Case Management and BPM Tweet Jam…

30 06 2010

For those interested in Case Management and BPM, you may be interested to know that on the 15th July, at 7pm (UK time), a tweet jam (#acmjam) will be hosted by Connie Moore of Forrester Research. It will be focusing on Case Management and Business Process Management (BPM).

I myself am hoping to find the time to join in as no doubt there will be some lively conversations, some strong opinions and for me, hopefully, some new radical thinking…

If you have any form of interest in these areas as a consultant, vendor or user then I would say get involved. If though you are looking at Case Management and BPM for the first time, or thinking of investing then still drop by, just don’t get put off by the jargon…..

For any more information visit http://www.masteringtheunpredictable.com/

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What makes a good intranet?

29 06 2010

The past couple of weeks I have found myself talking lots to people about intranet based solutions, but a general question I keep getting asked is, “What makes a good intranet?”

This may seem quite a straight forward answer, but it simply isn’t. There are many common components that are often found on intranet sites; however, a good intranet is made up of components and elements that users simply want to access or need to access frequently…

So to do this you need to understand everyone’s requirements and wishes. On top of this, you need to keep firmly in mind three other factors for success, functionality, performance and maintenance…

Requirements, Requirements, Requirements…

For an intranet site to be a success, it is key to understand your requirements and end goals. What you have to remember here though is that understanding requirements means a lot more than just talking to high level users or managers. Requirements set out at this level are often what the “end game” should deliver, however, day to day users no doubt will have their own set of requirements, and if an intranet is to be useful and a success, then it is these user requirements that must be identified (that’s the tricky bit).

Some questions to keep in mind when looking at user based requirements are useful; many users when asked “what would you like to see” will only come up with a couple of ideas typically based on what they have had to do that day. However, they know many more, it’s just hard to identify them or communicate them based on a simple single question….So here are some general questions to think about and throw at staff members:

  • What applications are you accessing on a regular basis?
  • What content do you need access quickly too, and where is it located?
  • What knowledge / information do you need to share with other departments, or would like to share easily?
  • What information do you need to see at the start of your day?
  • What information would you like to know that isn’t necessarily related to your work tasks?
  • Where do you look for general information currently?
  • How do you notify / communicate with other departments currently?

Though not by any means an extensive list of questions, these get you going in the right direction…

Functionality and Integration

Often intranet sites are viewed as simple internal websites; however they can be so much more. If you investigate the software that is used regularly, it is worth noting how users access this software and what they are using it for. Sometimes software can be shown inside “Portals” of an intranet site, allowing content and information to be rapidly accessed via the intranet site. In addition, there is nothing stopping an intranet site from integrating with your software and applications, nor is there anything stopping it from access content and information out there on the internet….

Performance

If you want your intranet to succeed, it needs to run quickly. This means you may need to invest in your IT infrastructure, or that you need to have an intranet solution that delivers good performance. At the end of the day, if your intranet takes an age to load or to navigate, users will not be interested in using it…

Maintenance

An intranet is only of any use if its content is kept up to date, if the intranet is maintained correctly. If you find your intranet holds old information, looks shabby or worse, throws up the odd error here and there, then users are going to chose to not use it. If this is the case then your intranet is a disaster no matter what its functions are, if users are not using it, it simply isn’t delivering…

Maintenance is so important for any intranet to be a success, yet it is something that is often overlooked shortly after the go live date…





Why do so many 200-300man sized organisations, not have BPM?

22 06 2010

This was a question I read on LinkedIn, and one that I thought was very easy to answer. However, many people do like to state that we shouldn’t get confused with BPM and BPMS….Thats a given, however it is pretty obvious that the question means “BPM software”….

So why is this the case…..

They already have BPM concepts…

Organisations of any size already have and use BPM concepts..They have processes in place, these could be paper based, very manual, or involve some software applications that does have some level of automation, the point is, for each task a business undertakes it is effectively executing a business process….The fact that it isn’t mapped out and sitting on a piece of paper somewhere is irrelevant.

Why no BPM software then?

