The Gilbane Advisor

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Category: SharePoint (page 1 of 4)

Collaboration, Convergence and Adoption

Here we are, half way through 2011, and on track for a banner year in the adoption of enterprise search, text mining/text analytics, and their integration with collaborative content platforms. You might ask for evidence; what I can offer is anecdotal observations. Others track industry growth in terms of dollars spent but that makes me leery when, over the past half dozen years, there has been so much disappointment expressed with the failures of legacy software applications to deliver satisfactory results. My antenna tells me we are on the cusp of expectations beginning to match reality as enterprises are finding better ways to select, procure, implement, and deploy applications that meet business needs.

What follows are my happy observations, after attending the 2011 Enterprise Search Summit in New York and 2011 Text Analytics Summit in Boston. Other inputs for me continue to be a varied reading list of information industry publications, business news, vendor press releases and web presentations, and blogs, plus conversations with clients and software vendors. While this blog is normally focused on enterprise search, experiencing and following content management technologies, and system integration tools contribute valuable insights into all applications that contribute to search successes and frustrations.

Collaboration tools and platforms gained early traction in the 1990s as technology offerings to the knowledge management crowd. The idea was that teams and workgroups needed ways to share knowledge through contribution of work products (documents) to “places” for all to view. Document management systems inserted themselves into the landscape for managing the development of work products (creating, editing, collaborative editing, etc.). However, collaboration spaces and document editing and version control activities remained applications more apart than synchronized.

The collaboration space has been redefined largely because SharePoint now dominates current discussions about collaboration platforms and activities. While early collaboration platforms were carefully structured to provide a thoughtfully bounded environment for sharing content, their lack of provision for idiosyncratic and often necessary workflows probably limited market dominance.

SharePoint changed the conversation to one of build-it-to-do-anything-you-want-the way-you-want (BITDAYWTWYW). What IT clearly wants is single vendor architecture that delivers content creation, management, collaboration, and search. What end-users want is workflow efficiency and reliable search results. This introduces another level of collaborative imperative, since the BITDAYWTWYW model requires expertise that few enterprise IT support people carry and fewer end-users would trust to their IT departments. So, third-party developers or software offerings become the collaborative option. SharePoint is not the only collaboration software but, because of its dominance, a large second tier of partner vendors is turning SharePoint adopters on to its potential. Collaboration of this type in the marketplace is ramping wildly.

Convergence of technologies and companies is on the rise, as well. The non-Microsoft platform companies, OpenText, Oracle, and IBM are placing their strategies on tightly integrating their solid cache of acquired mature products. These acquisitions have plugged gaps in text mining, analytics, and vocabulary management areas. Google and Autonomy are also entering this territory although they are still short on the maturity model. The convergence of document management, electronic content management, text and data mining, analytics, e-discovery, a variety of semantic tools, and search technologies are shoring up the “big-platform” vendors to deal with “big-data.”

Sitting on the periphery is the open source movement. It is finding ways to alternatively collaborate with the dominant commercial players, disrupt select application niches (e. g. WCM ), and contribute solutions where neither the SharePoint model nor the big platform, tightly integrated models can win easy adoption. Lucene/Solr is finding acceptance in the government and non-profit sectors but also appeal to SMBs.

All of these factors were actively on display at the two meetings but the most encouraging outcomes that I observed were:

  • Rise in attendance at both meetings
  • More knowledgeable and experienced attendees
  • Significant increase in end-user presentations

The latter brings me back to the adoption issue. Enterprises, which previously sent people to learn about technologies and products to earlier meetings, are now in the implementation and deployment stages. Thus, they are now able to contribute presentations with real experience and commentary about products. Presenters are commenting on adoption issues, usability, governance, successful practices and pitfalls or unresolved issues.

Adoption is what will drive product improvements in the marketplace because experienced adopters are speaking out on their activities. Public presentations of user experiences can and should establish expectations for better tools, better vendor relationship experiences, more collaboration among products and ultimately, reduced complexity in the implementation and deployment of products.

