Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Almost Paperless Office: My Desktop 2.0

I know, this subject seems as old as the hills, but look at your desk right now. What do you see? I’ve got a pile of reports in one corner; a bunch of receipts and an invoice opposite those, plus two folders, a magazine and some software boxes. There’s not much room for anything else with my new iPhone charging (again!), laptop, monitor and lamp occupying the remaining real estate.

The problem is that I just described my home office desktop. My other office desktop doesn’t look much different, mostly more of all the same items, just in different location. So, what’s the problem? Paper mostly… and me. Let’s address the easier part first - paper. While I’ve gotten a lot better making sure that the things I interact with in the electronic world are stored online, I’m not so good with physical stuff, particularly documents. I need to do a much better job of remembering which items I need and bring them with me when I switch offices

Wait a minute, you say. You’re in the ECM business. Why aren’t you using some of your industries’ own tools to address this problem? Doctor jokes aside, I confess I seem to treat my desktops just like my garage – almost as if storage (for everything) is limitless. Worse, when it no longer seems like there’s any more space I simply purge, disposing of almost everything with rapid abandon. Talk about an easy way to loose important documents or files.

So, what can I do about this? Get a small desktop scanner? Yes! Use the MFP in the hallway connected to the company network? Yes! Lose the folders on my desktop that give me the false sense of organization and safety? Definitely! If I can store every document I write and photo I take on the web why should I allow myself to be a victim of the antiquated delivery choices of others? Sure, it seems like an extra step to scan, but if I send those files right to my ECM system, then I’ve tackled some immediate and potentially significant issues.

OK, so let’s talk about problem #2 – me. Sure, everything I’ve just prescribed to address my cluttered desktop is technically possible, but that hasn’t stopped it from persisting. I need more motivation. How about a convenient place for my coffee cup? A lighter weight briefcase? Better yet, the absence of fear that I’m here and the documents I need are…. “Oh !&@%&^@! still over there! Yup, I think that alone justifies the cost of my inexpensive desktop scanner.

Is anything missing? I need to make sure it’s easy to scan to the web – like one button easy. Oh, and it would be really cool when I did scan my documents if they could be stored with the same attributes as other files in the folders I send them to so that I can stay better organized. That would certainly help minimize my security fears and maybe even help automate things a bit more.

Does this technology provide enough improvement to really make me change behavior? If its really one button easy, then I get the benefit of being able to access all of those “old” paper documents wherever and whenever I want. Nice. I can also stop worrying about where they are because my web storage is pretty inexpensive and I really don’t have to think about getting rid of them anytime soon. As and added benefit, it’s a whole lot easier to share these documents with my co-workers at a moments notice. I don’t even have to walk over to the fax machine or MFP anymore to do that.

Want to try out my clean and modern desktop for yourself? It’s simple. Find an MFP in your office or buy a desktop scanner for your home office. Many cost less than $100. Then choose a web service to scan your documents to. Of course, make sure the service provider is reputable, can meet your security requirements and offers an easy way for you to get your documents back – just in case.

Ready to start now? Try Xythos on Demand www.xythosondemand.com if you’d like to experience an easy to use Web 2.0 service (SaaS) solution for managing your documents. It's free for the first 30 days and if you like it, you can continue using the service for as little as $29.95/month for up to five users, including all of the document storage you’ll probably ever need. You might even clear enough space for a modern new desk lamp like I did!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Have it Your Way ECM

We’ve begun to see an interesting change among visitors to our web sites seeking to learn more about ECM and Xythos technology. While we have offered evaluation versions of our software products and free trials for our SaaS solutions for years, visitors have usually selected just one option to begin testing our solutions. However, recently that behavior has begun to change. Prospective Xythos on Demand customers as well as individuals employed by enterprise customers (I’ll come back to that item in a minute) have begun requesting access to both our on premise and our on demand ECM solutions.

We couldn’t understand why, so we decided that we should talk to several of them and try and find out what was going on. Were they uncertain which technology delivery method would work best for them? Maybe they were still considering the relative merits of leasing vs. buying software? Perhaps they didn’t believe it was possible for an on demand ECM solution to perform as well as a traditional on premise application?

After several phone calls and email exchanges with these evaluators a common trend began to emerge. I guess the best way to describe it would be a focus on business continuity. What we learned was that the evaluators wanted to confirm that investments they might make in Xythos technology today could be preserved in the future regardless of how they chose to consume the technology. This focus on preserving investment value included options beyond Xythos, so content and metadata portability was a key selection criterion among this group.

The other key factor we discovered was service vs. application feature parity. Evaluators said they were not satisfied being offered “watered down” versions of on premise software. One argued that the practice was common among vendors not really committed to SaaS who hosted limited function services mostly to coax customers into their enterprise applications where they could better control them. What a history of trust we’ve built!

Participants in this ad hoc study were mostly from smaller to medium-sized businesses primarily investigating their first ECM solution, so most were considering beginning with SaaS and possibly migrating to an on premise application in the future. Yes, they wanted to make sure that both solutions worked similarly and offered the same core features. They also appeared to care equally about data portability and skill portability. As one reviewer replied, “I only want to have to learn how to use this stuff once!”

