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In the Briefing Room: eDev inteGreat

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

Many people think of software development as lone programmers working in isolation, perhaps reminded of Douglas Coupland’s 1995 classic Microserfs, where programmers slide flat foods, such as “Kraft singles, Premium Plus Crackers, Pop-Tarts, grape leathers, and Freeze Pops” under the door of a fellow coder after they hadn’t seen him in days.  In reality, the process of software development is a collaboration-intensive activity that would benefit greatly from improved knowledge management technology and thinking, much in the way knowledge sharing and collaboration happen between workers in far less technical occupations.  Unfortunately, many managers fail to realize the necessity of actively managing knowledge and facilitating collaboration in this area.

Companies typically spend vast amounts of time and money to document their requirements and it is far from easy to keep such documentation up to date.  At the same time, they struggle to find ways to interrelate information, given that such information comes from diversified sources.  In other words, how does one create a document that leverages information that is anywhere and everywhere and still be able to make sense out of it?

One company that provides a tool in this area is eDev Technologies via the company’s inteGreat offering.  The product is a requirements management solution that allows for the creation and reuse of requirements through the development of a central body of knowledge, which the company refers to as iBoK (Integrated Body of Knowledge).  This knowledge base is a collection of reusable requirements.  InteGreat allows developers to create requirements using a drag-and-drop interface and then relate them to one another to aid in reuse.

Requirements are then visually mapped out as process flows using MS Visio, and are saved either as inteGreat files or exported as Visio files.  Users also have the ability to create mockups using an included simulation tool.  Once a process is created, generated documents are exported via MS Word, Excel, or Visio, or saved within inteGreat.

As in any form of knowledge work, the recreation of content, in this case requirements, is a huge and costly problem, and is essentially a problem of finding things and avoiding recreating that which already exists.  If the knowledge worker can not find information, be it a document or a requirement, they will have to recreate it, increasing project costs, squandering limited resources, and impacting an organization’s bottom line.  The end result of enabling the reuse of requirements is that, for future projects, there will be a reduction in the time and cost of gathering requirements, as well as lessening the burden of maintaining software.

In inteGreat, the ability to reuse requirements once they are developed adds a much needed knowledge management aspect to the development of requirements, affording software developers the same KM capabilities that other knowledge workers now take for granted.  In turn, as more companies adopt similar solutions, they will see increases in efficiency and a reduction in the time spent recreating requirements.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Liaise

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

Think carefully about the last action item you sent someone.  It was in an e-mail and it’s been several days and there’s been no acknowledgement.  In fact, you are not sure that the recipient is even aware of its existence.  So you send another e-mail and wait.

Your last action item is now with umpteen others that have not seen the light of day.

How many action items and requests fall through the cracks?  Some tasks, due to the nebulous nature of how they are communicated, may not even appear to the recipient as a task at all.  Some tasks are unimportant, busy work that is not critical and should never make it on to a task list.  However, others may be extremely important, yet these may not be recognized for what they are: steps that need to be undertaken as part of a process.

It is simply not possible for knowledge workers to recall on their own everything that has been done and what has not yet been addressed.

In a sense, e-mail is a pit that we tend to throw requests into, hoping that they will resurface, completed.  The problem is that the content of e-mail is static: once sent, it is locked into the e-mail and not linked to other content or systems in any meaningful way.

However, there are some potential solutions looming on the horizon.

One, the eponymously-named Liaise, is a new inbox add-on (currently only available for Outlook) that scans e-mail messages as they are being composed and creates a task list based on any action items it finds in the e-mail.  The underlying technology, called KeyPoint Intelligence, automatically finds, identifies and captures key points in a message.  Over time, the system learns and adapts to a user’s writing style in order to improve performance.

Liaise differentiates between issues (the report is late), and action items (review the report), and compiles all of these into a separate task list.  The tasks are scanned to determine the nature of the task, who is involved, and when it is due.   When an e-mail is sent, any new tasks are automatically added to the user’s list.  If the recipient does not have Liaise, the e-mail is delivered as usual and when it is replied to, the system scans the message and updates the task list accordingly.  If both users have Liaise, then both see the new tasks in their respective the task lists and any changes or progress made is automatically updated without further e-mail being sent around a team.

