Archive for the ‘ecm’ category

IM Trends 4 – Doing SharePoint wrong, and right

In this fourth post on information management trends in NZ, I look at the phenomenon that is SharePoint.

NB. In this article I focus specifically on the use of SharePoint for Intranets, Collaboration, and team based Document Management. SharePoint can also be used for Enterprise Document Management, Records Management, and as an application development platform, but I don’t explore those in depth here.

The key trend I’m picking is that given the sheer number of deployments we’re seeing in NZ, and the capability of some of the solution partners and consultants, by 2010/11 we’re going to continue to see lots of very bad implementations of SharePoint, and some very good ones.

Here’s why.

I’ve been observing SharePoint implementations since the product first debuted in 2001. The software company I used to be part owner of used SharePoint’s predecessor, Microsoft Site Server, to build the first Intranet for one of NZ’s largest insurance companies. They then (after we sold the company and I went out consulting), built an Intranet product on top of the first version of SharePoint and deployed it with a number of large corporate customers.

Like most Microsoft products, SharePoint wasn’t very good in its first couple of versions. By SharePoint 2007 however, there seemed to be general consensus in the industry that the product had reached maturity, and was starting to be very good. It was feature rich, stable, and very well integrated with Microsoft Office 2007.

Why then, am I predicting there will continue to be lots of bad implementations in 2010/11? Firstly, the background context. New Zealand, by international standards has only a handful of real ‘enterprise’ size organisations (5,000-50,000 staff). Most ‘large’ NZ organisations are between 500-5,000 staff, with relatively few above the 2,000 person mark. As such the deployments of ‘Enterprise Content Management’ products and stacks (such as those from Stellent, Interwoven, Vignette, Documentum, Lotus) have been proportionally fewer than in countries with larger organisations, due in part at least to cost. Many NZ organisations have therefore struggled along with shared drives, and Exchange Public Folders (shudder) for longer than their Australian, US and British counterparts. Perhaps recognising this challenge, New Zealand passed the Public Records Act in 2005. Audits begin in 2010. A lot of public sector organisations (in particular the smaller ones) are implementing SharePoint to meet their records keeping obligations. A lot of corporates are implementing SharePoint because of its strengths in collaborative workspaces, and the fact it provides a platform to on which to build useful systems and services (that is much cheaper than the big ECM stacks).

Because of NZ’s smaller scale, Microsoft has a greater penetration in the back office server space in NZ than in larger countries, where Sun, IBM and Oracle products are proportionately more pervasive. Many of the organisations in NZ that had Novell infrastructure have shifted to Windows servers and Exchange in the last few years. That means that in NZ, there are proportionally more Windows servers, and more people with experience deploying Windows infrastructure and developing solutions for the Microsoft platform, than in larger countries.

As many people will know, SharePoint comes in two ‘flavours’. Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS), which is free with Windows servers, and Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) for which Microsoft charges licence fees. Because WSS is ‘free’, and relatively easy to implement, it is to content/document management this decade what MS Access was to data management in the 90′s. MS Access was fantastic in that database applications could be built cheaply and quickly, and awful in that those applications proliferated almost uncontrollably in some organisations, becoming a management nightmare for IT and the business alike. In a similar way, where organisations implement WSS sites without some centralised strategy, governance, and configuration management (or for that matter use MOSS to do the same thing), it’s the same recipe for chaos. SharePoint is a complicated product, and it’s easy to implement poorly, from a usability, content discovery, scalability, and manageability point of view. Because of this, and the reasons above, I predict we will continue to see a great many SharePoint implementations done organically, hurriedly, or just put in by IT, without appropriate user testing, configuration management, and governance processes. This will lead to inconsistencies across SharePoint sites, silo-ed information, and user frustration. Darryl Burling, the SharePoint product manager for Microsoft New Zealand provides some views on how SharePoint skills shortages (both technical and business) in NZ are contributing to this problem.

That’s the bad news. So what’s the good news?

I also predict we are going to start seeing some stunningly good SharePoint implementations in NZ. The reasons for this are:

  1. The capabilities of some SharePoint solution partners,
  2. The SharePoint Elite initiative,
  3. A maturing user community,
  4. The work on the human and business sides of SharePoint implementation being done by a small number of NZ consultants.

