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;

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.


The BA and the Shiny Objects

diamond-1186139_1280A few weeks ago I was approached about working with an organization to help them put together a new SharePoint 2013 site to replace the one they currently have (SP2010). The business unit that approached me is responsible for engaging with stakeholders when the company wants to build infrastructure in their operating region; let’s call the unit EE (external engagement) for the sake of discussion.

Now, before I get all ranty and critical, you should know that EE wasn’t getting much love and attention from IT; this post is not about assigning blame to EE or their Business Analyst, with whom I’ll be working pretty closely. The fact is that there are problems in how IT engages with the business that are way beyond the scope of this post. As you read this post, keep in mind that a business case has been prepared and approved by IT (a VP) and EE (a Director and an SVP).

To enable [EE] to capture the benefits of SharePoint in our department, we need to revisit our existing 2010 [EE] Team site.” That quote is the first sentence of the main body of the approved business case for the project. The case goes on, in excruciating detail, to describe in non-quantifiable terms how implementing various features and functions available in SharePoint 2013 will benefit the department. What the case doesn’t contain is any sort of goal or objective from the business indicating why the project is necessary and what the measurable business outcomes ought to be. Nor does the case contain any criteria upon which project success will be based.

If I were to summarize the business case as it’s currently written, it would be something like “There’s a bunch of cool SP2013 stuff that isn’t being used and we think we can use it to make our site look pretty and show people what we’re doing and we’ve started a Proof of Concept (PoC) that we’re going to finish soon to show you just how pretty those SP2013 things will look on our site and we’re going to do whatever we want whether it’s standard or not even if it’s stuff that other projects and departments are really responsible for. Okay?”

In addition to containing a shopping list of SP2013 features to be deployed, the business case also makes assumptions about the way in which many of the features will be deployed. Now, having some insight into the organization, I can tell you unequivocally that many of those assumptions are incorrect because they don’t comply with standards and guidelines that the organization has adopted. To be fair, had IT paid more attention, these deviations would have been caught and much time and money would have been saved.

I, and others, have advocated for trying to get the most out of the technology organizations have on hand. However, that doesn’t mean that organizations should invent requirements that provide no discernable business benefits simply to make use of some feature that’s currently sitting on a shelf. What it means is that, once real business needs and benefits have been identified, organizations should look at the tools they have on hand before going out to acquire something else. Of course, this should all be bound by an organization’s standards and guidelines.

Fortunately, the business case has been approved only to get the business requirements done. The organization uses a pure waterfall, gated SDLC so I’m going to use that to our advantage and try to get things back on the right track. I’m also going to try and get the PoC descoped or killed altogether. Things aren’t so far down the path that they can’t be corrected, but it will take a fair bit of cajoling and coaching of the BA. We’ll also have to get IT more engaged but I have a pretty decent PM to help with that bit.

Things to take away from this story:

  1. Only deploy technology based on identified and accepted business needs;
  2. Have measurable outcomes defined so you can actually determine whether or not you’re succeeding;
  3. Business and IT are partners and must work together;
  4. If your BA isn’t that strong, make sure they are properly coached and supported;
  5. Don’t sign off on a business case that doesn’t contain business objectives, business drivers, or success criteria;
  6. If you’re not going to comply with corporate standards and guidelines, cool, but have solid justification for not complying[1];
  7. If the first sentence in your business case is something like “To enable [EE] to capture the benefits of SharePoint in our department, we need to revisit our existing 2010 [EE] Team site.”, you don’t actually have one;
  8. Shiny Object Disease is both preventable and curable.


[1] Many years ago I had a contract gig with a major airline. My sole responsibility was to evaluate non-standard IT requests to determine whether or not the provided justification was sufficient enough to warrant approving the request. I.e.: Standards and guidelines can occasionally be broken if there is valid justification.

Technology Doesn’t Guarantee Success

spamont1There’s an old saying in car racing that goes something like “you can’t win the race in the first corner, but you can lose it.”  There is a similar truth when talking about software. The right software will not fix your problems, but the wrong software will surely exacerbate them. This, then, is a little story about choosing the wrong software.

Just prior to Christmas 2015 I took on a small project in Vermont. It was a bit of a weird situation in that the project was a mashup of two projects I’d done the previous year; the client was in the same business as another client, and the project was the same as a different client. No matter.

