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.

Enterprise File Sync & Share – It’s Not What You Think It Is


Stop EFSSWhen Gartner came out with their Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) back in July 2014 I laughed a little because I find the idea of an EFSS market, well, laughable. Yes, I know they put in a whole bunch of stuff about what could or should be part of the market, but boiled down it seemed to me that EFSS per Gartner is little more than the old Microsoft Briefcase. I.e.: a feature of a larger solution. Let’s face it; EFSS is little more than email and consumer grade cloud storage. One of the names that’s been bandied about to replace EFSS is ECC – Enterprise Content Collaboration. I don’t like it very much, either.

If I were Box, EMC, Alfresco and most of the other vendors on the MQ I’d be more than a little irked. Most of the vendors have invested heavily, organically or via acquisitions (sometimes both), to come up with some pretty cool and innovative solutions (not products) that allow people on both sides of the firewall to work together. These solutions allow organizations to impose various levels of automation, governance, and security to critical content. Being categorized as a File Sync and Share provider is frankly insulting. I find it insulting to the vendors as well as the customers.

Some of the vendors have been more successful than others, but I don’t think it’s germane at this point to come up with a list of winners and losers as the market (whatever its true name ought to be) is still fairly nascent. At most we’ll be able to make some guesses as to who will survive intact for the next few years and who won’t. Depending on the original exit strategy, being acquired is a perfectly valid form of survival. Will success of the wrongly-labelled EFSS players be measured against the same metrics that are currently being used for the incumbent (some would say legacy) Enterprise Content Management (ECM) players? Why would I even bring this up?

Gartner EFSS MQ - July 2014

The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing is available from Gartner as well as from some of the mentioned vendors including Syncplicity, Box, Alfresco, and Citrix.

Note: For what it’s worth OpenText should have been included in the MQ, based on Tempo Box, which I used when I was working there. As for what’s coming up from OpenText, I’m looking forward to seeing what OpenText Core is all about.

If you look at the MQ, some of the players are ECM incumbents (Microsoft, IBM, EMC, Alfresco), which is another reason why I find the EFSS market and associated MQ a bit of a giggle. In all but a few scenarios the ECM incumbents are competing not only against the new entrants and upstarts, but they are competing against themselves. For all practical purposes, some of the new players can provide solutions every bit as capable of meeting functional requirements as the incumbents, but with much better experiences. Sure, they’ll have to collaborate and form alliances with other vendors, but how is that really any different than what’s going on today? Where ECM currently has an advantage over the new players is in ultra-regulated environments for certain business processes. That, however, will change as the tools improve, as legislation changes, and as purchasing organizations see the FUD (Fear / Uncertainty / Doubt) for what it really is.

I recently completed an ECM assessment for a Canadian university; they asked me to assess why Alfresco wasn’t as successful as they’d anticipated (it wasn’t Alfresco’s fault – please read You Are the Problem for some details). They asked that I recommend that they either press on with Alfresco or dump it and go with SharePoint. When I brought up the option of using a cloud solution they were adamant that this was something they did not want to do. The reason they gave was based entirely on FUD, lack of understanding of current day realities, and lack of understanding of what their users (internal and external) want and need. So I included an appendix putting forward a solution based on one of the MQ’s upper right vendors. That vendor is perfectly capable of meeting the university’s requirements on all fronts.

As a consultant it’s my job to not only deliver what my clients pay me to deliver, it’s also my job to educate them and to present alternatives that they may not necessarily be thinking about. In the case of the university, a cloud based solution based on a platform provided by one of the vendors in the MQ is perfectly viable, despite my client’s prejudices.

