More Sharing, Less Confusion

In my travels people ask me what I do.  I try not to be too flip, but often tell them my mission is to reduce confusion.  Of course I follow up with we provide industry leading document management software for companies with lots of files and lots of locations and then I get the obligatory eye-roll.  (My preference would be to say I produce high budget action movies for a living, but my talents clearly rest elsewhere.)

Reduce confusion!!  A great rallying cry.  Come on say it with me.  What I mean here is so much of the inefficiency in business today is the complexity we have created for ourselves with the proliferation of information and devices to distribute this information.  (Don’t get me started on Big Data, this could be the start of the apocalypse.)  Information is generally good, and timely information is generally better.  But the growth in the number of files and documents in corporations can actually be causing more harm than good.

My typical stories include the key executive who decided to share the executive summary of his strategic plan with a consultant by providing him a link to the document in the cloud.  Unfortunately, the link resolved to his corporate network and provided access to many confidential documents, including compensation data.  Or the company that had to rework a machine due to an engineering defect and the Engineering Department forgot to reversion the drawing, and yes you guessed it, the production floor produced the original machine all over again.  Please tell me someone lost their job.

The objective here is to increase the sharing of ESSENTIAL information to HELP the situation.  But often, the sharing is actually causing more confusion.  For example, documents that circulate between many individuals who are continually reworking the same concept because no one knows what the lastest version is.  Now add to this picture individuals sitting in offices in different locations.  Whose copy is the most up-to-date, or worse, someone makes a change on a local file and no one knows about it.  You mean Bob thought of this last month and I’ve been working on the same thing for weeks as well, shoot me right now!  Isn’t technology great.  You know for what we lose on every item we make up on volume.

There is no simple answer, but there must be a corporate and division commitment to trying to get a handle on all this data stuff, before it overwhelms us.  Before we spend more time finding, distributing, and undoing all the mistakes than we are saving.  That sound you hear is the sucking of our productivity gains going down that black hole we call IT.

Confusion is caused by many factors, but certainly the leading offenders are the lack of sharing or the sharing of too much, or irrelevant information.  (Can you have too much information?  Look at your desk top and tell me life wouldn’t be easier if half of the paper and half of the programs weren’t there.)  Yet the current mantra is collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. 

My hypothesis is, you can reduce confusion by sharing more information, but NOT TOO MUCH INFORMATION, AND ONLY THE RIGHT INFORMATION.  Sounds complicated, maybe even a lot of work.  Yes, but!  The good news is more than a number of very smart people (including our geniuses in eQuorum’s Development group) have thought about this for a long time and have generated some really neat software to help with the situation.  To better organize this mountain of data and files and to encourage sharing, and the right type of sharing.  Initially I was confused (yes my wife believes this is my perpetual state of being), but I now see it clearly (is it a light or the train?), that the only way through this increasingly overwhelming deluge of information is to manage it before it gets out-of-hand.  And manage it smartly to reduce the confusion.

I will stop here before I start to confuse myself.  More on corporate confusion to come…..or just read the WSJ.

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The Power of Baked Goods

Recently, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, eliminated their work at home policy because ”it generates a more collaborative atmosphere.”  Though I agree working together in a collaborative atmosphere is more productive than working in a non-collaborative environment, I believe she attacked the problem in totally the wrong way.  The answer is simply “baked goods.”

Yes, those chocolaty, gooey, sweet, powdered, substances we love to devour.  Put a platter of chocolate chip cookies in the break room and tell me if you don’t get that collaborative workplace she is trying to achieve.  Let those not in the office know about the coconut layer cake in the office they are not tasting and see if they don’t find the motivation to get into the office.

But seriously, the metaphor here is not only literally true, but true in business.  Put some really good information in a place where people know where it is and they will come and consume it.   But if employees don’t know where the break room is, or how to get there, or even have a key to the door, then they are the home dwellers left out of the conversation. (Sorry for the metaphor, but if documents/data reside someplace in the corporate infrastructure and people don’t know where it is or have access rights to it, they will not be good consumers.)