Open Text Launches Full Service Offering For Enterprise-wide Deployment of SharePoint 2010; Acquires Burntsand

Open Text Corporation, the provider of enterprise content management (ECM) software, announced the availability of a complete set of products and services intended to help enterprise information technology (IT) groups centrally manage large numbers of Microsoft SharePoint 2010 sites from creation through archiving. The consulting services will be led by Burntsand which joins Open Text after a recent acquisition. Using the SharePoint 2010 version of Open Text Content Lifecycle Management (CLM) and Open Text Case Management Framework for SharePoint 2010, Open Text services can help IT departments deploy the infrastructure needed to take control over unmanaged SharePoint 2010 deployments. Moreover, it can give users simple tools to create and deploy SharePoint 2010 sites and applications in accordance with corporate governance policies and manage the lifecycle of SharePoint 2010 sites. Open Text enhances SharePoint 2010 by adding a case-centric business application and process layer. Open Text business applications typically comprise a business database and records and archive repository, as well as a number of integrated SharePoint 2010 features, workflows, forms, reports and an administration user interface. Open Text’s solutions for Microsoft are offered as part of the Open Text ECM Suite.http://www.opentext.com/

Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 Available for Business Customers Today

Microsoft has announced that the 2010 release of Office, SharePoint, Visio and Project are available to business customers worldwide. 2010 Releases are Available to Businesses after Record Beta Adoption: The beta programs for Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 were the largest in the products’ history, reaching three times the size of prior Office beta programs. As a result, 8.6 million people are already using Office 2010 and related products. In addition, more than 1,000 partners are already building solutions for the 2010 set of products. Office, Project and Visio will be generally available online and in retail outlets in the U.S. on June 15th. Microsoft’s Office Web applications will be available to all Office volume licensing customers, offering productivity technologies in the cloud. In addition, customers will be able to purchase a subscription to Office Web Apps as part of Microsoft Online Services, Microsoft’s cloud-based applications. Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 are available in 14 languages, and over the next few months, 80 more languages will be added. A live webcast further detailing this release can be viewed at 11 AM EST 5/12/10. www.the2010event.com

NewsGator Acquires Tomoye

NewsGator announced that it reached a final agreement for the acquisition of Tomoye, which focuses on enterprise social computing built on Microsoft technologies. Via Tomoye, NewsGator adds a large market share of “Government 2.0” installations. Tomoye has experience in enterprise social computing, communities of practice, and cross-enterprise learning and collaboration dating to its inception in 2000. Similar to NewsGator Social Sites, Tomoye’s Ecco social computing software enhances Microsoft SharePoint by adding capabilities, including social media, social networking and communities. The acquisition adds to NewsGator’s support of SharePoint to encompass the Microsoft .NET Framework, Microsoft Windows SharePoint Server (WSS), Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. This combination of product offerings could cover many scenarios from a quickly deployed standalone platform, to an integrated SharePoint WSS solution, to a customized MOSS 2007 deployment; and from intranet collaboration and expertise discovery to extranet customer and partner interactions to Internet communities for customers. NewsGator and Tomoye are both Certified Gold partners of Microsoft. http://www.newsgator.com/ http://www.tomoye.com/

Mainsoft Previews Lotus Notes Sharepoint 2010 Integration

Mainsoft Corporation, a provider of Microsoft SharePoint–Java EE interoperability software, announced a preview of Mainsoft SharePoint Integrator for Lotus Notes version 2.5. The software brings the SharePoint 2010-based professional network into the Lotus Notes email client, with support for SharePoint User Profiles and My Sites, aimed at Lotus Notes users to search for and connect with people they work with. Mainsoft is also previewing SharePoint integration with Microsoft Outlook. Available the first half of 2010, the production release will deliver the same document collaboration experience for Lotus Notes and Outlook users, aiming to minimize user training requirements for Lotus Notes companies migrating users to Outlook and Exchange. http://www.mainsoft.com

SharePoint 2010 – The Big Story

I spent a couple of days at the SharePoint conference two weeks ago with about 8000 others. Many attendees were customers, but the majority seemed to be Microsoft partners. It would be difficult to overstate the enthusiasm of the attendees. The partners especially, since they make their living off SharePoint. There has been a lot of useful reporting and commentary on the conference and what was announced as part of SharePoint 2010, which you can find on the web, #spc09 is also still active on Twitter, and videos of the keynotes are still available at: http://www.mssharepointconference.com.

