Archive for v11

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.

 

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!

 

Solutions for Sharepoint – Buy, Build or Better?

Posted by Art Gelwicks, CorasWorks Solutions Consultant

Customers often come to us looking to “buy” a solution to their business process improvement problems. They confuse the idea of getting a solution in short order, deployed rapidly, and generating benefits as something that needs to be shrink-wrapped and off-the-shelf. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The dilemma comes in when we start talking about “building” a solution.

Most software consulting companies “build” solutions from the ground up, writing code in development environments after long periods of discovery and protracted testing and revision. By the time many of these so-called solutions are complete the requirements have changed and they’re obsolete. Only with CorasWorks can you have the speed and ease of “buy” with the power and flexibility of “build.”

Work the Solution

Photo credit: Foter.com / GNU Free Documentation License

Photo credit: Foter.com / GNU Free Documentation License

The idea is a simple one. Use predefined, proven structures to configure the solution you need around your business process definition. When a house is built and the lumber is purchased, you don’t get a tree and an axe. You get pieces cut to standard dimensions, ready for you to shape based on your plans and needs.

Solutions configured using CorasWorks don’t:

  • require coding.
  • require starting from scratch.
  • assume to know everything about your needs before asking as single question.
  • require lots of separate pieces.

CorasWorks solutions:

  • get you going faster based on defined capabilities that are adaptable to your requirements.
  • are flexible and adaptable even after completion.
  • rely on proven software rather than untested code.

The next time you think you need to “buy” a solution to improve a business process, think carefully. Is there really a company out there who has already built something meeting all your possible needs? If so, consider yourself lucky. If not, consider something better.


Art Gelwicks is a CorasWorks customer turned evangelist and solution consultant. Art provides a perspective on identifying ready solutions powered by CorasWorks that can be accomplished without extensive technical knowledge while still meeting the business need.

It’s All About Visibility, Part 2

Posted by Gary Voight, CorasWorks President and CEO

Recently I spoke about a Federal customer and commercial prospect pursing greater operational efficiency and cost reduction by increasing their visibility into existing projects.  Since then I have heard more stories from other organizations supporting the notion that “It’s all about visibility.”

In my previous posting I focused on how getting visibility into projects through common operating metrics and reporting enables organizations to identify redundancies and reduce costs.  Some of the follow-on discussion pointed out that this does not apply just to projects.  There were three examples:

1. A major law firm did a root cause analysis on some of their case losses and project overruns.  The one major finding was that the Number 1 problem was inefficient or lack of communication.  They determined that many losses could have been avoided if more people were aware of a situation and could engage early enough to correct the course of events.

2. A large engineering firm produced a large fixed price bid using just their proposal management and account teams.  When they subsequently won the bid and began staffing the project, several of the project members were mystified as to some of the estimated deliverables.  Had they been aware of the deliverables during the proposal development process they could have made recommendations that would have increased the chances for a successful implementation and also increased the operating profit margin for the work.

3.  A non-profit organization leader was frustrated by the inability of the organization to engage its workforce, solicit new ideas, and then expose those ideas up the management chain.  He knew ideas were coming from lower levels of the organization and volunteers, but also knew those ideas were not working their way up the management hierarchy to him.

These examples seem trickier to me than what I posted before, and the solutions may be more challenging.  However, the theme of visibility still applies. In this case it seems that better collaboration is a fundamental requirement.  How can this be achieved?

One thought is to use some basic crowdsourcing, combined with an efficient review and decision-making program.  The solution must be intuitive for all users (without requiring user training) along with an effective stage-gate review tool for quick decision making.  We have delivered this type of solution with the combination of the CorasWorks Software Platform (v11) and the CorasWorks Idea & Innovation Management (CIM) software.  This software is completely based on SharePoint.  I now realize this type of solution supports the notion of “It’s all about visibility.”

 

Maximizing your CorasWorks ROI

Posted by Art Gelwicks, Solutions Consultant

I spend the majority of my time talking with people about ways they can use CorasWorks solutions to improve their business operations, data management, content distribution, and more.  One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the number of times I have the discussion, “What else could we do with CorasWorks?”

Here’s an analogy I think sums up this question’s perspective fairly well.  Picture going into your local mega-grocery store stocked with all types of ingredients and products.  Now picture, with all those resources at your finger tips, that you are going to only make one dish.  It may be a wonderful dish that people rave over but still it’s the only dish you’re going to make.  Over and over, only one dish.  No matter how much you are interested in the other flavors and ingredients in the store, still, only one dish.  It’s very much the same for customers who look to CorasWorks to provide a single solution.  Now, we can do an excellent job on that one solution, meeting your business needs quickly and efficiently, but why would you ever want to limit yourself in that way?

