PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Industrial strength and ROI are the key

Posted by David Cornwell on 28. April 2016 09:51

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


I gave an ‘Introduction to PleaseTech’ presentation recently in which one of the key points was that PleaseReview is ‘industrial strength’. Hundreds of documents, thousands of comments and scores of reviewers are the norm, I explained. Conveniently, a set of statistics crossed my inbox last week to confirm this.

Statistics of three relatively large hosted customers were in the email. Two of these are in the life sciences market. Two of the customers are each creating over 1,300 reviews per year. The other is creating just under 1,000. Across all three, each review includes an average of 2 – 3 documents and generates an average of just over 50 comments. So that’s, on average, per company: > 3,000 documents per year and > 60,000 comment/changes per year.

Firstly, imagine trying to do that by email? Or, if you are using an annotation technology, imagine copying and pasting over 60,000 comments/changes per year? What a waste of time!

In my blog in October 2014 I discussed the fact that a client had taken the conservative estimate that PleaseReview provides a saving of 8 hours per document for each review cycle. So, if we do the maths, PleaseReview is saving these companies, conservatively, 24,000 hours per year. If we then allocate an hourly rate of $88 per hour, (that’s an average salary of $105K per year with a typical business overhead of 75% on top of salary) that’s a saving of $2.1 million per customer per year. A fairly impressive ROI – and remember all these figures are conservative!

I think the key point here is that we constantly need to remind ourselves that document review is a business critical problem. It’s also a non-trivial business critical problem.

Over the years there have been various attempts to solve it. The annotation of PDF documents (or other such generic formats) is one option but, remember, that means that someone has to copy and paste the 60,000 + comments/changes per year! Directly editing the documents (co-authoring) is another option but that opens the document to substantive change by just about anyone involved in the process. None of these solutions has the degree of granular ‘control over who can do what to where’ which PleaseReview offers.

Copying and pasting is one thing. Reporting is another. Many companies manually produce reports on what happened to the 60K+ comments and changes.  PleaseReview does that automatically. It’s available in several formats and, when delivered in Excel, is designed for analysis. Indeed some companies consider metrics so important that a number of our larger customers have developed reports directly from the database using standard corporate reporting tools.

However, despite its unique functionality and positioning and its impressive ROI, no company is going to invest in a product which isn’t industrial strength and not able to scale to the customer's requirements. Being confident in the performance of the tools one has is, of course, vital. When that critical document deadline is approaching no-one wants to be nervous about systems failing.

Whilst industrial strength and great ROI are very important, we must also recognize that there is a major push from corporate IT departments to reduce the number of systems a user ‘touches’ in their standard day-to-day activity.

So seamless integration with 3rd party systems is another key to success. We have a whole team dedicated to developing and improving integrations with other enterprise systems.

So, with the increasing document workload, businesses want solutions which are industrial strength, have proven ROI and work with their enterprise applications. It’s a tough ask - that’s why there are so few solutions out there that can solve this business issue: if it were easy everyone would do it - it’s not easy and that's why we do!

 

 

Efficient and controlled In-document collaboration with PleaseReview for OpenText Content Server

Posted by Sarah Holden on 23. March 2016 09:44

Half of the PleaseTech marketing team.


Here at PleaseTech, partnerships with other players in the document collaboration space are very important.

An example in kind is a recent blog post published by OpenText, a global player in Enterprise Content Management. It introduces the launch of PleaseReview for OpenText Content Server, their content repository system. In their blog they explain “As organizations continue to churn out vast amounts of information on a daily basis, collaboration can become more and more challenging—with issues including the navigation of various document versions, widespread email chaos when dealing with multiple reviewers, and control issues due to the lack of complete audit trails. The end result is often missed deadlines, inferior document quality, compliance issues—and then ultimately, frustrated employees.”

The purpose of this post was to publicize a webinar that was shortly to take place: ‘PleaseTech PleaseReview for OpenText™ Content Server’.

A bit of history – whilst there has been an integration in place for over 8 years between PleaseReview and Content Server, last year OpenText recognized that effective document review was a growing issue for existing and prospective clients, especially with marketing hype surrounding Office365 and SharePoint. Recognizing that to stay a step ahead of their competitors in helping organizations collaborate more effectively in the document review process, OpenText extended the existing partnership by making PleaseTech a Technology Partner. As a result, PleaseReview can now be purchased directly from OpenText as an optional module for Content Server,

 The webinar was held earlier this month introducing PleaseReview to OpenText’s audience, and was extremely well attended. This is just the first step and we will continue to support their sales force as they start to actively promote PleaseReview.

