Market pressures to bear further financial printer consolidation

Market pressures to bear further financial printer consolidation.

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Using SharePoint to build intranet sites

In following various SharePoint blogs, it’s apparent that a lot of folks are considering using SharePoint as their corporate intranet platform.  Having built a few intranet sites using SharePoint, I would like to offer some helpful hints for starters.  Let’s start by analyzing whether SharePoint should be used as your intranet platform.  Just answer yes/no to each of the following questions:

  1. Our users tell us that the information on our portal isn’t very useful.
  2. Our company has deployed or is considering deploying SharePoint Standard or Enterprise Edition.
  3. We would like to create a custom look and feel (brand) that is consistent across all intranet sites.
  4. We are using SharePoint heavily for document and workflow management.
  5. We need a better way to manage who can publish content to our portal(s).

If you answered yes to all 5 questions, your intranet is definitely a candidate for implementation in SharePoint.  If you answered yes to 3-4 questions, SharePoint is still a candidate but you may need to compare it agains other web content management options.  If you answered yes to 2 or less questions, you’re probably not ready to implement your intranet using SharePoint.

Explanation:

Question 1.  A lot of companies have implemented a corporate portal using older web content management technologies that are (a) difficult to maintain and (b) not used very often.  These portals tend to be ‘informational’ as opposed to ‘interactive’.  Content doesn’t change frequently and users only visit the site when they have to look things up.  If this is all your site needs to do, you don’t need SharePoint’s help.  However, if you want to add a lot of ‘zing’ to  your site consider using SharePoint for one very simple reason:  SharePoint has excellent search capabilities which will make your portal infinitely more valuable than a simple ‘show and tell’ site.

Question 2: SharePoint is a powerful technology and certainly well-suited for corporate portals.  However, you’ll need SharePoint publishing and other features that don’t come with SharePoint Foundation (like search).  SharePoint is not cheap so making the business case for buying SharePoint to be used as a portal could be challenging.  If, on the other hand, your company already owns SharePoint, then adding Portal capabilities is a great way to increase your ROI.

Question 3: You can brand a web site using any web content management solution.  But if you’re intranet/portal is going to leverage team sites and other SharePoint solutions, the best way to manage the brand is in SharePoint itself.  Companies that use SharePoint will find that 80-90% of their intranet content will end up in SharePoint – notably team sites.  If you’re making this level of commitment to SharePoint, why not use it as your corporate portal as well?

Question 4: See question 3.   SharePoint sites have a lot of functionality and your users will need to learn some of the nuances of SharePoint, such as managing document workflows, creating  list items, etc.  Once they get used to the various SharePoint idioms, visiting other sites in your intranet means learning or relearning new ways of doing things.  Using SharePoint consistently across all your sites will improve your overall user experience – because they only have to learn how to do something once!

Question 5: SharePoint provides useful features that allow you to control the granularity of publishing content and modifying pages.  For example, you may want to let the HR department add new employee announcements but you don’t want them changing the page layout.  Or you may need to present your intranet content in different languages for different countries.  SharePoint also allows you to ‘target’ specific content to specific audiences – for example, show this ‘benefits information’ only to employees in the US as it does not apply to employees in other countries.  I fyou need this type of flexibility in your content publishing plan, SharePoint can help.

Now most folks want to start with site branding so you might expect this to be my next posting.  It won’t be.   The right place to start is with governance.  There are a lot of issues you need to consider and a cool look and feel won’t make up for bad governance – you need to adress issues such as who can publish content, who can modify the look and feel, should we use custom web parts, etc.  I’ll discuss these issues in my posting.

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Operating Systems – So who cares?

This is the last in a 3 part series on what I like to think of as really useless technology.  In my last two postings, I made the case that email and VPN are technologies whose time has passed.

As we all anxiously await the launch of Windows 8, the only thing I want to know about the new operating system is, “who cares”?

Operating systems are like car engines -  most people only care that the car has an engine.  Very few of use care how many overhead cams the engine has  or how it’s aspirated.