The baked goods of business are the truly sweet bits of information we should be distributing to the employees, so they can digest them and become energized by them.  Collaboration is not only about the exchange of ideas but more simply the distribution of key information to individuals who view, analyze, and interpret it differently than others.  Wow, that blueberry muffin was great, why did we design the panel for jig milling instead of CNC milling?

Business has become so compartmentalized, and confidentiality concerns have so griped us by the neck, we have created information safes that few people have access to or even know exist.  I get it, my job is on the line if the wrong person gets a hold of this file, or this is my file and I’m pretty sure no one else needs to see it.  So we have set up corporate “repositories” called share drives where no one “shares,” or worse draconian digital rights systems that put up so many walls we actually are discouraging collaboration.

C’mon guys, those cookies weren’t just baked for you, share them.  They are really good.  Not as good as my wife’s, but really good.  And if I share them I start the collaborative thing going and you may even see people in the office you haven’t seen in a long time.

Share the wealth, get yourself a decent document management system!!!!! (Gratuitous plug required by the break room crowd, mostly the salespeople who really seem to love the baked goods.)

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The Mobile “Wave”

Just finished The Mobile Wave by Michael Saylor, and its worth a review.  I won’t steal his thunder, but the overriding theme is that tablets are the next global sea change, a revolution like the introduction of steam engines at the beginning of the industrial revolution and like computers.

Tablets will become, and to some extent already are, true portable computers you can put in your pocket.  While there are numerous benefits and efficiencies that will accrue to consumers, the interesting discussion is how it will change businesses internally and their interactions with other commercial entities.

Though Saylor does not specifically identify the following benefit, it clearly is the short-term impact of this technology.  I call it the “Oh S–t, I forgot to bring…” impact.  While laptop computers have given us increased portability with our documents and data, they are:

a)  Still cumbersome (need a flat surface, need to be booted, and are not easily viewed by multiple people at the same time)

b) Not easily passed around (short of sliding across the table, which, from experience I don’t recommend.  Can’t believe Don did not stop the computer from going right off the table.)

c)  Without touch, not conducive to visual markup (I realize with Windows 8 and the new Lenovo that is coming we get some of this, but it still won’t be as good as a tablet)

d)  Without an outfacing camera (at least not one that works easily on the run).

What this means, is that tablets are easy to carry around and are ready when you need them, and GIVE YOU ACCESS TO YOUR DOCUMENTS AND DATA EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.  No more, “Oh S–t,”  Need a drawing, touch, touch and there it is.  Need a memo or invoice, bang its right there.  On the elevator and client wants to see your concept, bingo.  HOW NEAT IS THAT!  (I think it’s neat, but guys here are already calling me old school – remember you mock what you are to be.)

Later this Spring, eQuorum will be delivering its iPad and Android based tablet applications.  Using HTML5 our customers will have access to any document or file wherever they are, including CAD files (yep, even 3D CAD files).  So you’re in the plant and you need a drawing of that piece of equipment, you’re not running back to the nearest computer.  You’re in a building and want to review the dimensions of a window and make changes right there, no problem.  Part or assembly reviews with potential customers and you need the latest released versions, just hand it over, its right on the screen.

One of the key messages from the book, is that tablet access will reduce “friction” in how we interact.  In this case, I think tablets just make business interactions easier and less frustrating (I guess this is as good a definition of reduced friction as any.)

Clearly, there are many more benefits that we can derive from using tablets to access our documents and data (and I hope to enumerate some of those later), but in the short-run we will simply have easier, and more timely access to our stuff, which will make our conversations with others more productive, providing less “Oh S–t”s.

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The Journey Continues…

As new CEO I was surprised at the number of long-term relationships eQuorum maintains.  Do we have a really good newsletter everyone likes?  Or are the cookies we send out really yummy?   In further investigation, I believe the reasons are:

1) Our client support is TOP NOTCH (see previous blog entry)

2) Our products have stayed relevant and we respond to CLIENT REQUESTS

In today’s SaaS-y world this is no trivial feat.  All around us we see software designed for the masses, which is great for access and reduced cost, but often only incrementally enhanced with very broad reaching functionality.  (They keep moving my favorite buttons or adding buttons I have absolute no use for.)

eQuorum products have also seen additions to functionality, but in response to client requests, often a single customer’s request.  The Company has numerous enhancements in the Roadmap that are for just one or two clients.  So you say, big deal, that just makes you a custom software house.  I guess, but is this a bad thing?