 If you want to see how PleaseReview can improve productivity in your organization, you had better watch the webinar recording

Welcome to 2016 – another fine year we hope

Posted by David Cornwell on 12. January 2016 16:26

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


As is traditional, the first part of my January blog is somewhat repetitive as I say 'the previous year was yet another successful one for PleaseTech with revenue growth, new clients and some great new people having joined the team'!

2015 delivered revenue growth of 40% compared to 2014 with 50 new clients (itself a 35% YoY increase). Amongst this new business we count some major strategic wins with some very large organizations – never a bad thing! We also maintained a healthy growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR) of 27%. Alongside these strong results, the uptake of our cloud services has provided us with our highest percentage growth, reflecting industry trends.

Those of you who read my blogs regularly know that I am a fully paid up member of the ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is reality’ brigade. So I’m delighted to report that we remain profitable and continue to retain a healthy cash balance. Profit gives us the ability to invest in new people and to further grow the business - exactly what we plan to do this year.

Accounting for over 80% of 2015 sales, Life Sciences remains our largest market sector. Once again, North America is our largest market with over 75% of all sales – which is directly in line with the trend of the last five years.

We had a commensurate growth in staff numbers increasing headcount by 40% with new starters in both the UK and Malaysia.  Suffice it to say, we no longer rattle around the new UK office which we moved to in late 2014.

The marketing department continued to work hard to spread the word. PleaseTech exhibited at a total of 23 shows/conferences in 2015, attended a couple as ‘delegate only’, fulfilled several speaking engagements and ran very successful ‘Word Masterclass’ webinars with the APMP and AMWA membership organizations. Additionally, we ran our first user group meeting for Life Sciences customers. We learnt a lot from this experience and are currently evaluating our future plans in this area. Watch this space!

In terms of product development, 2015 saw the introduction of a new agile development process which is designed to provide scalability as the company grows. The introduction of this process has not been without its trials. The amount of disruption and impact on productivity was unexpected, delaying the PleaseReview v6 release into this year.

However, we can’t blame the v6 delay entirely on the introduction of agile. I think everyone in the company underestimated how difficult it would be to rewrite the PleaseReview interface. There is a huge amount of functionality which has built up from its first introduction in 2004. Using it daily it's easy to forget how sophisticated it is! The good news is that v6 is coming along and a brief demo of the future was given at the user group meeting, which was very well received.

In other product news, we released a significantly enhanced integration with Veeva Vault on which we have had great feedback. We have also decided to temporarily (we hope) retire PleaseCompose (our structured authoring offering) to focus all our attention on PleaseReview. PleaseReview is where we make our money, is incredibly successful and, therefore, we feel it important to ‘put the wood behind the arrowhead’ or, as Peters and Waterman would have it, ‘stick to the knitting’.

However, to say that we are a single product company would be to miss the point. We have several integrations with ECM/eDMS platforms and each integration is a separate product with its own life cycle and which needs to be maintained and enhanced. Add into the mix support for various SAML2 providers and we have plenty plates to keep spinning.

During 2015 we continued to focus on working with partners and an agreement with Open Text saw ‘PleaseReview for Content Server’ added to the Open Text price list. Needless to say this is an exciting development for us and will hopefully give us access to organizations which would be/are difficult to approach directly.

Once again 2015 saw customer praise for our service and support. Nick and his team continue to enhance our reputation in this vital area. To quote one client: "Thanks to you and your team for the fantastic support that we have been getting". Whether Please Review is being rolled out to hundreds of users in a complex integrated enterprise environment (as it was in this case) or we are providing support to our standalone cloud users, we pride ourselves on exceeding expectations.

So, all in all a good year!

What can we expect in 2016? Well, from our perspective the answer is: more of the same. We will continue to work hard and deliver excellent customer service. We have a number of exciting prospective customers who we look forward to bringing on-board and are starting to explore APAC as a market territory.

We will release PleaseReview v6.0 which will be a substantial upgrading of PleaseReview’s user interface. The idea is to make the interface much more modern/consumer like so that anyone familiar with standard consumer technologies and web applications will feel immediately ‘at home’ when reviewing a document in PleaseReview. This approach will help further minimize training and will support enterprise-wide rollout and adoption for new and existing clients to increase their ROI.

Work on other integrations and partnerships is a constant theme as is expansion of the team. 

So, we have a lot to do over the next 12 months if we want to replicate 2015. Best get to it.

Lessons learnt when organizing and hosting a customer user group meeting

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 15. December 2015 13:01

The other half of marketing... Google


We recently ran a PleaseTech user group meeting for our life science customers in Cambridge, MA.  It was the first that we’ve done for a while and was always going to be a learning curve, but which elements of the day did we get right and what would we do differently next time?