When it comes to Box and others in the (to be renamed) EFSS market, we’re not far from the point where they can punt the incumbent ECM vendors to the curb. They’ve got some solid foundations in place and a pretty decent roadmap for the future. How the various players build on their foundations is going to depend on what they see as their core strengths and where they see the most potential. Box is taking a platform approach, Dropbox is pinning its future on Microsoft, and Huddle is focussed on collaboration. The others all have game plans that include features and functions and deployment options. I’m fairly certain that all the players are going to find their fit, but it’s not going to be EFSS. EFSS is purely table stakes, as others have said. I think we’re going to see fragmentation in the market sooner rather than later. I think we’re going to see more and more occasions where someone does what I did and puts one of the (for now) EFSS players up as an alternative to ECM incumbents. What I’m really looking forward to seeing is when/if the ECM incumbents actually change their game, not just add features, to keep up with the times. I suspect it’ll happen later rather than sooner.

A lot of people and companies, me included, have been going on about Information Governance (IG) for a while now. In a previous post I wrote about ECM not living up to its promises and being supplanted by Information Governance. What does this have to do with the space that isn’t EFSS? I’m glad you asked …

I attended BoxWorks in September 2014 (my thoughts, if you’re interested) and I’ve also been pretty interested in the whole not-EFSS space for a while; I’ve concluded that Box and some others are going to supplant the legacy ECM vendors even as ECM transitions to being a collection of functions required to deliver IG. Between the vendors that provide the core platform and 3rd parties that provide additional functionality, I’m fairly certain that most of what’s defined as IG activities and technologies could be provided. Take a look at the two graphics below; the first represents the facets of IG and the 2nd represents the various technologies that make up IG.

IGI Annual Report - IG Facets

Think about the various players in the un-EFSS market. How many of the facets (activities) in the above graphic could be handled by those players or their partners? Don’t worry about whether or not you agree or don’t that all the facets belong under IG; choose the ones that matter to your organization.

IGI Annual Report - IG Technology  Markets

Of the technology categories in the above graphic, how many could warrant inclusion, to at least some degree, of not-EFSS players and their 3rd party partners?

The two graphics above were produced by the Information Governance Initiative, in their inaugural Annual Report. Their inclusion here does not mean that I necessarily agree with what’s in the graphics or in the report, though I do recommend reading it (get it here, free subscription required).

Closing Thoughts

There are going to be some EFSS vendors (e.g.: https://www.sync.com/ – not included in the Gartner MQ) that are going to be pure play EFSS vendors, and that’s cool for them and customers that want that level of functionality. However, for most of those mentioned in the MQ the EFSS part of what they do is truly table stakes, to borrow a phrase. If I take a look at Box, Alfresco, Microsoft, EMC, OpenText (I am including them even though Gartner forgot to), etc., what they’re really providing is part infrastructure and part platform. Labelling them as EFSS makes about as much sense as calling SAP accounting software and lumping them in with Quicken.

It’s the infrastructure and platform pieces that set Box, Alfresco, Microsoft, EMC, OpenText, et al apart from the true EFSS players. With the pure EFSS players what you get is what you get, that’s it. With the EFSS+ players (I just made that up) what you get is foundational. What you do with that foundation is up to you and the potential will increase as the players mature. As much as organizations have built their information governance and management strategies around legacy ECM platforms, they’ll be able to do the same with EFSS+ platforms.

in this podcast Connie Moore and I discuss the EFSS market, as well as ECM. Brought to you by Digital Clarity Group. http://www.digitalclaritygroup.com/dcg-podcasts-efss/

YOU are the problem


I wanted to try something a little different for this post. I’m doing an assessment of what went wrong with Alfresco for a Canadian university. They purchased Alfresco back in 2008/09, initially to handle some of their web content needs. Things haven’t gone so well. Below is a quick wrap up email I sent to the project sponsor after the first few days of stakeholder (patient?) interviews …

I just wanted to give you a quick recap of the last few days:

