» Archive for February, 2010

In the briefing room: Microsoft Office 2010 Co-Authoring

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by Cody Burke

The latest buzzword in document creation is collaborative work.

Who will pop in next?

Who will drop in next?

While there exist various approaches to support collaborative work and varying definitions of what the term means, they all revolve around tools that allow knowledge workers to work together on documents.

Indeed, collaborating in the creation of a document can take different forms.  With cloud-based solutions such as Google Docs or Zoho Writer, collaboration means sharing, i.e. the document is distributed via a link in an e-mail message as opposed to sending along an attachment.  Since only one reviewer at a time can open the document, the annoying document version conflicts that plague workers in the information age are eliminated.

Working together on documents is nothing new, but the processes that are most prevalent are also very inefficient.  Indeed, a majority of knowledge workers send documents as e-mail attachments to multiple reviewers, which then causes version confusion, difficulties in incorporating edits, and missed edits and comments.  A remarkable 20% of knowledge workers say they print out hard copies to send to coworkers.

A different approach to solving this vexing problem is to allow knowledge workers to work on a document at the same time from different locations, be they in a real-time collaborative work session or simply working on the same document independently of one another.

In the forthcoming Office 2010 suite (currently in beta), Microsoft has added Co-authoring to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.  The new feature requires SharePoint Server 2010 to link the applications and store documents.  Co-authoring allows people to work on a document concurrently, so that one person could be working on introductory text while a subject matter expert fills in details on charts.  Areas that are being accessed for edits are locked to prevent conflicts; the locking is possible on multiple levels including sentences, paragraphs, objects, textboxes, fields, headers and footers.

When entering a document, the user is alerted to other authors who are working on the document via a notification box on the bottom of the screen.  By hovering over the box, the authors who are working on the document at that time are displayed, with contact information so that communication by phone, instant message, or e-mail can be initiated with a click.

If an author is working on a section, it is locked to prevent simultaneous edits by others and changes and additions are only shown to other authors when the document is saved.  If changes have been made to the document, bubble notifications appear to show other users what edits have been made and who made the changes.

People expect the knowledge economy to run on twenty-first century time, which means that knowledge workers need immediate feedback on documents from multiple collaborators at once.   Microsoft’s Co-authoring functionality has the potential to support faster movement of information while improving what today is a grossly inefficient and error-prone process.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Alfresco 3.2 Records Management

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by Cody Burke

The sheer volume of content that is generated by an organization in this day and age is nothing short of staggering.

Now where is that file?

Now where is that file?

Even more daunting is the task of managing that information for compliance and record keeping. The records that an organization must keep clearly qualify as content, and in today’s volatile economy and regulatory climate, records management functionality in an Enterprise Content Management system is not simply a nice-to-have capability, but a necessity.

To meet the need for managing the lifecycle of content and information, Alfresco recently announced version 3.2 of its ECM solution. Significantly new in the release is a records management module, Alfresco RM, as well as some advanced e-mail archiving functionality.

The Records Management module meets the Department of Defense (DoD) 5015.2 certification and it is thus far the only open source solution to achieve this. The RM module enables administrators to set up storage policies that manage the retention of data so that records that are no longer needed for compliance may be deleted or archived. The module also defines rules for moving content, so that the most current versions of records are kept in easily accessible storage locations, such as faster drives, while archived material is stored on slower drives. This not only keeps records organized, but also speeds up the process of accessing the content.

As an integrated component of Alfresco ECM, the RM module uses the same single repository as the rest of the suite. The module also features support for complex transfers, role-based permissions, legal holds, and saved searches to speed up searching for content.

The new e-mail archiving functionality in Alfresco 3.2 leverages new IMAP support, which allows users to access content via an e-mail folder in any IMAP client. Through the folder, content can be added into the central repository by drag-and-drop. The new functionality also supports the ability to configure attachment handling, such as pulling out attachments from e-mail and archiving them, or keeping them embedded in the e-mail.

The ability to manage records and integrate tightly with e-mail clients for archiving adds to Alfresco ECM’s appeal as a solution for organizations that need to manage content and ensure compliance. Managers seeking an integrated approach would do well to consider this solution.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

The Document Jungle

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The world of the knowledge worker is document centric.  As a group, knowledge workers spend significant time creating, managing, reviewing, and editing documents.

doc mgmt paper mountain

Danger lurks in the document jungle

[For the purposes of this discussion, we define a document as written communication created using word processing software, a typical example of which is Microsoft Word.]

A recent Basex survey of 300 knowledge workers revealed (not surprisingly) that 95% of them create and review documents on a regular basis.

The prevalence of word processing tools and e-mail have made it easy, some would say too easy, to send documents anywhere and everywhere for input from colleagues, business partners, customers, and suppliers.

A mere twenty years ago, document review was very different.  Fewer documents were being generated overall so there were fewer to review.  The review process was paper based, documents were typically stored in file cabinets, and, since making corrections and revisions often meant retyping a document, people only made important corrections and tried to get it right the first time around.

Today, the typical knowledge worker creates one to two documents a day comprised of one to two pages each.  He also receives three to five documents that are between three to five pages long for review each week.

Why the disparity in size and quantity between documents created and documents received?  People who create longer documents also create more of them and are more likely to send them out for review.  In addition, 22% of documents are not sent to anyone for review and a similar number are sent to only one colleague.

What happens when a document comes back to its creator with these edits and comments is also interesting since most documents come back with multiple edits, changes, and comments.

Despite the tools available both within word processing software and externally, the typical knowledge worker uses a fairly inefficient process to review documents, 60% of knowledge workers say they e-mail the documents as attachments to several reviewers at once.  46% report that they then compare edits and comments manually once they have received them back from reviewers.