Given the number of times we’d been asked about a user meeting, we were surprised that our greatest challenge was getting people to sign up to the meeting.  We have well over 100,000 PleaseReview users, a majority of which are in the Life Sciences area and therefore count as the target audience. However, we are typically not in touch with any more than a handful of key account contacts at each client. We expected that promoting the event to these key contacts would spread the word and that this approach would be adequate.  But it wasn’t and we weren’t getting anything like the expected registrations. So the issue we faced was how to effectively mass mail hundreds of customer contacts.

Over the years, we’ve used a couple of different e-marketing tools, neither of which seem to have got round the problem of corporate firewalls rejecting the email, or allowing it through but recognising it as spam.  That said, a few emails must have got through as a handful (and I do mean a handful) of people signed up this way. But as for everyone else, to say it was like pushing water uphill to get a commitment is an understatement.

So we had a massive push to get a critical mass of delegates. Personal emails, phone calls etc. We succeeded but it was a close run thing. On the positive side it did mean that a vast majority of the people who registered did turn up and we had a less than 10% ‘no show’ rate. It’s a challenge to know how to get a closer relationship with the actual end users as most clients just get on and use our software without the need for constant support or assistance.  

As the meeting showed, nothing beats one on one interaction with customers and this is certainly an area of our business we’re paying close attention to – over the last 12 months we’ve expanded our account management team and are actively trying to engage more closely with clients. Although, again this is limited to key account contacts as a vast majority of users have no desire, or indeed time, to spend valuable minutes chatting with us.   

With better engagement with key account contacts, if we were to repeat the same meeting in 18 months’ time, maybe we would have more success in attracting attendees.  However, for this particular event it took hours and hours of one on one emails and telephone calls to drum up just 21 people in total.  To say we were surprised and slightly disappointed in equal measure wouldn’t be too far from the truth. 

There are still lots of questions we don’t have the answers to; do customers actually want to engage with us in this way? Are we using the right marketing tools?  Are there any other formats which might work better?

In the end, we were 24 people strong, including our CEO, David Cornwell, our VP of Sales, Barry Lyne and myself.  So what about the event itself? 

Starting with the basics, feedback suggested that the venue was good and easy to get to, although a couple of attendees commented it would have been better nearer to public transport stops.  Food wise, we opted for healthier options rather than lots of bread and cookies, which was definitely appreciated.   There were complaints about the coffee, but as this was provided by the hotel, I’m not sure what we could have done about that, short of finding a Starbucks!

A key piece of advice I’d give is to investigate, before booking your venue, whether there’s a minimum banqueting spend, and what taxes, services charges and other costs they add onto the bill -  we were shocked at just how much this added to the final bill.

As we had anticipated a higher number of attendees it transpired that the venue was not ideal especially from a ‘cost per head’ perspective.  If we were to do this again, for the small number of attendees we succeeded in getting, I would look into a restaurant with a private dining room (intimate presentation and round table discussions followed by a nice meal). However, it’s a difficult decision as you really need to settle the venue before the invite.

What about the timings of the day?  We opted for 9am-5pm, but in a busy city such as Boston, we should have taken into consideration peak traffic times – in retrospect 10am-4pm may have worked better for people.  Of course, if you’re providing overnight accommodation, this gives you greater flexibility. 

In terms of the content of the day, we gave a number of presentations – a business update, an overview of the latest version of PleaseReview (v5.2) and an insight into our next major release, PleaseReview v6, which is due out next year.  We also ran a couple of ‘Over to the floor’ sessions, which proved hugely popular. 

Giving customers the time and space to ask questions and to discuss product improvements was invaluable both to us and them.  Attendees genuinely appreciated being listened to, and if we could go back and make just one change to the day, it would have been to allow more time for these sessions.

Lastly, we also filmed each of the presentations so others who couldn’t attend would benefit. We anticipated the need for microphones for the presenters to ensure that the recording duly captured the wise words of the presenters, but failed to anticipate the many questions and interactions from the floor. With even the relatively small hotel room we used, wandering floor microphones are a must if you want to hear the questions being asked, so my advice would be to always have microphones to hand.  The resulting film of the presentations have been made available to users via our PleaseReview LinkedIn User Group.  This is a private, members’ only approved group. 

So looking back, do we think it was worth running the meeting?  Being able to spend one on one time with customers is something we genuinely enjoy and find hugely useful.  We’re very grateful to all those who attended for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come along and hope they found it beneficial – we’ve taken their feedback and ideas back to our development team, and some of it will inevitably shape how PleaseReview functions in the future. 

On the flip side it was a very expensive day when you work out the total cost per head.  Will we run another one?  With the benefit of hindsight and lessons learnt, yes is probably the answer, potentially for our European customers next, so watch this space and please sign up…

Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction - for us

Posted by David Cornwell on 16. October 2015 10:34

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


So now we know what is happening with respect to co-authoring in Word 2016 when combined with SharePoint or OneDrive.