As the conference program and commentary illustrate, SharePoint 2010 is a major release in terms of functionality. But the messaging surrounding the release provides some important insights into Microsoft’s strategy. Those of you who were at Gilbane San Francisco last June got an early taste of Microsoft’s plans to push beyond the firewall with SharePoint – and that is the big story. It is big because it is a way for Microsoft to accelerate an already rapidly growing SharePoint business. It is big for a large number of enterprises (as well as the SharePoint developer/partner ecosystem) because it is a way for them to leverage some of their existing investment in SharePoint for building competitively critical internet applications – leverage in expertise, financial investment, and data.

The numbers are telling. According to an IDC report Microsoft Office and SharePoint Traction: An Updated Look at Customer Adoption and Future Plans, IDC # 220237, October 2009, of “262 American corporate IT users, just 8% of respondents said they were using SharePoint for their Web sites, compared to 36% using it for internal portals and 51% using it for collaborative team sites.” (the report isn’t free, but ComputerWorld published some of the numbers).

Can Microsoft increase the use of SharePoint for Web sites from 8% to 36% or 51% or more? Whether they can or not, it is too big an opportunity for them to ignore, and you can expect the market for web applications like content management to look a little different as a result. Of course SharePoint won’t be the right solution for every web application, but Microsoft needs scale, not feature or market niche dominance.

There are more pieces to this, especially integration with Office 2010, which will have a major impact on the scale of penetration. We’ll look at that issue in another post.

You can see why SharePoint is a major topic at Gilbane Boston this year. Join us next month to continue the discussion and learn more.

SharePoint 2010 – Get the Full Story

With the upcoming release of SharePoint 2010 “The business collaboration platform for the Enterprise and the Web”, Microsoft is hoping to accelerate the already dramatic growth of SharePoint. The SharePoint partner ecosystem is clearly excited, and even sceptics agree it is a major release. But how do you decide whether SharePoint is right for you, or which parts of SharePoint could meet your needs, either on their own or in conjunction with other enterprise applications? Should you use it for collaboration? for search? and what about web content management – a major focus of SharePoint 2010?

With SharePoint 2010 just entering public beta and scheduled for release in the first half of the year, it is time to make sure you know what its capabilities are so you can make informed near term or strategic decisions. And, you need to get the full story, and the way to do this is to see it for yourself, and talk to sceptics, evangelists, and people already using it for applications similar to yours.

Whether you are attending the full conference or just visiting the technology demonstrations at Gilbane Boston, you will be able to learn what you need to know. Get the full story on SharePoint 2010 for content management at Gilbane Boston:

SharePoint – Migrating the Office Franchise to the Web

Microsoft has a lot to lose if they are unable to coax customers to continue to use and invest in Office.  Google is trying to woo people away by providing a complete online experience with Google Docs, Email, and Wave.  Microsoft is taking a different tact.  They are easing Office users into a Web 2.0-like experience by creating a hybrid environment, in which people can continue to use the rich Office tools they know and love, and mix this with a browser experience.  I use the term Web 2.0 here to mean that users can contribute important content to the site.

SharePoint leverages Office to allow users to create, modify, and display “deep[1]” content, while leveraging the browser to navigate, view, discover, and modify “shallow[1]” content.  SharePoint is not limited to this narrow hybrid feature set, but in this post I  examine and illustrate how Microsoft is focusing its attention on the Office users.  The feature set that I concentrate on in this post is referred to as the “Collaboration” portion of SharePoint.  This is depicted in Microsoft’s canonical six segmented wheel shown in Figure 1.  This is the most mature part of SharePoint and works quite well, as long as the client machine requirements outlined below are met.

Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007

Figure 1: The canonical SharePoint Marketing Tool – Today’s post focuses on the Collaboration Segment

Preliminaries:   Client Machine Requirements

SharePoint out-of-the-box works well if all client machines adhere to the following constraints:

  1. The client machines must be running Windows OS (XP, Vista, or WIndows 7)
    NOTE: The experience for users who are using MAC OS, Linux, iPhones, and Google phones is poor. [2]
  2. The only truly supported browser is Internet Explorer (7 and 8.) [2]
    NOTE: Firefox, Safari, and Opera can be used, but the experience is poor.
  3. The client machines need to have Office installed, and  as implied by bullet 1 above, the MAC version of Office doesn’t work well with SharePoint 2007.
  4. All the clients should have the same version of Office.  Office 2007 is optimal, but Office 2003 can be used.  A mixed version of Office can cause issues.
  5. A number of tweaks need to be made to the security settings of the browser so that the client machine works seamlessly with SharePoint.

