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

PleaseReview and redaction

Posted by David Cornwell on 31. August 2016 13:16

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


As we come out of summer and into autumn/fall, here at PleaseTech we are gearing up for the imminent release of PleaseReview v6. 

This is a massive task as, for the first time in the product’s history (well technically the second time as PleaseReview was brand new back in 2005), we are not releasing an incremental enhancement or improvement, but a completely new review interface. It’s a bit like starting from scratch with a new product, with all the accompanying training and marketing documentation.

For those of you who’ve not attend the v6 preview webinars or followed some of the announcements, one significant addition to PleaseReview v6 will be redaction. We’ve added redaction in response to recent EU privacy and transparency regulations, specifically the EU EMA (European Medicines Agency) transparency policy 70 on the publication of clinical data. Whilst this is directed towards the Life Science industry, we also believe that redaction is universally useful especially in light of the various Freedom of Information directives and the need to redact PPI data from documents supplied under these directives.

Policy 70 has significant implications for Life Science companies in that they will need to redact and negotiate these redactions with the EMA on their European submissions. I am particularly grateful to Dr Patrick Cullinan of Takeda whose presentation on this subject I attended at the Annual Regulatory Writing for Product Approvals Conference held in April in Philadelphia. 

Patrick has kindly permitted us to use some of his material in our forthcoming webinar series on ‘EMA transparency policies - the deepening challenge of redaction and review’ scheduled for September. The webinar will examine the background to the redaction requirement (i.e. policy 70) and demonstrate how the new PleaseReview v6 redaction capability can help organizations rise to the challenge. You can sign up here: http://www.pleasetech.com/webinars.aspx.

Redaction is a natural bedfellow of review and, when you think about it, it is simply another form of proposed change to a document - and so fits into the PleaseReview model extremely well. In practice, using PleaseReview, redactions can be ‘proposed’, they can then be discussed, the proposals can be accepted or rejected with reasons given and finally the proposed redactions are recorded in the reconciliation report so there is full traceability of decisions. 

It is, of course, vitally important that these redacted documents are high quality and accurate (like all regulatory documents) and therefore they need to be reviewed extensively. In this respect, PleaseReview also supports the review of PDF documents with sections ‘Marked for Redaction’ using Adobe Acrobat Professional mark-up. This particular functionality is already part of PleaseReview and is a natural consequence of the way PleaseReview currently handles PDF documents. For more information on this please contact the support team

Of course, PleaseReview v6 isn't all about redaction. As I mentioned at the very beginning we are introducing a completely new modern responsive interface at the same time.  Watch this space for further information but, in the meantime, for more information on the forthcoming redaction capabilities, sign-up for the webinar.

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…

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.

 

Raising PleaseTech’s profile through analyst relations

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 28. May 2015 10:33

The other half of marketing... Google


Over the last three years, a key arm of our marketing strategy has been to raise PleaseTech’s profile amongst the analyst community from a starting point of almost zero.  How did we do this?  Quite simply we began to brief the key analysts who focus on the document collaboration space.

In 2013, this led to us being named as a Gartner Cool Vendor in the ‘Cool Vendors in Social Software and Collaboration, 2013’ report, describing us as ‘innovative players in the collaboration and social software space, emerging to address specific gaps in the offerings from the more established vendors or are breaking new ground in creative ways in the social media space’.  This had a huge positive PR impact and also led to several exciting new sales leads.

Another great success was from Ovum, who reviewed PleaseReview 5.0, our collaborative review and co-authoring solution, stating that, “This is a specialist area and document management and enterprise content management (ECM) platforms do not always include the required level of control.  PleaseReview provides tight management for the entire process.”

We also featured in an Ovum article entitled ‘On the Radar’ and have appeared in analyst blogs, radio and print interviews.  

We continue to strengthen relationships with key analysts through a series of briefings as we roll out updates and cutting edge enhancements to PleaseReview.  As business sector experts and the middle man between the end user and software provider, analysts provide insightful feedback, and we very much value their opinions.

In addition to one on one conversations, for the first time this year, we’re working with a leading firm on a more formal basis.  Osterman Research, headed up by Micheal Osterman, provides timely and accurate market research, cost data and benchmarking information to technology-based companies.

Led by Osterman, in December 2014 we conducted a survey to look at document collaboration amongst knowledge workers, in both regulated and non-regulated industries, to examine the impact inadequate IT systems have on productivity and indeed the wider issue of employee retention in a buoyant labor market.   

The results are quite startling…Osterman found that knowledge workers collaborate on an average of 69.4 documents per month, or 3.3 documents per workday.  If we conservatively assume that each document requires approximately only 20 minutes of collaborative work, this equates to each knowledge worker spending 66 minutes per day in document collaboration activities, or about 14% of a typical eight-hour workday, adding up to more than 34 days per year.  

And the impact of inadequate tools?  You’ll have to register for our forthcoming webinar to find out.  Led by Michael Osterman and co-hosted by David Cornwell, CEO of PleaseTech, it will be taking place on:

Thursday June 4th

8.00am PDT / 11.00am EDT / 4.00pm GMT

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