The client wanted to find out why their staff wasn’t in love with the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution they’d deployed a few years earlier and why things were failing. With a few exceptions this could have been a copy of an assessment I did for a university (detailed in this post & case study). The key differences were the technology chosen and the business the two organizations are in. In the case of the university, at least they chose the right type of technology for their needs. The folks in Vermont kinda, sorta, almost made the right choice, but not quite.

Back in 2008/09 their legal folks decided that they needed something to manage all their documents, so they went out and sourced a document management product targeted to professional services organizations. At the time no one was thinking holistically about what the organization needed. Whatever, it’ll all work out. Uhm, no.

As they were researching what to buy, they determined that their compliance and procurement departments had similar document management needs, so decided to deploy whatever they bought to those groups as well. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more bang for your buck, assuming that the fit is right. Right?

My client went out and selected a product and got it implemented. Now, the implementation did not go smoothly, but that was nothing to do with the product and everything to do with selecting a less than stellar implementation partner. However, that’s not what this story is about, though you really need to be careful about selecting an implementation partner.

Once they got the implementation under way, they decided that the product they chose would be their ECM standard. There was a tiny problem; the product they selected was not an ECM product. As stated on their website [name withheld] “is the global leader in professional work product management”. The vendor’s target market is primarily law firms. Over the course of the project I spoke to the vendor and a couple of peers that work for organizations that use the vendor’s tools. They all agree that the product is not suitable as an ECM platform. The two peers I spoke to said that the product is very good if you use it for what it’s designed to do, but you’d be mad to try and use it as an ECM platform. To get back to my race car analogy; it’d be like trying to compete in the Dakar with a Formula One car.

But really, how bad could it be? Well, prior to implementing the product, everyone in the company knew where to find stuff, even though it was a pain. While they weren’t thrilled about using file shares, FTP, and email to store and share content, they knew how to work with the tools they had, regardless of how prehistoric they were. Now that they have the new platform, most people in the company are more than a little fed up:

  • They file stuff and can’t find it again;
  • They’re supposed to send links to colleagues, but have to rely on email because security is borked;
  • Where previously there were standards, now many have their own way of doing things;
  • Irritation with previous tools has been replaced, in many cases, with hostility;
  • This list is not complete.

It’s gotten so bad that my client is seriously considering ripping out the solution they implemented and going back to using file shares. I wish I were kidding.

As my university client found out, choosing the right technology is no guarantee of success. However, as my Vermont client found out, choosing the wrong technology is a guarantee of failure. Choose wisely and do all those other things that come before selecting and implementing technology. After all, a solution / system is a combination of people, processes, and technology.

Adopting ECM – A Case Study in Failure

Head in HandsEarlier this year I completed an assessment of Alfresco for a university client. The university licensed Alfresco several years ago and did not have much success. They hired me to find out why, and what to do about it. The options they wanted to look at were to continue on with Alfresco or switch to SharePoint. An option they weren’t willing to consider was a cloud based option. I gave them one anyways, based on Box. Unfortunately I was asked to remove that option from the final report. Oh well.

While the platform in question was Alfresco, I can’t stress enough that the failure had nothing to do with the platform. Under the circumstance nothing would have succeeded. You can read a bit about it in an earlier post here.

I’m trying something a little different; because of my altruistic nature I am making the final report available as a downloadable PDF. I figure there’s stuff in it that many could use, and perhaps critique that would be helpful.

I want to thank Laurence Hart for his contribution to the report and the overall project. Thanks, Laurence. You can follow Laurence on twitter at and check out his blog at

Anyways, just follow the link and you ought to get to the report (no fees, no signup, no tracking). Feel free to provide feedback.

University ECM Assessment – I’m using Box to share this content. Please let me know if you have any issues.

Image: “Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue” by Alex E. Proimos – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Guerrilla Tactics – IG Whether or not they want it

Gas Mask VeggiesOn September 18 the Information Governance Initiative hosted a twitter chat to discuss their 1st annual report. At some point in the chat I referred to myself as using Guerilla tactics to apply Information Governance practices in client projects.

Question 3 of the chat was “Do you have any active InfoGov projects under way at your organization?” Now, I’m a consultant so for me the question’s really about my clients’ organizations. My answer to the question was “No. My client has biz projects that are being framed by good #infoGov practices.” Followed by my comment “I am turning into an IG Guerrilla Tactician.”