A small number of solution companies that implement SharePoint have been doing so for quite a number of years. Intergen and Provoke in particular have learned the hard way, made most of the mistakes there are to make, and are now very good at tailoring SharePoint solutions to client needs, and implementing them in a usable, manageable and scalable way. Intergen also has a ‘Rapid Results‘ service where they’ve configured an implementation of SharePoint for very fast, high quality, deployments of SharePoint for intranets with up to 500 users.

In order to validate the growing sophistication and competence of a number of SharePoint implementers, Microsoft New Zealand has launched the SharePoint Elite initiative. This is a certification and training scheme to provide ‘SharePoint Elite Partner’ status to those who meet the standard. Datacom, Fujitsu, Information Leadership, Intergen and Provoke are the first companies in NZ to do this training.

There are now SharePoint user groups in a number of centres, and 2009 saw the first national SharePoint conference (for which there’ll be a followup next year). Knowledge sharing through these fora should increase the comunities’ capabilities. Ian Oliver of Provoke discusses the changing face of the implementation community and ‘raising of the bar’ of customer expections in this blog post.

Last, but not least, there are a small number of people working on the ‘softer’ aspects of SharePoint. Information Leadership provide a number of assessment methods, information design, records compliance, and training services for SharePoint. Michael Sampson, a global expert in using SharePoint for collaboration, lives in NZ. He’s written two books on SharePoint – ‘Seamless Teamwork‘ and ‘SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration‘. In both books he provides a very critical and rigorous analysis of SharePoint’s strengths and weaknesses. Even more importantly, Chapters ‘4. Governance Structure, Process and Themes‘ and ‘5. Engaging the Business‘ from his second book, provide, I believe, extremely valuable guidance on how to manage the human and business aspects of implementing and using SharePoint. If followed, this guidance will help organisations avoid many of the pitfalls I predict above.

So, that’s my prediction. In 2010/11 we’ll see a proliferation of awful to barely mediocre implementations of SharePoint, a number of extremely good implementations, and not much in the middle. As to whether the upcoming release of SharePoint 2010 will make any difference to the above, I’ll let others comment.

Sidenote and disclaimer: I am not a SharePoint consultant, I’m an IM/KM/IS Strategist, so my arguments above are based on what I’ve seen in the industry, rather than through ‘hands-on’ experience implementing SharePoint. In addition, I don’t receive money or consulting work from any of the organisations mentioned above. I try, as much as is possible, to be technology and vendor agnostic. 

This is the fourth in a set of posts on NZ information management trends:

  1. OpenSource ECM
  2. CMIS will save us
  3. Enterprise Social Computing
  4. Doing Sharepoint wrong, and right
  5. Structured Content
  6. Toes in the mist

Next up, Structured Content.

IM Trends 3 – Enterprise Social Computing

I’m an early adopter. I started Christchurch’s first web design company in 1995. I’m onto my 3rd iPhone. But when I first saw Twitter I didn’t get it. I thought it was stupid. Now I couldn’t live without it.

During the 80s and early-mid 90s advances in computer software and networking were largely the domain of the business sector. Business got the best tools first, because they were expensive. Since the late 90s however, it’s the consumer sector that has driven innovation in software tools that connect people.

Why else would it be that it’s easier to find content on the web than documents within the corporate firewall? Why else is it that it’s easier to find and connect with people on Facebook than it is to find the right people to talk to if you’re working inside a large organisation? This is because the development of those tools has happened at Internet scale and speed, far outstripping the ability of commercial enterprise software providers to keep up (both in terms of innovation, and in time to market). New tools get tested by millions of real users, in real time. Everything on the Web is in beta (well, at least until Google recently took Gmail out of beta).

Users’ expectations are now set by Google for search, Twitter for microblogging, and Facebook for social networking. Users in corporates have to wait (often a long time) for their organisations to implement the technologies they can use for free on the Web.

