Monday, November 2, 2009

Improved Content Management and Communications Solutions Coming to Educause 2009

An HMO’s radio advertisement captured my attention this morning, most likely because it didn’t appear to be about healthcare. Instead, this provider touted the benefits of their new electronic medical records and the advantage this change provided trees…and patients. While this may seem like a minor advance, I suspect that anyone who has struggled to complete medical forms for what seems like the hundredth time would be elated to have a portable EMR. These seemingly small improvements can fundamentally change the dynamics of industries like medical care and education as well.

When the leaders of our nation’s colleges and universities arrive in Denver for this year’s Educause conference there will be plenty of discussion about how to better employ technology to enhance the learning process. I’m hoping there will be can equal focus on improving the efficiency of these institutions as well. During the past decade we’ve witnessed dramatic improvements in the classroom through the introduction of web technologies. Now may be the ideal time to leverage the know-how and infrastructure many institutions have developed to get these same campuses functioning more like businesses.

Content management technologies could be a good starting place for colleges to build on proven teaching practices. Today, virtually every campus uses a learning management system to manage and share content between faculty and students. In fact, these systems are often extended to serve a variety of other groups and functions across campuses. The technology and skills required to use these systems are practically identical to those needed to manage business information. As a result, many campuses could be better prepared to move their business processes to the web than they actually recognize.

So, if migrating to web enabled content services can be relatively easy for academic institutions then why are so many still trapped in inefficient business processes? One argument is that unlike many commercial organizations, colleges and universities haven’t been forced to modernize practices as quickly. Instead, they’ve focused on upgrading facilities and services, which has been more appealing to faculty and students anyway. Unfortunately, declining enrollments, reduced tax revenues and an inability to increase tuitions indefinitely is changing the economics of “do nothing” when it comes to the business side of education.

While the presence of technology alone isn’t likely to jump start business improvements, I believe there are some missing components withholding business process improvements on campus in general. One important item is a common ECM tool set. This could be addressed with a shared web user interface to access course content or business information. Recognizing that most content is still developed on the desktop, the ideal solution would also need to provide seamless access from within administrative, research and teaching applications. Shared access to a common content repository could also pave the way towards storage virtualization, helping improve content discovery and re-use as well.

Of course, just making content easier to access and share probably won’t be a catalyst by itself. High value, measurable projects need to be identified and assigned champions to ensure they succeed. Most importantly, security issues have to be addressed. After all, worries about content security and control have often been the reason that vital information has been locked away to begin with.

Common user interfaces and collaboration methods don’t have to mean uncontrolled access. Unique web services and storage “pools” combined with advanced identification technologies can ensure that business and class content don’t mix. Role-based authentication methods can even present different information based on the task an employee or student is performing. This can help ensure that information is only accessed by those who need it, and only when they’re supposed to.

As institutions have grown more complex and diverse process inefficiencies have increased. The combination of unrelenting economic pressures and the potential promise of improved web technologies may actually create the environment for change beyond the classroom in 2010. Possibly, Educause 2009 can be real starting point for practical discussions about extending the benefits of the web into administrative processes where measurable ROI can be achieved.

I suspect that a key ingredient for measurable success will be the degree to which technology vendors embrace “openness” or, a general willingness to support open standards and offer easy to use API’s to connect various solutions together. This could accelerate the transfer of knowledge and technology across the institution permitting schools to truly leverage their computing investments. It could also promote the use of shared resources from electricity to storage resulting in further cost savings and environmental benefits.

Open, customizable platforms also facilitate the migration of content and communications to new devices. Just look at the mobile ecosystem that has grown up around the iPhone for proof. (Granted, it’s an Apple-managed environment, but that was probably necessary to get things starts quickly). This can create a compelling environment for technology developers of all sizes. Those who embrace it vigorously will likely see their investments multiply.

I’m confident we’ll see signs of improved systems interoperability at Edcause this year and I’m even more excited to learn how developers are planning to leverage this opportunity both within the academic and vendor communities. Most of all, I’m looking forward to learning more about how clients are planning to get the most from their own content, communications and mobile technologies. Please drop by the Blackboard or Xythos booths this week and let me know how you’re doing it!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Business Continuity, Communications and Content Management

The panic surrounding H1N1 outbreaks appears to have diminished somewhat, but threats related to widespread pandemics and other natural disasters persist. Government and institutional leaders remain challenged to prepare and respond to these kinds of issues as communities grow more diverse and mobile. Public notices and published emergency response plans may no longer be adequate to protect today’s populations.

Mobile technologies offer freedom and flexibility for community members, but they can also complicate communications during emergencies. Community leaders can’t rely on household or employment contact data to reach everyone on time. On college campuses mobile communications are just as likely to take place via the web as they are over voice networks, especially with the growing popularity of smart phones that offer rich web collaboration. It would appear that the business community and general public won’t be far behind on this trend either.

Citizens and communities, students and schools, employees and businesses all need an easier way identify each other and communicate, particularly in the case of an emergency. Multimodal communications services can help address part of this challenge by delivering important notifications in whatever format people best respond to (voice, text, email or web). However, maintaining accurate contact records remains an issue.

It would seem that a common, trusted identity management authority delivered as a web service might help here, but the question is who can we all trust? Google, a government authority, some other organization? (Remember Microsoft Passport?)

Even when mass communications can be delivered accurately and on time, critical issues remain unanswered. How can important details be delivered effectively? What information should be shared with which members of the community? Are there better ways to guide critical resources to where they are needed most? A common web site can probably serve a community’s general information requirements, but it may not be nimble or specific enough to guide individual groups during critical situations.

While it may be impossible to anticipate all potential threats to a community or the possible response scenarios, there are processes and services that can help. Just as the web has become more collaborative and bi-directional for consumers (think Facebook) content management technologies have become simpler and more flexible for organizations to use. These web services based solutions can make developing and maintaining web sites for unique groups or communities almost as easy as writing an email. This could enable leaders to provide much more specific guidance to various groups and more easily prepare multiple scenario response options.

The combination of a mobile device enabled public joined with flexible mass communications and content management services could result in a new era better prepared to respond to natural disasters. Although there remain significant obstacles to achieving this outcome, individuals collaborating for the common good of their communities may help overcome the trust issues that inhibit contact and communication. Improved directory services and closer integration between communications and content management technologies will also improve the probability for success.

No combination of technology can eliminate the mayhem that a pandemic or natural disaster can produce. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to leverage technology improvements to help minimize potential damage and suffering. Now may be an ideal time to explore what benefits mass communications and content management technologies can provide so that you can better prepare for both your communities future and your own. I suspect that the possibility that these technologies will interoperate more effectively together in the future is a good one.

If you’re curious to take a a look at what this might become test drive the latest Blackboard Connect service and Xythos on Demand. These are both SaaS solutions that almost beg for some kind of mashup kind of integration. A smartphone focused solution, particularly the kind that can leverage geo-positioning data such as the iPhone does might represent the most intriguing combination. I hope we’ll have more to say about that at Blackboard soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BbWorld 2009, Learning & Content Management and Mass Communications

Yes, that’s a lot to discuss, but it was enthusiastically during last week’s annual Blackboard World conference hosted on the shores of the Potomac in our nation’s capital. Perhaps even more important was the fact that many of the 1,600+ attendees we’re also seeking ways to better leverage the combination of content management, communications and teaching and learning technologies in ways they may never have considered before. Whether this included third party software partners, open source projects from the academic community or new Blackboard services, everyone seemed to be redefining their expectations about learning platforms.

Before I share more observations from Blackboard World, I should inform readers of changes in my own charter at the company because I expect it will impact the focus of the Just Sharing blog as the year progresses. During the last month, I’ve become engaged with our company’s mass notification business, Backboard Connect, in order to assist with marketing its SaaS solutions and better integrating them with other parts of the overall Blackboard business. While enterprise content management (ECM) and mass notification may not appear to be obviously complimentary, I’m already beginning to see synergies and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn about that in the coming months.