Just because your client doesn’t have IG budget, programs, or projects, doesn’t mean that good IG practices can’t be infused into the projects that are happening.

I have yet to work on an Information Governance project for a client – they just don’t want to hear about it. That doesn’t mean that I execute projects while ignoring IG practices. For example: I am currently working on a couple of SharePoint projects for a client. One project is to develop a site for their regulatory team to build and submit applications to a regulator. The second project is to create and publish field reference manuals. Both of these projects have concrete business objectives; neither has any sort of IG or IM as part of the mandate. In fact, until I got involved no one was even thinking about applying any sort of overarching IG/IM policies or procedures into any of the projects, much less on an organization wide basis.

The client’s environment is rife with poor information governance and management practices:

  • Content duplication;
  • Emailing attachments instead of links;
  • Information silos;
  • Keep everything forever;
  • No centralized accountability for information;
  • Won’t mention the fustercluck that is their SharePoint environment;
  • No metadata standards or taxonomy;
  • Severely limited search capability;
  • No use of automation for capture, tagging, sharing, or routing of information;
  • A rudimentary file plan and retention schedule that is largely ignored;
  • Etc.

The funny thing is that many people at the client know that much of what they’re doing is wrong, even if they don’t know why it’s wrong. What they don’t know is how to eliminate the bad practices and replace them with good practices (forget “best practices” they really only exist in theory). They also don’t know, in all cases, what a good practice is.

We start with Principles of Holistic Information Governance (PHIGs). The clients like them because they’re common sense and written in English; they’re also loose enough so they can be adjusted for the business being supported / addressed. We also use an iterative approach to designing and building the solution (it’s very agile-like) that involves all the major business and technical stakeholders (the pure tech stuff takes place off-line). Our focus in these projects, beyond solving the problem, is really on two things: 1) eliminating waste (effort and info); 2) delivering a solid user experience. We also impose a lot of rules around how information is created, managed, and delivered. To illustrate:

  1. Thou shalt send links, not attachments (client VPN is an obstacle that’s being dealt with in a separate project);
  2. Thou shalt use versioning rather than sending more copies with “v2_0_3_d_SOMEGUY_Edits” in the file name (change mgt and training required);
  3. Thou shalt label thy contributions appropriately (we’ll help by implementing some workflows and forms);
  4. Thou shalt not make copies when thou needst them not (metadata and user roles will help users find what they need, proper backup & restore will be implemented);
  5. Thou shalt not keep thy stuff indefinitely (ah, retention and disposition policies will finally be enforced);
  6. Thou shalt not facilitate unauthorized access to information in thy care and keeping (keep it in the repository, where it can be secured);
  7. Thy content is not thine, it’s thy employer’s.

As we’re working on things like metadata models, user roles & groups, user interfaces, and other stuff, we’re doing so with the view that we’ll be creating a set of practices that the organization can adopt for all projects going forward. We’ve even got a couple of really hot SharePoint people on the project that are helping us to define repeatable SP practices. There’s only one tiny problem with our approach …


At a recent Steering Committee meeting, our venerable Project Manager invited two guest speakers: 1) Jason – to talk about SP standards and best practices; 2) me – to talk about PHIGs and IM best practices. Jason and I said the same things, albeit focusing on our particular areas of expertise. All was well until the VP of IT realised that while we were doing some really good things on the project, these things were totally under the radar. Much to her credit, instead of demanding that we revert to the client’s methodologies (which were in part responsible for the current situation), she began asking what needed to be done to leverage the good things we’re doing on this project and apply them across the organization.

So what’s next? Well, the client is having me get involved in at least one more of their projects; SharePoint will be the deployment platform and IG will provide a foundation. It’s not a SP or IG project; it’s an HR project that relies on information. Sometime in October Jason and I will be invited to speak to the corporate governance council; Jason will talk about SharePoint and I’ll talk about PHIGs. The whole point of our attendance will be about how to get this heavily regulated client to adopt good practices for managing their information and the technologies they use to access it. Pretty cool, I think (I might even wear a tie).

Sometimes you’ve just got to sneak IG into your clients’ projects the same way that you sneak veggies into a recalcitrant child’s diet.

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