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