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.

Microsoft’s Moving the Cheese, Part 2…But What About My Existing SharePoint Apps?

 

By Dan Naselius, CorasWorks COO

In my previous blog (Microsoft’s Moving the Cheese…Understanding the New SharePoint App Model) I covered what Microsoft is doing with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365, with some focus on how and when to use the new App Model. Presuming my message was clear, you should have a good baseline of the evolving and existing terms, and an understanding of the difference between traditional farm solutions and the new High and Low Trust App Model.

In this post, we’ll talk about the impact of SharePoint 2013 on your existing apps and what we think is the best way to proceed with 2013.  There are a lot of options to consider, so this blog post is pretty long.  If you’re just interested in my opinion and want to skip all the detail, jump to the end of the post to see what I’m recommending.

What about my existing SharePoint apps?  What happens to them and what should I do with them? 

The answers to these questions truly depend on your current SharePoint implementation, as well as your future plans and objectives.  So we have to ask another question:  What Does Your Current SharePoint Do?

This may seem like a really silly question.  Of course the answer is it stores documents and allows collaboration, but what I really mean is what and how are you really USING SharePoint?  Did you simply stand up SharePoint and move your file shares into Document Libraries?  Or did you brand SharePoint?  Did you purchase 3rd party software like CorasWorks, Nintex, Bamboo, or AvePoint?  Did you write your own web parts and application pages, workflows, etc. and build out more sophisticated solutions?  The reason this is important is that the decisions you need to make, and the strategy you need to take, hinges on these answers.

Remember that when we talk about your SharePoint apps, we’re talking about three distinct elements of the app that we have to deal with:  1) content, 2) sites/customization, and 3) farm-based solutions.

Vanilla is Boring, But Easy!

Let’s assume you simply use SharePoint as a document store and didn’t really change anything else.  This makes for an easy migration to 2013.  You can simply migrate the content using a backup/restore method or any of the migration tools on the market.  Your content moves over seamlessly and you now have a “new” SharePoint 2013 environment with a new interface (which could be confusing to your users, so get ready for the calls as to why things have changed).

Sites/SharePoint Designer Customizations

But what if you invested deeper in SharePoint 2010 or 2007 and made some customizations?  This brings up a new set of questions.  If you simply branded your sites with SharePoint Designer and moved web parts around on different pages, you will be presented with a unique challenge.  Do I move the customizations or just the content?  If you changed your sites with SharePoint Designer, you will have “unghosted” the pages (i.e., broken them away from the native site definition), so when you migrate your sites they will still look like 2010, without the new 2013 functionality.  This requires upgrading the site to the new site definition (which contains the 2013 feature set), and then either sticking with the new layout or re-customizing your site.  Unfortunately, there is no automated way.  Microsoft requires that you re-address any customizations you made through SharePoint Designer, and reapply them to the new layout.  This scenario will require some work.

Farm-based Solutions

If you developed custom code in visual studio and deployed it through a WSP deployment, you have what we defined as a “Farm-based Solution” (as identified in my previous Blog).  This is the same if you purchased product from any of the SharePoint ISV’s that installed through a similar method.  The reason is that whether you built or purchased extended capabilities, you are installing into the Global Assembly Cache (GAC) and the solution is fully trusted.

Presuming you have an on-premise implementation, this is good news.  You actually have many good choices for what to do with your current investment.  Microsoft has made it straightforward to migrate your application to SharePoint 2013 (on-premise).  You can continue maintaining your application, and you can phase-in new functionality with the current fully trusted model…or the new App Model.  Therefore, you should be comfortable continuing to use and improve that application.  I will discuss this further in a future blog.

Even if you built applications using SharePoint Designer, you are still okay.  Sure you will have to deal with any SharePoint Designer customizations as discussed above, but the fundamental solution is still able to function as it did in 2010.  Of course, this will require the developer to do some tweaking of the solution and develop an upgrade.

However, there are reasons why Microsoft would prefer you rebuild these solutions using the new App Model.  The big reason is that installing and running on front-end web servers can create instability if the component runs amuck (“fully trusted” does have limits).  In addition, if you need to fix something, deploying and retracting solutions is time consuming and things can go wrong in the installation, possibly causing even more issues.  Finally, fully trusted applications/solutions end up competing for resources on the web server, and can create trouble for the SharePoint Admin (so you can imagine that SharePoint Admins would love to stop installing on these servers).

