? Anyway, I haven't mentioned it until now as for the moment I've dusted off the covers of Chief Technology Solutions and have been working on a couple of small consulting projects. But right now I'm open to offers of both long term roles (either contract or permanent would be given serious consideration) and also any immediate short-term consulting engagements.

What can I help with? Check out my LinkedIn profile for a start. My professional background includes a experience with a range of government, professional services and blue chip companies, such as AMP, ASIC, BHP Billiton, BlueScope Steel, CSC, Ernst & Young, and Rio Tinto. I also completed a Master of Business & Technology (MBT) at UNSW in 2005.

I work in a range of information management, social media and knowledge management areas, including:

  • Intranets and Portals (including SharePoint);
  • Collaboration, Blogs and Wikis (e.g. Confluence);
  • Document Management Systems (including Documentum and Interwoven);
  • Organisational change management for technology projects; and
  • I'm also a well regarded workshop facilitator!

If you would like to discuss further, feel free to give me a call as I would love to hear from you.