A Tunnel of Opportunity


On May 5, 2020 I participated in a panel discussion (fun starts at the 1:35 mark), presented by AO Docs, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting work and how technology is helping, or hurting, us adapt. Tunnel

The pandemic hasn’t really impacted the way I work. I’ve been consulting in one way or another for over thirty years and am used to working from home, hotels, coffee shops, airports, wherever. Some of my colleagues on my current engagement have been working from an office for their entire careers, and struggled a bit, at first, with not being in physical proximity to their friends and coworkers at the office. But that’s not really what I want to write about; I want to write about opportunity.

I’m never going back

On my current engagement I’m at my client on a back-fill assignment until the end of this year. This means that under normal circumstances I’m in the office every day, working as if I’m one of their staff. On March 14th I, along with everyone else that works there, received an email: don’t come in on Monday, you’re working from home until this COVID-19 thing blows over. Now, being the super-intelligent, partially clairvoyant type that I am, I’d been bringing my laptop home with me for about a week, in anticipation of receiving just such an email. Not everyone was as prepared, so there were some logistical issues to sort out so people could get into the office safely to retrieve what they needed to work from home.

While this operation did have a pandemic plan, it was predicated on a significant percentage of their workforce being incapacitated by illness and the rest being able to go to the office. 100% of staff being healthy but having almost zero access to the premises just didn’t figure into their models. There were some connectivity issues the first couple of weeks, as well as getting to grips with some new tools (they were / are in the early stages of moving over to M365).

Opportunity 1

A few weeks into our present state work is still getting done, productivity hasn’t collapsed, and the world wasn’t on fire. A company that pretty much manages by bums in seats found out that working from home works well and people are meeting their goals and commitments. There really is no reason to herd us all back into the office when the physical distancing restrictions are lifted, or EVER. Leave us to determine for ourselves when we need to be in the office and when it’s better to work from home. The benefits of working from home are numerous: better work life balance; less stress from commuting; better for the environment; reduction of physical infrastructure costs, and increased, yes, increased productivity.

Watch where you’re pushing that cart

Unless it’s related to cigars, guitars, whisky, motorcycles, gourmet local food, or beer I really don’t like shopping. This pandemic has forced me to change my grocery shopping habits. I used to figure out what I wanted for supper sometime during the day (when I was at the office) and pick up what I needed on the way home. Now I have to figure things out a week in advance to minimize the number of times I have to go out and face the multitudes and their germs, or perhaps it’s me with the germs. I dunno. Strange, but I actually find going to the grocery store a more pleasant experience now than in the before times (barren deli counters notwithstanding). Stores are less crowded; there aren’t any 4 cart collisions in front of the dairy case; no one is crashing their cart into my bum in the checkout line; and people just seem to be a little more chill and friendly.

Opportunities 2 & 3

Planning my shopping excursions has made me a little bit more thoughtful and deliberate, which has actually given me more time to do the things that actually bring joy to my life. Limiting my errand running to once a week means I have more time to play guitar, have virtual happy hours catching up with old friends, and have the occasional herf (you’ll have to google that) via zoom.

It seems that in grocery stores and liquor stores (they’re an essential service, you know) we’re all being a bit friendlier to, and respectful of, each other. I hope we keep being kind and considerate after this pandemic thing is over and done with.

How long will this last?

I’m not going to sit here and type that this COVID-19 thing is the best thing that’s ever happened. To be honest, it sucks. I have missed being able to see my kids (divorced – finally saw 2 of 3 this past weekend) and my girlfriend, missed being able to go to my favourite guitar and cigar shops, missed being able socialize in person with friends, and missed going to the office (that last is an outright fabrication). At the same time, I consider myself very fortunate that no one I care about has gotten ill or died, that we’ve protected the most vulnerable, I’m still working and making a living, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to virtually connect with some old friends (why’d it take a pandemic for us to figure this out?).

As awful as the pandemic is, and it is truly horrible on so many levels for so many people, it’s also an opportunity and a gift. We can use this time to heal and to be better. We can heal the planet, heal each other, and heal ourselves. We can become better companies, better people, and a better society. It really is up to us.

What would be even worse than the pandemic is if we came out the other end and went back to how things were a few months ago. If we do that, we dishonour the tens of thousands who have been taken from us. We can’t let that happen.

We don’t know when this will all be over. Anyone who even tries to make a prediction is a liar, a fool, or a politician. All I know is that there is light at the end of the tunnel; we just don’t know how long the tunnel is.