I refer to this as a “Microsoft Friendly Client Environment.”

Some consequences of these constraints are:

  • SharePoint is not a good choice for a publicly facing Web 2.0 environment (More on this below)
  • SharePoint can be okay for a publicly facing brochureware site, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
  • SharePoint works well as an extranet environment, if all the users are in a Microsoft Friendly Client Environment, and significant attention has been paid to securing the site.

A key take-away of these constraints is that a polished end user experience relies on:

  1. A carefully managed computing environment for end users (Microsoft Friendly Client Environment)
    and / or
  2. A great deal of customization to SharePoint.

This is not to say that one cannot deploy a publicly facing site with SharePoint.  In fact, Microsoft has made a point of showcasing numerous publicly facing SharePoint sites [3].

What you should know about these SharePoint sites is:

  • A nice looking publicly facing SharePoint site that works well on multiple Operating Systems and browsers has been carefully tuned with custom CSS files and master pages.  This type of work tends to be expensive, because it is difficult to find people who have a good eye for aesthetics, understand CSS, and understand SharePoint master pages and publishing.
  • A publicly facing SharePoint site that provides rich Web 2.0 functionality requires a good deal of custom .NET code and probably some third party vendor software.  This can add up to considerably more costs than originally budgeted.

An important consideration, before investing in custom UI (CSS & master pages) , third party tools, and custom .NET code is that they will most likely be painful to migrate when the underlying SharePoint platform is upgraded to the next version, SharePoint 2010. [4]

By the sound of these introductory paragraphs, you might get the wrong idea that I am opposed to using SharePoint.  I actually think SharePoint can be a very useful tool, assuming that one applies it to the appropriate business problems.  In this post I will describe how Microsoft is transitioning people from a pure Office environment to an integrated Office and browser (SharePoint) environment.

So, What is SharePoint Good at?

When SharePoint is coupled closely with a Microsoft Friendly Client Environment, non-technical users can increase their productivity significantly by leveraging the Web 2.0 additive nature of SharePoint to their Office documents.

Two big problems exist with the deep content stored inside Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access,)

  • Hidden Content: Office documents can pack a great deal of complex content in them.  Accessing the content can be done by opening each file individually or by executing a well formulated search. This is an issue!  The former is human intensive, and the latter is not guaranteed to show consistent results.
  • Many Versions of the Truth: There are many versions of the same files floating around.  It is difficult if not impossible to know which file represents the “truth.”

SharePoint 2007 can make a significant impact on these issues.

Document Taxonomies

Go into any organization with more than 5 people, and chances are there will be a shared drive with thousands of files, Microsoft and non-Microsoft format, (Word, Excel, Acrobat, PowerPoint, Illustrator, JPEG, InfoPath etc..) that have important content.  Yet the content is difficult to discover as well as extract in an aggregate fashion.  For example, a folder that contains sales documents, may contain a number of key pieces of information that would be nice to have in a report:

  • Customer
  • Date of sale
  • Items sold
  • Total Sale in $’s

Categorizing documents by these attributes is often referred to as defining a taxonomy.  SharePoint provides a spectrum of ways to associate taxonomies with documents.  I mention spectrum here, because non-microsoft file formats can have this information loosely coupled, while some Office 2007 file formats can have this information bound tightly to the contents of the document.  This is a deep subject, and it is not my goal to provide a tutorial, but I will shine some light on the topic.

SharePoint uses the term “Document Library” to be a metaphor for a folder on a shared drive.  It was Microsoft’s intent that a business user should be able to create a document library and add a taxonomy for important contents.  In the vernacular of SharePoint, the taxonomy is stored in “columns” and they allow users to extract important information from files that reside inside the library.  For example, “Customer”,  “Date of Sale,” or “Total Sale in $’s” in the previous example.  The document library can then be sorted or filtered based on values that are present in these columns.  One can even provide aggregate computations based the column values, for example total sales can be added for a specific date or customer.

The reason I carefully worded this as a “spectrum”  is because the quality of the solution that Microsoft offers is dependent upon the document file format and its associated application.  The solution is most elegant for Word 2007 and InfoPath 2007, less so for Excel and PowerPoint 2007 formats, and even less for the remainder of the formats that are non-Microsoft products..  The degree to which the taxonomy can be bound to actual file contents is not SharePoint dependent, rather it is dependent upon how well the application has implemented the SharePoint standard around “file properties.”