  • Of the people I spoke to, no one advocated for getting rid of Alfresco
  • Unless something to the contrary comes up in the next few weeks, there is no reason to believe that Alfresco is the problem
  • Alfresco was likely the wrong choice back in 2008/09, but the product and company have since matured to the point where it’s no longer the case
  • There is a general feeling that Alfresco is/was underfunded, under-resourced, and lacking in executive buy-in / mandate
  • It appears that there is no executive support or commitment to mandating Information Management practices using Alfresco as a standard tool set to implement
  • There was/is an element of Alfresco (or any ECM platform) being a magic bullet, rather than a platform on which to build solutions
  • It seems that all the Alfresco initiatives over the years have been done as individual projects, rather than under a program of managing information
  • The consulting services engaged focused on the mechanical & “how to” aspects of Alfresco and related tools, without any of the advisory & “what should we do, why we should do it” services

At this point it’s my opinion that the problems are cultural and environmental. If the culture and environment change Alfresco will succeed, providing the right resources are engaged in the right way. If the culture and environment don’t change Alfresco will fail, as will any other platform brought in.

Internet of Intimate Things


Last week I read this news story about vaginal rejuvenation surgery very closely (time wise) after seeing some Twitter items about the Internet of Things. I’m one of these people that draws mental connections between things, but I also tend to have a very juvenile sense of humour (there’s a horny adolescent lurking in here somewhere). Of course, I naturally thought “Hey! Marital aids should be connected to the internet.”

Now, I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty certain that there’s a few OBGYN’s out there who could team up with some sensor manufacturer and an adult toy manufacturer to build a marital aid that could measure what’s measurable and significant in helping to diagnose women’s health issues, then hook it to the web and send the stats (properly secured) to healthcare providers. Up the creep factor a bit and you’ve got some pretty intimate, 1-1 advertising opportunities there, too. I’m not certain that’s a good idea, though. Remember the retailer that told some teenager’s dad that she was pregnant? That didn’t go so well.

Scales, electric toothbrushes, thermometers, ear wax vacuum-sucker things … If / when connected to the internet, any of these things that many of us use on a daily basis open us up to truly helpful yet intrusive interactions. I don’t wanna be on my scale and receive ads for some weight loss clinic.

Anyways, what started out as a puerile dirty joke kinda got me thinking …

Samsung’s latest offerings (phone and watch) include a heart rate monitor. Could you hook it up like GM’s OnStar and contact emergency services if there’s a sudden change in BPM? Sure. Hell, combine it with the pedometer function and get some advice and ads targeted to your running goals / achievements.

Walk into any number of retailers today and they offer free wifi, distribute iBeacons, and track your every move through the store.  Linger too long near the heartburn medicine then head to deep-fried, spicy goodness? Get a message telling you to head to fruits and veggies instead.

It’s easy to envision the day when you’re watching your smart TV, wearing your Google glasses and you suddenly receive a message from Health Canada or some political party, based on your programming choices and number of hours sitting on your duff.

My point is that there are endless possibilities and opportunities to positively impact the quality of life for all of us, by making use of technology (the devices and the data). On the other hand, how intimately do we want to be monitored and marketed to? Are we okay with having our intimate, personal, private moments being leveraged to sell us something or to advise us to take a certain course of action? How far is too far?

We bitch and moan about privacy but we demand immediacy and relevance from those selling and serving us. Personally, I’m sort of okay with being “advised” by brands when I’ve opted in. I’m not certain I’d be too cool with walking into an adult emporium and getting suggestions based on previous boudoir activities.

Give it Away – The Value is in the Knowledge


If I were to start an enterprise software company today, I’d give the licenses away. No, I am not thinking about open source at all. I’m thinking about services, non-core functionality, and integration. I’ll stick to Enterprise Content Management software, but the principles are applicable to any enterprise grade platforms or suites (we can debate what “enterprise” means until the cows come home to roost, but not here or now).

Let’s face it; you can go and pick almost any large ECM suite and the core functionality is going to be pretty much the same across all of them. For the sake of this discussion, let’s define core functionality as:

  • Check in / check out
  • Versioning
  • Basic search
  • Metadata
  • Security
  • Basic workflow
  • Audit
  • Some sort of UI (usually pretty crappy)

There is no substantive value differentiator to be had in choosing one over another. In fact, if any one of those items were missing, I doubt the software in question would even qualify as an ECM tool. I also think that in the very near future, file synching and sharing (e.g.: EMC’s Syncplicity and OpenText’s Tempo Box) could become core functionality (if it were my company it would be).

