Archive for Solutions

The CorasWorks “Easy Button” – Dynamically Create PowerPoint Presentations

If you’re like thousands of other companies and government agencies that have Program/Project Management Reviews (PMRs), you’ve probably asked the following question:  “Couldn’t we just have a standard PowerPoint deck that everyone uses, that collects and presents the same information, so we see the same data and information, in the same format, for all projects?”

While this sounds like a simple solution of creating a standard PowerPoint template, that doesn’t solve all the problems.  The decks may all look the same, but the information and data is still all over the board–different data, different format, and so on.  And, putting the deck together becomes a nightmare of data calls and “hand jamming.”  By the time the presentation is finally delivered, the data is usually outdated and many times, as a result, tells the wrong story.  It makes it very difficult for the reviewers to get a holistic view of the projects.

We see this problem all the time.  As a result, we developed the CorasWorks “Easy Button.”  The Easy Button is a dynamic reporting capability that creates a PowerPoint deck from the data you have in SharePoint or other legacy systems.  It uses your PowerPoint template and a mark-up file to pull the data you want, in the format you want, and then populate the deck with it.

The result is that all the decks look the same and present the same information and data in the same format.

The Easy Button is an extension of our Project Management solution and can pull data from SharePoint or directly from your legacy data systems.  It significantly accelerates the time required to prepare the deck and also removes many of the errors created when manually building the deck.  Since the data in SharePoint and your other systems is “real time,” you know the deck is being built with the latest (and most accurate) information.

For more information on our Easy Button, contact us a sales@corasworks.net.

 

Do You Have a CorasWorks/SharePoint User Group?

An internal CorasWorks or SharePoint User Group can be a great forum to bring your business users and technical resources together to share information, challenges, needs, and success stories on SharePoint and CorasWorks.  CorasWorks has years of experience in facilitating the creation and management of user groups, as we were founding members of successful user groups like FEDSPUG (the Federal SharePoint User Group) and the New York City SharePoint User Group, one of the largest in the country.  We can help guide you on creating a user group that fits your schedule and available resources, and we’ll provide you with support along the way.

Call Eric Baughman, Director of Customer Success, today at (703) 797-1881 ext. 110 or email him at ebaughman@corasworks.net to explore setting up the right user group for your organization.

 

Join our LinkedIn Community!

LinkedIn-Logo-02CorasWorks runs a community on the LinkedIn business network to help our customers learn more about what’s going on at CorasWorks, how to get more from our products and services, and connect with other users to leverage the expertise and experience of the community as a whole. If you’re a CorasWorks customer or user and want to participate and learn more, just pop over to the LinkedIn community (sign up with LinkedIn if you’re not already a user…a great professional service in it’s own regard) and come join us! The link below will guide the way…look for you there!

CorasWorks LinkedIn Community

 

 

Collaboration Workflow vs. Traditional Workflow

 

Posted by Gary Voight, CorasWorks President and CEO

Recently we were demonstrating the CorasWorks Project & Portfolio Management (PPM) solution to several people at a prospective customer.  At one point in the demonstration we were showing a workflow component related to promoting the status of a project, and then another workflow component related to approving a cost item into the project.  The senior IT executive noticed the workflow that is built into several CorasWorks software modules and asked when it would be appropriate to use a product like Nintex or K2 versus CorasWorks.  As it turns out they had several onboarding type needs and were considering workflow products.

It is an interesting question.  CorasWorks does have workflow components built into the CorasWorks Software Platform (v11), but we position our products as “collaboration workflow.”   That’s mostly because our products have been designed to support work management processes where there is a high level of collaboration between process steps (aka stage-gates). The prospect’s question illustrates that the workflow topic is confusing, particularly as it applies to when to deploy a workflow-centric product.

Here was my response to the prospect’s question:

If you have an accounts payable function that processes a large number of invoices per day, and you’re trying to reduce errors in the process, then a traditional workflow product like Nintex or K2 makes sense.

If you have a purchase request process that requires collaboration and some workflow, then a product like CorasWorks makes sense.  A “purchasing” example might go like this:

  • User requests budget to pursue acquiring a product and/or service.  This might require a business case, followed by an approval. This could be Stage Gate 1.
  • Once the approval is obtained, the user might need to engage other staff in pursuing alternatives….certainly a collaboration example.  Tasking and notification is generally required.  Once this process is completed this could be Stage Gate 2.
  • The decision in Stage Gate 2 might need approvals….and may have different paths dependent on certain criteria (i.e., amount of funding).  This could be Stage Gate 3.
  • Vendor negotiation would be the next step, requiring different sets of staff to be engaged.  This could be Stage Gate 4.
  • Project initiation could be the next step, which might include forming and assigning a team.  This could be Stage Gate 5.
  • Projects/initiatives not approved could also be tracked…..and might need to be saved for future discovery and analysis.