As a result, almost 40% of knowledge workers say they miss edits and comments in the documents they get back from review.  Fewer than half of the knowledge workers surveyed say they get documents back in a timely fashion.  Another 25% of knowledge workers say they intentionally leave people out of the review process for fear of slowing it down.

All of these inefficiencies come with a significant cost to the bottom line.  Errors in documents that are overlooked can result in lost sales and lower profits.  The multiple hours a typical knowledge worker spends each week trying to manage the review process could be put to far better use.

The future for document review and revision is far from dismal.  Software companies ranging from start-ups to industry giants are tackling the problem.  Nordic River, a version management company based in Sweden, offers TextFlow, a browser-based tool that generates marked-up review copies of a document based on changes and comments made in individual versions of a document.   Microsoft, in the forthcoming Office 2010 suite, will introduce Co-authoring, a set of tools that allows for multiple users to edit a document at the same time.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Microsoft Office 2010 Navigation and Backstage

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Microsoft Office may be one of the world’s most widely deployed software packages.

A backstage pass...

A backstage pass...

Indeed, with a user base of 500 million, any changes or updates to the suite are significant for that fact alone.

In the upcoming Office 2010 release, there are many areas that have been retooled and refined; however, for the typical knowledge worker, the most obvious will be the user interface.  In this research brief, we will look at how the user interacts with a document through the new Navigation pane and Backstage view.

The new Navigation pane in Word enables users to move around a document, search for content, and change the structure and organization of headings.  This replaces the old Document Map and Thumbnail panes and brings those feature sets into one place along with Find.  Users browse through a document by heading, page, or search results.  Content in a section is moved around a document by dragging-and-dropping the tab for the heading.  Additionally, the outline of a document can be manipulated to promote or demote sections.  When sections are moved, all headings and subheadings automatically adjust.

Office 2010 also features a new way to manage documents, the Backstage view.  This new functionality extends across the entire Office suite.  The Backstage view appears when the user clicks on the File tab from within an application.  The view that opens up provides the user with access to tabs that show document info,  permissions, versioning, printing options, and sharing options.  The user has multiple options for sharing including e-mailing the document as an attachment or link, or via a blog post.

Backstage also includes Accessibility Checker, which allows users to identify elements of a document that may cause problems when used with assistive technologies.  These functions were previously found in various Ribbon menus and, with 2010, have been separated out from functions that are needed for actual content creation.  The goal of Backstage is to help users work with documents, processes and workflows, as opposed to when you work in the document.

Features such as presence are incorporated into Backstage, making it possible to initiate contact with document authors and to see related documents.  Backstage is extensible, meaning that it can be customized to allow for a range of application data to be brought into the view.

The interfaces for Backstage and Navigation are smooth and intuitive to use, and the concept of separating these features and giving them their own panes that group like-minded features together is a good one.  Obviously getting used to features being in a different place takes some time, but Backstage and Navigation are both positive changes that increase usability .

We will be examining other important new features and enhancements in Office 2010 in the weeks to come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Mail Triage and Topika

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The Innovation Lab is one of my favorite places to spend time during Lotusphere.  For the uninitiated, the Innovation Lab is a large room with 20+ developers stationed at individual workstations showing off concepts that they are working on at the IBM Almaden Research Center.

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

What is demonstrated is the software equivalent of concept cars in the automotive world.

At Lotusphere 2010, two solutions that have the potential to significantly increase knowledge worker efficiency and effectiveness and potentially lower information overload caught my eye: Topika and Mail Triage.

Topika is a tool that attempts to resolve various difficulties in using collaborative tools (the developers of Topika, specifically exclude e-mail from being defined as a “collaborative tool” because, in their view, e-mail messages do not typically have shared materials.)  It was created by a team of researchers at IBM Research in Almaden including Tara Matthews, Jalal Mahmud, Tom Moran, Barton Smith, Steve Whittaker, and Julian Cerruti.

Topika, which integrates e-mail with collaborative tools, detects when a person is sending an e-mail message and suggests relevant social software tools that the sender could use in addition to sending the e-mail message.

In other words, when you write an e-mail, Topika suggests a place, activity, or site (such as Lotus Quickr or Connections) and stores it (including any e-mail attachments).  It adds information in the e-mail message that points to these places.  Right now the e-mail attachment remains in the e-mail message but an option to remove the attachment in future versions is under consideration.

Topika makes its recommendation by creating a work profile that is an index of an individual’s collaborative activities and the tools used.  By using Topika, knowledge workers can use e-mail to support collaboration via other tools.  Topika is in its early stages but it shows great promise.

Mail Triage and Personal Tasks is an innovative tool created by Jeff Pierce, a researcher who focuses on user sciences and experience research at the IBM Almaden Research Center.  It is one way of rethinking how we approach e-mail from mobile devices (as opposed to at a full-sized computer).  Mail Triage recognizes the fact that mobile e-mail usage is focused around triaging messages as opposed to reading them.  Knowledge workers want to know what’s new, what requires immediate attention, and what can be deleted.  Everything else can be deferred.

Mail Triage does just that.  It allows mobile knowledge workers to manage mail quickly by sorting, prioritizing, and deferring.  The top-level view of the e-mail client shows Triaged and Untriaged folders instead of the typical inbox.  It creates tasks for the user such as Call, Print, Read, Reply, Save, Schedule, Send, and Visit.

Once the user accesses his desktop computer, a Lotus Notes sidebar allows the user to access, edit, or delete tasks and further triage e-mail messages on the desktop (by dragging them to the sidebar).

Mail Triage has the potential to make the knowledge worker’s use of mobile devices more efficient and effective than is currently the case.  It will be interesting to follow this project as it develops.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.