Being able to have your existing solutions running in the new model initially looks like a good goal.  In my opinion, it is just not realistic.  Trying to recreate everything in the new App Model will require a lot of time and money and will not likely add much business value to your users.  In addition, the new App Model only allows Client Side Object Model (CSOM) based solutions that may be too limiting for your needs.  The best approach, in my opinion, is migrate your current fully trusted (i.e., farm-based) solutions to SharePoint 2013 and phase in the new App Model for new functionality and features.

There is one other alternative.  Microsoft does support Provider Hosted Apps where the logic runs on a separate App Server.  I am not crazy about this as it is another big investment without much real business justification.

The Hybrid Strategy—The Only Logical Solution

Sometimes common sense prevails, and I think the Hybrid strategy is common sense.  If you’ve been investing and growing your SharePoint environment over the past decade you have way too much invested to simply throw it away.  Over time you can look at moving more and more into the new App Model, but even then you should look at how much it would cost and at least consider the farm solution approach.  This won’t make your SharePoint Admin do back flips, and you will probably hear from Microsoft and others that you really should be using the new approaches, but you’re running a business.  Plus, there will be a whole learning curve for the entire market (ISV’s included) so it will take some time before the best options appear.  If you jump on the bleeding edge you are likely to end up pretty nicked up. I believe using the various options available to you to ensure you solve your business needs while letting the ecosystem mature is a real solid business and technical strategy.   In the interim, you can take advantage of the new things that are coming out and start leveraging the approach for items that are straightforward to solve using CSOM.

So what does this mean to my upgrade? 

Just do a normal upgrade from 2010 to 2013, like you did from 2007 in the last cycle.  You simply assume the things you ran in 2010 will be carried forward (thankfully, Microsoft has made that possible).  You will need to contact any vendors you have installed because they will all have new versions that will minimize migration and implementation issues.  If you wrote or acquired custom code you also might need the developer/vendor to look at anything that isn’t working properly.  Then, of course, you will need to deal with any customizations.

At CorasWorks, we typically re-apply the customizations through a 2013-based Master Page that looks and feels like the current 2010 master page except for the 2013 improvements.  This makes the update fairly straightforward, and the work can done by less sophisticated resources or programmatically by migration tools or even PowerShell.  Once you have your servers upgraded and are back in production, you will be in a good position to decide how to best meet future requirements using either the farm-based or App Model.  You now have more options than ever before and can take full advantage of 2013!  You can even connect your on-premises farm to Office 365 and leverage the cloud directly for the logical workloads.

What about Office365 only?

Unfortunately the farm-based solutions cannot be moved to Office 365.  So, if you are moving from an on-premises environment to Office 365 (aka SharePoint Online) you will only be able to move content. That means any customizations or business solutions will have to be completely rebuilt.   While this might provide for an exciting time for your developers to use shiny new technology, it will be costly in terms of time and money, and has the potential to introduce new bugs and problems.

My recommendation is that Office 365 should be considered only for companies who mostly used SharePoint as a file share and not much else.  It gives you a clean break from the past and allows you to accomplish the same thing with better options and without the Admin overhead.  For companies that have invested in SharePoint-based solutions and have a lot of money and time to invest, moving directly to Office 365 may make sense.  I just can’t see how.  In my view, only a hybrid solution makes sense for that scenario.

In my opinion there hasn’t been enough written about these important topics around migration so I hope you find this valuable.  I also look forward to hearing others’ thoughts and how people are moving forward.  I’ll continue to share what we are learning about SharePoint 2013.  In the next blog article I’ll talk a bit about what we at CorasWorks are doing to support our customers on 2013.

Until next time,

Dan

 

Microsoft’s Moving the Cheese….. Understanding The New SharePoint App Model


by Dan Naselius, CorasWorks COO

(This is Part 1 of a multi-part series, read Part 2 here.)

Are you confused by what Microsoft is doing with SharePoint?  Are you thinking about what might happen to your current implementation as you consider SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365?  If you built/configured solutions on SharePoint 2007 and/or SharePoint 2010, you will have to make strategy and direction decisions as you consider your move to SharePoint 2013.