I believe that Microsoft had intended for the solution to be deployed equally well for all the Office applications, but time ran out for the Office team.  I expect to see a much better implementation when Office 2010 arrives. As mentioned above, the implementation is best for Word 2007.  It is possible to tag any content inside a Word document or template as one that should “bleed” through to the SharePoint taxonomy.  Thus key pieces of content in Word 2007 documents can actually be viewed in aggregate by users without having to open individual Word documents.

It seems clear that Microsoft had the same intention for the other Office products, because the product documentation states that you can do the same for most Office products.  However, my own research into this shows that only Word 2007 works.  A surprising work-around for Excel is that if one sticks to the Excel 2003 file format, then one can also get the same functionality to work!

The next level of the spectrum operates as designed for all Office 2007 applications.  In this case, all columns that are added as part of the SharePoint taxonomy can penetrate through to a panel of the office application.  Thus users can be forced to fill in information about the document before saving the document.  Figure 2 illustrates this.  Microsoft  refers to this as the “Document Information Panel” (DIP).  Figure 3 shows how a mixture of document formats (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) have all the columns populated with information.  The disadvantage of this type of content binding is that a user must explicitly fill out the information in the DIP, instead of the information being bound and automatically populating based on the content available inside the document.

 

Figure 2: Illustrates the “Document Information Panel” that is visible in PowerPoint.  This panel shows up because there are three columns that have been setup in the Document library: Title, testText, and testNum.  testText and testNum have been populated by the user and can be seen in the Document Library, see figure 3.

 

Figure 3: Illustrates that the SharePoint Document Library showing the data from the Document Information Panel  (DIP)  “bleeding through.”  For example the PowerPoint document has testText = fifty eight, testNum = 58.

 

Finally the last level on the taxonomy feature spectrum is for Non-Microsoft documents.  SharePoint allows one to associate column values with any kind of document.  For example, a jpeg file can have SharePoint metadata that indicates who the copyright owner is of the jpeg.  However this metadata is not embedded in the document itself.  Thus if the file is moved to another document library or downloaded from SharePoint, the metadata is lost.

A Single Version of the Truth

This is the feature set that SharePoint implements the best.  A key issue in organizations is that files are often emailed around and no one knows where the truly current version is and what the history of a file was.  SharePoint Document libraries allow organizations to improve this process significantly by making it easy for a user to email a link to  a document, rather than email the actual document.  (See figure 4.)

 

Figure 4: Illustrates how easy it is to send someone a link to the document, instead of the document itself.

 

In addition to supporting good practices around reducing content proliferation, SharePoint also promotes good versioning practices.  As figure 5 illustrates any document library can easily be setup to handle file versions and file locking.  Thus it is easy to ensure that only one person is modifying a file at a time and that the there is only one true version of the file.

 

Figure 5: Illustrates how one can look at the version history of a document in a SharePoint Document Library..

Summary

In this post I focus on the feature set of SharePoint that Microsoft uses to motivate Office users to migrate to SharePoint.  These features are often termed the “Collaboration” features in the six segmented MOSS wheel. (See figure 1)  The collaboration features of MOSS are the most mature part of SharePoint and thus the most .  Another key take-away is the “Microsoft Friendly Client Environment.”  I have worked with numerous clients that were taken by surprise, when they realized the tight restrictions on the client machines.

Finally, on  a positive note, the features that I have discussed in this post are all available in the free version of SharePoint (WSS), no need to buy MOSS.  In future posts, I will elaborate on MOSS only features.

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[1] The terms “deep” and “shallow” are my creation, and not a standard.  By “deep” content I am referring to the complex content such as a Word documents (contracts, manuscripts) or Excel documents (complex mathematical models, actuarial models, etc…)

[2] Microsoft has addressed this by stating that SharePoint 2010 would support some of these environments.  I am somewhat skeptical.

[3] Public Facing internet sItes on MOSS,  http://blogs.microsoft.nl/blogs/bartwe/archive/2007/12/12/public-facing-internet-sites-on-moss.aspx

[4] Microsoft has stated frequently that as long as one adheres to best practices, the migration to SharePoint 2010 will not be bad.  However, Microsoft does not have a good track record on this account for the SharePoint 2003 to 2007 upgrade, as well as many other products.

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