As a term ‘social computing’ could conceptually include everything from email, to document collaboration, to blogging, to wikis, to social network services. For the purposes of this blog post however, I’ll restrict its scope to just talking about social network like services. Blogs and wikis are often referred to as ‘Web 2.0′ technologies, and I’ll leave them there, outside of this discussion. Blogs and wikis are starting to see reasonable adoption in large organisations, even though there is a long way to go. Enterprise use of social networking style tools however is only in its very early stages. I’m picking though that it will be a major trend.

There’s the need here to distinguish between four kinds of uses of social networking tools by organisations:

  1. Outward market research – using tools such as Facebook, Twitter and the business services and analytics springing up around these in order to find out what the general public is saying about your organisation/brand/products
  2. Outward customer engagement – using Facebook, Twitter and other such tools to actively engage in conversations with your customers (by having a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account for your company etc)
  3. Outward employee professional networking - staff using tools like LinkedIn and Plaxo to communicate with their professional networks to ask questions, get help, or recruit new employees
  4. Inward communication/collaboration - using microblogging, social networking and similar tools inside your organisation to facilitate staff communicating with each other (as distinct from with customers)

People like Jenny Williams from Ideagarden have fantastic insights into the first two, including some insightful horror stories in her brilliant talk at the Alfresco Asia Pacific conference. While I’m intrigued by marketing and customer engagement, it’s not my area of expertise, and the third use is fairly well understood, so in this post I focus on the fourth use, inward communication/collaboration.

The tools that have been used in collaboration and sharing of information in the last decade include email, discussion forums, intranets, document management systems, collaborative workspaces, and instant messaging. All of these have their strengths and weaknesses. They are useful, but often fail to achieve what they set out to from a knowledge sharing perspective. This is caused, I argue, by the fact that their boundaries and structures are defined by the managerial, functional, or project structures in organisations, not on the way that humans evolved to communicate. Humans evolved communicating in relationships and networks of mutual trust, using narrative to convey and create meaning. It’s how our brains are wired.

Social computing emulates this, using explicitly defined trust relationships between participants. The ‘friend’ relationship in Facebook, and the follow/follower relationships in Twitter allow us to control who hears and sees what we have to say. It’s non hierarchical and the links are controlled by each individual, not by managers or a top down imposed corporate structure.

The promise of social computing applied to inward communication may well overcome many of the failings of knowledge management initiatives. It will do this by making it easier to find out who knows what, who’s doing what, and who’s working with whom. It shifts knowledge sharing from a ‘collect and codify just in case’ paradigm, to a ‘connect and communicate just in time’ one. Knowledge is captured naturally as a part of work, rather than forcibly through management edict.

I have a client, a NZ University, who’s recently rolled out Yammer. Yammer is a cloud computing based service for in-company social computing. It uses the organisation’s email domain as the filter to keep each company’s social network restricted to that company. It provides Facebook style profiles and Twitter style microblogging. In my client’s case, it took off like wildfire, as staff invited their colleagues. Where the organisation has had to use top down change management to get staff to adopt things like document management, and the intranet, this system promoted itself. Yammer seems intent on further integrating into the enterprise, with their release of an Outlook plugin.

Ning, SocialCast, and SocialText Signals are other examples of cloud solutions that let you set up your own social networks. Cloud based solutions will be interesting to some organisations, others I think we’ll see implement social computing behind their firewall. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sharepoint 2010 includes more of this type of functionality. Vendors like ConnectBeam and products like Lotus Connections, SocialText Signals Social Software Appliance and Vignette Social Media are already providing this.

Young people now entering the workforce have spent their teen and university years using social networking tools to relate to each other and manage their lives. They will want access to the same kind of tools in the workplace.

So, my prediction, enterprise social computing is going to be big in NZ, in the 2010/11 timeframe.

Acknowledgements of ideas that influenced this post:

  • Jenny Williams for her thinking on the comparison of KM to Social Computing (slide 33 in this presentation)
  • Dave Snowden for his many recent podcasts about social computing

This is the third in a set of posts on NZ information management trends:

  1. OpenSource ECM
  2. CMIS will save us
  3. Enterprise Social Networking
  4. Doing Sharepoint wrong, and right
  5. Structured Data
  6. Toes in the mist

Next up, Sharepoint.