With SharePoint 2013 there are opportunities for revolutionary ways of working through cloud-based scenarios.  We have exciting possibilities for building out new solutions.  However, as with any change, there are positives and negatives, and the new SharePoint 2013 is no exception.  You will eventually need to consider whether you’ll continue in the current programming model (with some likely limitations) or adopt Microsoft’s new programming model.

The current programming model utilizes the web part framework and creates fully trusted solutions on SharePoint front-end servers.  This approach has been in place since SharePoint 2003.  Microsoft has incrementally expanded the features and functions of this model up through SharePoint 2010.  Many customers and vendors have invested heavily in building solutions and products using this model.  You’ll have the option to migrate these solutions into SharePoint 2013 (thus, preserving your investment); however, the new programming model—the App Model—is clearly the future Microsoft is pushing.  Note that none of the solutions built using the current model were ever allowed into Office 365 (previously known as SharePoint OnLine).

So, while it is possible to continue down the same path of installing fully trusted solutions on the SharePoint front-end servers, it is not the only option available now.  If fact, it is not even Microsoft’s preference.  They would much rather you move to the new App Model that Office 365 (previously known as Office Online) uses, even if you’re staying in an on-premise environment.  I believe the mostly likely strategy will be to migrate current solutions to SharePoint 2013, and then begin to figure out how to use the App Model approach in 2014/2015 (I’m assuming most people will wait until Service Pack 1 to do anything serious on SharePoint 2013).  This scenario is called a hybrid strategy and I’ll discuss this more in a separate blog.

What is the New App Model?

In a nutshell, the new model is a typical web-based model.  It differs from 2010 development which was a “farm” based model, where server-side code/web parts were installed on the front-end web servers.  Instead, SharePoint segregates the App by what level of trust it has and where it is installed.  While there is a bit of confusion around specific language to describe the scenarios, we are going to use what seems to be the most used vocabulary.

Farm Solution App (fully Trusted App) – This is the model for SharePoint 2010.  The SharePoint admin installs a WSP on each front-end web server, which is registered in the Global Assembly Cache (GAC) and writes entries into the web.config.  This allows the resulting solution to leverage the server-based Object Model.  An important note: Microsoft has not committed to supporting this approach in future versions of SharePoint.

High Trust App – This uses a server-to-server protocol between the server that is hosting an app and the front-end web server(s).  This gives the app developer an ability to perform actions that would not be allowed by the app directly.  An example of this would be migrating items from one list to another.  A high trust app would result in the app being able to populate the “created by” and “modified by” columns as the current user.  The setup for high trust apps is involved and as a result will be something you only want to do when it is really needed.

Low Trust App – This is the standard Office 365 App.  It does not require the server-to-server setup and is the easiest type of app to build and deploy.

Why are Low-Trust and High-Trust Apps Different than Farm Solutions?

Basically, the new app model is built on a simple concept.  The app is developed through client-side technologies reading and writing through the Client-Side Object Model (CSOM, JSOM, and REST).  The app itself is packaged into a new .app file which will include the App Manifest plus the JavaScript, HTML, and CSS files for the app.  This app is then sandboxed into an isolated domain to protect from the app running malicious scripts.

This obviously has some advantages and disadvantages that must be understood.  In addition, because it is a new set of skills for many SharePoint developers, it is being met with excitement, confusion, push back, etc., and it will take a while to sort out the best practices.  An example of the completely different points of view are the following blog articles.

Support of the new App Model:  http://www.elumenotion.com/Blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=175

Skeptical about the new App Model:  http://blog.furuknap.net/sharepoint-2013-app-model-solves-non-problems-only

Both of these author’s make very valid points so I’m not suggesting there is a right or wrong answer. In fact, it really points out that it will take a bit of time to determine when to best apply each model based on the need of the business solution that you are trying to solve.  But it does show there are real decisions that need to be made.  If you don’t make these decisions you will have decided that the Farm-based Solution is the best one for you.

If you decide to move to the new 2013 App Model you will not be able to simply migrate your previous apps, solutions, web parts, etc.  In fact, it will require them to be rebuilt using a whole new set of technologies.  This is a big decision and one that needs a real understanding of the cost of rebuilding those solutions if you want to make the right decision.  For this reason, I believe that organizations with a great deal invested in SharePoint already will want to either keep their Farm solutions and move to a hybrid model where they leverage all of the models for the appropriate business needs.  This allows for companies to transition to the new App Model over the next three years.