So we know businesses have processes in place, so why don’t they have BPM software? Well there are a number of reasons for this; however I would like to highlight a couple…

Unaware of BPM

To put it bluntly, organisations are not aware of BPM, what it is and what it can do. Many people in business will be focused on sales, marketing, management, finance, not many really focus on internal processes or software that can help manage processes. You also have to think that many organisations of this size will only have small IT departments, or they will out-source IT requirements.

Unaware of what BPM can deliver

Even if an organisation is aware of BPM software, or the concept of BPM software, they are not often aware of what the real benefits are. Often I put this down to BPM vendors, consultants and analysts making BPM seem too complex by using far too much jargon or “wooley” comments and examples.

Ignorance

Often this is due to people (management) not believing their processes can be improved, believing they run highly efficiently already. Unfortunately this is the often the case in mid sized organisations…

Lack of drive for change

Without someone driving change in an organisation, things like BPM software don’t get a look in. Change of this type needs to come from the top down in an organisation, it needs a real person driving BPM as a concept. With this though you also need a champion, someone at a “line manager” level who champions change and the system itself….

Lack of time or funds…

Companies of this size will be trying to grow, and if they are successful, then often time is allocated to just being able to manage work loads. In this scenario not many organisations look at stepping back and trying to take control of internal processes to allow the organisation to grow quickly but yet efficiently. On the flip side, if organisations of this size are struggling, then they will not commit the funds to invest in something like BPM, not until they believe their current turnover and market position can justify it….

Conclusion…

There are many other reasons why organisations of this size (or any size) do not have BPM software in place, however the five I have listed here are the most common reasons I have come across to date. It is worth noting that even if management knows BPM will make their organisation run in a more efficient and ultimately profitable fashion, many still don’t want to invest as they see this as a “longer term” goal rather than a necessity at that time.

The problem for BPM software is that, no matter how good it is, a business person can always argue that their business runs fine without it. And to an extent, this is true, however, a good adaptive BPM solution will ensure your business runs even better and will help your organisation grow, run efficiently and ultimately, help profitability…





NHS needs to get efficient…It needs ECM and BPM

14 06 2010

Let’s face it the NHS is a great example of diseconomies of scale, and a great example of the lack of administration efficiency is shown with the amount of paper that is getting generated and pushed around. In the past 2 years, the boards of NHS trusts, created at least 22 million paper documents over the past two years. If that figure itself isn’t a little worrying, then just think, we are only talking about documents generated for communications to senior managers and to each other! The South West Essex Trust alone generated 333,000 documents, that’s just mad…

The department of health spent close to half a billion pounds in fees to external consultants in the year 2009-2010, so why has no one in the NHS really adopted ECM on a large scale? Just looking at these paper figures alone, it is very clear that each NHS trust should be using some form of ECM solution.

So just what could ECM do to help make savings in the NHS and raise efficiency? Well for starters, it can remove the majority of the paper costs, increase the efficiency of sharing knowledge, rationalise communications through knowledge and content sharing and increase collaboration.

I don’t want this post to turn into a long list of all the benefits of ECM, I have written many other posts on these and there are so many out there, rather it was just to highlight the fact that the NHS should be embracing Enterprise 2.0 concepts, ECM and BPM.

I will leave you with this thought, the health watchdog, the King’s fund, reports that while the number of staff rose 35% from 1999 to 2009 (to 1,117,000), the number of managers rose by 85%! Now please someone find me any example in the public sector where this kind of in-efficiency and top heavy organisation is a success….I bet you can’t, because any organisation in the private sector that was run in this fashion would be long bust…The NHS needs to get efficient just like any private sector organisation, it needs BPM, ECM and hell of a lot of dead wood removing…





HTML 5 – It’s not the end of internet plug-ins

4 06 2010

I have posted a number of times now about HTML5 and my concerns that people see it as a complete replacement for internet plug-in such as Silverlight and Flash, allowing RIAs to be delivered in pure HTML 5. One of the main people who keep going on about HTML 5 is Steve Jobs (though I think a lot of this is trying to convince the users of iPhones and iPads that Flash has a short life ahead). However, it seems that more and more people are sharing my opinion that HTML 5 will not kill of Flash and Silverlight, and that its adoption is a hell of a long way off in general…A recent report and article from Forrester illustrates this…

HTML 5 traction and buzz….