We’ve discussed the inter-relationships between learning and content management in this blog before. I suspect this topic is going to receive even more attention the rest of the year, if the conversations I heard at Blackboard World 2009 are any indication. Institutions are demanding more flexible solutions for managing course content as it becomes more complex and rich. It would only seem natural for them to look to the ECM marketplace to provide guidance and technology. As an integral component of the Blackboard Learn platform, Xythos has an important role to play delivering enhanced ECM functionality within the teaching and learning process and beyond the classroom as well.

Transitioning from a stand-alone ECM focused role within the company to one intended to leverage knowledge and technology across the businesses has occupied almost all of my time lately, so please accept my apologies for the recent lapse in updates to this blog. I’ll aim to publish at least a couple substantive articles each month going forward. Given the continued transition towards content enabled vertical applications within the ECM market it would seem like a natural evolution for Just Sharing to dig deeper into learning content and content distribution management in the education and government markets overall.

As I said, discussions at Blackboard World this year really seemed to highlight key changes taking place regarding how institutions consider the role of content and the different ways they would like to manage and use it. For example, I heard about more plans to virtualize content storage than ever before. Of course, this was typically followed by complaints that it’s still not easy enough for typical users to get content into to virtual repositories. (Maybe they should try Xythos Drive? We’ll explore more about better enabling content contribution via Java applets and web clients for Blackboard in the next few weeks).

Other attendees discussed their desire to link content repositories within the LMS and ECM environments to help minimize work duplication and redundant data storage. I didn’t hear as much concern about content security and compliance as I would have expected, but perhaps that was just an assumed benefit associated with data centralization? A few attendees even spoke to me about deploying common content repositories shared between distributed campuses. Clearly, the desire to reduce complexity and costs hasn’t dissipated.

It was also evident that technology and business managers were thinking about content and learning management beyond the PC. Excitement about Blackboard’s new Mobile Edu initiative was rampant and questions about integrating course delivery, deploying content and managing mass communications via handheld devices were non-stop. I concluded that if technology vendors want to succeed in the world of mobile applications there may be no better market test than higher education and perhaps parts of K-12 too. Where else can you find such a mobile customer base almost guaranteed to be using all the latest web gadgets?

Once again, BbWorld served to re-set expectations about the role of technology and communications, but this time I think as much outside the classroom as within. I suspect the event also provided a healthy stimulus for continued dialog and experimentation among attendees for the rest of 2009 as well. So, if you’re curious to learn more about Blackboard’s content management plans or how mass communications services can supplement your own content strategies, please stay tuned to Just Sharing. There’s plenty more coming! Jim

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Digital Lives (ECM), Cars and Changing Expectations

Recently, I’ve been researching how students manage content and collaborate with instructors and their peers. The younger “digital natives” are already significantly exposed to web technologies and different devices they use to connect online. Even older students now complete more than half of their coursework online these days. Outside of the classroom online collaboration continues at similar pace – the result being that much of young people’s lives are taking place on the Web.

I was thinking about this research while listening to reports about the final demise of GM and wondering how much that meant to students vs. older folks like myself listening to the bankruptcy unfold on Fox News. Cars were once quite important to me, including Corvettes, Camaro’s and maybe even the first Hummer. I was proud of my first convertible and probably thought it helped define who I was.

Less than a dozen years later my relationship with cars has changed considerably. While I can afford more significant models these days, I don’t purchase them. Certainly my own life changes have affected this, but I think it’s more than just that. Like today’s student’s, I’m collaborating online more than ever. In fact, I’m enjoying the benefits of not traveling as much, staying out of my car, and generally being more efficient participating in meetings, sharing documents, and collaborating with co-workers online almost every day.

My car sits in the garage a lot these days. That doesn’t bother me too much. I save money on fuel and its always ready if I need it to go somewhere. I took about two minutes to choose it. I just said, “I’ll take that silver one”, and I was done. In contrast, I spent hours choosing my last laptop and the applications I customized it with. I agonized, but finally switched to a Mac and soon discovered important new ways to develop and manage content with iLife, iWork and Quicktime.

Most importantly, I’ve begun to define myself via online services today much more than I do through cars. Linkedin, Twitter, email and blogs are where I interact with others and often how I begin my day. These online collaboration tools help me better communicate about my work. When combined with enterprise content management applications, like Xythos they also help me develop and share important documents and files that are the foundation of my business.

I may be a bit different from other late boomers in my business/persona migration to the web, but probably not by much. However, I’m certain that those on their way into the workforce will be the most digitally active ever. They’re going to expect web services at least as good as those they use at school or home and the freedom to flexibly employ them. That means from wherever and when ever they need them.

As the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives become less clear, I suspect that our cars will become a less significant part of our average workday. Hopefully, that will mean that we get to enjoy them more when we do use them and not associate them with insufferable office commutes anymore. With Cisco just added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average as GM was removed it almost seems like the highways of work themselves are changing from physical to digital ones too.

I guess the good news is that it’s a lot easier to transport my digital self to work projects these days. Now that I’ve invested some time better defining myself online, it seems more enjoyable too. Yes, there are fundamental changes rocking the economy, but they’re not just financial ones. The nature of work and how we perform it is changing rapidly. Isn't it time to get yourself and your business content online so that you can enjoy the extra time and cost savings too?

You’ll be doing yourself and the environment a favor. Who knows, with those extra carbon credits you’ll earn, you might even have time to enjoy that convertible again…

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Introducing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) at School?

When I was in school content management mostly consisted of storing my documents in a three-ring binder. If I could keep the papers for each of my classes organized between the color-coded page separators for a whole semester it seemed like a real victory. Archaic as that may appear today, when you think about it, learning those content organization skills was preparing me for work in the “modern office” of the time. At least I learned not to pinch my fingers in binders or open more than one upper filing cabinet drawer at a time.

Obviously, a lot has changed in decades since I was in grade school. More and more students are using online resources to supplement the learning process in addition to tracking and reporting on their progress. Learning or, course management systems are rapidly replacing traditional methods of content delivery and introducing fundamental changes into how students and teachers interact.

Students using today’s online learning management systems are also developing the skills they will need to succeed beyond the classroom. In less than a few years, IDC expects that over 70% of US employees will interact with their managers remotely. These workers will depend on a variety of content management tools to help them collaborate and work together across distances and time zones. They will probably expect to have access to tools like the one’s that allowed them review a lecture online or participate in a class discussion remotely.

While it may seem strange to discuss students using content management systems at school, that’s exactly what they are doing. Over 85% of higher education institutions have adopted an LMS standard and a growing number of K-12 districts are doing the same. Among the many advantages these systems offer, managing and sharing content online is fundamental benefit. As a result, students are learning how to access, create, modify and collaborate on learning materials at younger and younger ages.

Just as I learned to organize my own documents and later access others in the school library, today’s students are discovering new ways to search for information online and associate it with their own academic histories. As parents already know, it’s not unusual for class projects to be published on web pages these days. In fact, a growing number of students are now maintaining their own web portfolios, often using the same systems that help manage their class work. The concept of re-using content between applications or business processes won’t be foreign to these digital natives.

What does all of this learning management system experience mean for the ECM industry and the workforce that depends on its technology? A significant opportunity for change, I suspect. The common metaphors we use for organizing information are changing as content becomes more complex and abundant. Metadata is becoming more important to content discovery while file and folder hierarchies seem ever more cumbersome. Just think of how you last searched for rich media content (a photograph, perhaps?) on Google (Picasa) or Facebook.

My understanding of storage hierarchies and taxonomies may become as useful as my old three-ring binder as search technologies become more capable and our applications produce more useful metadata. This could be good news for ECM applications. It might allow them to become more flexible and easy to use, just like the web-enabled learning and social networking technologies that students are becoming comfortable with today.

It’s reasonable to expect that tomorrow’s knowledge workers will need to become even more efficient than today’s and ECM technologies should help support that demand. As students continue to gain familiarity with content management via their work with learning management systems, it will be interesting to observe how that experience shapes their expectations in the workplace. At a minimum, I expect that the mobility afforded by web applications will be demanded at the office.

