workFile Vision. A change in direction

12 11 2010

Today’s post is very much centred on Business Process Management (BPM), Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM)…

 Some of you may keep an eye on the news from my company, One Degree Consulting. If you have, you will know that our workFile ECM & BPM side of the business (platform) will be going through a transition phase in the coming weeks and months. We have effectively torn up our existing road map for version 2.0 of the workFile Vision product, and put together a new one. This new one with some big, well massive, changes to how we see the future of IT in business, the future for business solutions, the future for SMEs access to solutions and consequently to the Vision solution itself…

In the coming weeks, workFile and One Degree will publish more information on the changes, and the effects these will have on the Vision suite, and how these big changes will provide benefits to business.

In this post though, I want to give a quick outline to what some of these changes in thinking are, what the changes are in the Vision product, and what the drivers are that led to this drastic new thinking…

Single Silo…That singular degree of separation

workFile is, if you didn’t know, an ECM and BPM platform. However, it also allows records management and with that, the ability for CRM to an extent. Other business focused modules are built on top of the records management capabilities. However, all of these are very separate modules and silos, only aware of small fragments of data that can be shared between the two, effectively linking that content and making it of bigger use to an end user…

So what’s the big idea? Well the big change is to move away from a multiple silo approach, and to bring these different elements closely together, effectively delivering a single silo solution for ECM, BPM, CRM, Records Management, and dynamic content processing and capture. The CRM module will be a thing of the past, and a dedicated customer focused section of workFile built (not on top of Records management functionality not seen as a separate module).

In essence, ECM, BPM, CRM etc will become modules of the past, superseded by a new way of looking at how we work as individuals, teams and as an organisation, and also how your organisation communicates and engages with its customers…All of these elements seen as one…

So how do we achieve this with the new version of workFile Vision?

Through state awareness, user empowerment and adaption. The concept here is to ensure true state awareness between the user, the customer, the content and the process. BY process, I don’t mean a rigid path, which work must follow, rather a process guide, which is highly adaptive to the content needs, the needs of the customer and the needs of the user.

In addition, the singular UI and underlying capabilities of workFile – to allow real team working on items of work, makes life a lot easier for the agent to collaborate and process their work. This may not sound like anything that new, but it supports newer ways of working. We have a vision that people will work more as teams on individual pieces of work, effectively pulling together on items of work, not in a collaborative fashion but in a real sense of working together. This is a big move away from BPM and Case Management as it is today, with the concept that we work as individuals and move work along at the centre of work / process thinking.

Max J Pucher has a great article on the future of work, in which he talks of users “swarming” to do work. In it he also states that by 2015, 40% or more of an organisations work will be non-routine, which is currently at 25%.  Take the time to read his blog, it is very informative… Have a read of his article, http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-future-of-work/ )

More than a single silo…

A single silo that supports content, customers, additional records and the process information is the best approach. In addition, interconnectivity and multiple feeds of data will mean not only will users need greater perceptive skills, but their software needs to be able to deliver this to them in an easy to identify and work fashion.

workFile though provides real flexibility in terms of content, status and structured data. This allows the flexibility to teams to create new structured data records on the “fly” and in essence joining them directly to their work (which could be content based, customer based etc.) This may all sound complex, but essentially it is quite simple…Its how we would naturally work without the rigidity of structured processing…(BPM).

Distribution…

Though we are moving to a single silo, this doesn’t mean a centralised solution. On the contrary, we believe that departmental distribution is key to freedom and success. So workFile will support a greater level of distributed processing, with departments being able to create their own content guides, their own process guides, rules etc. But, this doesn’t mean we are allowing duplication. Commonality between departments will be identified and illustrated, and wherever applicable (and suitable) shared between them.

It’s a team approach

Working in “swarms” sounds quite fun, but in essence it means tightly knit teams, working together quickly and efficiently. Traditional BPM presumes we work on pieces of work as individuals, then move it along to the next person. Sure occasionally we will allow “branches” in the processing, or splitting of items of work, but it doesn’t support multiple people working on the same piece of work at the same time. So, with this in mind, Vision 2.0 will support a more team approach to working, and will ditch the rigidity of its traditional BPM platform, which was used for defining how users work.

Social Media

While social media is taking off, organisations either see this as some wonderful marketing tool or as something they need to get control of. However, social activities and social media sites, conversations etc are becoming increasingly part of a team’s working day. These conversations and interactions aren’t carried out at a set time, they aren’t structured in their content and don’t form strong ties between you as an organisation and your customers. In addition, they are often disjointed, with an organisation not being able to tie social media engagement with a customer, to a customer record for example.