There is for sure a lot of buzz around HTML 5 in the past couple of months, least not because of Jobs, but also because Google has recently open-sourced its VP8 video codex. To date, abilities and licensing issues surrounding such video converters have been one of the sticking points for beta HTML 5, however this is not the only issue. Though there is a lot of internet buzz, it seems that adoption of HTML 5 is a long long way off, with browsers only supporting small fragments of HTML 5 currently. It seems that for wide spread adoption, as users we will be waiting until 2020 or sometime around then…That’s not exactly close is it…Its again another reason why I am not at all “hyped up” about HTML 5, it’s just so far off….

So while HTML 5 is a long way off, just think how much traction Flash and Silverlight will gain in this period. Silverlight is the new boy on the block, but has already around 60% adoption across all machines. That’s rather impressive, all this while HTML 5 is in beta releases and going through a lot of, development pains and issues shall we say…

There is also the issue of cross browser issues. Just like HTML 4, HTML 5 will suffer at the hands of different browsers. The author of the Forest report (Hammond) stated “Until you get consistent behaviour the question will be why you would use HTML 5 when it actually creates more challenges than it solves from a testing and deployment perspective.” I have to say, this has always been an issue with HTML in general, especially when delivering internet applications, and it is one that won’t go away for HTML 5…Though HTML 5 is supposed to be intended as an enterprise-class product, the reality is that the architecture of HTML 5 with the browser has a number of issues and draw backs, even when talking to web services. Though the aim is for HTML 5 to allow easier building of “applications” the fact is that HTML and that side of the web architecture was never designed with this in mind….

Test once…You are all done…

Ahh, well this is not the case is it with HTML. Unfortunately you will need to perform tests on all the browsers out there, and no doubt, place “HTML fixes, CSS fixes and JavaScript fixes” into your application depending on what browser is running it. This does make life a lot harder for testing and development, oh, and of course ongoing support. However, this problem is just not there for Flash and Silverlight, because their architecture is completely different and in many ways separate from the browser and the web in general, indeed you can run Silverlight out of the browser fine…

Hammonds recent report – titled “Does HTML 5 Herald the end of RIA Plug-Ins? Not Really” – found that application delivery through RIA amongst businesses rose to 34% in 2009, up from 26% in 2008. This illustrates the increase use of RIAs amongst businesses, especially with technologies such as Silverlight develop further, all this while HTML 5 is still in its draft phase…

For traditional website material, you could still use HTML and HTML 5 if you wish, however for complex functions and applications, I would always recommend the use of Silverlight, there are just so many hurdles you negate while being able to use a technology that isn’t restricted by the browser web architecture.

Open aspect of HTML 5

So many people claim they love the idea that HTML 5 is “open”. And there are some good arguments made for this, however I have yet to see one example where these arguments are valid. Especially arguments that users may have to pay for Flash or Silverlight use, that you can become restricted to what browsers you can use, or that you are dependent on them for your support…I don’t see an issue or potential issue with any of these arguments, they are just created so people try to feel more safe with an “open” technology controlled by many rather than a single company…

However, this open aspect of HTML 5 may also work against its progress and adoption, especially as open standards are very slow to develop. HTML 5 has been in development for a decade now, and though early candidate releases are recommended for 2012/13, it is a while yet before we see HTML 5 as the standard version of HTML being used. On top of that, cross browser issues and W3C adoption is even further off…

Architecture…

RIAs require processing on the client, or at least they should do. Users expect “thick client” performance and usability in an RIA and on top of that, access to hardware components, such as storage, web cams, other applications running on the client etc etc. The architecture behind the web and HTML jsut doesn’t allow this. Though HTML 5 will bring us a richer web, with easier video playback, website animations and improved usability (a little like Ajax has done), it will always be behind Silverlight for example, that can take advantage of hardware on the client, keyboard interactivity, integration with other applications and the ability to work in a “disconnected state” from the internet….