What has been done, is each of these “custom” improvements are then rolled out to all our clients, not just the few who have identified the need or want.

Here’s the rub, and we are going to change this.  When we include these enhancements, most of the time we HIDE THEM.  Yep, great work, sometimes hundreds of manhours of development time, and then we HIDE THEM.  And worse, then we don’t tell all our clients about it.  Talk about being humble.  The philosophy, to this point, has been not to create a changed or different user interface for all our clients everytime we have a release.  I respect this, certainly as a user that has to deal with Wordtm changes every year.

But wouldn’t you rather be told about the enhancements and then decide if you wanted to use them or not?  I would.  (But let me know if you feel otherwise.)  So we will be delivering new releases with the new functionality not only identified but enabled and ready to go.  We can only provide Value if you know about it.

So if you’re one of our clients and have a suggestion, or better a specific need, let us know.  Because more than likely you’ll get on our Roadmap.  Boy, is this Roadmap a mess!  Time to find some more good developers to get this all done.  I know you will appreciate our intense desire to get you software that WORKS for you, not the other way around.

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My Welcome To You As New CEO

As new CEO of eQuorum I want to reach out to our current and
future clients and express my gratitude for the privilege of being part of a
great company and great team.  Thanks to our long time clients, many who have been with us for over 10 years.  WOW, I have been associated with many
organizations and few can rival the permanency of these types of
relationships.

I think this is a great place to start as I make my journey
down the road with eQuorum.  Let’s do this together and I hope it’s not only informative but entertaining (why do we laugh at the pratfalls, we know they must hurt?).

Okay, Day 1, why do we have so many long-term relationships
with our clients?  You may think I’m exaggerating here, but truthfully we have almost 100 customers that have been with us for five or more years (69 of those over 10 years).  I know we’re a bunch of good looking people, but there’s got to be more than this.

So I have been asking our clients, what makes us so good?  (Hoping for that good looking
response here, didn’t get it.)  As in most things, I didn’t hear the same thing from everyone, but some themes jumped out.  (Actually the statistical analysis
took me weeks, using all sort of heuristic modeling and lots of late night
peanut butter sandwiches.)

1)    Our client support is TOP NOTCH.

For software vendors, this is not always a good indicator; using customer support to plug your buggy code is not a good way to do business.  But eQuorum
clients tell me they all use our software differently and from time to time
have questions on how to functionalize their processes or get a question about
the product answered.  CAN YOU SAY OUTSOURCED I.T.

Ray, Steve, Mark and the troops have incredible commitment to you and go way beyond the call of duty to help our clients (or should I say family at this point).
Literally no request is too challenging.
What this also means is our Development Roadmap is a mess – I can’t tell
you how many items are marked as “In Progress – Working Customer Request.”  There I said it, and I feel much better.  Is this any way to run a railroad?

But it tells me what the eQuorum culture is all about.  A software company
that actually is concerned about how the clients use the product and want to
ensure they get FULL VALUE for their investment.  WOW, I feel even better now.

2)     TBD

A little tease is not a bad thing.  Will continue this stream of unconsciousness
later.

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Lifecycle

The ImageSite Document Lifecycle subsystem automatically assigns documents to a Lifecycle, often based on the type or category of document and its intended use.  Each Lifecycle typically contains multiple Lifecycle States signifying an important change in the status of that document.   Continue reading

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Workflow

Workflow (Approval Routing) a flowchart based and schedule driven; it “carries” documents (and markups and folders) from user(s) to user(s) to automate virtually any schedule driven business process. Continue reading

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Document Management – the Hows, Whys, and Costs

Document Management–the Hows, Whys, and Costs.

ImageSite, from eQuorum Corporation, is a simple to use, but extremely powerful and flexible document management system (DMS) that may be installed inside your company for total control.

In upcoming articles, we’ll post information to assist in understanding the value of DMS, DMS selection considerations, and how eQuorum’s DMS (ImageSite) compares to other systems.

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