A Web 2.0+/social network-guided education experience may also prepare future employees for a very different office computing and content management environment than we’re familiar with today. Who knows, that might leave hierarchical filing systems and the computing technology that’s enforced them back in the closet with my old binders and hanging file folders. I would at least expect it to increase demand for similar learning management solutions to support continuing education in the workplace. That’s something we’ll need to look into next time.

Until then, you can learn more about learning and content management beginning at Regards, Jim

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ECM & Email – The End of File Attachments?

I remember a marketing campaign we dreamed up years ago called “No More Attachments”. It was intended to encourage businesses to abandon attaching documents to email messages long before the concept was mainstream. Back then; most organizations weren’t familiar with social networks or storing much online, except for website pages.

Reading a recent AIIM ECM survey reminded me of the misconceived campaign because it suggests that even in 2009 many organizations remain overwhelmed with managing email. While email is certainly one of the most successful applications ever developed, its popularity and ease of use have created serious IT headaches.

For example, 55% of AIIM survey respondents report they have “little or no confidence” that important emails are recorded, complete or recoverable. (That’s just a small improvement compared to the prior year’s results of 62% “non-confidence”). Considering that US courts regard email as an electronic record, that could become an expensive problem should a business find itself involved in litigation.

In the same AIIM survey 27% of respondents also reported that email attachments were “very unmanaged”. I’m not sure which of these statistics scares me more? I suspect some organizations consider documents and files to be vital records, but if they’re being managed and stored as attachments in individual email accounts that could be a recipe for disaster.

Most mid-large sized businesses require employees to remove email from corporate servers or risk having it deleted after a specified period of time (30-90 days usually). If standard archiving rules aren’t supported, employees usually copy files to local folders on their PC, or possibly store them on portable drives or CD’s. What happens to that vital content then? What if the only remaining copy of an important document was a file attachment?

Email is simply a dangerous place to store important documents. Searching for documents in email clients like, Outlook is notoriously difficult. Trying to do the same in Entourage is worse (trust me). I rely on Google desktop to help get me out of these kinds of problems, but even that doesn’t always work. A well-intentioned IT admin recently updated my email identity to better manage my storage. Suddenly, I could not longer access any of the messages or attachments I could find with Google. Loss and theft of portable data storage devices is an even bigger problem.

I’ve learned my lesson to keep all my documents in an online content management system – no matter what they are about. The fact is, I can find them and share them much more easily and my employer can monitor and classify them, if needed as well. Once my files are stored online, I can skip attaching them to messages and use file links instead. These days, that’s really no different from how I share photographs and other content on the web outside of work.

So much is being written about the benefits and challenges of social networking in the enterprise. I think if employees could simply harness their new web collaboration skills to abandon sending file attachments they and their employers would find managing content could be much simpler. For example, replacing file attachments with links to documents stored in a common content repository significantly eases the burden on mail servers. Businesses could actually monitor and control content access more effectively as well.

Of course, this suggestion presumes that everyone has access to content management solutions. Well, if you don’t, here’s a somewhat radical suggestion. Get your own. That’s right; sign up for an ECM service online, like Xythos on Demand, or even use Google Docs. It’s free! I know that’s not probably IT-approved advice, but it will be an improvement, and your team will gain valuable experience using Web 2.0 tools to collaborate.

The better-known services, including Google Apps, Microsoft’s new SaaS version of SharePoint and Xythos on Demand all employ industry standard security methods to ensure your content remains safe. The rest is really up to you and your team. If you follow accepted workplace practices and don’t share content with unknown parties, you should keep out of trouble. Consider the advice you might tell your child about Facebook, and you’ll be OK.

Once you’ve learned how your own team can benefit from sharing document links, try leveraging your experience to convince your organization to adopt its own sanctioned solution. That way the rest of your co-workers can benefit from being able to find and share files more easily. Don’t forget to ask for a solution that scans email messages as well. That way you can take care of two content management problems at once.

Who knows, maybe AIIM’s survey will show some more improvements in this area next year… In the meantime,  if you run into trouble, let me know. If you end up with some good stories to tell, please share those as well! Oh, I almost forgot. Make sure to get your hands on a plug-in, or Xythos Drive for your preferred email client to replace “paper clipping” with a link to your ECM system. It will accelerate your independence from file attachments almost overnight!

Regards, Jim

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Will iPhone, Kindle and Online Collaboration be the end of Printed Documents?

What was the last document or file that you actually printed yourself? Was it something that you wanted to share with others, or did you simply prefer reading it on paper instead of on screen? Maybe it was something you needed to sign and submit, or perhaps you were just following a common work habit?

I remember the last item I printed. It was an airline boarding pass I needed a few days ago. The “document” before that was really just a discount coupon for parking. The last time I printed a business related document was about two weeks ago, when I decided to review a program summary outdoors. My MacBook display is quite bright, but it still isn’t useful in the sunlight. (I always wonder about those laptop adds staged near swimming pools….)

Anyway, I’ve been observing my reduced printing behavior as a sort of personal experiment. It’s encouraging progress from a green perspective, but that’s not really my motivation. I’m simply finding that my growing reliance on web based document delivery, editing and sharing is largely a matter of convenience. I’ve grown tired of re-typing my own freehand notes and my intended output format has largely become electronic as well.

The addition of new content delivery devices like the iPhone, and Kindle are also changing my expectations about how and when to consume and, sometimes edit content. I’m having no trouble reading news using the New York Times and Wall Street Journal iPhone apps. While I don’t do much serious document editing on this device yet, it’s easy to use email, Linkedin or Twitter, and reviewing an Office document isn’t impossible. I’m looking forward to iPhone OS 3.0 software updates for improved editing as well.

Using my iPhone to access and manage documents in an ECM system

I’m not sure where the Kindle would fit into my own content management lifestyle as my MacBook is with me at most times, or if it’s not my iPhone certainly is. However, the combination of these devices appears to have profoundly changed my appetite for printed output as both a content creator and consumer. For those who mostly consume content and maybe use another device for email, etc., the new Kindle DX may become their “green” alternative for newspapers and magazines. While a bit expensive, it will certainly help keep fingers and clothes cleaner.

A lot of business, legal and medical processes still depend on paper documents, but I think that may change sooner than most think. The cost-saving and security advantages of doing this have been well documented. While the process of change is not simple, I suspect some of the fears associated with managing electronic content are somewhat inflated. We simply need to become more comfortable with paper-less content in general, in order for it to be better accepted as part of mission-critical business processes.

Online document collaboration software and devices like the iPhone and Kindle may be just the enticement we need to become ready to embrace a paper-less future. I’ve even begun using my iPhone WSJ app to read the “paper” before it gets delivered. I wonder how much longer I’ll continue with home delivery of the “old” version…?

An easy way to test this whole hypothesis is to become more engaged in social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and even Twitter. I’ve noticed that the more I use these networks, the more I want all my content stored online – whether that’s photographs, music or documents. Pretty soon, having content stored anywhere else just seems like a hassle. And of course, that means printed documents too.

Has your paper document consumption and output begun to change also? What’s causing that to happen and how is it affecting you or your business? Please let us know.

Friday, May 1, 2009

ECM in the Cloud - Data Still Under Your Control?

Let’s face it; there are still some documents we just don’t want to leave anywhere but in a fire-proof safe or a deposit box at the bank. The challenge only increases for businesses or larger organizations. Unfortunately, the status of some banks has become questionable lately and frequent natural disasters are a tough reminder that physical media storage can still be risky.

The advantages of electronic document storage have been well chronicled. The value of backed up and redundant document storage is undisputed and the benefit of accessing documents over the web has become well appreciated by many. However, many organizations unable to deploy their own document management, or ECM systems have not rushed to adopt hosted, or online document management services as an alternate method to improve document security.

Some businesses may simply be unwilling to permit vital content to be stored outside their domains. Organizations in some regulated industries for instance are prohibited from doing this at all. For many others businesses though there exists a need for secure, web-enabled document storage that most software as a service (SaaS) ECM solutions cannot address very easily.

