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.