IM Trends 2 – CMIS will save us

One of the big challenges for Enterprise Content Management in the last few years has been the sharing of different content types. ECM covers records, documents, images, emails, forum posts, web content, lists, people profiles, and more recently blog posts, wiki pages, and microblogging. These content types were managed in different stores. Traditionally the only way to get single sourcing of content and sharing/reuse/blending of different content types across different stores was to buy all of the solution components from one vendor. Because of the fast moving nature of the industry even that was problematic as most of the players grew by acquisition, picking up different pieces of the ECM stack from companies they bought. Sometimes they weren’t well integrated in, and compatibility/reuse was only at a very surface level, or was technically difficult to implement.

For organisations that couldn’t afford large integrated ECM stacks (which includes the very large majority of NZ organisations), the promise of single sourcing and content reuse seemed a far off dream.

Enter CMIS – the Content Management Interoperability Services standard. Think of it in the same light as the way major database vendors standardised on SQL in the 1980s. CMIS was formally initiated in October 2008 by OASIS, following work by EMC, IBM, Microsoft, Alfresco and others on the proposed standard. It is now governed by a multi-vendor technical commitee that works to:

“standardize a Web services interface specification that will enable greater interoperability of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. CMIS uses Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces to enable rich information to be shared across Internet protocols in vendor-neutral formats, among document systems, publishers and repositories, within one enterprise and between companies.”

More specifically, CMIS provides standards for a set of Web Services and RESTful APIs to allow different content repositories and systems to:

  • search for and discover what different content types (Object Type definitions in CMIS language) and capabilities exist in a repository
  • create, read, update and delete content objects
  • file and categorise content objects
  • navigate and traverse a hierarchy of folders in a repository
  • create versions of content objects and see their version history
  • query to retrieve content objects by specific criteria

Currently the specification is at version 0.63 and is actively being worked on. It provides a Domain Model, a Schema, and sets of bindings for RESTful AtomPub, and Web Services. These are available here.

So what does this mean in practice? Once implemented it will be a way to break down the silos, and enable reuse of content amongst multiple systems. It should allow ECM applications, portals, and intranets to be built that aggregate content from a range of CMIS compliant repositories, and allow them to be mixed and mashed up in a ‘loosely coupled’ way. You’ll be able to have best of breed repositories/content applications, from different vendors, and join them together seamlessly.

Let’s look at some practical examples.

Scenario 1

Imagine you’re a government agency with a web site built in Drupal, and you’ve implemented Alfresco for records and document management. You’ve got a set of policy documents that you need to publish on the web. The traditional method would have been to work on the documents in the document management system, create a final version, send it to your web manager who’d upload it to the web site’s document repository, delete the old version, and make sure the new version appears in the right places on the site.

With CMIS you’d be able to have a content store for published documents in Alfresco, with appropriate metadata describing them. You’d then have a live query from Drupal to Alfresco using CMIS to retrieve those documents and display them. No going through the web manager, no uploading and deleting documents to and from the web site, just the completion of a controlled publication process, with the documents automatically displaying on the site. This example is already achievable with the CMIS Drupal-Alfresco module, and Alfresco’s draft CMIS implementation in Alfresco Community 3.1 and above.

Scenario 2

Let’s say you’re a University and you’ve implemented Microsoft Sharepoint to manage structured content including course information, news items, and staff profiles. You love Sharepoint’s handling of content workflows for news production and editing, and its ease of integration with Microsoft Office, but you want to publish the news items in multiple places including the public web site, the staff Intranet, and the learning management system. For various reasons these are built in EpiServer, Plone, and Moodle respectively. You’d also like some news items to be published to the new research collaboration system built in Sakai. Through CMIS you could have the news items stored in Sharepoint, and accessible from each of these systems, again with simple queries via REST or SOAP. Let’s say you’re also using Sharepoint for your records management solution. You could then have documents that are put into Moodle and Sakai automatically result in copies of correct versions being stored in Sharepoint for appropriate retention and disposal.

While this example isn’t all achievable yet, you can already use Sharepoint Server 2007 to access external content repositories using CMIS. Here’s how.