These organizations are often larger than typical SaaS ECM customers. Many already support their own IT infrastructure including standard security and user authentication methods, email and other business-specific computing services. As these companies have grown they’ve experienced common challenges associated with managing arrays of networked servers, storage systems and the increased demands of a mobile workforce.

As these businesses investigate options to improve service delivery and streamline IT budgets, outsourcing content management and storage can appear attractive. However, requirements for system customization and integration can often exceed the capabilities of the best SaaS providers. For organizations with transient user communities, such as academic institutions this can be particularly challenging. Frequently changing user identities and roles can pose a significant risk to the institution and its content.

So, how can an organization leverage the benefits of a hosted ECM service without discarding its security and technology investments? As you might have guessed, the solution may consist of a hybrid approach commonly referred to as “managed hosting”. It offers a virtual private data cloud for clients which can be customized to integrate directly with their authentication and security standards, as well as other applications. While it may not offer the same shared economies as SaaS solutions it can still provide significant cost savings, even from individually managed instances of a hosted application.

Managed hosting ECM clients can enjoy a variety of cloud-like operational benefits, as well as a level of personalized service not typical of SaaS solutions. In addition to not having to hassle with owning and operating ECM systems themselves, managed hosting customers can expect a level of application expertise better suited to their own business. It’s not unusual for managed hosting providers to specialize in select vertical markets so that they gain performance efficiencies of their own. This focused service model contrasts with the more common one-to-many plan offered by most SaaS vendors.

Customized integration, on-demand system scalability and guaranteed service delivery agreements are each designed to help keep the ECM managed hosting customers in control of their business without having to continue to worry about how and where documents are stored. Some service providers even go a step further offering remote system monitoring applications and dedicated systems engineers to ensure that clients know exactly what’s happening with their data 24x7.

For growing businesses, managed hosting offers clients a unique opportunity to evolve their applications as their needs change. For example, if a client decides they want to integrate certain application plug-ins or 3rd party modules the services provider typically can help them do that. More often in the SaaS environment customers must wait until the SaaS vendor determines that new service features are appropriate for the majority of subscribers.

Don’t expect that hosted ECM solutions will cost as little as SaaS options though. That’s almost like comparing a well-tailored suit to a mass-produced alternative. However, for organizations which have become more complex and especially those concerned with maintaining the greatest degree of control over their data as possible, managed hosting may prove to be an attractive option. 

I wouldn’t forget about SaaS altogether. It can be a good way to experiment with ECM delivered as a service. It may also be well suited to meet the needs of specific departments within organizations not yet ready to begin a complete migration to a new ECM solution (whether it be hosted, or on premise).

Blackboard and Xythos recently introduced its of own set hosted ECM solutions intended to leverage Blackboard’s successful history of worldwide service delivery and the uniquely scalable and distributed capabilities of Xythos technology. This service could be particularly attractive to highly mobile and geographically distributed organizations. Of course, knowing that it’s delivered with 99.7 uptime guarantees including multiple and redundant daily backups will probably help comfort the control freaks as well.

You can learn more about it here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu, Virtual Collaboration and Content Management

No, this is not an attempt to capitalize upon what may be an epidemic, or worse. I woke up this morning suffering from dizziness and a cough that just wouldn’t seem to go away these last few days. I tried to revive myself with a few cups of coffee in front of my monitor, but seeing headlines about swine flu weren’t helping me feel better. Fortunately, I had planned to work from my home office, but I knew my first meeting needed to be with the doctor.

While I sat in the waiting room, I thought about how close San Diego was to Mexico and tried to recall who I had been in contact with the last few days…The other patients in waiting seemed to be coughing a lot more than I was. I wondered if I should have visited to get my affairs in order – really.

Once the doctor checked me out, I was quite relieved. While I did seem to be suffering from a common flu virus, I didn’t exhibit any swine-like attributes (although my wife would probably dispute this). The doctor told me dizziness was a typical effect of congestion and its impact on the inner ear. So, I didn’t get any good meds, but I could stop planning for my imminent demise.

I returned to my home office to continue working on some projects and a couple of documents I had been reviewing in the doctor’s office on my iPhone. (Sorry, for messing up anyone’s test results using a WiFi device in urgent care).  One of my RSS feeds from Forbes hyped Virtually Flu-Free Meetings (sponsored by Cisco) which I couldn’t help reading. Of course, it talked about the relative benefits of virtual meetings achieved through telepresence.

The concept seemed particularly appropriate to me today. I thought, we can really help each other and the organizations we work for by considering medical threats like this seriously and taking advantage of the technologies we have available to protect ourselves. For example, if you’re a typical knowledge worker like me, you spend almost half your time in meetings. The other half (at least the productive part) of your time consists of modifying and creating content generally related to those meetings.

A combination of real-time collaboration tools from a simple telephone to Cisco’s telepresence systems combined with a-synchronous “follow-up” tools, like an online content management application can go a long way towards bringing people and projects together without the germs. Normally, cost avoidance might drive organizations to consider these options. However, today I am thankful I can use them to continue working with my peers without sharing the bacteria, which probably produced my low-grade flu to begin with.

In all seriousness, organizations should be reminded by the current epidemic situation to have a disaster plan in place.  It’s critical that employees understand in advance what practices to follow when they are unable to travel, or possibly not permitted to commute to the office at all. If swine flu escalates to pandemic status, this may in fact become the situation.

Technology may not be the whole solution. However, as I learned today, it can certainly help mitigate a host of negative consequences. If you’re interested in exploring the concept, check out real time video options from Apple, Google and Skype as well as Cisco. You can also learn more about online content management with a free trial of Xythos at

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day and Content Management (ECM)

For many of us who are at the office and won’t have the opportunity to plant a tree today, here’s an idea – why not save one instead? The net benefit to the environment is about the same and you may even discover ways to continue the process in the future, which could yield even greater earth-friendly benefits.

So, what’s the catch, you’re probably wondering? Nothing sneaky. I promise. Just some tree-saving ideas I’ve collected from my ECM colleagues here at Xythos that could help get you and your business greener without too much pain or suffering.

Easy ECM Steps to Greener Document Management
  • Use duplex printing – in theory, this can reduce paper consumption by up to 50%!
  • Eliminate banner printing – according to our friends at Gartner, this can yield savings of up to $33,000 per year for a typical 1,000 employee organization.
  • Exchange documents via the web vs. courier services – this can cut $10-$15 per transaction, depending on your service contract fees.
  • Adopt a print on demand office policy (vs. print and distribute) - a variety of industry analysts estimate this can produce up to 30% cost savings in mid-larger-sized businesses.
  • Print to fax servers – for legal and healthcare organizations this is a great way to eliminate printing those pages that don’t require client or patient signatures.
  • Use web conferencing and ECM to collaborate on important projects and documents – the average business trip can cost over $400 per day per employee and that doesn’t include airfare. Web technologies can reduce the carbon impact of business meetings by over 80%, Gartner researchers estimate.
  • Store documents and records online – Sure, servers consume some energy but its nothing compared to the amount required to transport, cool, heat and protect physical documents – which of course, had to be printed to begin with!
The best enterprise content management (ECM) solutions have migrated to the web and are easier than ever to use. Web services, like Xythos on Demand make getting started a simple, five-minute task. It’s a lot less work than digging a hole in the ground and you can enjoy the benefits as much as the environment will. Why not get greener and give it a try? Visit the free Xythos Test Drive today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Workflow, Efficiency and Content Management (ECM)

My cluttered desk challenges me. It holds information I need, but not always where I can find it. It delays decisions I should make, letting me push documents onto its far corners. My desk is my accomplice in inefficiency. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that anything that lands on my desk is guaranteed a slower passage to its destination.

Why is this so? I think its because I work in two very different, yet related environments. My desk resides in the physical world offering me a location to work and occasionally store items. However, most of what I do these days takes place in a virtual environment dominated by email, web collaboration and electronic documents.