A CorasWorks solution is a great selection for this type of process, and for collaborative, work management types of workflow in general.

 

Build your own Task Tracker using Application Designer

As part of our ongoing work on the new CorasWorks Application Designer, we are releasing the first of a series of Solution Guides – documents that when combined with the Application Designer allow you to build targeted solutions you can configure to your needs.

The first one in this series is the Task Tracker guide – building your own simplified method of tracking tasks using SharePoint and the Application Designer.  You can see from the screen shots below there is a core set of functionality for your team to track tasks and actions, provide updates and reports, and keep everyone on your team on track.

Dashboard Metrics:

Full Dashboard

Clean and easy user interface:

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Dynamic, automatic forms:

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Interactive grids of data:

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The best part…you put this all together yourself.  The guide takes CorasWorks features empowered using the Application Designer to put the solution together in just a matter of a couple of hours.

More Solution Guides are coming including:

  • Idea Capture
  • Time Off Requests
  • Document Approvals
  • Getting Work Done (by Eric Baughman, CorasWorks)
  • and more each month

Now’s your chance to get targeted, specific applications configured on SharePoint by the person you trust the most…yourself.  (With a little help from CorasWorks.)  Ask us today to learn more if you’re an existing customer or you want to become one!

A new mobile-friendly look to the blog

We’ve updated the sharepoint-business-solutions.com blog with a new mobile friendly look and feel for our users on the go.  Check our site out on your mobile device (phones…tablets will render the same way as usual) and tell us what you think!

So What Exactly Is “The Cloud?”

By Dan Naselius, CorasWorks COO

I was flying home from a business trip recently and was sitting next to a guy who managed operations in the hospitality industry.  After the normal pleasantries of “where are you from?” and “what do you do?” he leaned over and in a whisper said “Since you’re in the technology industry, can you tell me what “The Cloud” is?  My IT department is telling me we need to move our email there and I don’t even know what it is.”   The only thing he really knew was that he was being asked to pay for the service and it was supposed to be a good thing.  After telling this story to a number of friends I found that his question is not uncommon.  Most people either don’t know what the Cloud is or whether it’s a good thing.

So what exactly is The Cloud?  In its simplest terms the Cloud is a set of servers a technology company or hosting service has purchased and put into a data center.  This creates a large amount of computing capacity you likely couldn’t afford on your own, due to the costs of procuring hardware and software and the ongoing costs to manage the environment.  The technology company or hosting service then provides the ability to use this resource and only pay for what you use, and sometimes, just when you use it.

How might this help your business?  Well in the pre-Cloud days you would go to your trusty vendor of choice (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) and buy servers, set them up in your facilities, and pay someone to make them operational and available to users.  In addition, you would likely have to buy and install software, such as Microsoft Exchange.   Very costly and time-consuming to set up, and equally as costly and time-consuming to maintain.

Now consider the Cloud alternative.  You look for a vendor that provides Cloud services and create an account, select the types of servers and services you need, and turn it on.  You are now ready to run your application (examples of Cloud vendors include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google, and Rackspace).  You may still need to install your application, but it takes less time and money to get up and running.  You just pay for what you use!  The official term for this is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

Although this is fairly easy to understand for folks in the IT business and certain executives, that wasn’t what this guy was really asking.  He was really asking about Office 365.  True, Office 365 does run on the same type of Cloud described above, but it’s different.  Office 365 is really Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).  This means you are paying to access an application.  You don’t have to set up Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, etc., but instead you sign up for Office 365 and you have everything ready to use in a relatively short amount of time.

SaaS has been around for quite some time.   SalesForce.com is probably the most well-known SaaS provider, gaining acceptance and proving the value in the business community.  So why do people now call SaaS email The Cloud?  In my opinion, because it sounds sexier and reflects Microsoft’s “all-in” strategy.  If the guy I met on the plane was told he was moving to a SaaS-based email system, he may have understood exactly what he was getting.  However, by surrounding it in the mysticism of “The Cloud” he was confused and not confident enough to question it.