So the trick is to ensure interactions can be processed by the right people, that the right people provide good information, and that Social Media is seen as a form of engagement and conversation, not just free marketing. In addition, the content generated from these interactions allow a flexible way of working, after all, the customer may send requests that don’t follow a strict pattern, and as such, the user must be able to facilitate these requests flexibly. This content should also be recorded and brought into the solution, so that other team members have all the information they need to help….

workFile will become a lot more social, interacting with typical social media websites, and allowing users the freedom to interact in an expected fashion.

Flexibility, adaption and yet accountable

Organisations and management want to have full control, however, if they do, things become too rigid, too centralised and ultimately inflexible. So, the solution is to trust our workers, to empower them and let them do their jobs. Sure we need to ensure quality, service level agreements etc. but this can be done through guidelines and empowering users. Accountability will always still be there, with solutions recording all interactions and use. But the point is, the user has the power to process the work how they wish (to an extent obviously, certain rules have to be in place for compliance).

The big winners of Vision 2.0

So who is workFile Vision to be aimed at? Well the big winners at first will be SMEs, simply because workFile is used mainly by organisations that fall into the SME category (with the odd exception). The new version will be able to drive the cost of IT and these types of solutions down for SMEs…

However, larger organisations can easily benefit from this new way of thinking and working. If anything, while SMEs will see benefits due to a smaller investment, larger organisations will not only share in this benefit, but will also see dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency. All of this with the reduction in administration and licensing costs…..See, we didn’t call it Vision for nothing.

Finally, a change in name…

Finally, the workFile ECM & BPM platform name will be no more. Though Vision is the product suite, both the terms ECM and BPM will be replaced from the workFile company name. Why? Simply because workFile will offer a lot more, and it deserves a new description of what it delivers…The marketing people can think of something I am sure….

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HTML 5, Flash, Silverlight, The Cloud…The future is here?

8 11 2010

I.T. seems to be at one of those cross-roads in terms of how people use software, where they use it, and how and where they choose to store their data.

There has been a lot in the press regarding HTML 5 and I have posted some thoughts on this in the past. There has been equally as much speculation as to the future of technologies such as Flash and Silveright and whether they are now redundant technologies as HTML 5 moves closer. In addition to these, rather large discussions, we are also talking about moving content and software away from traditional servers and PCs, and handing control over to the “Cloud” and “SkyDrives” etc…

So this post is looking at indicators of where we may all end up based on feedback I have received from businesses, the general public, phone professionals and my own thoughts…

HTML 5

This is the easiest one to start with really. HTML 5 will be here, at some point. Many say a lot sooner than I personally believe and many (as there always are) saying this will change everything (which it won’t at all). What HTML 5 will do, is simply to replace the need for browser plug-in to enrich a users web experience to an extent. For example, we will no longer typically use Flash or Silverlight to just stream video, give our website some pretty animations etc etc. Some will argue that’s a good thing, and if you are a purist (in terms of open environments, using only HTML to deliver content) then yes it is. For Video and animations, yes it is a good thing…

However, there are big problems with the whole architecture and the way HTML and the web in general works. The problem here is the web browser. When the web was conceived, the browser was simply an application that displayed some content, it wasn’t to be used as an environment in which processing can occur. But, we are here, and the browser is used to run “script” and to initiate communication between the client and the webserver…HTML sets out standards, but, with everything, with multiple choices (in terms of browesers here) you get different results. No matter what standards are in place, web browsers handle, and will handle the same HTML and even script differently to each other. This is a horrendous state of affairs, meaning that the same website has “allowances” for multiple browsers. This isn’t good…From an end users point of view, “who cares”, but from a development, maintenance and cost point of view, this is not acceptable really. Even if the browsers did handle it all the same (or got very close), testing would still need to be made on each browser platform, and for every time a new browser is released / updated. But this is where we will still be with HTML 5, don’t listen to any marketing hype or to any so called “experts” on this….This is simply the facts….HTML 5 will not change the web for us at all…

Silverlight and Flash

HTML 5 will have a big impact on Flash I believe, after all sites that utilise flash do so to enrich the website. HTML 5 will do this, and unfortunately for Flash, developers will adopt this and leverage it before they look at Flash. So where can Flash go? Well there are still many things Flash can offer that HTML 5 won’t be able to, or at least won’t be able to offer consistently across all browsers. Because of this I see Flash filling small gaps that HTML 5 leaves (the same applies to Silverlight). I do think though Flash will see a massive reduction its use on the web, but will maintain its use for presentations, short movies, and games.