This virtual environment has grown stronger over the years and today it is very difficult to ignore. It is constantly changing and demanding more of my attention. I enjoy this environment because it allows me to respond swiftly to requests and it rewards me with rapid feedback of its own. Best of all it can go places my “old” desk cannot.

Important documents, such as things that I need to sign still arrive on my “old” desk, but I tend to leave them until last. Worse, they sometimes get mixed up with all of that unimportant stuff, like physical mail, which I rarely open any longer. We’ve migrated expense submission and approvals online, so there are just a few business processes left to land on my desk that really matter to me.

This is my challenge. These last document centric processes need to migrate online so that I can become un-tethered once and for all from my “old” desk. I will become instantly more efficient, once I can review, edit and approve these final documents and files on my laptop or, what ever other web-enabled device I choose. (Yes, I reviewed ad copy on my iPhone just last Friday!)

The truth is, I’ve already become somewhat of a remote contributor, not visiting my desk for days at a time. Getting these last few processes online will make me a more honest telecommuter. I’ll be able to stop trying to hide from the folks who put forms and invoices in my “old” mailbox. I’ll stop pointing to piles of folders on my desk suggesting that their presence on it marked progress.

I’ll begin with one process at a time. I’ll develop simple routing and approval workflows for our marketing invoices for example. The first step will include scanning and classification, at least until our vendors adopt their own electronic bill presentment solutions. That should accelerate the review process and possibly even allow our AP team to consider early payment discounts.

A few more steps like that and I’ll be off of my “old” desk for good and ready to become a true digital nomad.

Now, I meant to keep this post simple and personal just to show how quickly basic ECM features can help me, and possibly you as well.

I also wanted to let you know that some of our own business process experts will be reviewing the subject of workflow in more detail during this week’s Virtual Coffee Break web seminar “Using workflow to accelerate business processes and save money.” It only lasts 30 minutes. So, it might be a good way to help you get started towards a cleaner desk too!

If you can’t make the live seminar, don’t worry. It will be recorded and available for you to view from a virtual desktop of your choice anytime afterwards. (You just won’t be able to get live answers to the questions you may have…) just visit after this Wednesday.

OK, time for me to finish cleaning off the rest of that desk. Jim

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cost-Saving ECM Advice from the Experts

These days, you can practically find an “ECM Expert” on any corner. Heck, I even pretend to be one once in a while. However, I honestly believe that the real experts are those IT leaders who are putting content management technology to work in their own organizations. These are the managers and staff that have to live with the potential risks associated with new technology introductions. They’ve seen the consequences of good, and not so good software deployments and have learned how to deal with them.

That’s why I’m excited to tell you about a series of case studies that Xythos has just published which chronicle the challenges and successes experienced by three different enterprises intent upon improving how they manage content across their business. Oddly, none of these organizations set out to use ECM to reduce their operating expenses, yet in the end each found measurable cost savings resulting from their content management “experiments”.

In today’s challenging economic environment, I’m sure each of these organizations is thankful for the efficiencies they’ve gained from adopting a content management solution. That’s why I believe that you’ll find reading about their experiences useful as well. I’ve included a brief excerpt below to get you started. If you would like to learn more, just click on the link at the end of this post . As always, please let me know what you think. Jim

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Requirements-based Project Management Yields ECM Cost Savings

Often, budget cuts force IT Departments to move in different directions and investigate creative solutions. That was certainly the case for the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s (UWM) IT Department when, in 2003 a $1 million budget cut left the management team scrambling to try and maintain service levels for their faculty, students and staff.

Lucky for the university, CIO, Bruce Maas, had already begun to champion the idea of standardization of IT service delivery across the large campus. “In times of breaking budgets, you need to focus carefully on delivering the fundamental requirements that your customers need,” said Maas. His department had recently conducted “customer” interviews intended to document user requirements within various campus departments that it served. “We found that many of the services IT was providing could have better economies of scale through standardization. These included items like helpdesk services, middleware and even content management and collaboration.”

Maas’ team discovered that commonly used technologies could be delivered as ‘leveraged services’ more cost effectively by standardizing service delivery, training and support across the campus. Software licenses could be consolidated, hardware costs reduced and select IT support personnel could become service experts while freeing others for alternate tasks. However, “none of these advantages could have been realized if we had not focused on customer requirements first,” Maas added.

Just click here to read the rest of Bruce’s ECM story…

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compliance, Collaboration and Web 2.0 Content Management (ECM)

With all the talk about layoffs, budget cuts and spending freezes it’s no surprise that investments in enterprise technology have declined. After all, how can you think about enhancing business performance when you’re not sure who’s going to be around to run the operation? However, as we’ve discussed before, doing nothing with your infrastructure during a downturn may be a recipe for failure itself. Businesses that ignore technology improvements can sometimes find themselves at a competitive disadvantage and possibly even become takeover candidates for more savvy competitors.

I was thinking about this after listening to a respected IT leader explain why she believed fear-based marketing tactics were not particularly effective in down economies. We were discussing what motivated organizations to adopt policies and technologies intended to better protect and track data when she suggested that a “greater of evils” decision theory might overwhelm more rational evaluations during tough times.

The concept suggests that if the economic environment is so unpredictable that managers are uncertain about the prospects for their business, then appeals to protect it from other potential, yet unidentified threats aren’t paid much attention. Thus, while compliance initiatives appear more sensible in calmer times, the desire to protect one’s assets from the unknown declines as economic uncertainty increases.

This sounded a bit like doomsday logic to me, until this same executive suggested that it made more sense for her to consider compliance technology investments based upon their ability to deliver competitive advantage vs. just providing calamity insurance. If you expect that your organization has an equal or better chance to ride out the downturn, she reasoned then adopting technologies that can put you ahead of your competition make sense.

The IT exec’s hypothesis seems logical to me. So, I guess the fundamental question for the glass half-full crowd is what technologies can meet this test? I would guess any solution would still need to present a rock-solid ROI pedigree and impose little hardship upon the current organization or its business processes. Solutions that behave the most simply - like familiar consumer web applications would appear most applicable, it would seem.

In the case of compliance solutions this would mean understanding how potentially at-risk information is being used and determining more efficient ways to facilitate that process. For this exec’s business, finding a better solution meant updating standard collaboration methods and migrating those processes to the web. Content became better protected during transport and in it’s stored state as a result. While compliance was improved, the strategic competitive advantage gained would be what paid for the solution.

Obviously, highly regulated industries can’t avoid compliance requirements. Businesses that compete within them must simply build the cost of compliance into their budgets. For other organizations achieving compliance is more often considered a necessary evil and avoided or pushed to the bottom of priority lists. For these businesses, achieving improved compliance via content management tools can be less like sugar-coating a bitter pill and more like getting a good two for one deal.

End users in many organizations are clamoring for easier ways to share information and keep up with the piles of documents that dominate their workdays. The collaborative benefits of web-enabled content management technologies have already proven their ability to help address these challenges. The fact that they can also help get an organization’s information into a more secure and compliant state shouldn’t be overlooked. It just may not be the first thing you want tell everyone about.

Why not test out this concept for yourself? Software as a service or (SaaS) ECM solutions are ideal candidates to become familiar with ECM technology without the hassle of installing and managing any software. Xythos on Demand is a good example of this. It offers many of the enterprise-class features available in its on-premise cousin and you can get started using it in minutes – literally. As always, please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ARRA Stimulus Funds and Your ECM Project?

According to the US Department of Education, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) should start becoming available in just a few days. That’s billions, as in almost 100 billion dollars worth of federal stimulus spending that’s expected to be distributed over the next two years to academic and research organizations across the country.

What could this mean for you or your institution? That probably depends upon how current programs are funded and how well you can capitalize on the potential windfall from ARRA. $53.6 billion of these funds will be distributed via the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) as a new, one-time appropriation. While these are intended to preserve existing programs and jobs, there’s ample opportunity for infrastructure improvements, including technology projects.