Content Integration Services – Connecting ERP to ECM


Hot Air Ballons

This was originally posted at e-Wave Solutions.

Several AIIM Conferences ago, one of the top tier Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors made a point of delivering a session based on the premise that no one actually wants to see an ECM platform doing its stuff. What they meant was that clients wanted the benefits without really seeing how the ECM platform works. Like we all like hot dogs but don’t really want to know how they’re made.

Note: Earlier this year someone claimed that ECM is dead (it’s not) and is being replaced by Content Services (wrong again, they’re the same thing). So, if you see something called “Content Services Platforms (CSP)” or similar, it’s the same as ECM platforms.

In an ideal world, ECM works with your other enterprise and business applications to provide the content in holistic, end-to-end processes and workflows. However, that is rarely the case. Despite the fact that it’s easier than ever to make applications interoperate, most content is still stuck in silos and not available to people and applications that need it. And the content that is available to everyone that needs it is made available by sending copies around as email attachments, insecurely stored and completely ungoverned. The result is a chaotic mess of multiple copies of documents that no one knows where they are until they’re produced as evidence against you in some court proceeding or other when you’d actually thought you’d (legally) disposed of them ages ago. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

We’re going to present a couple of use cases to highlight why content needs to be freed by using Content Integration Services (CIS) to connect ERP applications with ECM platforms. They’re not really complicated, but they are the type of use cases that many organizations waste many, many hours dealing with.

Contractor Timesheets

Timesheets are a pain for many companies and contractors. In addition to having the correct information on timesheets (e.g.: project codes, PO #’s, dates, etc.), there are additional challenges related to printing, scanning, routing, and signing them. By building a solution from components that include ECM, digital signatures, ERP, and CIS, timesheets time becomes a joy. Okay, maybe not really a joy, but certainly less cumbersome and onerous than before.

Timesheet Process

By leveraging ECM, digital signatures, and ERP, and then gluing it all together with content integration services, organizations end up with a timesheet process that is nimble, complete, quick, error free, and auditable. The basic steps in the process are:

  1. Within an ECM platform, a contractor fills in their timesheet with all relevant information and digitally signs it;
  2. Using collaboration capabilities of the ECM platform, the contractor submits their timesheet for approval;
  3. Using digital signature integration in the ECM platform, the approver approves the contractor’s timesheet (or not);
    1. If not approved the timesheet is routed back to the contractor for corrections.
  4. Content integration service “strips” relevant data from the approved timesheet and passes it to the ERP application;
  5. ERP application processes the timesheet for payment;
  6. ERP application generates a payment slip;
  7. Content integration service takes the payment slip and stores it in the ECM platform;
  8. ECM platform presents the payment slip to the contractor.

Field Manuals

While not applicable to every industry, many industries need to service equipment in the field. Providing field personnel with the appropriate environmental standards, health & safety manuals, repair & maintenance procedures, and technical / engineering procedures & standards is critical. This documentation helps to save time and money, and also helps to keep field personnel from harm.

The following diagram illustrates how work order details are passed from an ERP application to an ECM platform, to provide field personnel with the right documentation to do their work safely and cost effectively.

Workorder Process

  1. ERP application issues a work order;
  2. ERP application assigns field personnel to the work order;
  3. Content integration service passes work order details (personnel, location, job type, asset id, etc.) to the ECM platform;
  4. ECM platform uses work order details to find the relevant documents;
  5. ECM platform delivers documents to field personnel;
  6. Field personnel execute the work order.

Connective Tissue

Above are only two examples of use cases that can be made better by using CIS to connect ERP with ECM. The fact is, any process that relies on both ERP and ECM can be helped by content integration services.

Assuming that an organization has an ECM platform and an ERP application, it’s the content integration piece that allows the full automation of the entire process. Content integration is the connective tissue that allows ECM platforms and ERP applications to work together holistically and harmoniously.

Solution Evolution


Note: I apologise in advance for this being an infomercial for Box. I assure you that was not my intent when I started writing this post.

monkey-1538315_1280A few weeks ago (Oct 10 – 12) my new colleague (I’ll explain later), Greg, and I were at BoxWorks in San Francisco. For those of you who don’t know, BoxWorks is Box’s annual conference, and a must-attend event for those interested in content management, especially cloud first content management. A topic that came up more than once was OpenText’s purchase of Documentum. Specifically, what it means for Documentum customers, and what they are thinking. I’ll give you a hint; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FPELc1wEvk.