What people care about is the applicability of that engine to their life-style - does it get good gas mileage, will it be expensive to maintain?

Other than that, what people care most about when buying a car is the experience – will it be fun to drive, is it comfortable, does it have all the features I want?

The primary way we experience technology today is through applications, not operating systems.  Witness the iPad – ask the average iPad user what operating system the tablet uses and they probably won’t be able to answer.  But ask them what apps they use on their iPads, and you are likely to get a very concise answer.

So Apple correctly shifted the conversation from the technology to the experience.  What this means in the real world, is that people will only choose the platform based on the experience.  And, repeat after me, the experience is based on the number and quality of the apps that the platform provides, not the platform itself.

At the end of the day, the best operating systems will be the ones you never see and never have to interact with.  They’re just there and they just work.  Apple figured this out on the iPhone and iPad which is why these devices are leading the market (one has to wonder whether Donald Norman – an Apple fellow and author of “The Invisible Computer” had something to do with this design approach).

What this means is that we’re going to see fewer and fewer consumers base their purchase decision on the operating system – people who started with an iPhone or an iPad are now totally comfortable buying Macs – because they perceive it as part of their overall computing experience.   In my company, we offer our workers a choice between Mac and PC – I’m surprised that most of them say they prefer the Mac.    But I can say this: when asked why, none of them replied with “Because it has a better operating system”.

 

 

 

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Email – The Digital Dumpster

This is the second in a 3 part series on Technologies we can live without.  In my last posting, I made the case for why VPN is utterly useless technology.

It isn’t difficult to make the case against VPN.  There are over a billion computer users in the world, and I’m willing to state that not a single one of them looks forward to using VPN at the start of their workday (and throughout the day because their VPN sessions keep timing out).

You might feel that it would be harder to make a case against email.   I don’t agree.  To me, email is a digital dumpster – a place where binary garbage goes to live.

Let’s start by taking a look at what email is used for: there are two tasks that you use email for: (1) Communication and (2) Collaboration.  My thesis is that you can improve your productivity by using different tools to accomplish these task.

(1) Communication

Communication takes two forms: synchronous and asynchronous.   Common forms of synchronous communication include the phone calls, meetings and one-on-one conversations – any communication where all participants are ‘connected’, ‘listening’ and ‘responding’.  Instant messaging is another form of synchronous communication.  Instant messaging is actually a lot more powerful than email because most instant messaging systems like Microsoft Office Communicator and Jabber provide all sorts of goodies that don’t quite make sense in an email like presence, the ability to immediately enter into a web meeting and the ability to ‘convert’ the IM to a VOIP conversation.

It’s fairly easy to make the case that IM is superior to Email for synchronous communications.  So lets perform a gedanken experiment: what are we left with if we take all of our synchronous communications out of email?  If you guessed asynchronous ones, you would be right!

It turns out asynchronous communications are critical in our modern world.  Prior to email, the most popular form of asynchronous communications was voice mail and the written communications.

Asynchronous communications can also be used to transmit information to people when you don’t expect a response such as meeting notices, instructions of some sort or other and email spam (do these fools really expect us to respond?)

The problem with relying on email for asynchronous messaging is that the average email inbox is such a vast wasteland of asynchronous messages (the digital dumpster) that its hard for people to keep track of what messages they have received.

We’ve all taken part in email ‘threads’ that go like this:

To: Peter@Initech.com

From: Bill@initech.com

Peter:  Just a reminder that we’re using a new cover on the TPS reports.

From: Peter@initech.com

To: Bill@initech.com

Bill:
I looked at my email and can’t seem to find the new cover for the TPS reports, when did you send it?

To: Peter

From: Bill

Peter:

I sent it about two weeks ago.  It should be in your in box.

To: Bill

From: Peter

Sorry Bill, couldn’t find it, perhaps it was sent to my SPAM folder.  Do you mind resending it?

This issue points out that we are asynchronously communicating in EXACTLY the opposite manner that we should be. Think of the email as ‘meta data’ – it describes the facets of the desired communication (new report cover, due date, etc). In this way, the email acts like a set of TAGS on the TPS Report.