What have we learned from this experience? Customers want choice and the ability to decide what’s right for their business on their own. Having a proven service to safely manage and store documents certainly appeals to smaller-sized organizations who don’t have staff to do this, but they don’t want to get locked into anything either. They appear willing to try SaaS solutions that can meet their security requirements, but they must be convinced they can get their data back whenever they want it.

So, what about those enterprise evaluators I mentioned? The couple that we contacted simply didn’t want to wait for IT help to get their hands on a potential ECM solution. These rogue departments were willing to look at both SaaS and on premise options because they were readily available to test and, as one said “at least we can tell the IT guys they can run it themselves if they want to”. For ECM vendors seeking a way to compete with SharePoint this is a pretty strong argument for SaaS!

In the end it would seem that offering easy web access to on demand and on premise options makes sense for both vendors and their customers, which has me wondering why don’t more business software vendors provide this option? Of course, if you're curious about how we actually do this at Xythos check out our "Test Drive" campaign for yourself at:


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Black, then Green

Last week Xythos hosted a web seminar titled “Is Green the New Black”. The event featured IT executives from academic institutions, technology analysts and editors brought together to examine whether ECM technologies can help green initiatives. It was a lively discussion and I'd say that the recorded version of the seminar might be well worth a listen, even if you’re just generally interested in this topic.

“Is Green the New Black” recorded web seminar


One of the key lessons I learned from the seminar was that both enterprise guests justified the acquisition and deployment of their ECM solutions based upon cold ROI analysis of the benefits which could be gained, not some warm and fuzzy “let’s save the planet a document at a time” kind of initiative. Certainly, the green benefits of their ECM projects were considered, but in the end each based their initiative upon a defensible business plan.

Perhaps this is more good news for the green movement in the enterprise. If technologies such as content management make sense on their own business merit and can also help reduce energy consumption and waste, then what’s not to like? According to our guest presenters, the investment break-even time frame wasn’t overly long either, so it certainly sounds like profitability and sustainability can be friends.

Please let us know about your own green ECM initiatives. No, we’re not going to put them in an ad campaign, but we will offer to post them on www.xythos.com so that your peers can benefit from learning about your challenges and successes in this area.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Working Together Remotely

Are you getting tired of out of the office reminders from co-workers when they’re not on vacation? I can understand not wanting to read email or other correspondence while we’re away at the beach, but I’m not sure that business travel, off-site meetings or even being in different countries should mean that we’re unavailable anymore.

The mobile enterprise isn’t just about not being in the office. It also demands that we adopt new behaviors. I think this represents an impass that many organizations find themselves at when it comes to supporting mobile and remote employees. Employers are still not always comfortable believing that work is being performed as expected when they can’t see the process taking place with their own eyes. Employees can contribute to the potential misconception by not using today’s common workplace tools designed to address presence-related issues.

When I’m out of the office I make an extra effort to be responsive because I don’t want my co-workers to consider that distance or even time zones (generally) should inhibit our ability to collaborate, even in an ad hoc fashion. The new behaviors that I’m trying to learn need to go further though. While I’m never far from my email I know that I should be using IM more, especially for rapid-fire discussions around content that I’m working together with others on. Using basic workflows might also help reduce the time I waste searching through email and RSS would be a much better way for notifying me about web site updates.

So what’s all of this got to do with enterprise content management? That all depends on how you choose to manage it I guess. From my own experience I’ve learned that it’s all got to work together without much hassle or “mobile me” isn’t going to succeed. My workflows must send messages to my blackberry or iPhone. My documents need to all be stored in a web-enabled repository so that I can share secure links to them with co-workers. Managing and sharing content must become seamlessly integrated with my own mobile work style or I’ll have to put that “out of the office” notice on my door again the next time I leave.

How’s mobile content management working for you?

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's a Blackboard World - Sort of

I joined over two thousand Blackboard administrators and course developers in Las Vegas recently and was quite impressed with their thoughts and discussions about content management. While Blackboard may be best known for its learning management software the addition of content management, outcomes assessments and other applications to their product suite appears be prompting customers to think about content management and storage in a broader context these days. 

Like most organizations these institutions have focused on leveraging the web to improve the core value proposition of their business. In higher education that means the effective delivery and management of the learning experience itself. However, after almost ten years of learning management system innovation it was interesting to learn that many academic institutions were still just beginning to apply a similar focus to managing content in other parts of their business, such as administrative and research functions.

The concept of a common content repository, sometimes considered a holy grail of the enterprise content management industry would seem particularly appropriate to institutions of higher learning where ad hoc collaboration and the free exchange of information are a hallmark. However, the practical reality appears to be about as distant in academia as in other large organizations.

Speaking with BB World attendees I listened to various plans to improve content management but, to continue doing it independently from learning management systems. This may simply be a reaction to the more structured content management methods systems like Blackboard and WebCT have historically required, yet I also heard about varying institutional policies and disparate organizational structures also guiding the selection and use of content management technology beyond the classroom.

Ultimately, I think this is all good news as the attendees appeared more aware than ever about the advantages which ECM can provide – just that it can’t easily be delivered in a common or universal fashion. As a result, it would appear that there’s still plenty of opportunity for new content management solutions in administrative, research and other non-learning related parts of the institution. It’s probably just not realistic to try and address these different sets of needs comprehensively, even if it might be technically possible. Is anyone hearing the words “federated search”? Until next time…