So, I’m going to give you the basics for free and I’m not even going to charge you for training and maintenance. I will charge you for implementation (if it’s on premises or on hosted infrastructure) and support, though. Why would I be so generous? Because I am really friggin’ smart. I want your organization to deploy, use, scale, and extend my software. I want you to realize that what really sets my software apart from the competition is the people I’ve got advising you, architecting your solutions, and deploying to your people.

What enterprise is going to live with just core functionality beyond a proof of concept phase, if that long? Even if they do, how long until they figure out that they’ll get way further if they hook up content services (yes, I said services) to other enterprise or line of business systems.

Don’t get caught up in the whole “if it’s free there’s no value” thing; it’s bogus. You need to understand the difference between cost (what you pay) and value (what you get). Besides, I already told you it’s not free, sort of. You’re going to have to implement the software. I or a partner can do it for you, and you’ll get billed. You can have your internal folks do it, and you’ll get billed to get them trained. It comes down to paying for the knowledge and expertise, not for the tool.

The value proposition for core content services (or content as a service if you prefer) is in pushing the content to other systems (processes+people+tools), and in being the core repository for content across the organization. Once your content is in the repository and being managed with the basics, only then am I going to start charging you for the add-ons. Add-ons are not by any means trivial, but they are not core for all organizations. For example, Digital Asset Management (DAM) – not everyone needs it, but to those that do it’s critical. And I am going to charge you for it (license and services). Hey, you want to use someone else’s DAM solution because it’s more suitable for your organization? Cool, but I am going to charge you for the integration. Same goes for web content management, ediscovery, records management, migration tools, large file transfers, etc. Integration to desktop tools, other enterprise systems, line of business systems, and cloud services? Damn right I’m gonna charge you.

“But what happens when partners do the initial implementation? You won’t make any money.” Truthfully, I don’t care. What I do care about is being at least as diligent about selecting partners as you are about selecting technology and service providers; I want partners that are every bit as invested in your success as I am. I want you, me, and the partners to be a triumvirate. If I really want a shot at success, I have to make sure that you succeed, regardless if you engage me directly or not. The only way I am going to do that is to support my partners as much as I support you, and to be there when their skills have gaps.

“But they’re a partner, how can they have skills gaps?” Well, because they’re partners and not my staff. Partners are never going to be as close to the product as those who build the product; it’s a fact. Besides, they’re out in the field implementing stuff and gathering feedback. That’s what I want them to do. And if I’ve set my partner model up properly partners are integrated into my processes and supported. My partners are also a revenue stream.

I don’t want any schmoe that’s done one implementation and read some stuff to be running amok out there. I want partners that can do as good a job, maybe even better, than my own staff can. I am going to spend time and money making sure partners are up to the task, and for that partners are going to pay me. If you want to work with the schmoe, that’s on you. Don’t come crying to me when it all goes wrong. Do come to me to help you fix it. I promise not to say “I told you so”. As long as there’s long-term success, I’m not too concerned about short-term faux-pas.

Anyways …

I don’t own or run a software company, and I’m not about to start one up; I’m an analyst/consultant with Digital Clarity Group. We help organizations get stuff done, including selecting technology and service providers. I hope that I’ve made you think about a few key things as you ponder your technology and vendor choices:

  • Cost does not determine value – lots of open source and low cost tools are every bit as good as stuff you’d pay a fortune for;
  • Regardless of cost, knowledge is far more valuable than tools;
  • Clients, service providers, and vendors must, must, must be in a symbiotic relationship to truly succeed.

And if you happen to be looking for some guidance on selecting technology or service providers, reach out; we’re happy to chat. You should also check out our European and North American service providers guides (note that they are specific to the Customer Experience market).

%d bloggers like this: