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Who Knew SharePoint Could Do That?

June 30, 2013

This blog is a copy of a Tip of The Month that I wrote for Abel Solutions, Inc.

Since the beginning of SharePoint, Abel Solutions has been involved with many implementations of intranets, extranets and company portals.  Now, we are seeing more and more companies take advantage of the complete platform and extending it with third party add-ons to develop real and impactful business solutions.

Just because you have an intranet site built on SharePoint and you are using team sites to manage projects, does not mean that you are reaping the full benefits of the platform.  In this month’s Tip of the Month, we will provide a list of creative business solutions that take advantage of the power of the platform.

So what’s next?

Now that you have your basic SharePoint implementation up and running, what is next for your organization?  How can you best take advantage of the SharePoint platform and third party tools?

If you’ve been reading these SharePoint Tips for a while, you know about SharePoint’s Four Promises:

  1. Enable Collaboration
  2. Find and Use Knowledge
  3. Streamline Processes
  4. Manage Business Performance

Let’s look at #3: Streamline Processes.  Sometimes it is hard to understand the full potential of SharePoint, so here is the matrix of solutions we developed in the past year or so that highlight the Process improvement capabilities of SharePoint.  The implementation of third party tools such as Nintex and KnowledgeLake super-charges the process improvement impact.

Now, take a look at the solutions below.  Those solutions with detailed case studies are underlined. By what others have done, you will better understand the potential value of the platform.

Project

Impact

Third   Party Tool

Customer Feedback System System used to capture and manage  customer feedback.  Improved timeliness  of customer response. Out of the box
Preferred Vendor Program Automated process of capturing  compliance documentation, along with vendor on-boarding. Out of the box
Consultant On-boarding Process Reduced time to on-board consultants  for growing global consulting firm. Nintex Workflow
Contract Management Workflow Improved the contract approval process  for large health care company. Nintex Workflow
Management of Change Automated the management of change  process for a large company. Nintex Workflow
Re-engineered Process for Capture and Retrieval of  Contracts Elimination of paper documents while  improving staff productivity by enhancing capture and search of over 500,000  new documents per year. KnowledgeLake
90% Reduction in Time to Produce Complex Report Report production time reduced by 90%  while increasing granular control over data. Nintex and custom development
Improved Production Release Process Utilizing calendars, linked lists and  document sets, developed consolidated process to manage system changes at a  large financial institutions system Out of the box
Improving Regulatory Compliance Improved capture and dissemination of  regulatory requirements, thus streamlining the process Out of the box
Capital Appropriations Request Process Consolidated global capital  appropriations approval and reporting process, providing for a single view of  the global capital projects for the first time InfoPath and Workflow

Three Things You Should Do Next

  1. First, realize that SharePoint is more than a collaboration platform.  SharePoint is an even more compelling process improvement enabler with the addition of the Nintex toolset.  How do you know what can be done?  Review the examples of what other companies have done.  Also, whenever a challenge within your organization arises, consider SharePoint as a possible solution. As head of an IT for an international company, I had such an occasion when the VP of manufacturing said the he needed to develop a customer feedback system. We looked at our ERP and CRM systems, but quickly realized that we could develop and implement the system within our SharePoint environment more quickly and with less effort.
  2. Next, realize that the true payback in a tool such as SharePoint is when it is used to enable business improvement. It is all about the business value that is created. Identify potential areas of improvement and garner the business’s support.

    Often times the IT department is aware of the potential, but needs the support of the business to move a project forward. For one of our clients, we knew the potential of dramatically improving contract document processing, using the KnowledgeLake imaging solution. It took a partnership of the IT department and the business to ensure the project was not only approved but successfully implemented.

  3. Prioritize and pick the opportunities that:
  • Have the needed business support including the budget AND the commitment of personnel resources.
  • Meet a true business need and provide the most visible and impactful business solution.
  • Can be implemented quickly and with the least effort.

It is more and more important to realize the business value as soon as possible. No longer is it viable to have year-long projects. Try breaking down your project into successive increments of functionality. Remember that the success of a project diminishes with increasing complexity and scope.

NOW, go forth and take advantage of the true potential of the powerful platform in which you have already invested, and in the end you will be saying: “I knew SharePoint could do that!”

If You Think You Can or If You Think You Can’t, You Are Right!

April 5, 2013

The title is a paraphrase of a quote from Henry Ford, one of America’s most successful business icons. Truly successful people do not let negative hurdles stop them from reaching their goals. I have seen this time and again through my readings on Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Albright, Ghandi and many others. I enjoy reading the stories in hopes that some of their spirit and wisdom will rub off on me, plus their stories are really compelling.