Let me just say that Aaron Levie owes Mark Barrenechea a great bottle of Scotch, a bouquet of roses, and a hand-written thank you note. If OpenText hadn’t bought Documentum I doubt you’d hear of so many Documentum customers getting ready to bail, and taking a serious look at Box as a viable replacement.

More recently, we had a couple of very relevant and telling conversations; the first was with a Box customer looking to get off Documentum; the second was with Box. I also had a conversation at last year’s BoxWorks event with someone in a highly regulated industry. Their company is a sizeable Box customer and is, reluctantly I think, still required to use Documentum for some of their more regulated content. I’m fairly certain that they’d prefer not to have to rely on Documentum. For what it’s worth, I had this conversation prior to the closing of OpenText’s purchase of Documentum, but we all knew it was coming.

This is just me being long-winded in telling you that I have decided to join e-Wave Solutions (the Greg I mentioned is Managing Partner). We’re a small company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In a nutshell, we bi-directionally integrate content management systems with SAP. Greg invited me down to BoxWorks, we had some interesting conversations, I got excited, Greg got excited, and we literally shook hands on a deal on the flight home.

Anyways, I digress a little … where I’m actually going with this post is that there is going to be an evolution of Box within client organizations. It won’t simply be spread and sprawl, like we see with so many ECM implementations that begin life in one department and eventually spread throughout most of the organization. Certainly this will happen with Box, but with the added advantage of (easily) encompassing the extended enterprise (i.e.: external stakeholders).

No, the evolution of which I speak is about starting as a relatively simple content management implementation and evolving into actual business solutions. Yes, legacy ECM platforms are certainly capable of this as well, but most haven’t gone down that path for one reason or another.

For Box customers this evolution is going to happen one of two ways, or, more likely, in a hybrid manner. Customers are going to sign up for Box to solve some pretty simple content management and collaboration uses cases. Once they have this initial set of use cases sorted out, they are going to get a visit from their friendly neighbourhood Box representative and be shown “the art of the possible” (I really, really hate that phrase!). Once they see what can be done with Box and its myriad integrations, they are going to start crafting solutions that solve business use cases.

As much as Box, paired with some of its available integrations can do, it can’t do everything. And this is where that second type of solution evolution comes in, and it’s called Box Platform.

I’m fairly convinced that organizations wanting to have content centric business solutions are going to need to build applications that tie together disparate repositories with business logic. Today, a basic premise of Box is that all your content is in one place; that’s not realistic, nor will it ever be. Even legacy ECM platforms relied on Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) to tie together content and logic from multiple systems in order to deliver business solutions, rather than content management solutions.

A client that I have spoken with intends to use their content management system (CMS) for loan origination. That’s cool, but, other than the content, there is nothing in the CMS that helps with loan origination. The business logic is in an ERP tool and the content is spread across multiple repositories, one of which is Box. Currently, they really have no way to tie everything together in order to deliver an elegant, functional, efficient solution to their users and clients. However, once they go down the Box Platform path, and they will even if they don’t yet know it, they will have the tools necessary to build an end-to-end solution for loan origination.

Think about all the different content centric / reliant use cases that every organization has that they use every day. Think about their desire to go mobile and go to the cloud with as much as they can. That’s when the beauty and the magic that something like Box Platform happen; it allows organizations to build content centric applications that transcend technical, geographic, and organizational boundaries. A little over two years ago, when Box Platform initially became available, I was pretty excited (as you can tell if you read this); there is no reason for me to change my mind. Box customers looking for solutions beyond content management and collaboration are going to evolve into Box Platform customers. When that happens the potential impact of Box products such as Relay, Skills, and Graph (all announced at BoxWorks, all coming soon) is going to be even more important than it is today.

 

Information Governance – Still Need It, Always Will


chicago-night-traffic-1447010-1280x960A while ago I was pointed to an article proclaiming that Information Governance is no longer necessary (ROFLMAO). I laughed because I think its grasp on reality is about as firm as that of whoever proclaimed that ECM is dead. However, once you get past the intermangling of “governance” and “management”, there are a couple threads that have validity.