Additionally, Liaise allows a knowledge worker who is about to go into a meeting to automatically see information such as all e-mail, tasks, and issues associated with the attendees.  This provides context to the knowledge worker and gives a quick overview of where people stand on projects they have been assigned.  Liaise shows the people in the meeting, the level of interaction that they all have, and relevant open matters.

Liaise is an exciting new tool for e-mail and task management that has great potential to reduce Information Overload by cutting down on the overall amount of e-mail in the inbox.  More significantly, Liaise has the potential to illuminate the dark pit that often is the knowledge worker’s inbox by extracting the important tasks, issues, and action items that otherwise would be lost in a sea of noise.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: SAS Content Categorization

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Looking for something?  If it’s enterprise content, you probably won’t find it.

Locating content and information in the enterprise is a considerable challenge, one that not only hampers organizational productivity but also throttles individual knowledge worker efficiency and effectiveness.  Workers typically use search tools to find content and this is where their struggle begins.

There are two key problems with search technology today: 1.) such systems provide “results,” not answers, and 2.) they do not support natural language queries.  In addition, typical search tools do not always understand relationships and context: Java could refer to a type of coffee, an island in Indonesia, or a programming language.  Typing “Java” into the Google search engine returned results only relating to Java as a programming language for the first three pages.

Thanks to the various flaws common to most search tools, 50% of all searches fail.  The good news is that those failures are obvious and recognized by the person doing the search.  The bad news is that 50% of the searches people believe succeeded actually failed in some way, but this was not readily apparent to the person doing the search.  As a result, that person uses information that may be out of date, not the best response for what he was looking for, or is simply incorrect.  (We call this the 50/50 Rule of Search.)

The problems with search contribute greatly to the problems of Information Overload in the enterprise.

According to research conducted by Basex in 2006 and 2007, knowledge workers spend 15% of the work day searching for content.  This figure is far higher than it needs to be, and represents the time knowledge workers waste as a result of poor search tools, bad search techniques on the part of knowledge workers, and a lack of effective taxonomies.

In an age of Information Overload, where we create more content in a day than the entire population of the planet could consume in a month, more effective tools are needed.  One approach towards improving search is better and more effective categorization.  We recently had a look at SAS Content Categorization, one promising product in this space.  Content Categorization helps to categorize information so that search engines can present relevant results faster by having the user navigate through topics/facets related to the user’s query.

SAS acquired Teragram, a natural language processing and advanced linguistic technology company, in March 2008.  After integrating Teragram as a division, SAS launched Content Categorization in February 2009.

The offering enables the creation of taxonomies and category rules to parse and analyze content and create metadata that can trigger business processes.  Taxonomies and category rules are created via the TK240, a desktop tool for administration and taxonomy management that is a component of SAS Content Categorization.  Once a taxonomy is created, high level categories are selected, followed by narrower ones.  There is no limit as to how granular the categories can go, allowing for users to drill down on topics.  The system also includes prebuilt taxonomies for specific industries such as news organizations, publishers, and libraries.

Whoever is doing the setup – and SAS Content Categorization is designed for use by non-technical users – can develop category rules from within the TK240 as well.  The rules may consist of multiple keywords, based on the percentage appearing in a document, as well as weighted keywords that give more value to certain words than others.  Additionally, it is possible to apply Boolean operators, so, for example, to meet the rule Java and programming must appear in the same sentence, while Java and coffee appearing in the same sentence would not meet the rule.  Rules can be created for extremely specific situations, such as the presence of URLs, grammatical instances, or the presence of suffixes (Inc., Corp., AG., etc.).

The system is also equipped with options for setting role-based permissions to allow users to read/write, and enable multiple users to collaborate on developing taxonomies.  This allows multiple taxonomists to have secure access to projects, with individual levels of read/write access to category rules and concept definitions.

SAS Content Categorization can be an effective weapon against Information Overload by allowing the creation of complex automated systems to categorize content, increasing the likelihood of the knowledge workers being able to find what they are looking for in a timely manner.  In addition, increasing the relevance of search results by using taxonomies to provide context raises the value of content that is found, decreasing the likelihood of knowledge workers moving forward with second-best or faulty information.

Companies looking to take decisive measure to lower Information Overload should carefully review their current search tools and, where appropriate, give serious consideration to SAS Content Categorization.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Bluenog ICE

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

Ten years ago, Basex laid the groundwork for the Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), a conceptual framework for a workspace for the knowledge worker that is now starting to supersede the traditional desktop metaphor of separate and distinct tools.  A properly designed CBE facilitates knowledge sharing and collaboration and, especially in today’s economic environment, managers are looking to technology to give their organizations a competitive advantage.