Silverlight is a little different. I have never really seen Silverlight as a pure web technology, and those out there who keep comparing it to Flash or HTML 5 obviously know nothing about Silverlight. Sure Silverlight can give you animation online, deliver RIAs, stream movies etc (all that Flash and HTML 5 can do), but Silverlight has a lot more to offer. The architecture behind Silverlight I feel is spot on. It mixes both the worlds of Desktop and Web seamlessly, effectively delivering desktop applications (with all their power) via the internet for installation, communication and maintenance. This is very different to HTML 5. Because of this, developers will use Silverlight for business applications, for RIAs that need to do more (integrate, carry out complex functions etc) and all without the reliance on the browser or server doing processing jobs. This reduces testing and ensures a single code base (and that’s how it should be). In addition, you get frequent updates, and full support from Microsoft, which again are good things for real developers…

There has been some confusion as of late (mainly in the media and Microsoft haters) as to the value of Silverlight to Microsoft and the fact that it is also used on the new Windows Mobile & platform. Let’s get this clear, Microsoft will concentrate more now on HTML 5 as HTML 5 is a big online technology, and it needs to keep up with others. So this is no surprise. However, Silverlight is and will remain a core development platform for the web, RIAs, Out of browser applications and experiences (which it does now). Sure the Silverlight team will also now work more on its Mobile use and adoption, and that’s because they need too. So all we are talking about is prioritisation of the progression of Silverlight. This is clear from reading up on Silverlight, looking at Microsofts future plans and listening to what is said rather than reading between lines when a press release comes from Microsoft…Silverlight will become increasingly more important to Microsoft in the future, as more developers realise that they can use a single platform to code for the web, the desktop and mobile devices…

Cloud computing, SaaS and SkyDrives

I mention SkyDrives here as that is what Microsoft terms your cloud computing storage space with Windows Live and on your windows mobile 7 phone.

I think in the past couple of weeks, I have had more feedback than ever before on the cloud and its use, from both businesses and the general public.

So let’s look at businesses. Businesses cannot move everything over to the cloud, it’s as simple as that. There are savings to be made via the cloud for business, but it has to ensure that it can move those applications and content to the cloud. That it doesn’t already have a cheaper alternative, that it can trust the cloud providers security measures etc 100% and that there is a way to port to other providers in the future. All in all, business is still wary of this and why shouldn’t they be. I see businesses embracing the cloud and SaaS for smaller elements of their operation, ones that do not require so much compliance and that are not that critical to the organisation. This is not a bad thing, rather it is a good thing, the cloud here allowing IT to provide better solutions to the business at lower costs. I don’t believe the increased popularity of the cloud will translate to vast amounts of an organisations data or services being moved to the cloud. Rather the cloud becoming another IT implementation option.

So what of individuals. Well only last week I posted that individuals may well be the big winners of cloud computing. But even here, individuals are more sceptical of cloud based services. It seems that keeping some photos online, music and videos is fine. But when it comes to more personal documentation, you cannot beat a good hard drive or storage device at home. Because of this, I don’t see the masses adopting cloud computing and sky drives….Google may want us all to use the Cloud for software and storage, but the simple fact is, we like control over everything. If our data and content is only in the cloud, then we feel vulnerable, not just to theft, hackers or work colleagues finding things out etc, but also to cloud providers themselves. Let’s face it; Google has an appalling record on data protection and our privacy.

So what is the right usage for individuals? Well Microsoft though I feel has pitched it correctly. Providing 25Gb of space in a sky drive to windows live users (perhaps a little too small really). This is enough space for most people, sure it could be larger to allow us to synch a lot more content, especially music and videos. But it’s a good start. I also love the fact that my Windows Mobile 7 phone provides options to just take a picture and have it stored in my skydrive and not on the device. But, I still have enough space on the device to cart around with me a certain level of music, pictures etc etc. (No doubt this amount of storage will grow). So it’s a nice blend, one I personally am comfortable with, and one most people I speak too are comfortable with…

Conclusion, if any?

It seems in IT, too many marketing companies, experts etc provide to much hype. Everything is also “brilliant” or “rubbish and a fail”. It’s either 100% the way of the future or 0%…There is never any middle ground, and it is the middle ground which actually is where we are heading, in terms of our web usage, devices, online services and storage…And there is nothing wrong with that at all…





Redefine the way we use the web, to unlock its potential…Web 3.0?