Each state has already been allocated its portion of SFSF money, and guidelines for acceptable grant requests are reasonably strait forward. We’ve collected information about how to submit SFSF funding requests at our Xythos ARRA micro site, if you’d like to learn more. The most important thing to remember is that the time to act is now. SFSF funds will likely go fast as there are fewer restrictions limiting their use. After all, the intention is help stimulate the national economy fast.

ARRA will also help bolster the budgets of several federal agencies that also work closely with the higher education and research communities. The most significant include:

  • NIH: $10.4 billion
  • NSF: $3 billion
  • DOE: $5.5 billion (1.6 billion for Office of Science)
  • NIST: $0.6 billion
  • NASA: $1 billion
  • Other: $1 billion

Current and newly proposed research programs may qualify for funding provided by these agencies. Once again, the key factor is timing. Some first round submission deadlines are at the end of this month. That’s the last day a request can be submitted for first round NIH funding, for example. Obviously, there’s plenty of work to get done quickly. So, we’ve also assembled guidance and resources about working with these agencies at our Xythos ARRA micro site to help you get started, if you haven’t already begun this process.

There are several reasons why enterprise content management (ECM) systems can play an important role in ARRA programs. First, a variety of academic and research initiatives supported by the program can benefit from ECM via support for distance learning, green initiatives and business process improvements that will advance overall institutional performance. In fact, industry leaders are recommending that institutions act strategically and consider programs that can provide lasting economic benefit vs. simply addressing current budget deficits.

Second, enhanced security and reporting requirements associated with most federally funded research programs almost demand some type of ECM solution to track and protect the myriad of data collected and exchanged between research participants. This challenge becomes even more acute as research is conducted among different institutions, government agencies and private industry. For example, ECM applications like Xythos EDMS can go a long way towards overcoming the security risks associated with email file collaboration by providing a common content repository.

Finally, the expanded monitoring and reporting requirements each state must agree to in order to begin receiving SFSF money may also benefit from features such as automated workflow and integrated records management found within leading ECM applications. In fact, some institutions are already using this technology to fast track grant funding requests and monitor approved research programs. ARRA compliance will probably be less of a challenge for these organizations as they can apply their ECM experience towards meeting the new guidelines.

While it may seem odd amidst the steady stream of grim economic news, there may never be a better time to think, and act strategically about your institution’s IT plans. Recessions create increased demands upon academic institutions in particular - sometimes exceeding their systematic ability to respond. ECM solutions can help extend the capabilities of faculty and staff to respond, as well as eliminate unnecessary costs and delays from critical business processes intended to serve the greater academic community.

We’re planning on investigating opportunities related to ARRA and associated stimulus programs as a matter of course at Xythos. I’ll try and keep readers up to date on that process here at EasyECM as well. In the meantime, please keep the good ideas coming. Thanks, Jim

Monday, March 23, 2009

Xythos ECM Zimlet for Yahoo Zimbra Now Available!

While it seems like we’ve been talking about this Zimlet for a long time, it’s right on schedule and ready for you to try out now. The new Xythos Zimlet is ideal for integrating advanced document management functionality with Zimbra Collaboration Suite using easy Web 2.0 functionality.

If your organization is looking for a secure method to share documents among Zimbra users or maintain a compliant Zimbra email archive, the Xythos Zimlet is definitely worth checking out. You will need Xythos Digital Locker or Xythos Enterprise Document Management Suite version 5.0 or higher to use the Xythos Zimlet.

If you want to learn more about the new Xythos Zimlet visit.

There’s a nice recorded web demo there that will give you even more ideas about what you can do with Xythos and Zimbra together.

Friday, March 20, 2009

AIIM 2009 - Déjà vu for ECM, or Not?

It’s March and while we’re not busy trying to figure out NCAA brackets here at Xythos, we’re reviewing our final plans for this year’s AIIM conference. It kind of seems just like last year and the year before that, but is it really? I’m not sure. Industry trade events appear somewhat less important amidst the economic chaos of 2009. Business travel and entertainment are almost taboo and TARP funded bonuses are the new personal finance plague.

Let me first avoid any confusion. I think the folks at AIIM are doing a great job representing the ECM industry and educating the rest of the world about the benefits of content management technology. However, I am worried about the continued relevance of AIIMExpo. As an industry who’s primary goal is to improve the efficiency with which we interact with information, I have to wonder if the traditional trade show forum continues to best serve that purpose?

Like any event, AIIMExpo still serves as a convenient meeting location for vendors and channel partners to get together. It helps us conduct product updates and training sessions in a more efficient few-to-many equation that can enhance relationships and save some money. However, I’m not sure that events like AIIMExpo any longer function effectively as a forum to develop new customer relationships, or even increase awareness about ECM products and services.

Our own CRM data demonstrates that we’re seeing more of the folks we know each year at AIIMExpo and fewer new prospects. This may not necessarily be bad and may speak to the maturing nature of our business and the industry itself. However, it is something we need to align our business plans and expectations with. We have already reduced our floor space at the event for the second year in a row. Partners, like Ricoh don’t have a floor show presence at all for 2009.

Discovery and learning is taking place in different places and in different ways than on the trade show floors these days. We’ve had to radically adapt our marketing plans at Xythos in response to this change. It’s not just about saving money. Customer behaviors have changed considerably too. No one has time to wander through events these days with the hope that they’ll stumble upon ideal solutions for their business.

ECM customers and prospects are a technologically sophisticated group. They know they can find the information they need when and where they want it. Increasingly that “place” is online where they can learn at their convenience and interact with vendors when they are ready. For Xythos, that’s required developing new methods for creating awareness, delivering content and engaging with the community.

In several ways, we’re migrating the introductory elements associated with traditional events to the web. For example, we’re relying more on social networks as a means by which prospects can casually be introduced to our products and services and like-minded peers. We’ve also become dependant upon the location-neutral benefits of web seminars to provide in-depth solution demonstrations. Recording these events also helps us respond to the 24x7 response expectations of our growing global market. (Having a super-scalable ECM system like Xythos EDMS helps a lot too!)

The benefits of this change aren’t limited to better serving the needs of our customers, although that should be enough justification. We’re saving money and becoming a little “greener” too. We are attending fewer events this year and that saving goes right to the bottom line. When we do attend events, we deliver brochures, data sheets, etc. electronically saving our clients some hassle and saving us printing and distribution costs. We’ve even begun sending ourselves (and customers) to events electronically – using web conferencing & video to include guests unable to participate in person at our presentations.

So if you haven’t guessed already, I won’t be at AIIM 2009 this year. It will seem strange, like not attending COMDEX anymore, and I will miss a real Philly cheese steak sandwich. However, we’ll have a great team from Xythos at the event and plenty of new ECM solutions to introduce. Of course, I’ll be participating virtually, while I try and continue to feed the content appetite of our growing online document management communities.

(OK – Truth be told, it is warming up nicely here in San Diego. We can already leave the windows open to the Pacific breeze at night again. Would you want to leave if you didn’t have too?)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ECM on My iPhone with Xythos!

Finally, there’s a native application for managing enterprise content on my iPhone. That’s right, I’ve begun using DAV-E to access and share the content I’ve stored in Xythos Enterprise Document Management suite (EDMS) and I’m finding it quite useful. Even as a first edition, DAV-E offers some powerful functionality that will encourage me to leave my laptop at home more often.

Now, I know some of you are thinking “managing content on an iPhone – Really?” I understand. As a content creator, I wasn’t expecting to do much editing, or creating just because I can access all of my files with my iPhone. That wasn’t really the reason I was excited about DAV-E to begin with. Instead, I wanted a content management solution that would simply allow me to control access to, and share my content whenever and wherever I might be.

While those aspirations may appear simple, I had never achieved them before without a PC. So being able to review, approve and distribute content hasn’t always been easy for me and sometimes, practically impossible. Sure, I enjoyed using ACU’s portal based access to their version of Xythos last fall, but that didn’t help me with my own work data. A native iPhone app offers unique advantages that Safari versions can’t match – particularly when you’re out of WiFi range. This is an area where my iPhone completely outshines my Macbook, as it doesn’t have a 3G card in it.

