» Archive for the 'Desktop Productivity' Category

In the briefing room: Smartsheet for Google Apps

Thursday, March 18th, 2010 by Cody Burke

Last week, Google announced the Google Apps Marketplace, where customers of its Google Apps business software suite can search, download, and manage third party business applications that integrate with core Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar.

Making Google Smarter

While there are a plethora of applications available in the marketplace, and that number is certain to grow, we wanted to a look at one company’s offerings to see where the integration points were and what the benefits for the knowledge worker might be.

Smartsheet, which we first wrote about in October 2008, has taken its collaborative spreadsheet solution and released Google App offerings including Sales Pipeline Management, Crowdsourcing, and Project Management.  The new applications provide hooks into Gmail, Google Docs including spreadsheets, and contacts.  The applications are installed in a company’s Google Apps domain and are accessed via the “More” drop down menu on the top the screen in Gmail.  The integration enables single-sign on with OpenID, management of Smartsheet from the Google Apps control panel, the ability to import/export Google spreadsheets, attach Google Docs to cells, and import contact information from Gmail.  Future plans include full integration with Google Calendar, to enable project plans to be overlaid with personal calendar data.

All functionality in the Google Apps versions of Smartsheet are the same as in the company’s regular releases; indeed, consumer Gmail users can already export/import spreadsheets and attach Google Docs from the regular Smartsheet offerings in addition to being able to use the OpenID single-sign on.  Given the existing integration capabilities, the main benefit that Smartsheet users will enjoy with the new Google App version is the integration into the Gmail interface.

For end users of Google Apps, the benefits of integration between Smartsheet’s offerings, Gmail, and the rest of the Google Apps are obvious; more users will be exposed to the unique functionality of Smartsheet.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Mobile Knowledge Work: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Mobility has become a defining characteristic of knowledge work. A recent Basex survey revealed that more than 40% of knowledge workers work in nontraditional, non-Dilbertian environments on a regular (two or more days per week) basis.

On the road again.

Indeed, knowledge workers have become increasingly mobile and find themselves working from whatever location they happen to be in, be it a home office, the dentist’s waiting room, or an airport lounge.  The range of devices they employ has expanded to include not just desktop PCs and laptops, but netbooks and smartphones as well.

Therefore it is becoming increasingly important to enable access to documents, spreadsheet, and presentations without tying the user to one specific computer or location.

In most organizations, there has always been a kind of second class citizenship for the mobile worker when it comes to tools and support.  Among many managers, the prevailing thinking has always been that people will typically work at the office and, as a result, the best tools are to be found there.  Sometimes tools have been limited on the grounds of corporate network security (a home user could inadvertently put an enterprise network at risk).  But given that a clear plurality of workers work remotely today, this kind of segmentation makes little sense.

It is important to note that, even among mobile workers, there exist different groups, namely those who typically work from the same computer, be it a PC in a home office or a laptop that travels with the worker, and those who work from multiple devices such as public or shared PCs, netbooks, and smartphones.  To boot, one must then differentiate the power users from the occasional users.

At the moment, the former group will most likely have standard Windows productivity software such as Microsoft Office installed on the device.  However, the latter group, whose numbers are growing, will still need to be able to access tools that are more than sufficient to support their work, regardless of device or venue.

Such tools need to provide a variety of functionality, including the ability to create and edit documents (for the purposes of this discussion documents can include word processing documents, spreadsheets, and slide shows), and critically, provide links to corporate data stores to allow the knowledge worker to access files that do not reside on the device being used – and keep files behind the firewall.

Those who are working from home office PCs and laptops will almost certainly have a copy of Microsoft Word to use, but the ability to access files that are stored in a document repository is often limited.  The established strategy to deal with lack of access or poor controls on access has been to maintain local copies of documents.  This is for two reasons: ease of access and to preclude the possibility of someone else opening and/or editing the document at the same time.  Unfortunately, this strategy can lead to more problems than it resolves including a proliferation of document versions and the potential loss of critical work if a machine goes down and is not backed up.

One potential solution may be online desktop productivity tools, a market that has been largely dominated by Google and Zoho.  With the forthcoming release of Microsoft Office 2010, the company is also unveiling a line of online tools that are complementary to their desktop counterparts.  We’ll examine the new offerings next week.