Why not just tag the new report cover instead?  Then you send an IM, a text message, an RSS feed, heck even an email with a link to the cover rather than embedding the document in the email.  They wouldn’t have to go digging through their digital dumpsters looking for the report template, they would just need to open the document via the link.  And they would always be assured that they would be referring to the latest version of the document.  This type of asynchronous communications is much more efficient than embedding document in emails and hoping people read the email.  Microsoft SharePoint excels at this type of document management which may go a long way towards explaining why SharePoint sales have been going through the roof – people are desperate to find better ways to manage asynchronous communications.

But before we turn off email, we need to consider the second class of tasks we perform with email – collaboration.

(2) Collaboration

Merriam-Webster defines collaboration as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavour”.    And most of use email to work jointly or together.  Imagine you’re on a team that’s developing a proposal for a client.  Someone on the team creates a draft of the proposal and then sends it around to the team for review.  This is certainly a quick way to work jointly but one that is fraught with problems: who has the definitive version of the document?  Have we sent it to everyone he needs to provide input?  Could someone accidentally or intentionally send the proposal to someone who should not have access, like a competitor? Is everyone reviewing the correct version?

Using email to manage collaboration is a lot like playing the child’s game ‘telephone’.  There are so many ways that the message can be bungled that it’s a wonder any one still relies on email for collaboration.

Yet email is still the easiest and fastest way to communicate and collaborate with external parties.   But that still doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to collaborate.  Many external communications require an audit trail to ensure that all parties on agree what was said and what needs to be done.  Creating audit trails in email is problematic: it’s difficult to know everyone who has seen the email (think of the situation where I download the document to a flash drive and then send it to the customer via my personal email – the enterprise email system has no way to know that this transaction occurred).  Just as with asynchronous communications, platforms like SharePoint and Huddle are actually better milieu for managing collaboration.

So if you move synchronous communications to IM and asynchronous communications and collaboration to more suitable platforms like SharePoint or Huddle, then all you have left in your inbox is SPAM.

So tell me again, why do we need email in our lives?

Next: Can you live without your operating system?

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Three Technologies I can live without.

I just spent an entire morning trying to log into my company’s VPN on my Windows PC so that I can access Email.  That’s when it hit me.   This is really useless technology.   I don’t just mean VPN, I mean all three.

(1) Virtual Private Networks

VPN was ostensibly designed to allow users to access their corporate networks from the internet.  But once  you get into the corporate network, what do you do?  The only three things you need to do on the corporate internet are Email, accessing enterprise data and using enterprise applications.  Let’s look at these in a little more detail:

(a) Email – If you’re using Outlook Web Access or Outlook over http, you don’t need to use VPN to access email (one issue is that OWA is a slightly deprecated version of Outlook – but that’s not a big deal so you probably won’t be using email much long anyway).  So that reduces the need for VPN down to enterprise data and enterprise applications.

(b) Enterprise Data – We’re seeing more and more organizations move their data to the cloud.  You don’t need VPN to access cloud resources.   Now some IT folks will argue that corporate networks are more secure than the cloud.  WRONG!  Hosting companies have a lot more at stake with security and invest a lot more in protecting their networks than all but the very largest companies can afford.   Evidence the fact that more corporate networks are infected with the Conficker than are hosting providers.

So now we’re down to one use for VPN: enterprise applications.

(c) Enterprise Applications – Really?  In this day and age?  I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when your biggest programming concern was chads, and I have yet to see an inernally developed enterprise application that is as good as or better than the worst commercial application you can download from the Apple Store.  And for the record, enterprise applications will NEVER be better than their commercial counterparts.  Think about it, there’s a shortage of really great developers in the world already.  If you’re a great developer, would you rather work for Zynga developing cool games or sit in some 4 X 6 cubicle putting new covers on TPS Reports ?

Ergo, no need for VPN.

But wait, is there a flaw in this logic?.  Enterprise applications need to access enteprise data.  So even if we used  commercial apps, we would still need a VPN to transfer that data to systems on the corporate network.   If you believe this argument, go back and read (b) above.