6 02 2010

This is something I have been thinking about for a number of years now, but more so recently with a lot of talk of HTML 5. Basically we haven’t really changed the way we use the internet (from a technical point of view) since the web became mainstream shall we say. Sure, we now use it in new ways which we hadn’t dreamed of (habits and the way we communicate with each other), but essentially the web still works the same way it always has. We use the web as content rendered as HTML that is displayed back to us in a web browser. Even if HTML 5 is the magic version and delivers so much more in terms of animation and streaming has it actually changed the way in which we use / the web works for us? No…

Let’s not go back to the good old Mainframe environment…

It seems more and more IT professionals and large organisations see the web as the new mainframe, especially when you start talking “thin client” and “cloud computing” (the cloud could be seen as our mainframe..scary). When you start looking at mainframe environments and then cloud and thin client computing, you see that the basic concepts are very similar. So what do I mean, well, all of the processing happens on a server, the machine you actually use to access it, doesn’t really have to do anything. In a mainframe environment we have dumb terminals, in the new way of thinking (trying not to laugh, sorry) we have a PC that run’s a browser (this could be a very low spec machine), and if all we did is “cloud compute” we perhaps wouldn’t need anything else?

Sure I see benefits, some of which are green, but the negatives are so obvious to see. These are essentially the same problems we have with mainframes and the same problems that lead us to using the “PC” and the “Network” to replace mainframes?

Some thin client issues?

Let me give you an example. Imagine you and I are working as designers, creating 3D computer models of pretty much anything. We may even be responsible for animating these 3D models (think something like toy story, I don’t know why, it just popped in my head). Ok, now imagine you are part of a team of say 20 working on these models, of course you are designing Buzz, someone else Woody etc. Let’s think just how much “processing” power do we need for this – just you and your requirements? The answer, quite a bit, well a lot. Now image having to times that by 20. Oh, and now let’s have that processing carried out in a “thin cloud computing environment” (of course your application is written with the fab HTML 5 which means we can do anything), which at the end of the day needs a hell of a lot of work going on at the server, oh and traffic across our network… Do you see the problems?

Well basically, even with the advances of our hardware, the server will be doing too much and things won’t go well. The system will be going slow, maybe crashing, you as a designer will be going mad with frustration, along with the rest of your team, oh and not to mention you are working to a deadline so the project manager is now going mad. Let’s throw into the mix too, that our team is distributed across the States and the UK, and some of us love using Internet Explorer, some FireFox, some even Chrome…Hmm though in theory the web is great here, it is no match to a good old client desktop, some distributed servers…

Now I know I am focusing here on a situation that doesn’t lend itself to “cloud computing” or “thin clients” but if we believe all the hype of HTML 5, cloud computing why shouldn’t we be thinking this is possible? But, as our hardware advances so does our software (though at a slower rate granted) and we as users (be us general public users or business) expect more and more performance and capabilities. So while some of our user requirements do seem to lean us toward a cloud computing way of working, soon our requirements will no doubt swing back the other way (and wont we be repeating the Mainframe and PC story all over again?)

There is an answer

The answer is pretty simple to be honest and it is something Flash showed us the way to a number of years ago when it first started popping up on the web. The answer is a mixture of the two.

So let’s start evolving how we use the web properly (not just our habits) but how it is used. The web becomes a communications network and in some ways returns to its roots. We can still use it in the way we are used to, as in we find websites and we view them in a web browser, however, those websites that aren’t just presenting us with some information, or basic shopping facilities, websites that are more “applications”, get themselves installed on the client machine. So think MS Office on the web. Why install on the client? So that the user experience is not restricted by the web architecture, nor the browser, and that “processing loads” are removed from the server and distributed back down to the client PC.

Isn’t that what Flash was doing, installed and running on the client, err years ago? Yes, and that’s why Flash has worked so well to now…The problems with Flash are not what it visually looks like, nor its basic architecture (running on the client), the problems are that it doesn’t lend itself to being able to deliver “applications”. So it is great for the web to show animations, and funky banners, slick movies etc but don’t think it will be great at delivering that 3D modelling tool we spoke about earlier…

So let’s go back to our 3D modelling requirement in the designer’s studio. In our new web world we are now working with a RIA that actually runs on the client machine, uses local storage on the machine and uses the web only for bare communications and maybe storage of files that are to be shared. All of a sudden, all of the issues with “thin client” and “cloud computing” and server loads are removed, yet essentially we are still using the web and “cloud computing” to an extent…

So the answer is RIAs that use the client processing power and that do not run in the web browser.