Bluenog, an enterprise software company, this week released Bluenog ICE 4.5 (ICE stands for integrated collaborative environment), the latest version of the company’s enterprise software suite.  Bluenog integrates multiple open source software projects to form the basis of its platform.  The company, through its professional services division, will further integrate ICE into an organization’s existing systems.

Bluenog ICE originally included content management, portal, and business intelligence functionality.  ICE CMS is a content management system built on Apache Cocoon, Apache Lucene, OS Workflow, TinyMCE, and HippoCMS open source projects.  ICE Portal is a portal solution that leverages Apache Portals, Apache Jetspeed-2, Apache Wicket, Adobe Flex, and Spring Source.  ICE BI provides business intelligence and reporting and is based on Eclipse BIRT and Apache Jackrabbit.

These core components have all received enhancements for the new release.  The HTML editor in ICE CMS has been replaced by the TinyMCE HTML editor and ICE BI has improved report viewing and search integration.  Also new for this release is ICE Central, a simplified central management console for all ICE components, and a propagation tool to move content, portal artifacts and configurations across environments.

These improvements are all worthy of note but what may really help organizations realize significant enterprise productivity and efficiency gains is that Bluenog added significant collaborative technology to ICE, namely ICE Wiki and ICE Calendar.  The wiki component is based on the JSPWiki, Apache Jackrabbit, Apache Lucene, and Apache FileUpload open source projects.  The wiki is accessed through an ICE portlet and features rich HTML editing page level permissions, version control, reporting on page and link usage through ICE BI, the ability to manage attachments, support for wiki markup language, and support for multiple wikis running on a single server.

Wikis are an increasingly popular tool for content management within organizations of all sizes and ICE Wiki allows non-technical knowledge workers to create, edit, and maintain content using a fairly easy-to-understand interface.

ICE Calendar is a group calendaring application based on the open source Bedework project.  Just as in ICE Wiki, the calendar is available as an ICE portlet, and enables publishing of events, workflowing of events for approval, and importing and exporting events to other iCalendar-based calendars.

Bluenog ICE falls into the category of commercial open source software.  It’s built using open source projects but sold as a commercial package.  Virtually unknown several years ago, commercial open source is becoming a popular alternative for organizations of all sizes that want the openness of open source but don’t necessarily have the skills to do the heavy lifting to deploy and integrate multiple open source projects.

We’ll be taking a look at the changes that are taking place in the content management space, including where commercial open source fits in, in a report slated for next month.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Oracle Beehive

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

We recently had our first look at the new version of Beehive, Oracle’s collaboration solution and replacement for the Oracle Collaboration Suite.  Beehive is available both as an on-demand application or on-premises deployment and it goes up against two heavyweights. One is IBM, which created the groupware market with Lotus Notes and also offers Lotus Connections, Quickr and Domino (the Notes server). The other is Microsoft, which offers customers Exchange and SharePoint.

The effort behind Beehive is in part the handiwork of newly-arrived chief beekeeper and senior vice president of collaboration, David Gilmour, formerly CEO of Tacit Software, a provider of collaborative tools that Oracle acquired last year.

Beehive looks to have the makings of a Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), a workspace designed for the knowledge worker that incorporates all tools and resources in one overarching environment, which is starting to supersede the traditional desktop metaphor of separate and distinct tools.

Beehive 1.5 adds Web-based team work spaces along with wikis, team calendaring, RSS support, contextual search, and advanced file sharing.  Other changes in Beehive 1.5 include enhanced Web and voice conferencing including on-demand recording and retrieval and the ability for a presenter to see the delay between the screen they are sharing and what the audience is seeing.  Also included is integration with standard desktop tools that allows users to stay with e-mail clients that they already use, such as Microsoft Outlook, AppleMail, and Thunderbird (but not Lotus Notes) and instant messaging clients that adhere to open standards.

For tighter integration, Beehive has an Outlook extension that mimics the familiar interface of Outlook with Exchange when connecting Outlook to  Beehive.  It also has an extension for Windows Explorer that provides a folder level view as well as the option of using the included Zimbra open source e-mail software.  Behind the scenes, all data is stored in an Oracle database.

Right now, we’re only scratching the surface.  We will be looking at Beehive in greater depth in an upcoming report.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


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