Conclusions

CMIS will open up the enterprise content management space to more innovation, remixing, and creative solutions than we’ve ever seen before. Organisations will be able to choose best of breed components, and glue them together with relatively minimal effort. Solutions won’t be restricted by vendor lock-in, but will be responsive to real business/user needs.

This is the second in a set of posts on NZ information management trends:

  1. OpenSource ECM
  2. CMIS will save us
  3. Enterprise Social Computing
  4. Doing Sharepoint wrong, and right
  5. Structured Content
  6. Toes in the mist

Next to come, Enterprise Social Networking

IM Trends in NZ 1 – OpenSource ECM

I’ve just been asked to Chair the Brightstar Information Management conference in Wellington in March next year. As such, I’ve consolidated my mental meanderings on IM trends into something a bit more cohesive. Here’s what I’m seeing coming:

  1. OpenSource ECM
  2. CMIS will save us
  3. Enterprise Social Computing
  4. Doing Sharepoint wrong, and right
  5. Structured Content
  6. Toes in the mist

I’ll write about the first trend in this post, then the others in subsequent posts.

OpenSource Enterprise Content Management

It’s been a big year for the ECM marketplace.  Two of the major pure play ECM vendors Interwoven and Vignette were acquired by other players (Autonomy and OpenText). Other major players Stellent, Documentum and Filenet were acquired by bigger multi-solution vendors over the last three years.

These deals are seen by those such as CMS Watch as being largely good for shareholders, and largely bad for users/buyers of those systems. The ECM market has become something like the ERP market, with a significant proportion of product licence costs simply paying for the expensive sales process. In New Zealand we don’t have too many organisations large enough to spend the $500k-$1M to get a fully integrated set of ECM components from those big vendors, but even so, the NZ 500-2000 person organisation market has been looking for an attractive ECM platform. The desire to be able to deliver document capture, document management, records management, intranet, digital asset management, and collaboration in an integrated way is compelling as organisations try to deal with ever mounting volumes of unstructured information.

In  2005 John Newton, co-founder of Documentum and John Powell, former COO of Business Objects founded Alfresco. They employed a number of former engineers and Employees from Documentum, FileNet, OpenText, Interwoven and Vignette. Their mission was to create an open source ECM platform. They used best of breed open source Java components, including Spring, Hibernate, Lucene and MyFaces. Their business model was to have a GPL community edition, and an Enterprise edition with paid support at about a tenth of the cost of the older proprietary ECM solutions.

I first reviewed Alfresco in late 2007 as a part of a web content management (WCM) project for an NZ University. Although its WCM component was relatively underdeveloped compared to the likes of Drupal, MySource Matrix, EpiServer, Sitecore and many others, the underlying platform was sophisticated. I was sure Alfresco was going to be big. Up until the last year or so however, there’s really only been Lateral Minds in Australia who’ve been implementing Alfresco in New Zealand, with some large government ministries and private companies.

Now Catalyst IT, Solnet, Coretech, and probably a few others I don’t know about have started implementing Alfresco in NZ. I predict Alfresco will be big in NZ, soon. My reasons for this prediction are:

  • Due to the Public Records Act audits starting next year, many organisations are looking for records management solutions that provide benefit above and beyond traditional RM products
  • With version 3.2 Alfresco provides a robust platform for records management, document management, and digital asset management, at a price that is right for the mid-size organisations (on a global measuring scale) that we have so many of in NZ
  • It has an immensely scalable Java content repository which makes for lower hardware costs, again appealing in a cost conscious market like NZ
  • Its lightweight RESTful architecture for customisation means solutions will be able to be deployed quickly and cheaply
  • Alfresco integrates well with the open source WCM product Drupal, which has a large installed base in NZ both in government agencies and the private sector
  • Alfresco Share is an alternative to the collaborative workspace features of Microsoft Sharepoint, and while currently much less feature rich than Sharepoint, has enough to make organisations take a look at it
  • There is emerging support and implementation services from NZ vendors
  • Lateral Minds are trading in NZ, are providing expert services that come from several years of working with Documentum and Alfresco, and are the Certified Training Partner for Australia and New Zealand

So, that’s my prediction, Alfresco is about to take off here. We’ll see whether 2010/11 proves me right. More on the other trends in further posts this week.

Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
Muhammad Ali