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

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.

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.

In the briefing room: Liaise moves into public beta

Thursday, January 7th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

It is always interesting to come back to a new product as it moves through the beta process and see what has changed.

Not so dangerous liaisons

Not so dangerous liaisons

A few months ago we wrote about Liaise, an inbox add-on 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.

Liaise recently moved into public beta with the addition of several new features.  What we liked about Liaise when we first heard about it was that it captures the action items that lurk in every e-mail and keeps them from falling through the cracks.  With the public beta offering, the company has added some new features which improve its functionality and fine tune how the tool works.

Liaise has added calendar integration for Outlook so due dates for action items pulled from e-mail appear in the Outlook calendar, as well as in the calendars of mobile devices that are set up to synch with Outlook.  This is the logical step for the product and links tasks, e-mail, and the calendar together.  Not having the action items integrated into the calendar was not a major problem, but the tool’s utility is definitely enhanced with this feature.

Another addition to Liaise is the ability to control more of what is displayed in e-mail messages.  In some situations, it may be preferable to have an e-mail appear normal to the recipient, particularly if that person is not a Liaise user.  At other times, for instance if the e-mail is internal only and all recipients are using Liaise, it may be useful for information about the action items pulled from the e-mail to appear in it.  The private beta of Liaise displayed this information by default.  More control is almost always a good thing and this makes the tool more likely to be used.

Liaise also had added support for cloud-based synching of project information among teams.  Particularly useful for keeping partners, clients, and disparate project teams up-to-date on project and action item statuses this allows information on projects to be updated when changes are made, without the use of e-mail.  Updates to projects can also be condensed into a single e-mail, in the event that the knowledge worker wishes to see a list of changes in one place.  Anything that cuts down on overall inbox traffic is to be applauded, although we do have lingering concerns about combining items in a single e-mail, as something may get overlooked.

As Liaise moves through the beta process the company is adding features and tweaking the user interface.  From what we have seen so far, the company is focused on improving integration, control, and the ability to synch information between users.  We like Liaise and think it has the potential to fix at least several of the problems that e-mail is plagued with relative to project and task management.  Looking towards the general release of the product as it moves out of beta, first on our wish list for future enhancements would be the expansion of the tool beyond Outlook.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Socialtext SocialCalc

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Introduced as VisiCalc by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the spreadsheet turned 30 earlier this year and continues to be one of the key lubricants in the knowledge economy.

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

For knowledge workers who are adept at their use, spreadsheets are a powerful tool for organizing, sorting, and calculating a wide variety of information. However, two elements that are necessary to successful knowledge work are missing, namely context and connectivity. Spreadsheets often exist in isolation and must be manually updated as new information (often from other spreadsheets) becomes available. This gap results in a loss of time, degradation of the quality of the information as it becomes stale, and a loss of context because the path that the information took is severed.

As we have seen with the utility and popularity of social tools such as wikis and blogs, adding context and creating dynamic links between content is extremely beneficial to knowledge work. The social element of those tools allows for users to explore supplemental information surrounding a piece of content, as well as have changes reflected quickly and in a traceable manner.

Socialtext is bringing these dynamics to bear on the ubiquitous spreadsheet with SocialCalc, its distributed spreadsheet offering. Developed by a team led by Dan Bricklin, SocialCalc is integrated into Socialtext’s collaboration platform, so all the features of the platforms, such as profiles, wikis, blogs, and microblogs, are present. Users set up spreadsheets that are dynamically linked to other sheets so that, when information is updated in one, it updates all sheets it is linked to. For example, a sales agent keeping records in a spreadsheet need not e-mail information to a manager; instead, the data will be dynamically updated in the manager’s sheet as the sales agent enters changes. This reduces time, friction, and a number of unnecessary e-mail exchanges.

Spreadsheets created in SocialCalc are publishable to Socialtext workspaces, where complete audit trails of who has done what are recorded. This is invaluable, as changes made to an e-mailed attachment are often lost. Additionally, the access controls from the workspace are applied to the spreadsheet, ensuring that only those with access to that particular workspace can see the sheet, even if sheets from various workspaces are linked together.