If you’re still wondering how important simply accessing and sharing content can be, consider what most people are already doing on social networks like Facebook and those dedicated to sharing photos like Picasa. My content sharing needs require a degree of security and flexibility these sites don’t provide such as, file level access controls, document tracking, version control and more. Basically, I needed a “button” for my vital business content just like the ones for Linkedin and Google I already have on my iPhone.

DAV-E delivers. Now, I can access my Xythos folders from anywhere. The next time my boss calls about a report when I’m at the beach, I’ll be ready. With DAV-E, I can send email messages that include Xythos files links, manage permissions and contribute content to Xythos blogs or wikis in ways I hadn’t even considered, such as using the photo upload feature.

I wonder what the makers of DAV-E will add next? Audio and video uploads? Oh, I almost forgot to mention, DAV-E offers a file cache too. You can set the size of the cache and use it to work offline for those times when you can’t event get iPhone access, like on the plane. DAV-E should work with most WebDAV servers and Xythos implementations. Of course, you can test that out for free with a Xythos on Demand account too. You can also get the free version of DAV-E here.

Try it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kindle on iPhone a Call for Content Management?

The publishing industry used to look a lot like the broadcast television and music industries. A small group of publishing houses determined which author’s works would reach store shelves, just as record labels and broadcast networks decided what we would listen too or watch. While digital content distribution has begun to dramatically alter the business models for music and video, the model for publishing and consuming books has not appeared to change so dramatically.

Sure, there have been several attempts to publish books online, most notably Google’s Book Search project, but these efforts have generally not addressed the convenience factor and portability afforded by old fashioned books. Even with a laptop, reading an on online book hasn’t always been comfortable or easy.

Some of these issues were addressed with the first Amazon Kindle. Its design and use of e-ink were unique and compelling and its ease of browsing and purchasing books remains unmatched. Version 2 of the device should overcome earlier usability issues and arrives in a more compelling package. However, the market for $359 e-readers will probably still consist of truly committed book readers and gadget hounds with healthy bank accounts.

That’s why Amazon’s release of Kindle for iPhone really grabbed my attention. With ten’s of millions of iPhones already in use and millions more selling each quarter, it would seem like an instant mass market for e-books has just been created. Equally important, Kindle on iPhone and presumably, soon on other smart phones may produce a new publishing model more like the App Store than traditional book publishing.

This may provide authors with a better chance to reach their audience. Of course, that’s assuming Amazon and Apple behave more like a distribution channel for authors vs. an editorial board. It could also require authors to assume more responsibility for the development and marketing of their works. They might need to establish their own “editorial networks” to perform quality control and provide other resources once part of traditional publishing contracts. Social networking and collaboration tools could play an important role helping to establish and support these networks.

Web-enabled content management (ECM) tools could help speed the process of authoring and editing books particularly among collaborators working in different locations. The combination of online authoring, collaboration and research tools could go a long way towards replacing the safety net provided by the traditional publishing model while helping to eliminate some of the overhead costs associated with it.

These same networks could also become useful marketing tools for authors to promote their books. I suspect that many authors are already using content management tools to create and publish their work. Re-using these skills and their own content to increase awareness probably isn’t a foreign concept either. Putting a free chapter on Amazon or Google and hosting subject matter discussions on Facebook or Linkedin would not seem like a big step from there.

That’s good, because the process of gaining recognition for books probably won’t become any easier. With fewer newspapers and book reviews being published, readers may rely even more on best-seller lists and remarks posted on Amazon and other social networks. Authors without big budget publishing contracts are going to have to use all the content management and networking skills they’ve got to just get noticed on the “virtual shelf”.

As an avid reader of listener comments on iTunes, as well as buyer suggestions on Amazon, I’m optimistic. I generally place more faith in the aggregate wisdom of my peers when it comes to consuming content than I do in the so called industry “thought leaders”. I can still remember quite a few unhappy purchase experiences from the pre-sampling/networking days where a rave review in a magazine clearly did not align with my own preferences.

So, I’m excited to get more content I like in my iPhone “book” thanks to Kindle. I also hope authors will take advantage of the many great content management and collaboration tools that are now available to help them succeed in the new e-book marketplace. For those authors plagued with the challenge of exchanging large book manuscripts online I recommend using Xythos on Demand. It’s free for the first 30 days, so that aught to help get things moving.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Xythos and Enterprise Content Management

As a technology marketer I’m feeling virtually bombarded by offers to learn how to master Web 2.0 technologies and social networking tools in order to remain relevant amidst the economic chaos of 2009. If you read half these solicitations, it would appear that traditional advertising and communications strategies have achieved a state of irrelevance, lost in our new multi-channel, multi-media world.

After spending so much effort and time focused on discovery, search optimization and living for keyword ranking results on Google, I’ve almost wanted to dismiss the more obtuse elements of community marketing. It’s not that we haven’t been engaged. We’ve got channels on YouTube and groups on Linkedin and Facebook thanks to more adventurous staffers at Xythos, but I wasn’t convinced yet.

That changed for good when I attended Educause 2008, the annual IT summit for the world’s colleges and universities. As usual, we had prepared for the event with pre-show mailings and other marketing campaigns intended to increase activity at our booth and the various seminars and events that we were hosting. In fact, in order to measure our campaign return on investment (ROI) we asked each attendee to identify what prompted them to visit us during the event.

About 11% reported that they had learned about Xythos, or one of our planned activities at the conference via a social networking site. Wow! I thought when I learned about this data. No, it wasn’t a huge percent, but as an organization we had hardly begun to invest in these networks. Equally important, the total cost of that investment was an incredibly small part of our marketing budget, even for that particular event.

This got me thinking and quickly planning in a different way for 2009. Being discoverable is still ultimately important, once prospective customers begin seeking solutions. However, it’s becoming more obvious that the process of becoming aware of, and learning about new ways of doing things is changing rapidly. Social networks on the web would appear to be important catalysts of that evolution particularly as they relate to the discovery of new technologies.

We’ve already been busy testing the hypothesis this year. While it’s a bit soon to draw conclusions, we’re beginning to see more supporting results. We’ve increased our production of rich media including recorded videos and audio podcasts in addition to updating blogs (like this one) more frequently. We’re using the social networks to promote this content and attempting to develop communities of interest around it.

For some of you, this might already appear obvious and old fashioned, but in the “serious” world of enterprise software marketing it hasn’t seemed all that common. As a result, these activities have helped improve search and discovery performance for some of the keywords and phrases important to our business. We measure these results using Google analytics and by monitoring inbound email and telephone requests.

If you’re wondering how all of this relates to enterprise content management, I can tell you without a doubt that many of our activities related to creating and managing rich media could not have happened very easily without an ECM system. For example, we develop and record audio and video content in multiple locations and need to share it quickly. Individual files can easily exceed 100 Mbs and would be prohibited from our company email system. Instead, we store them in shared folders within Xythos’ EDMS where all participants can see them, be notified when they change, etc.

Our ECM system also serves as our staging area for the main Xythos website essentially allowing us to proceed from concept to publication for all the content we create. Integrated collaboration and workflow tools help us to better automate the process and we make sure to use the version control features as well. Most importantly for our team, we’ve integrated our use of email with content management so that we dialog about projects in messages that include links to our media stored in Xythos. This relieves our email system significantly and makes accessing and sharing files a whole lot easier.

Of course, there is a penalty for having an easy to use ECM system and rich media authoring tools. Fear! Creating and distributing rich media content on social networks has become absurdly simple. While that may be OK for teens on YouTube or Facebook, it can be quite scary for corporate marketers. Fortunately, our ECM system promotes a healthy editing and review process, although its still no guaranty of quality. However, given some of the early results we’ve seen, I guess we’ll just have to swallow some pride and practice, practice, practice.

So, what’s your experience been like using rich media and social networking sites for your business or organization? Do you have any good stories you’d like to share?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gmail Offline! Online Document Management to the Rescue?