What is the impetus behind this blog? I work with some young Masters of IT student at Georgia State University and I find myself often telling stories to illustrate certain points. I recently have had several students that are very, very bright and they want to accomplish more. However, if I mention an idea, I get, yes but if I did that it would not work because… Unfortunately, this reminded me of much of the negative self talk I had as I was growing up. So here is a story of why you should not listen to yourself.

German, English, Computers, Public speaking

In high school, I was less than a stellar student. I was just taking a ride and not really engaged. My grades were average, manly due to a lack of interest and effort. I was not very well read and in fact I was a poor reader. English was one of my worst subjects and German was the worst. My German professor was scary. I got a D in German and had to take the course over again. I can still hear Herr Watts rant and rave. With all of these poor results, I told myself that I should go into college and take a corriculum that did not require much English and did not have a foreign language requirement at all. Thus I went into Engineering.

I went to NC State with a major of Chemical Engineering and that lasted only a year. I switched to Engineering Operations, which was much less demanding. The best thing, was that there was no foreign language requirement. I did have to take freshman english and this is when I had my first epiphany. We had to read Dante’s Paradise Lost which I really dreaded. However, through a very engaging professor, I actually learned quite a bit, and my appreciation for literature and reading greatly improved.

During my second year I had to take a programming course. Also, during my second year I met this really cute girl with the most precious ponytails. So, of course the pony tails and my computer courses did not go well together. I was too interested in all things other than going to lectures and keypunching all of those cards and submitting them to the lab for a 24 hour turnaround. Can you imagine, that if you missed a period, you would have to wait 24 hours to find your mistake. Insane. I did ok in the programming area, however, I never went to class, so I was not too successful with the computer course. So, of course, I wanted to stay as far away from computers as possible. There were going to be only a handful of computers in business anyway.

Now the the twist to the story. My engineering studies gave me good training on how to think holistic about a process and to look at problems from a total systems perspective. Not computer systems of course but the total system or process. Through a thorough analysis, one can make some small incremental changes and realize some big benefits. This was before Hammer’s book on Re-engineering the organization hit the shelves and drove the reengineering craze of the 80s.

I interviewed for several industrial engineering jobs, but took a job as a methods and procedures analyst for a large jewelry chain. This was a very well run organization and they were always looking to improve their store operations. So if they made an improvement in one store, they could replicate that through the 125 store chain to multiply the benefits. Well, low and behold, the assigned me to a project to replace the mechanical cash register machines, with electronic programmable cash registers. These new cash registers were in essence, small computers. You have to remember, in the mid seventies, there were only a few companies that had electronic cash registers and we were going to be one of the first. We installed a system designed by Singer, the sewing machine company. However, I really took to the project and was eventually programming all of the cash registers in octal code and running the backend systems. It was hard but rewarding work. I became addicted to computers then and there as I saw first hand the potential business benefits of the coming computer age.

During my time at the Jewelry chain, I married the cute pony tailed girl and also joined the Jaycees, which taught me some great leadership skills. While in the Jaycees, I became photography editior and editor of the local chapter magazine. So now I had to use the creativity that I did not think that I had plus I had to write! I ended up with an award winning magazine.

My next career adventure was to get my MBA at the local university. What a great experience and after four years of hard work (working full time and going to school at night), I got my MBA with an emphasis in Quantitative Analysis. I wanted to be an Operations Research Analyst where math and statistics are used to help businesses make better decisions. Little did I know that this was more advanced that all but the largest companies could use. Now we call this Analytics or Big Data.

I left the Jewelry chain and went to work for the largest bank in the area, where I continued to hone my analytical skills, After a few years, I went to work for a large international chemical company called Ciba-Geigy, where I was manager of IT for one of the division’s IT department. Ciba was a world class company with world class processes. After 10 years at Ciba, I was offered a position in Basel, Switzerland. What a wonderful opportunity, so I moved my young family to Switzerland where I now needed to learn to speak German.

I took learning German very seriously and eventually was able to read, write and speak German fluently. So, I should have taken German more seriously in high school and should not have listened to my negative self talk about me not being good in languages.

To wrap up this long story, I have now had a successful career as CIO for several multinational corporations, I have mastered German while living in Europe, and I have written an award winning magazine for a non-profit organization. When I was younger, I had a avoided the areas in which I ultimately mastered. Even though, I have had a successful career, I wonder what it would have been like if I had not listened to those negative thoughts.

WIIFM drives user adoption of SharePoint

October 28, 2012

WIIFM

What’s In It For Me drives use adoption to most everything. Why do people return to certain web sites, stores, magazines,. etc. It is because there is something there for them.

The conundrum that faces many SharePoint implementations is user adoption and the reason is that they have not mastered the WIIFM principle. There are many technigues to get people to access and use SharePoint. However, we must remember that we did not implement SharePoint just so people could look at the corporate announcements, share files, and look-up the online directory

Ideas

- Change the title to something like 6 factors to a successful Sharepoint rollout and adoption

1. Training. Tell me and I might remember, show me … Involve me and I will understand.

Involve them in understanding how it can be used to improve their working environment.

2. WIIFM

3. Replace existing cumbersome process

4. Proivide relevant and current information.

5. Make it convenient

6. Understand the how people use informations and social networks outside of the workplace.
How are people now working
– access anywhere, anytime on any device
– community of interests
– 140 characters

A Step Increase in Productivity with SharePoint and KnowledgeLake

October 4, 2012

This blog entry is a Tip of the Month written for Abels Solutions, Atlanta’s premier SharePoint solutions provider. We will review and demonstrate the step change increase in productivity that is made possible through the implementation of the KnowledgeLake’s ECM imaging solution built on the SharePoint platform. We will explain how an international company eliminated paper documents, automatically indexed documents into SharePoint and dramatically improved the ease of finding the right document. KnowledgeLake is also one of the very few vendors that support Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud offering.
By now many companies have realized the business benefits of the SharePoint platform through the four promises of Enable Collaboration, Find and Use Knowledge, Manage Business Performance and Streamline Processes. With the implementation of third party tools such as KnowledgeLake, companies are seeing a real increase in productivity that drives real business results in efficiencies and cost savings.

Background

One of our long time customers is an organization that must handle and process a massive amount of documents (up to 500,000 new documents a year). Until now, all of the documents were stored as paper documents in thousands of file folders. They actually had a very good process, but it was all paper based. Even email correspondence was printed and filed. If someone needed a copy of a document to send to one of their partners, they would have to physically go to the file room, retrieve the document, scan a copy and send the copy to their partner. This can now be done with a few clicks of the mouse without the person ever leaving their desk.
The impetus for looking at an alternative approach was that the company was moving to a new location and they wanted to avoid the need for a high density filing system, plus the wanted an improved process.

The Solution

The solution involved the basic processes for managing the documents:
a. The documents are scanned and or captured electronically
b. The documents are easily indexed into SharePoint
c. Electronic documents (email attachments or Word documents) are effortlessly indexed into SharePoint without opening SharePoint
d. Documents are retrieved via a sophisticated efficient search, retrieval and viewing engine

The KnowledgeLake tools that handle the above are:
KnowledgeLake Connect

Connect for SharePoint allows a user to save a document from Microsoft Outlook or other Microsoft office products directly into SharePoint without ever opening SharePoint. Click on the image below to see a quick demo.

Click on the image to see a brief demo

Introduction

KnowledgeLake Capture

Capture allows for the storing of documents directly from a PC attached scanner or from a network file folder into which scanned documents are placed. The functionality is improved through the use of Barcode separator pages. Just like Connect, Capture allows for the entry of the proper attributes for each document and indexes the documents into SharePoint directly without having to open up SharePoint. Other key features of Capture are:
• Batch Scanning
• OCR for either full text of just part of a document
• Barcode reading to separate documents or define content types
Click on the image below to see a brief demo.

KnowledgeLake Capture Server

KnowledgeLake Capture Server allows for the scanning of a batch of documents and is intended for high volume scanning. This tool integrates with multi-function scanners and provides many of the same features as Capture. Capture Server is great for scanning batches of invoices, contracts or batches of documents that can automatically indexed into SharePoint through barcode integration.

Click to enlarge

KnowledgeLake Imaging

A key component of KnowledgeLake is their Imaging product which provides rich search, retrieval and collaboration functionality.

With Imaging you can:
Search and find documents or list items across the SharePoint farm
• Pre-configure and store save searches
• Perform full-text and column property searches
• View document thumbnails and SharePoint properties within the search results
• Once the document is found, there is a rich set of collaboration functionality such as annotating and sending out as an email attachment

The image below shows an example of the results of an Imaging search:

Enhanced search and view capabilities with Imaging. Click to enlarge

Conclusion

Once the project is complete, the company will realize true efficiencies and cost savings by;
• Eliminating the need for the high density filing system and expense of reinforced floor structural support
• Reducing the cost of archiving and retrieving documents from offsite storage
• Reducing the unnecessary scanning and rescanning of the same document for electronic sharing.
• Allow the remote staff to access the documents, eliminating the need for them to call the office and request files to be sent
• Saving countless hours in searching for and retrieving documents
• Reducing paper cost

Real business solutions to real business problems!

What Will Be The Impact of Cloud on the Market for ERP?

September 24, 2012
tags:

Over the last 5 years, the Cloud has been one of the hottest topics within the IT community. The market has matured enough now with a sufficient number of success stories that it is time to take the Cloud seriously. Many companies are now including the Cloud as a component of their short term and long term strategy. We will now review the impact of the Cloud on the ERP market.

Key Findings

• The Cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) will have a significant and growing impact on the market for ERP or similar integrated suites in the near future which will drive the need for new governance models pertaining to SLAs, security, and data protection.

• Cloud based ERP packages will be first implemented by the small (<$50m) and mid-sized companies (<$500m) as they are more flexible in their processes and have the need for faster, less complex implementations.

• Current cloud based vendors such as NetSuite, WorkDay, Intacct, and Kenandy have a head start in this space as they were designed and developed for the cloud. These products are also well suited for the small to midsized market. However, we should not overlook Oracle and SAP, as they both have a strong Cloud strategy with some compelling products already being deployed.

Recommendations

If you are a small to medium sized business that is just now looking at consolidating your processes with an integrated suite or ERP system, then those cloud based products should certainly be on your short list. Cloud based ERP solutions are not just for the smaller organization as many larger companies have a multi-tiered approach to their ERP strategy. The larger companies are also looking at cloud based solutions for their smaller subsidiaries or newly acquired divisions.
As always, the solution must fit the business needs. Even though there may be some compelling reasons to consider a cloud based solution, the solution must first meet the unique business requirements of the organization. If those business requirements are not meet, then the perceived cost savings and speed of implementation can be diminished. We have seen companies spend less time in the detailed analysis of functionality because they are enamored with the glitz and easy and comfortable user interface. Also, some of the cloud based solutions cannot compete with the more complete sets of functionality provided by the top tier vendors.
Even though the cloud based vendors propose that their solutions can be implemented “without IT”, it is important that the discipline of the IT department be considered. Cloud based solutions require a different aspect of governance. An organization must now deal with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), data privacy issues, security and multi-tenant considerations. These are all topics for which IT is a subject matter expert.
The large vendors such as Oracle, SAP, Sage, Infor and Microsoft have invested significantly in their cloud strategy. SAP’s Business By Design is already gaining a foothold in some areas, while Oracle’s Fusion line of products is just now being deployed. Infor has joined forces with SalesForce.com in their endeavor to move their cloud strategy forward. If you are a subsidiary of a larger organization that already has installed one of the top vendors, then it would be prudent to consider their cloud based products.

Analysis

There are several driving forces behind the growth of cloud based ERP solutions. First, many companies are looking for alternatives to complex and long implementations of the top tier providers. Secondly, the cloud base products offer flexibility, a compelling user interface, mobile enabled functionality along with built in analytics. Finally, the large players such as Oracle and SAP are looking to move down stream to capture more of the mid-sized companies.
If you are a small to midsize company without a significant IT support staff, then a cloud based solution can be very attractive. Limited capital investment is required for hardware and other infrastructure. Some of the vendors offer a templated or pre-configured solution which can drastically reduces the time of implementation and thus time to value. Some vendors claim that a complete functioning system can be deployed within a quarter as compared to the average 18 month time frame for the tier one providers. SAP is offering a templated approach to the implementation of their solution as well.
Another benefit of cloud based solutions is the ease of use of the systems. Since the products have been built with the Web 2.0 framework, users can customize the look and feel of their tool, as well as the steps within a process. Along with the ease of use, many of the solutions provide imbedded analytics and mobile capabilities. Being able to review and drill down into sales reports from a mobile device can be compelling.
The new cloud based models come with a unique set of challenges however. Governance of the new environment and relationship must now consider such topics as data privacy, multi-tenancy, security and SLAs for performance. With a multi-tenant environment (multiple companies on the same physical box), the vendor has control of when the software will be upgraded and patches applied. In many cases, the implementation of third party application is limited in order to ensure stability of the environment. It is critical to also understand where your data is, how it is backed up, and how easy would it be to move it to another vendor.
Finally Oracle and SAP are looking at challenges to their current business model where up to 50% of their revenue is derived from maintenance fees. Some companies are now reviewing the value of the maintenance fees and are forgoing the payment of the fees, using third party companies or bringing the support in house. The question remains, can Oracle and SAP supplement a shrinking of maintenance revenue with a new model of subscription based pricing?