So the next time you hear “going to the Cloud” or “it’s in the Cloud,” ask yourself (or someone else) if it’s the Infrastructure (IaaS) Cloud or the SaaS Cloud.  Once you get that clarification, then you can start asking more questions…..which I’ll address in my next blog post.

 

Smart Process Applications and CorasWorks


by Gary Voight, CorasWorks President and CEO

Someone recently sent me an April 2013 Forrester report on Smart Process Applications, and suggested it sounded like a CorasWorks story.  That person was right on!  One of the points Forrester makes is that Smart Process Applications help CIOs improve human-based business processes.  The report describes the differences between Transactional process apps and Smart process apps by applying a scale of none-to-high levels of human involvement (Smart Process apps are high human involvement). Forrester identifies several software vendors in this space.  Sadly, CorasWorks is not listed.  Surprisingly, neither is Microsoft, even though SharePoint should meet those criteria.

Although I could feel insulted by Forrester for not including CorasWorks, I’m excited about the possibility of an analyst firm actually reporting on this space.  CorasWorks refers to this space as Work Management, and has products, including our CorasWorks Software Platform (v11), that are designed to address these types of apps.  We have been creating….or helping our customers create….”smart process apps” for more than 10 years.  Forrester lists the following examples of smart process apps:

-          Talent Management

-          Client Onboarding

-          Claims Processing

-          Contract Lifecycle Management

-          Customer Service

-          Field Service Management

-          Supplier Risk and Performance Management

-          Project Portfolio Management

-          Marketing Campaign Management.

Since 2003, CorasWorks’ customers have built…or had us build….these exact types of applications.  We could also add applications like purchase request management, capture and proposal management, task order management, product life cycle management, and many more.  In general, CorasWorks software and services have been deployed for many program management type applications…..which encapsulate pretty much all of the “smart process apps” referenced by Forrester.  It’s great to see an industry analyst recognizing this space.  Now, we simply need to educate them on CorasWorks!

 

Q&A: Help Desk to Project Management

Can tickets created in a Help Desk solution be turned into projects in the CorasWorks PPM?

Absolutely. Since the data structure used to capture the ticket information in the Help Desk is the same SharePoint environment the CorasWorks PPM works from it is an easy process to transfer a Help Desk ticket to the PPM system for management.

The CorasWorks Help Desk Solution Template can be configured using the Action Framework to manually and/or automatically pass tickets to the PPM environment. This can trigger spinning up a new project site or submitting the ticket a PMO process for review and evaluation prior to creating a new project. Any ticketing system configured using CorasWorks can be set to integrate with the PPM at a variety of levels.

 

 

Compliance vs. Commitment

bomb_tea / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

At a conference I attended earlier this year, one of the sessions used the phrase “compliance vs commitment” as it applies to user adoption. This is an excellent way to evaluate your strategies when it comes to getting your user community to “buy in” to the solutions you are implementing. Let’s parallel this example to something else in the real world…broccoli.

Let’s take a child who doesn’t like the vegetable for whatever reason, but you see the value in them eating it you have only two real options. One is to disguise it with something else (cheese is my personal favorite). The second is the parental standby, “You can’t leave the table until you finish your broccoli.” In the second case the offending vegetable may be consumed, but there is no commitment to do so again in the future. Each time becomes an evaluation of the negative effects of not complying with the unwillingness to comply in the first place.

If you look at the other option, disguising the vegetable, now it isn’t perceived as something to be resisted and may even be looked upon as something desirable to have next time. You have encouraged a commitment to the act of eating the broccoli without the negative response enacted if there is non-compliance. Now there are downsides to “sweetening” the meal, but that’s best left for another discussion.

Let’s translate this into solution building. A problem in a business is identified, a procedure is determined as an answer to the problem, and a solution is designed to implement said procedure. The challenge is: does the solution require compliance or commitment?

A solution requiring compliance needs validation measures, tracking components, and notifications when compliance is not met. It is built to manage the exceptions to the process. Dashboards and metrics are all targeted around showing where compliance has failed and remediating the situation.

A solution based on commitment is harder to design but when successful is easier to run. These solutions encourage adherence to the policy by measuring success over failures and recognizing such. There can be a weakness in this model for those are not motivated by positive reinforcement, and as such a combination model may be necessary.

The key to success is to build to both sets of users. Those who will use the system because they have to (compliance) and those who will use it because they want to (commitment.) Take the needs of both classes into consideration when defining and designing a solution and you stand a much greater chance of success.

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