There are many more details about how and when to consider Microsoft’s App Model.  I do not feel those details can be covered in one blog post.  If you are interested in further discussion please feel free to comment to this post, or send me an email at dnaselius@corasworks.net .

In future blogs I’ll cover this new model in more detail and share what we are learning about 2013.

Until next time,

Dan

Business Process Improvement and SharePoint

Business Process Improvement is more than just flowcharts and workflows. BPI is also about using the right technology in the right way. You make your business operations execute in a more efficient manner, streamline communications, and promote visibility to the key decision makers, all without having to use some software vendor’s idea of what your business solution should look like. The challenge comes from balancing the quick reward of going out and “buying” something vs. the long term flexibility and adaptability of “building” to solve your needs and problems. A better answer is to invest in a solution with the ease of a “buy” and the flexibility of a “build.” What you need is…

The Application Cure for Business

 

Understanding how to translate this type of “buy/build” solution in your business process environment comes from understanding some of the ways your processes turn into usable solutions. An excellent example of how this can happen is…

Using Stage Gate Processes for more Effective Collaborative Work

 

Time is money as the saying goes and keeping that in mind your solution technology should deliver quickly without requiring a huge investment of time and resources to begin reaping a return on your expenditures. An excellent example of that is how a solution based on David Allen’s, “Getting Things Done” methodology was constructed in under two days with no coding involved.

GTD – A SharePoint App in less than Two Days

 

Once you start to define and design your new business solutions, making sure your users take to them quickly and begin seeing value is key to your long term success. It’s important to provide a focus on….

Driving SharePoint User Adoption

 

Your new business solutions, once implemented and running will help your management teams increase their insight into ways to continue improving your business processes. In the end…

It’s All About Visibility – Part 1
It’s All About Visibility – Part 2

 

It sounds great to have this kind of potential, but potential needs to turn into success. Confidence in your solution can come from understanding what others have done using the same technology to address their business process improvement needs. For example…

Grants Management
Compliance Management
Mastering the Core Federal Government Work Stream

 

This would be the time to learn more about how you can take charge of your business processes, define the tools and solutions you need to get them under control, and provide the information necessary to your teams for long-term success. Contact CorasWorks today and we will be happy to answer any of your questions and show you how your business process solution is closer than you thought.

 

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.

Why Question or Criticize Microsoft and SharePoint on Collaboration?


Posted by Gary Voight, CorasWorks President and CEO

I find it interesting that yet another person is questioning…likely criticizing….Microsoft’s collaboration vision for SharePoint (check it out at http://www.cmswire.com/cms/social-business/is-sharepoint-a-failed-vision-for-collaboration-020271.php ).  I can understand the frustration. The author was part of the Microsoft SharePoint ecosystem.  Microsoft does a great job of enabling a market for ISVs (Independent Software Vendors),  then cannibalizing selected product features and then changing directions to meet their perceived market needs (aka “moving the cheese”).    However, Microsoft is not unlike any other major super platform software vendor in that they must look out for their self-interests first, and ecosystem partners must be prepared to adapt.

The bigger question seems to be what is the collaboration market?  As an “old guy” I remember selling and implementing centralized electronic file systems in the early 1990s as a way to “collaborate,” and improve worker productivity.  It also seems like companies selling document management, content management and other platforms (e.g. eRoom, Lotus Notes) have all tried to stress improved collaboration as part of the economic justification for organizations to buy their products.  No software vendor has solved the overall collaboration challenge….so why criticize Microsoft?

As I have posted in previous blogs, SharePoint is a great platform for collaborative applications.  Many organizations have improved work management with applications such as compliance management (e.g. managing permits), equipment maintenance tracking, bid/proposal management, acquisition/purchase request decision-making and management, grants management, new employee/new customer on-boarding, Lab notebooks, tasking, project management/tracking, and many, many more.  Often, the SharePoint alternatives (packaged software products or custom developed solutions) are much more expensive and take much longer to build and implement (aka more risky).  SharePoint provides great value for these types of collaborative applications.

Microsoft’s vision seems fine.  However, the ONLY thing that truly matters is the value an organization derives from their investment in software and services.  The SharePoint platform is a solid base for many types of collaborative applications.  When Microsoft or a partner can understand and deliver a solution that meets a customer’s specific needs, SharePoint can be a great tool for providing that solution at much lower costs and less risk that alternative products or platforms.

 

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.”

 

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