Bottom Line

In summary, the Cloud and Web-Based products will have an import and growing impact on the ERP market, with the smaller to mid-size companies being the first to take advantage of the cloud offerings.
All vendors have a cloud strategy, where NetSuites, Workday and other cloud vendor developed their solutions from scratch with the cloud in mind. The above vendors have a first to market advantage; however, they may lack some of the breadth of functionality of top tier vendors.
The top tier vendors are not sitting on the sidelines. They have brought their wealth of process expertise to the cloud with some significant investments and functionality. Oracle has introduced their Fusion based products and SAP has their SAP Business By Design suite of products. The top tier vendors have the corporate fiscal strength to ensure success in this arena as well.

SharePoint in the Cloud – A Case Study

June 19, 2012

This blog will present a simple case study on how a small marketing company was able to successfully take advantage of SharePoint in the cloud to improve their internal processes. We will look specifically at how they were able to quickly develop and deploy a solution in Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud offering.  We will show how they took out-of-the-box SharePoint fuctionality to improve their internal processes so that they could economically scale as they grew.  The cloud based hosting option of Office 365 allowed the company to get up and running within a month without capital outlays for hardware and software thus providing a quicker time to business value.

Two of the more popular topics these days are SharePoint and the “Cloud”.  As most everyone is aware, SharePoint is one of the hottest products for Microsoft and has experienced a tremendous amount of success in the last 5 years. Yet, many companies are still not reaping the full benefits of SharePoint. Now with Office 365, the full SharePoint capabilities are readily available to even the smallest companies. Also, it is very easy to configure and set up so that business value can be created with minimal effort. However, just putting up a SharePoint site will not generate business value. The business value comes from improved collaboration, and refined business processes which result in a reduction in the amount of time it takes to find information.

The “Cloud” is one of the hottest topics in the IT world these days. It is so misunderstood about what it means and how companies can take advantage of “it”. Much has been written about this topic and I will leave further dilution of the topic to others. I will use the term cloud to mean the deployment of the software and infrastructure in a shared environment that is accessible through the internet. The benefits are that there is no capital expenditure for hardware or software. You are merely renting the compute power that you need based on the number of users and software features used.

The Business Needs

A social media marketing company is in the entreprenurial stage, eventhough they have been in business for three years and have a good book of business. As they were refining their business model and beginning to scale, they realized they needed some technology assisted processes to enable their expected growth. The internal processes were defined, however, complex and pretty manual. Also, as they scaled and brought on newer associates, their training process could onerous. The business drive was to standardize their business processes and then to automate them utilizing out-of-the-box features of SharePoint 2010. With some improved processes, they would be able to scale without incurring increased expenses, thus improving profitability (the business value) see “It’s the Business Value, Stupid.

The Approach

The first step was to begin defining the processes and the interaction among the processes. As we begin to drill down further into the processes, it became evident that a fast prototyping approach would work well in showcasing how SharePoint could enable the business processes. I already had an Office 365 account so I added another user and created a prototype site on my own site.

We spent several sessions defining the use cases, topology, processes, security, and workflows. We then jumped right into prototyping the use of the system. This prototyping helped us refine the processes not only in the system, but the internal processes of the company as well. By utilizing the capabilities of SharePoint, the client was able to better visualize how best to implement their processes.  The fast prototyping approach ultimately allowed us to create a system in less time and with less resources than if we had done a traditional approach of requirements, design, build, test.

The Hosting Question

Through the prototyping process, the client became comfortable with the cloud based solution for SharePoint, however, we still did do our due diligence in evaluating the different hosting alternatives. We looked at on-premise, managed services and a dedicated hosting model. It quickly became evident that, with the small number of users, Office 365 would be the best platform for them. The benefits were:

- No initial capital outlay for the equipment

- Ability to quickly deploy the solution

- No specially trained resources

- Full disaster recovery and systems management

- Least expensive option for the short run.

In Conclusion

This small but progressive company was able to improve their business processes and thus profitability by utilizing the efficiencies and flexibility of deploying their site in SharePoint on Office 365. This was accomplished without significant expenditures on hardware and software, yet they have a fully supported, robust environment. More importantly, they were able to have a working system in a very short amount of time. A quicker time to value.

Audio Blog – IT Career Path Radio

June 19, 2012

This is an interview I did for The Proven Method and IT Career Path Radio where I give a brief overview of how important understanding the business is to a successful careeer in IT among many other diverse topics.  Click on the picture to go to the interview.

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