Having the inspiration to view all the ingredients at your disposal and then apply them in creative combinations to meet the wants and needs of your audience is the key to success with CorasWorks.  One solution gets you great value for your dollar.  But imagine if, for that same dollar, you could get solution after solution.  Now what is the return on your investment?

Many times this is where the conversation takes an interesting turn.  As we talk, I find people often have mixed emotions about all this potential with the CorasWorks platform.  They see all the capabilities for their needs but they’re overwhelmed with where to start.  When learning to cook, some take the ingredients and just dive right in with trial and error until they get something they like.  Many purchase a cookbook and try to follow the recipes without the prerequisite skills, eventually winding up with something edible but wondering if it could be better.  Others take a cooking class to learn from experts and finally still more will just let someone else do the cooking for them.  These are all options with CorasWorks, since CorasWorks isn’t just a collection of code and features, but rather an entire company of experts focused on helping you get the most out of your CorasWorks investments.

So here’s the choice…will it be grilled cheese and Ramen every night or will you sate the appetites of your users with something a little more satisfying?

Scenarios and Solutions

As part of a new effort by CorasWorks to help people understand the power and ease with which solutions to common business problems can be implemented when powered by the CorasWorks Solution Platform, we have started this new series, Scenarios and Solutions. In each post, we will describe a common business scenario and then present one or more ways to quickly and easily address the solution using CorasWorks technology. This is a series focused on inspiration and creative thinking when it comes to solving problems and getting the most from CorasWorks.

The CorasWorks platform is based on extending the SharePoint environment to build solutions focused on solving business problems. The first step in this process is defining the problem in a manner that can be translated into “CorasWorks terms.” Here’s an example of how a common business problem can be redefined into a CorasWorks powered solution.

Scenario: A company has several divisions, all with their own collections of documents stored within SharePoint. The company has decided the best way to handle the documents is to provide one page in SharePoint from which every member of the company can access their documents. In this way the IT team has only one page to maintain and the users have only one page to visit for their content. The challenge comes from limiting what is shown to each user to only the documents they have access to while eliminating unnecessary maintenance and overhead.

Solution: A direct and easy solution to this scenario is to use the aggregation capabilities of the CorasWorks platform combined with SharePoint security permissions. The approach is to use separate libraries for each group in the organization and apply SharePoint security groups to manage rights and access to the libraries to the correct users. The separate lists of documents are then aggregated into one CorasWorks Grid display on an .ASPX page. Since CorasWorks performs a security check before displaying any content called by a grid, the user will only see content they have permission to view.

The second part of this solution is to deal with an issue that arises from it’s design. When you aggregate multiple libraries into one grid, it can be confusing to know what library each file came from depending on how you have the contents grouped and sorted. This is where another CorasWorks feature of the Grid displays comes into action. One of the capabilities of the Grid display is to show the list or library a record is being called from through a list variable (%list%). This is shown in the Grid through a simple check box and then is treated as you would any other list column.

By combining the aggregation features of the CorasWorks platform with the specific list column function, we have defined a solution that meets the needs of the original scenario and can be implemented in a matter of hours.

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Scenarios and Solutions is presented by Art Gelwicks, Solutions Consultant for CorasWorks. A former CorasWorks customer turned evangelist, Art provides a perspective on finding business ready solutions powered by CorasWorks that can be accomplished without extensive technical knowledge.

I upgraded, why didn’t the CorasWorks version change?

A frequent question to the CorasWorks Support team concerns the version of the Version 11 Platform installed into an environment.  Oftentimes, the user has performed an upgrade to the latest release, but is confused when the version displayed by a component indicates they are running v11.0.  The goal of this article is to explain why this phenomena is happening and how to check the version of a component.  Before we discuss Version 11, let’s look back on how the installations were handled with Version 10.

History: Installations and Upgrades with Version 10
When CorasWorks first released Version 10, we followed the generally accepted guidance concerning the installation process for SharePoint.  The Platform required a full deployment process, meaning that the 40+ components included in the platform were deployed into SharePoint.

Generally speaking, this installation methodology worked well, albeit slowly.  However, the deployment installation approach introduced two problems for our users.  First, when users upgraded to a new release, they first had to retract the original components from their SharePoint environment and then deploy the new components.  This took a great deal of time, particularly for multiple server customers, and could introduce stability issues within their SharePoint server environments.

Second, the components used on a web part page stored the version used.  When a v10.2 Basic Grid was placed onto a page, the Grid stored its version in the information on the page.  When the page was loaded, it looked for its stored version (v10.2) or later.  If an earlier version was found, SharePoint generated an error.  In short, this behavior meant that a site template built using a later version of the Platform could not be used in an earlier version.