I rest my case.  Make VPN go away.

Next: Email: the Digital Dumpster.

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SharePoint 2010 Development on Windows 7

I finally got SharePoint 2010 deployed to my Windows 7 computer over the holidays and am ready to dive into SharePoint 2010 development.  But first, some notes about deploying SharePoint 2010 on your Windows 7 computer.  Microsoft’s how-to article “Setting Up the Development Environment for SharePoint 2010 on Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008” does a good job of explaining how to set up SharePoint 2010 for development on your Windows 7 box, but it skips a few important details. 

First, don’t try this at home!  Literally, Windows 7 Home edition does not support all of the components you will need to install SharePoint  2010.  Specifically, the Windows Identity Foundation will not install on Windows 7 Home Edition.  So before you attempt this, upgrade your desktop to Windows 7 Professional or higher.

Second, Microsoft provides an install script in step 8 to install some pre-requisites.  The script works fine, but you’ll need to delete the line breaks – this command is one very long line.

Here is a version of the command line that removes the line breaks:

start /w pkgmgr /iu:IIS-WebServerRole;IIS-WebServer;IIS-CommonHttpFeatures;IIS-StaticContent;IIS-DefaultDocument;IIS-DirectoryBrowsing;IIS-HttpErrors;IIS-ApplicationDevelopment;IIS-ASPNET;IIS-NetFxExtensibility;IIS-ISAPIExtensions;IIS-ISAPIFilter;IIS-HealthAndDiagnostics;IIS-HttpLogging;IIS-LoggingLibraries;IIS-RequestMonitor;IIS-HttpTracing;IIS-CustomLogging;IIS-ManagementScriptingTools;IIS-Security;IIS-BasicAuthentication;IIS-WindowsAuthentication;IIS-DigestAuthentication;IIS-RequestFiltering;IIS-Performance;IIS-HttpCompressionStatic;IIS-HttpCompressionDynamic;IIS-WebServerManagementTools;IIS-ManagementConsole;IIS-IIS6ManagementCompatibility;IIS-Metabase;IIS-WMICompatibility;WAS-WindowsActivationService;WAS-ProcessModel;WAS-NetFxEnvironment;WAS-ConfigurationAPI;WCF-HTTP-Activation;WCF-NonHTTP-Activation

Run “Start->CMD” and paste this command at the prompt – it works fine.

Once you complete this step, Microsoft advises that you investigate the Windows features to ensure that the appropriate components are installed. Don’t skip this step.  You may be able to install SharePoint 2010 without all the component installed, but it won’t run.  For example, without the Windows Identity Foundation, SharePoint will install but when you go to Central Administration, you’ll get a blank page.  

Specifically, check to make sure you have the right security components loaded.  Go to Control Panel | Programs | Turn Windows Features On or Off |.  Once the dialog opens, check these settings under Internet Information Management Tools | Worldwide Web Services | Security are available:

If you don’t see Digest Authentication or Windows Authentication, you either did not install the Windows Identify Foundation Services or are running Windows 7 Home edition which won’t install these features.   Once you verify that your security settings are correct, make sure that your machine account is password protected – SharePoint won’t let you log on unless your account has a password.  You will add users to the system using Control Panel | Add or Remove User Accounts.

Once you’re ready to install SharePoint, I would go with the Standalone version – this will install a workable development environment using SQL Express which has limitations but should be sufficient for most development scenarios

Hope this helps, it took me the better part of a day to find out that I couldn’t do the install because I had Windows 7 Home Edition (this is actually documented elsewhere in msdn, but unfortunately not on the Windows Identity Foundation Page).

Happy coding!

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What is an Enterprise Architect?

In my last posting, I pointed out the tribulations of Enterprise Architect – people who build magnificent edifices, if only virtually.   Unlike building architects, enterprise architects can’t point to something and tell their kids, "I built that".   So in addition to losing the gratification with having others admire your work, Enterprise Architects have another liability – dealing in arcana is a sure fire way to not get noticed in your company, or even your interest.
 