The spreadsheet was the original killer app and helped propel us into the information age. Today, social software is the latest in the information age’s arsenal of tools and the concept of adding context to spreadsheets via such tools holds the potential to allow knowledge workers to focus less on the tools and more on the information they contain.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Xobni Enterprise

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Cody Burke

The challenge for any new tool that fights Information Overload is to gain the legitimacy that is necessary to apply it in an enterprise setting.

How Xobni sees Basex Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira

How Xobni sees Basex Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira

Most large organizations have complex IT requirements that software must meet before it can be deployed, including centralized management and security.   Most important, the new tools must not suffer the unintended consequence of increasing the same Information Overload they are trying to fight.

We covered Xobni in the past, and the company received a Basex Excellence Award for its efforts in fighting Information Overload at the Information Overload Day Inaugural Event in August 2009.

Recognizing the need to move into the corporate market, the company recently released Xobni Enterprise.  The new offering is a new version of its e-mail and relationship management solution that is fine tuned for enterprise use.  Previously, installing Xobni was done on an individual basis, with no administrative controls.  The new release provides a corporate license and central administrative capabilities that allow Xobni to be deployed on a company-wide basis with oversight from IT.  A new Web-based administration portal enables configuration, deployment, and management of user permissions, policies, and enabled features.  For instance, a company may be fine with users having access to integration with FaceBook, but not Twitter, or vice-versa.

Search capabilities have also been refined: it is possible to search e-mail by sender, recipient, subject, and date by building a complex search query via a series of drop down menus that facilitate the filtering of results. Other enterprise-friendly features in Xobni Enterprise include support for standard policy settings such as those from Active Directory, the ability to create extensions for enterprise applications such as CRM systems and portals (extensions for SalesForce.com and Microsoft SharePoint already exist), and integration of corporate profiles via LDAP.

The release of an enterprise-ready version of its e-mail and relationship management software  brings another tool for fighting Information Overload into an area that sorely needs it, larger organizations.  Tools such as Xobni work best when they are universally used within an organization, and this release enables effortless adoption in an enterprise setting. The challenge for tools such as Xobni is to not overload the inbox environment by pulling in too much content, but to strike a balance between access to information and access to the right information at the right time.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Confidela WatchDox

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Cody Burke

Creating content is easy; however, managing the distribution of that content in a secure and traceable way is problematic to say the least.

Confidela WatchDox

Confidela WatchDox

Simply e-mailing documents is not the answer, once the document leaves the outbox, all control and visibility is lost.  Additionally, solutions that do exist for sending documents securely often insert friction into the knowledge worker’s routine; some require an additional application to encrypt or send a document, ultimately lessening the likelihood of the solution being used.  For a tool to be used and widely adopted, it must be seamlessly incorporated into the knowledge worker’s existing toolset.

One company that is offering a solution to the problem of secure document sharing is Confidela, with its Software-as-a-Service WatchDox offering.  The product is a tool for sending documents securely from within Outlook via a plug-in or, alternatively, from a Web interface.  The Outlook plug-in adds a button in the UI when composing a new message.  The plug-in can be set as a manual option, an automatic suggestion whenever attachments are sent, or as fully automatic whenever a document is sent outside of a company.  Attachments are replaced with WatchDox links that the recipient clicks on to securely view the document.  When sending, the system prompts the sender to define policies, give permissions, and determine recipients.  The attachment is then pulled into a separate outbox, converted to a WatchDox link, and sent.

To receive a document, a recipient goes through a one-time authentication for their computer, similar to the way many banks do, with the computer’s footprint saved.  Users access the document via a link delivered in an e-mail, and the document appears blurred out when the focus is not on it.  According to the company, this feature should prevent screenshots and the like from being taken.  For the sender, a My Docs view provides usage information for documents that have been shared and sent out, what actions recipients have taken, any action required, and metadata surrounding the documents.

WatchDox is hosted on Amazon’s EC2 cloud Web service, and all documents are encrypted with a unique key.  For further security, Confidela keeps access controls separate from storage, and the company does not have access to those controls.

WatchDox impressed us with its ease of use and the fact that it works within existing tools without introducing additional friction between the knowledge worker and software.  Particularly as an Outlook plug-in, the ability to either set WatchDox as optional or automatic grants the users control while at the same time increasing the likelihood of use by locating it in the primary domain of the knowledge worker, the inbox.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.