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

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!

 


The search for the guilty

Posted by David Cornwell on 29. September 2015 15:31

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


The UK's The Times newspaper (28th September 2015) in an article on the VW emissions scandal, states: “Matthias Müller, the new VW chief, has made hunting down those directly responsible his priority.” It goes on to say about two senior executives ‘relieved of their posts’: “Both deny commissioning the controversial software or knowing about it.”

Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty will not be helped by the fact that the use of this software appears to have been going on for some time. It is also being reported that “Volkswagen was reportedly warned about rigging emissions tests on its vehicles” in 2007 and 2011.

It will, of course, be interesting to see what happens. Can VW survive? What will it cost them?

But, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with document review?

Well, the answer is that Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty would be helped if there is a comprehensive audit trail for all the reviews of documents associated with the software. We do not know whether this comprehensive audit trail exists, but I doubt it. I expect that there's a whole bunch of long forgotten emails which contain the data. Even now, I suspect, management within VW are searching their personal email databases preparing their ‘Pearl Harbor files’.

However, what I do know is that somewhere there will be specifications for the software (Functional, Design, Test, etc.) and some other documents associated with the process, and that these documents will have been reviewed. There may well be minutes of product management meetings. Also, the software itself would have been peer reviewed. There would also, presumably, be some form of output documentation (user manual, technical release notes, etc.) associated with the software. We do not know how the review of these documents took place, but we do know that it did. No one delivers a bit of software which is going into production in, reportedly, 11 million cars without detailed specifications, design, testing and the review of all those items.

Currently The Times is suggesting that Bosch, a VW subcontractor, provided the software. It matters not. What would help the new management at VW is a clear audit trail of all decisions. In this, the review process is critical as it’s where a lot of far reaching suggestions and decisions are made.

Maybe, and I stress I have no knowledge of this and am purely suggesting a plausible scenario, an innocent comment in a review of a discussion document on how to meet the emission level tests sparked the whole process. Who knows? However, an audit trail of the reviews would certainly help in the process of uncovering the truth.

PleaseReview provides an audit trail, tracking every comment and change including who made it and when. It also captures the reasons for accepting and rejecting changes, as well as who did so and supports advanced comment and change categorization. All the information I bet the new VW management team wished it had to hand!

An increasing number of companies are using PleaseReview in association with the software and other product development life cycle as it supports review of associated documentation including, in fact, the software itself.

With the increasing need for compliance and transparency, the availability of comprehensive audit trails are an important side benefit to the real savings obtained by using PleaseReview. As, perhaps, the sorry case of VW illustrates.

So, I leave you with our current review cartoon ………

 

Microsoft Word - the most complex software product in the world?

Posted by David Cornwell on 10. June 2015 11:09

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


“Microsoft Word must be one of the most complex software products in the world” was the thought I had a couple of weeks ago whilst sitting in a hotel room in Seattle preparing to give a Word Master Class presentation at the APMP Bid & Proposal Conference 2015.

I’d just done the maths. Word 2010 has 10 menus (not including the Help function) with over 350 commands. The standard and formatting toolbars alone have around 200 options. What does the web say on the subject? Excel certainly features in some of the ramblings of people who consider such things and most agree that Word has several millions lines of code behind it. Of course, Word is part of the Office Suite and has a number of items in common. The exact number of lines of code in the Office suite is a Microsoft secret but one helpful blog post noted that LibreOffice (broadly functionally equivalent) has just over 7 million lines of code and just under 1.5 million comments (within the code).

Whatever the statistics I think we can agree it’s more complex than your average user needs. Indeed, it’s said that '90% of people only ever use 10% of the functionality'. Of course, not everyone uses the same 10% and therein lies the rub. There are so many ways to do things in Word and, with many people ‘self-taught’, it means that you can very quickly get into a complete mess. In fact, one of our key benefit messages with respect to PleaseReview for document authors is that reviewers can ‘mark-up the document but not mess it up’.

So this inevitably brings us onto best practice. Whilst some clients, typically those in the Pharmaceutical Industry, use standardized templates which (usually) follow best practice, there are many who are using internal (and sometimes very poorly developed) templates and others who are using templates developed 20 years ago which have been progressively updated to the newer versions of Word and, as such, contain a whole load of what can only be described as garbage. 

How do we know this? It’s simple, we have the challenge of taking these various documents, processing them and displaying them in PleaseReview, our collaborative review software. This is difficult enough if the document is a nice consistent document based on Word Styles and following best practice. It’s not at all straightforward if the document is a mess of styles, direct formatting, lists lined up with spaces and so on. 

The types of thing we see are hand typed tables of contents; hand typed numbered lists; hybrids of where the initial TOC/list has been manually edited; direct formatting, drawings all over the place and, of course, manual cross references – I’m sure you get the picture. 

So, when we were considering new topics for speaking slots at events we came up with the concept of the Word Master Class. Offering to speak on document collaboration or document review was not really an option as, by definition, we had to discuss our own products and this was considered as a product pitch. These are deeply frowned upon in conferences and therefore to be avoided.

So the Word Master Class was developed. It leverages the company’s detailed knowledge of Word, helps us as we want nice consistent documents based on Styles and following best practice and appears to be a subject a lot of people want to listen to. It’s proving very popular and receiving some great feedback. An example is given below:

“I attended your session today and wanted to reach out and say thank you. In one hour you managed to save me a serious amount of time formatting and editing documents. Can you please send me the instructions so I can try the new techniques on my own? Again, thanks for opening my eyes to easy tricks to solving everyday proposal problems!”

The Master Class is constantly evolving based on feedback and further research. In addition to the more serious material, we try to cover some of the more quirky items to lighten the mood. A specific trick is the ‘Rand’ function. Typing '=RAND(x,y)' – where x & y are numbers - will generate random Lorem Ipsum text where x is the number of paragraphs and y is the number of lines per paragraph. Most people understand that Lorem Ipsum text is dummy text used to test document layouts, etc. Just to give some background on Lorem Ipsum, its origin is in the early days of typesetting (in the early 1500s) when an unknown printer took a gallery of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. Since then, further research has concluded that it has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC (source: Lipsum.com). I use the Rand function regularly when demonstrating co-authoring and it occasionally raises a comment along the lines of "I didn’t know you could do that in Word". 

Whilst writing this blog I thought I’d research 'Microsoft Word and humor' to see if there was anything which caught my eye. Well I’m very grateful to a chap called William Smith who preserved and published this exchange from a Microsoft Word forum which was about to be terminated. 

In short and in summary, the questioner concludes that “Latin seems a bizarre choice”. I guess if we look beyond the immediate humor this demonstrates that it’s not just professional writers who use Word. Almost everyone uses it and, if they haven’t been trained (and they frequently haven’t), they somehow make it look right using their limited knowledge. This even applies to people who spend a considerable amount of their time using Word in a professional capacity. 

In fact, it’s precisely these people – people who may be subject matter experts who end up writing documents rather than Word experts – who are the target audience for our Master Class. 

Anyway, the Word Master Class is a 45 minute presentation/demonstration of some of the features of Word, covering the use of Styles, Section Breaks, Outline View, Drawings, Hyperlinks and Cross References, Macros and the Quick Access Toolbar. We will be running the Word Master Class as a webinar in the 2nd half of the year so, if it’s of interest, send us an email and we will advise you of the webinar details as soon as available.

 

header bg