Today’s technology and architecture are definitely built to encourage sharing and collaboration, and that is an awesome thing. As for a good digital workplace being a “bellwether of your company culture”, humph. “Digital workplace” is very tool and mechanics oriented, and has little to do with defining culture. A digital workplace (i.e.: tools) enables a culture that encourages trying stuff out, collaboration, openness, whatever. And the digital-ness of one’s workplace depends highly on what and where one’s workplace is. By the way, I am of the opinion that if paper can be eliminated from the workplace paper should be eliminated from the workplace (please insert caveats about having the right tech available and the required bandwidth). The more digital “aides” we have to help us do our core jobs and not have to worry about governance and management of information, the better.

(information) Governance is needed. Always has been, always will be. The level (think rigour) of governance required, and the manner in which governance is implemented vary depending on what information is in scope, what your regulatory obligations look like, what your internal policies are, and on and on and on.

The way work gets done and the tools used have changed to the point that governance has to change, rather than go away. The reality is that governance needs to be more stringent than ever before. Solution architectures today are designed to include multiple services, applications, data centres, and service providers. Regardless of how nimble and user-delighting the solution is, the governance requirements and challenges are exponentially tougher than when all you had was a single custom application that no one liked but it did the job.

We’re being handed ever more simple and elegant devices and apps with which to do our jobs. But, as everyone ought to know, the easier things look to the user, the tougher it was to build it and maintain it, and to impose an appropriate level of governance.

Fortunately, the tools we’re using to do information governance and management are changing as well. Egnyte, Dropbox, Box, Google, and a host of others are delivering applications and experiences that make many aspects information governance and management easier and more lightweight, and hidden from the everyday user. Even some of the legacy ECM vendors are getting in on the act.

Goodbye Governance? I don’t think so. What I find a bit amusing about the article is that it was written by someone who works in a space that, from a tool perspective, is littered with stories about failures that could have been prevented with … GOVERNANCE! Governance, you’ve come a long way, baby. (quote plagiarized from some 1970’s ad campaign for a product that’s no longer legal to advertise).

In this video, from Boxworks 2016, I express some of my thoughts about information governance, and how Box is approaching it. For those of you interested in ECM, cloud, and information governance, Boxworks 2017 is coming up in October. You should go. Maybe I’ll see you there.

If you love the video so much that you want your very own copy, you can download it right over here.

 

#5Thoughts – Cloud Information Governance


gerbera-1323960_1280Whether we like it or not, we’re storing more and more content in the cloud, and that content needs to be governed. Here are some things that I think about and talk about with clients when they are getting started with Information Governance (reg req’d):

  1. To paraphrase Ann Cavoukian[1] – You can outsource your data but you can’t outsource responsibility. All of the rules and regulations that applied to your content in your data center still apply. If something goes wrong you are still, ultimately, responsible. You may or may not have company in court or jail.
  2. Content in the cloud is likely more secure than content in your data center. Remember all those breaches that were so widely publicized? Well, most of them happened to corporate data centres. Companies whose business is storing other companies’ data haver better tools and resources to secure data than you do; it’s their job.
  3. To be effective, managing and governing content in the cloud needs a modern, simplified approach. Trying to manage content like it’s paper or stored in on-premises repositories just isn’t going to work. You chose cloud content management because it’s a better, modern experience for your users, governing your info can’t break that.
  4. FOCUS ON THE VALUE OF YOUR INFORMATION. IF YOUR ENTIRE APPROACH TO GOVERNING INFORMATION IS BASED ON MINIMIZING RISK (LITIGATION, LEAKS, ETC.), YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO FOCUS ON LEVERAGING THE VALUE OF YOUR INFORMATION ASSETS. IT’S THE VALUE THAT’S GOING TO ENABLE YOU TO INNOVATE AND TRANSFORM YOUR BUSINESS. (colour and bolding as requested by a loyal reader – thanks, Dan)
  5. Start Something. Anything. Sitting around navel gazing is going to result in you being crushed. Pick something small, easy, and safe, but with tangible benefits and get going. You don’t need to have everything planned and analyzed to get started; you just need to have enough thought out to allow you to get moving. Remember, some governance is better than no governance.
  6. BONUS THOUGHT – Your information governance doesn’t need to be perfect, it merely needs to be good enough to get the job done and to allow you to meet your obligations.

This Box whitepaper (reg req’d) provides some additional thoughts about Information Governance for cloud-stored content, as well as details about how Box is tackling some of the necessary functionality. We (Box and I) would love to chat with you about Cloud IG. And as always, I’d love your feedback about this post and the paper.

Cheers!

[1] Ann Cavoukian is the former Privacy Commissioner for Ontario (1997 – 2014) and is currently the Executive Director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University.

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