My own view on the use of HTML 5 in the future…

It simple, for typical web content, HTML 5 will provide a greater level of interactivity, animation and improved user experience. It will no doubt be used for “simpler” RIAs, however its adoption as a serious RIA for businesses is plain fantasy. RIAs need to deliver more, and therefore organisations will continue to look to plug-ins, especially Silverlight more and more. I also believe that websites available to the general public will also have more aspects delivered in Silverlight, even once HTML 5 has gained traction, simply because Silverlight can deliver a better end user experience without many of the hassles associated with web development and HTML, CSS and JavaScript across multiple browsers…..





QA and Testing…Use a model office or test live….

3 06 2010

This past couple of weeks has seen me overseeing some of our components as they go through QA and testing phases, be it early phases of a bunch of our products. I have also been keeping tabs on some of the testing of solutions we are providing for clients, and to be honest, I do feel we have a great approach to QA and testing. We always ensure components are tested in full in house, and then go through a number of testing iterations on either a model office environment or the actual live environment…

However, in the past month I have also seen a number of “testing phases” by organisations that simply are not realistic, and to be frank, mean you will need to repeat all that testing and work again…So what is the issue. Well, typically it is testing in environments that don’t quite match those that the final system will be implemented on…Now to me, that is mad and asking for trouble, and yet there are endless organisations out there that do this….

Making the testing phase easier…

The primary reason for cutting corners or not testing on exact replicas of live environments is admin and cost. To set up too exact environments will take time and effort, and for some organisations they just don’t want to invest either in this area of development…

Because of this, there are a number of options project managers take, some are simply to use whatever environment they have that is close to the live one for testing. Others are to utilise automated testing tools too much (to save on man power and to shorten the testing period) or finally, others use cloud computing to cut down on the admin and set costs, while maximising the potential users / tester access to the solution.

I have no real problem with any of these, however I would say, if you are in this situation, utilise what will be the live environment for your testing, if possible, and simply clean it down when you ready to go live….Whatever you do, don’t though rely on just that testing if there is any difference, no matter how small between to the two environments…Only today I have seen that an updated component on the server (different to that of the testing environment) caused what potentially could have been a big issue. However, luckily, the client in question took our advice and was testing the solution from scratch on the live environment…

Using the Cloud to test…

I have read that people are now looking to use cloud computing to carry out their QA and testing. Again this is fine, if your application and software is to be running in a cloud environment and on the servers provided by the same cloud provider. If not, it is still fine, as long as you then test in full again, on the “live environment”…

With cloud testing you have to remember, that you may have a complete change of underlying server components without actually being aware of it. You may also find that your cloud provider uses other cloud providers for certain components, making it even harder to be sure just what components are where (and what version). So this testing requires strict control and good relations with your cloud provider.

Unfortunately I have now seen software being tested in this way that is to be implemented in house, not up on the cloud. For me this is a massive no no….Why are they doing it? The answer is usually a simple one; it keeps the cost of testing environments down and ensures a wider range of users can gain quick access to the system to perform QA and user acceptance testing. Especially since what will be the live environment isn’t available (for whatever reason).

The basics of this are ok, however, when you get into the live environment you need to repeat all those tests, otherwise you leave yourself open to a raft of issues that will raise their ugly heads, not necessarily on go live day, but at any point…You see, any small difference can potentially have a massive impact, and testing and QA is all about minimising the risk of the system going wrong. If you don’t test on the correct platforms then that risk can only be increased, no matter how much testing you do…

Model office

When I first started in IT, I was told by a wise old man (he actually was old, and looking back, very wise, oh, and short tempered), “when testing, for God sake ensure everything is the same as it will be in live…..you can never test too much son….never…” He was a strong supporter of using a Model Office environment, and by model office environment, he meant an exact replica of the live environment…Right down to hardware used….He also believed that environment needed to be there long after go live was complete, and that any components that were to make their way to live, (even if OS related) should be tested on the model office in full first….Now I thought this goes without saying, however my first exposure to a project that required a lot of testing was for a very large bank. It soon became apparent that their testing environment wasn’t an exact replica of what would eventually be the live environment. There were subtle differences in hardware (which it turned out did come back to bite us), there were even some instances of components on the testing environment that were and would be newer than those on the live…

What has to be understood is, testing is as important as design and development phases. It cannot be scrimped on, and your testing environment should be there for the life time of your solution. If this isn’t possible, you need to come up with a way of making this possible, if not, your QA and testing will always leave you at greater risk come the day the system goes live….