Imagine a user created a site in their Development environment where they were testing Version 10.3 of the CorasWorks Platform.  When they went to implement their site template into a Production environment running the earlier Version 10.2, SharePoint would throw errors on the site.  The site template was looking for the v10.3 version of the components and wouldn’t run with the v10.2 version!

Our goal in developing Version 11 was to overcome both of these challenges.  It was clear when speaking with our users that they wanted an easier upgrade path, one that took minutes instead of hours.  Our larger customers and partners asked for a way of building site templates that would not introduce errors when running on an older version.  Version 11 accomplished both of these goals.

Overcoming These Problems
Version 11 has a different upgrade process.  Instead of requiring a complete retraction of the components, we instead offer MSI-only upgrades that update the DLLs within the environment.  Users who have Version 11 installed can download the smaller, upgrade-only package from the Community’s My Place.  This smaller package includes a new setup file.  Generally speaking, the upgrade process is to uninstall the current CorasWorks setup file from the web front end and to install the new one.  This process is run on each web front end and should take less than half an hour to install.

This installation process has been an overwhelming success for us.  Nearly all users like this new installation process, but some have noticed that the version of the components does not change.  This is expected behavior and a requirement for our DLL-only upgrades.  With the Version 11 release, CorasWorks has locked the version of our components being reported to SharePoint.  As a result, we can use the MSI file to update the DLLs on the web front ends without having to redeploy the components.

The benefit of locking the version of the components is a faster, more reliable upgrade process as well as removing the problem with web pages looking for the wrong version of the components.  Users who are building using our v11.1.01 release can save their sites as templates and use them to build sites in an environment using the earlier v11.1 release.  The components won’t throw an error as, internally, they are looking for the v11.0 version of the DLLs.  The result is a win-win for customers and partners alike.

How to Determine the Installed Version
Having said that, how do we check for the version of a component to ensure an installation was complete?  If you are a server administrator, the easiest way is to check the version of the installed MSI file within the web front end’s Add/Remove Programs via the server’s Control Panel.  If you don’t have rights to the server, you can check via the browser.  Go to a web part page with the CorasWorks component on it and add the following to the end of the URL in the address bar: ?version=coras.  This will flip all of the CorasWorks components on the page into “version mode” and show their version information.  This information is being displayed for you alone; all other users of the page will see the normal displays.  To get out of version mode, click on the “Close” button on the page or remove the ?version=coras from the end of the URL.

Once you’re in the version window, you should see something similar to this:

There are four fields presented.  The first is the Title of the component and the second is the Organization who created it (CorasWorks Corporation).  The Version displayed for the Basic Components is always 11.0.0.0 and will not change, regardless of the version of the Platform installed.  Remember, we’ve locked the version of the component being reported to SharePoint to allow us to have DLL-only upgrades and for backward compatibility between releases.

The Date value is different and is the key for determining the release of the component.  With the Basic components, the Date indicates when the component was last updated and it is what we use to determine when a component was released.  In short, the Version of the components won’t change, but the Date of the components will!


CorasWorks Rolls Out New Release Model

With our launch of the new unified CorasWorks v11 platform, we are changing our approach to software releases. We are aligning much more closely with the typical Microsoft release approach that most of you are already familiar with. This is all made possible by v11. Gone are the days of having to do a full retraction, installation, and re-deployment of every new release. Once you move to v11, the only features you need deploy will be brand new components.

The structure of our releases moving forward is Release, Cumulative Update, and Service Pack. v11 is a major release and will be the base for years to come. However, with our new approach, we will very rapidly be able to address bugs/issues that do not affect the user interface and therefore do not expose new features to the end user. We will do this through a Cumulative Update. An update will be installed through an installer and will take approximately 5 minutes per server. The goal is to make it easy to install the updates and to ensure that IT organizations can approve the updates without the rigor that goes with new feature testing. The key with Cumulative Updates is that they are indeed cumulative, meaning that the most recent update will always include all the previous updates. So if you miss one along the way, no problem.

New features will be addressed through a Service Pack. The Service Pack releases will address items that require interface changes and will include all the Cumulative Updates that have been released prior to the Service Pack. Much like the update process, the Service Pack will be a quick, installer-based installation, but it will potentially include new components that will need to be deployed for the first time.

Much like Microsoft releases a new version of SharePoint every few years, CorasWorks will have future releases. However the v11 platform will be with us for the next few years. It will allow us to address issues more rapidly than ever before and make it easier for you to stay current with the latest updates.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me dnaselius@corasworks.net and we will be happy to assist.

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