Is this available…

Yes it is. Since Microsoft launched its Silverlight platform (which many see only as a competitor to Flash) it has been working towards this type of scenario, where we can maximise the benefits of the PC and the benefits of the web and cloud computing. Silverlight 3 was the first version to deliver an out of the browser experience and this has been taken further with Silverlight 4, with it being able to run as a trusted application on the client machine. Oh it also runs on Mac’s and PCs and if in the browser, any browser…

Silverlight, though in some ways similar to Flash and even the old Java Applets, is a new way of using the internet, rather than us re-inventing the same way of using the web with more bells and whistles. Like flash and Java applets, Silverlight essentially runs on the client PC. Which means we can utilise its processing power to do our work, it doesn’t need to go back to the server for updates to the UI, business rules or anything like that, and it can be done there on the client machine? However, it is connected and delivered essentially through the web as a communications network, so its data and files can be easily pulled and pushed across the web and stored there. Updates to the software are also delivered through the web, with the user being able to get the latest versions of the software just by using the software itself.

At present this is all still young, but the potential is there to change our web experiences and what we realistically should be using the web for. MS Office could be delivered as nothing but a Silverlight OOB (out of browser) application, allowing us to purchase it online and using it within moments. And it would look and feel just like the version we currently have from a CD (not the slightly less functional web version). Business applications could be delivered through organisations intranets, or their “cloud providers”. Websites that provide “secure” trade or partner areas would essentially have these installed on the client machine. Twitter, Facebook and other types of highly interactive websites would be delivered as RIAs installed on the machine (there is a prototype for Facebook already built and made, which you can download and use at http://www.silverlight.net/content/samples/apps/facebookclient/sfcquickinstall.aspx). You havent used the flexibility of the web at all, if you were on a new machine and wanted to get to facebook, still visit the website where you would get prompted to install the client, which would be a simply and quick install…and away you go, back on facebook.

The future then is…

Re-defining the web as a communications network and moving RIAs out of the web browser and down onto the client. By using the web in this fashion we get a truly distributed environment that has the benefits of the web, but also the benefits of the client machine…





When the cloud provides savings

18 06 2009

Many organisations are looking at possibilities in which “cloud computing” can provide savings. However, many IT people themselves will resist migrating large areas of their IT to the cloud, and for good reasons. After all, there are so many considerations:

  • Security
  • Accessibility
  • Potential Expansion costs
  • Support
  • Migration
  • Etc

When looking into cloud computing, it makes great sense for consumers and small businesses. For medium organisations and larger corporations, the numbers just don’t add up, and there are far too many “concerns”.

This is something I have posted about in the past; https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/does-cloud-computing-save-money/ and is something that more and more people are talking to me about…So, does the cloud provide savings on storage? Savings on software? Administration?

Storage savings in the cloud?

Errrmmmm. Probably not. Not even if you are a small business or it’s just you on your own. Storage space and storage devices are so cheap now, your far better off just plugging in a removable hard drive and using that as a storage device. Ok, so it’s not a mirrored drive, but you can automate your backups quite easily and you can even take them off site, all this at almost zero cost monthly.

If you look to use the “cloud” for your storage, you may well find that your monthly outlay will be creeping up. My own company has stopped providing these services to small organisations simply because there isn’t a saving to be made. On top of that, if you have large “lumps” of data to store online, it can take a hell of a long time to upload.

So when does the “cloud” provide savings?

Basically, if your volume of usage is low, then the “cloud” makes great sense. Let’s look at Microsoft Office running in the cloud. Small businesses basically all purchase an Office license, and with it they use Office to run large areas of the business (in micro-businesses maybe all of the company). However, Office in the “cloud” provides them with pretty much the same functionality at a vastly reduced cost. So instantly there are savings to be made.

SaaS (Software as a Service) really can provide genuine savings, especially for small organisations. There are also the added benefits of “sharing” information through “cloud” based applications. Though again, please be careful, not all SaaS provides savings, especially over the longer term. Many applications that operate in the “cloud” also store your information in the “cloud”, and as such can mean a cost for using up x amount of space.

Our own workFile ECM solution can be used in the cloud as SaaS. There are great savings to be made for smaller organisations, as the amount of content they access; store etc in the cloud is small enough not to have any impact on cost. However, if their requirements got to a level where storage and bandwidth becomes real issues, it makes great financial sense to purchase and implement the system internally.

 

Conclusion…

The “cloud” can deliver you and your organisation great savings if the volumes are right. Always, always, always, monitor and make sure you know what volumes of usage and storage you may / are using. At a point, the “cloud” stops delivering savings and starts providing you with added costs…