Want security? Privacy? Respect for Data Protection? Then Boycott Google…

1 06 2010

I think this last week has made me realise that, though Google offers so many great things in terms of their search engine and even some software, I have had it with them as a company and will no longer use any of their products….To put it bluntly, they simply don’t have any consideration of peoples personal data or any morals when it comes to collecting data and information that they simply shouldn’t, even if its the law…

For sometime Google has been accused of, well let’s say, tracking what people do on line and gathering personal information without consent. Recently there has been a number of issues linked with their own gMail etc. Then we come to the “street view” issue, which so many people in the UK objected too, and yet Google carried on no matter what….

Street view

Here in the UK many people and groups objected to the Google street view project. A number of national papers also voiced concerns of the project, however, Google seemed to be able to say “tough” and get on with it. Though there were a few changes made to the images that showed up online (for privacy) basically Google got to do what it wanted. However, from the same project, we hear that Google was also spying on people’s personal Wi-Fi connections, their online activities and wherever possible, gathering personal details such as eMail accounts. To top it off, Google didn’t feel there was anything wrong with this and didn’t even bother to inform local councils etc this was actually going on…(Probably because they knew this wouldn’t be approved).

Though Google now apologise for the incident, I don’t believe they will be deleting any information gathered and have only apologised for it since their PR agency has said its the thing to do… In addition they seem to come out with any number of excuses for their actions, all of which to anyone with any experience within the IT world will say is a load of old ****…

Regulations…

What amazes me is that Google manages to get away with things that many of us wouldn’t dream of doing. It makes me wonder, that if Microsoft had attempted this, that no doubt we would be hearing of massive court cases, the break up of Microsoft etc etc. Yet Google gets away with pretty much anything… In an age of ID theft, it amazes me that there are no real strong regulations in place to crackdown on Googles actions, but to top that, Googles attitude to privacy and the whole issue amazes me even further…If an individual was caught carrying out Googles actions, I am sure we would be seeing a prosecution of some kind….

I strongly believe that international bodies need to get to grips with what is technically possible, and more important what is ethical and basically should be against the law (if it isn’t already).

More things of concern…

Google has its own Browser and shortly, its own Operating System. Now just think what sort of information they could steal from you if you use their OS? I maybe being cynical but Google must be seen in this way simply because of its previous actions and record on data privacy. I wouldn’t trust Google Chrome browser or OS no matter what is said, to top it off, they aren’t even great products!

What can we do…

Well, ask yourself why is Google doing all this? Simple, it wants to know as much about us to sell on the details, perhaps not literally, but for sure in terms of advertising. The more Google knows about us, our actions, our connections and our habits, the more it can charge for its advertising and start to push these adverts and its own services on us. Which in turn makes Google a lot of money. Googles line will of course be something along the lines of “to provide the best service we can”, but again, any businessman will tell you, that the service argument is so they can sell more advertising…

I feel most average internet users don’t understand the situation, that Google provides “free services” because it makes its money through advertising, and it snoops on us to increase that revenue and revenue potential.

So what we can do as users? Simple. Stop using Google products and services. By doing this Google doesn’t have access to your internet habits or mobile habits and your personal information. If you have gMail move away from it, if you use Google as your search engine switch to Bing, Yahoo or ask (don’t be fooled that Google is by far and away the best search engine out there). If you use Chrome switch to FireFox or IE, and if you are tempted by Chrome OS, get Windows 7… The more people that do this the less of a captive audience Google will command, which means less advertising revenue for them…

The way Google behaves as an organisation and the lack of real regulation and action against them,  means this is the only way in which to make your own information safe and to make Google stop.

I for one will not be using any of their services and products again….