Microsoft has gone for 'real-time co-authoring'.

How does this work? Well, to quote from Word's Office Blog post: “when two or more users …. open the same Word document from OneDrive they can co-author with others in real-time, which allows them to see the cursor location and text edits made by the other users automatically appear as they happen”. The same is true for SharePoint 2016.

Microsoft has obviously taken their lead from Google as ITPro demonstrates by saying, “The move should bring a major advantage to Microsoft over Google’s Google Docs when Office 2016 is released ……”. Interestingly, its justification for this advantage is that it brings co-authoring to the desktop version of Word.

Some commentators are being brutally realistic. I particularly like Office Watch when they say:

“If you’re having a touch of ‘déjà vu’ right now … it's not your imagination. Microsoft has announced document collaboration so, so many times over the years. But each time the press falls for it and parrot the Microsoft hype. Sigh.

Document collaboration isn’t new in Office.  For some years, two or more people have been able to open the same document and edit it at the same time.

What’s changed is the level of detail in displaying changes to the other users online.  In Office 2013 if you edited a paragraph, that paragraph was locked out for other editors until you’d finished.  Then the paragraph changes were pushed out to the other editors.

In Office 2016, it’s more detailed with edits appearing to other users in what Microsoft calls ‘real time’.   Co-authors can see text edits and even the cursor position of other editors as they all work on a document.”

They go on to add:

“Nitpickers will know that ‘real time’ really means ‘as fast as possible’ which is fast enough.  The speed that updates show to other editors depends on the speed of the various Internet connections and the hosting server.  Our informal tests, with side-by-side computers, suggest that ‘real time’ really means about ’10-20 seconds’.  That’s more than adequate for document collaboration.”

Others are waxing lyrical over this.  John Brandon writes in a ComputerWorld article:

“There’s something really satisfying about working on a business document with another person or in a group. The thoughts often come together in unison. One person adds a paragraph, another person makes a quick correction. It’s about as close to having a video chat as you can get ….” He continues: “ …. brainstorming sessions with a few writers in one document working in tandem is an enjoyable and highly productive experience …...”.

So let’s get back to reality and work out whether this is going to revolutionize the world of document creation.

I doubt that there are many in the corporate sphere who believe that one person adding a paragraph and another making a quick correction in real time is either enjoyable or particularly productive. I fully accept John’s position that, if you are genuinely brainstorming and simply downloading ideas to the page then it may, and I stress may, be useful. But is it really more useful than existing Word co-authoring?

Remember, the only real limitation of the current Office 2010/2013 functionality is that it locks edited paragraphs until the editor ‘saves’ the changes. With Word 2016 many people can simultaneously edit the same paragraph. But, when you stop and think, you’d soon settle on the fact that several users not being able to simultaneously edit exactly the same paragraph is not a major limitation when they could be editing adjacent paragraphs.

Sure, there may be a few converts from Google Docs who are using the Google platform because simultaneously editing exactly the same paragraph is critical for their business process, but I’m finding it hard to think of examples.

What about control? What about the document owner? What about reporting? What about accountability?

This co-authoring functionality offered by Word 2016 (in conjunction with SharePoint 2016 or OneDrive) is what we call ‘uncontrolled co-authoring’. This means anyone can materially edit anywhere in the document. I can delete your stuff, you can delete my stuff and we can all gang up on poor Fred and delete his stuff. No traceability, no accountability, no responsibility.

Our position is quite simply that this type of uncontrolled real-time co-authoring works for specific business processes if you have a small team of trained, rational and courteous users.

So nothing changes our view that SharePoint is fine for casual, light usage. A bit of brainstorming here and there perhaps. However, for industrial strength document review and co-authoring, you are going to need more control and not a co-authoring space with no audit trail and where anything goes.

Thousands of documents, multiple reviewers, potentially hundreds of comments – that’s the reality of the world we and our clients live in. To manage this control is the key. Control of the process but also control of ‘who can do what to where’ in the document.

So, our conclusion is threefold:

1.   Those happy with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to be happy with it and will probably welcome this enhancement;

2.   Those struggling with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to struggle in the naïve belief that it’s the Microsoft way or the highway – a position unfortunately adopted by many IT departments desperate to justify their investment in Sharepoint;

3.   No-one is going to abandon PleaseReview and rush to the new functionality because the current advantages PleaseReview has over SharePoint for collaborative document review and co-authoring remain. 

Of course, anyone wishing to adopt this brave new land of, this time, real simultaneous co-authoring will have to wait a while anyway. Not only will they need Word 2016 but also SharePoint 2016 (or OneDrive) as Microsoft is quite clear that “Word 2016 co-authoring fails when the file is stored on SharePoint 2013” and the recommended solution is to turn it off with a registry fix!

So, as my title suggests, Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction – for us!

 


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