Happily, there is hope.  But we need to get down to first principles.  So why is it so hard for Enterprise Architects to get the respect they need and deserve?  Putting it quite frankly, it’s because nobody speaks their language. 
 
Every profession has a language that can be translated into some metaphor that lay people can understand.  For builders, that language is geometry and they can shape that langauage into designs and blueprints that people can see and understand.  For engineers, the language is mathematics. And while that language may not be appealing to most lay people, the results are – new airplane designs, new roads, and so on.  People will only appreciate things that they can understand.   The language of enterprise architects is simply just too hard to understand – even Enterprise Architects will spend hours arguing over the differences between a logical architecture and a physical architecture!
 
Now if you’re an Enterprise Architect, you might be forgiven for protesting a tad here.  After all Enterprise Architects also use the language of geometry to craft system diagrams and flow charts.  But the these drawings fail to meet the second criteria: people can’t understand them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a ‘logical architecture’ diagram only to come to the conclusion that there was nothing logical about it! 
 
That’s because, unlike the blueprint for a home, it’s impossible to see the connection between the logical architecture of a system and the rack of servers that represent the actual implementation.  Worse yet, to the untrained eye (and that could be  your boss), staring at a rack of servers, they may not say, "You mean you spent hundreds of hours on this architecture and that’s all you can come up with?".   They may not say it, but they are definitely thinking it.  And if they’re not, their boss is.
 
So here is what I think: Enterprise Architects have to stop pretending that their trade is like traditional archtiecture.  The traditional architect plies a well understood trade, balancing aesthetics, design and costs into something people can live, work or play in.  The design work of architects may be lost on many people, not everyone can read a blueprint. but everyone can understand aesthetics and costs.
 
And this is where enterprise architects operate at a disadvantage.  EA isn’t concerned with aesthetics – it’s not importan if that rack of servers looks good or if physical network is color coded.  So that leaves enterprise architects with only two dimensions: design and cost.  We’ve already established that the design work is sufficiently arcane to be lost on most customers so that leaves only one dimension – costs.
 
And that’s why Enterprise Architects are rarely the life of the party.  "So what do  you do?". "I’m an Enterprise Architect". "Oh you save companies money.  My bother’s in procurement, he does the same thing."
 
So what is the missing dimension? Well, what do you want it to be? You can say "I make beautiful drawings in Visio". Yes, they may be beautiful to you or to anothre architect but chances are no one outside of the field cares much about what we draw.  Or how about, "I balance business requirements with technology trade-offs".  Don’t know, still seems like a little hard to grasp.
 
Let’s get abstract for a moment.  An architect could say, "I design buildings for a living".  Or she could say, "I ensure that everyone has a place to live".  That’s how we need to address our profession.
 
So the language of enterprise architecture has to be able to make this point for us, "I ensure that my company can stay in business and do so profitably". 
 
"Well, my boy, let’s have a chat, you see my company’s not doing so well and perhaps you can help us improve our performance.  So tell me, how do you ensure that your business can stay in business and do so profitably?"
 
"It’s really quite simple when you think about it.  I balance the capabilities that the business needs stay in business with the cost of acquiring and managing those capabilties">
"Yes but what are these capabilities?"
 
"For starters, there’s your communication network – what business can run without a telephone or email or even instant messaging? Then there’s your business systems, how many people would you need to hire to replace your ERP system?"
 
"So you can actually balance the costs of doing these things with their benefits?  Now I’m interested, I’ve been trying to get my IT people to do that for years!"
 
"Well (speaking humbly of course), I can do a bit more than that.  I can also help you determine what information you need to acquire to run your business and what you should spend to acquire it, and I can also help you decide what types of investments to make in emerging technologies".
 
"Sold, here’s my card, why don’t you come around on Monday morning and we’ll explore this further."
 
Notice that this conversation talking nothing about technologies, or logical architectures or any technical jargon.  It focused on one word, and that word, dear architects, is our vocabulary and our language - capability.
 
We empower the enterprise with the capabilities it needs to operate profitably. 
 
Next: So What do these capabilities look like.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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