Yesterday another Gmail outage was reported to last somewhere between two and half to four hours. That’s disappointing. I really like Gmail. It’s usually responsive, gives me all the storage I want and I can access it from any of my devices – when it’s available. I even use Google Gears to get offline access to Gmail - for when I’m disconnected, not Google.

So was yesterday’s outage a problem? Not really for me. Gmail is a secondary service in my workday where I must still survive in an Entourage/Outlook/Exchange environment. However, if I were operating my own small business or was employed at one of Google’s larger enterprise customers that might not have been the case.

I’m not really going to complain about Google’s quality of service. Every organization’s email, whether hosted or on premise has its challenging days. I’ll tip my hat to Google for providing Gears as a free work-around for when either one of us is “off-line”. However, I’m still worried about the rest of my stuff. Without Gears for Google Docs, and other Google Apps, I might be unable to share contracts, invoices or other important documents. At least if I had a local copy, I could use other online services to collaborate during Google downtime.

Google Gears is a good first step towards online data synchronization and will probably help plenty more organizations get comfortable with the idea of trusting web services to manage growing parts of their business. However, until we can all be certain that 24x7x365 web access is, in fact guaranteed, we’re going to need Gears-like functionality for lots of other data too.

This is not a trivial challenge, particularly if you consider that a lot of business is still conducted using desktop applications not yet ready to migrate to the cloud, including Google’s version of it. For now, we live in the early transition stage of cloud computing where some basic and generally appealing apps like Gmail or Salesforce have migrated up, while many others still linger on the desktop.

Both application categories will need synchronization assistance to ensure anytime data access. Desktop applications can benefit from having their data backed up and protected in the cloud while cloud based services will occasionally require offline access. An online storage synchronization client may be a useful compliment to Google Gears for caching non-Google data managed by other web services. This can allow users to continue to use desktop applications, store and share their files in the cloud, and replicate them on the desktop – just in case.

If you’re not familiar with these kinds of tools, I recommend checking out South River Technologies WebDrive and our own Xythos Drive. Both of these web clients can help automate the synchronization of files between a web service, like those provided by Xythos EDMS and the desktop. The key benefit here is that the user’s relationship to their data is reversed. The cloud-based application becomes the primary data store while the client system becomes the secondary data cache – particularly useful if that system is a vulnerable laptop.

If you don’t already have access to an enterprise content management (ECM) application why not try Xythos on Demand? It’s an easy and free (for 30 days anyway) way to experience what its like to safely store and share your documents online. When you use the service in combination with Xythos Drive I think you’ll immediately appreciate what it means to have someone (or in this case something) else doing all the busy work of synchronizing your files for you. Best of all, if Gmail sputters again you’ll have disaster recovery plan already in place!

As always, please let me know what you think about it. Jim

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top 10 Ways to Save Money with Enterprise Content Management

We’ve been compiling a list like this for a while and it seems like now is particularly good time to share some of the ideas and suggestions that we’ve received on the subject. Is this the best list or the one likely to address the needs of most readers? I don’t know. However, if just one or two of the items on it can help your organization become more efficient, responsive or secure then I’ll consider the effort a success.

Even if your business is about crushing boulders using dinosaurs there’s probably still paperwork involved (or at least stone tablets, if you live in Bedrock). The point is that where there’s paperwork there are probably business processes developed around those documents. Those processes that continue to rely upon the exchange of documents are often the most likely to benefit from improved efficiencies via content management solutions.

Both large and small-sized organizations can enjoy cost savings benefits from these simple changes. In fact, I just learned about a 50 employee company in the insurance industry that has migrated document distribution online and claims to already be saving about $8,000 per month. A larger-sized Xythos customer recently told us they're on schedule to save over $125,000 this year by moving more of their document storage and distribution online with some fairly simple business process changes.

The second major category for cost-saving opportunity with ECM involves what we often call the “Webex test.” This basically involves asking the question “do we all have to be there?” Obviously, its not just meeting’s that can cost plenty, but also all of the collaborative work that takes place before and after meetings. The more this work can be supported by web collaboration tools the less likely expensive travel is required and, in theory the more productive employees can be.

If you don’t believe these kinds of collaborative cost savings can also be material just take a look at IBM. As a result of deploying Lotus SameTime to their many thousands of employees the company claims they are able save more than $8 million per month via web collaboration.

So without any more categorical discussion, here’s our top ten list of ways that you can save money with ECM (if you’re not doing some of these yourself already). As usual, we understand that technology alone is not the answer and recommend that you be ready to adopt a potentially more flexible outlook about how tasks should be performed in what may soon become more location and time independent environments.

Our ECM Cost-Saving Top 10

(Please note that we’ve ranked these items according to estimated ease of actual cost savings measurement, ease of project implementation and relative degree of anticipated cost savings. “Your mileage may vary.”)

1) Reduce travel and entertainment budgets
2) Eliminate document courier services
3) Minimize MFP and printer consumables (paper and toner)
4) Consolidate department file servers
5) Reduce office heating and air conditioning costs
6) Slash administrative and clerical support costs
7) Consolidate data backup and protection
8) Minimize physical document and records storage costs
9) Accelerate content discovery
10) Share office space
11) Improve content re-use ( everyone needs a little something extra these days!)

Worried that cost saving alone isn’t enough incentive to get your organization to take advantage of ECM? Take a look at this recent article in AIIM’s Infonomics magazine about managing change:

Scared of Change – Infonomics

Want to hear more about putting ECM to work for your cost savings initiative? Check out these web resources:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Escape the Cold with ECM and Online Collaboration

At Xythos we sometimes joke that the popularity of online document and content management applications is directly related to an organization’s geographic location. Those closest to northern latitudes have a natural incentive to seek alternatives to personal travel, at least during half the year we laugh. After all, doesn’t that help explain the longtime popularity of ECM vendors like Hummingbird and OpenText?

As I warm my fingers above my MacBook’s CPU this February morning I can’t help but think there may be some truth to this joke. Though if we believe Punxsutawney Phil, the joke’s on us all because “six more weeks of winter it will be”. For those of us who use ECM systems, I wonder if we’re ready to change? Do we feel confident we can accomplish most, or maybe all our assigned tasks without traveling? Are we more comfortable conducting business remotely or from a home office than we’ve been in the past?

I’m not suggesting that ECM systems and web collaboration tools can eliminate the need for human interaction or attending business meetings altogether. Those of us engaged in customer-facing roles know the process of establishing relationships is key to business success. I imagine that still remains true both inside and outside organizations today. Yet, it is still cold out there …

Once we get to know our co-workers and customers and have established a degree of trust and cooperation, I think the potential for productive and potentially long distance collaboration is significant. In fact, simply doing our jobs in environments that don’t introduce myriad interruptions (possibly like the office?) has proven to significantly increase individual performance, according to analysts. Of course, that’s assuming you have access to such an oasis.

So, how can ECM help fight off the winter doldrums and maybe keep us warmer too? Why not test your system and discover how much it can help you get done without visiting the office every day of the week? If you live in a colder climate, that might be one less day of stepping outside and being miserable. If you live in a warmer place use your ECM system to enjoy it a little bit more. Get out on the patio and do some creative project planning. Just don’t brag about how nice it is, or you might get the next consulting project in Duluth.

The combination of ECM, Web 2.0 collaboration tools, and pervasive web connectivity not only helps reduce travel costs, it can limit our impact on the environment as well. The cost of transportation and exchange of documents can migrate from the physical to the electronic universe with consequent benefits. According to the US Energy Information Administration, transportation accounts for 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s far greater than the 2 percent that Gartner estimates suggest information and communication technology contributes.

If your ECM system isn’t Internet compatible, it might be time for an upgrade. Web-enabling your system can truly expand the benefits your organization experience’s by multiples. Not only can it support remote access and more enjoyable winters, but it can also become a first step towards better integrating your customers and partners together with your business. That’s probably a smart move in any economic environment.

If you don't have access to an ECM system, but want to get a quick understanding for how this could work, try out Xythos on Demand. This software as a service (SaaS) ECM solution will get you started in minutes and it’s free for the first 30 days. That might be an easy way to avoid the cold.