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.

What is the future of document creation?

Posted by David Cornwell on 15. June 2016 11:36

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


I thought I would share an excerpt from an article I recently wrote for CIOReview, an enterprise technology magazine, where I consider the future of document creation.

As the CEO of a technology company I constantly consider the future. Naturally, a major consideration is whether a disruptive new technology is coming along which could make our products obsolete. 

I believe that only the paranoid survive and I’m forever scanning the horizon for the missile which is aimed squarely at our technology - that of document review. What is this disruptive new technology (or, as Nicholas Taleb would put it, black swan event) which will hurt us? 

Let me define ‘document review’ as the term means different things in different industries. For us, document review is the generic term for the process by which peers, specialists or other interested parties comment upon and suggest changes to the content of a document prior to its finalization, approval and dissemination. Specifically, it is the review element of the document creation process.

Whatever the document, the basic creation process is the same: create; review; finalize; approve; and finally, disseminate. I simply don’t see this process changing in the foreseeable future. No black swans there. 

PleaseTech operates in the B2B marketspace where disruptive new technology takes time to infiltrate. 

One area of disruption which impacts us is the ongoing Office suite apps battle between Google and Microsoft. The Microsoft Office Suite has, for the last 20 years, been the dominant application for the creation of documents, spreadsheets and presentations in the business world. Our competitive advantage is based around our deep understanding of Microsoft Word and, to a lesser extent, the remainder of the Office Suite. So is the Office Suite under attack? The answer is: yes - of course. The real question is: how successfully?

A couple of years ago it seemed that Google was making decent inroads into Microsoft’s market share However, with the undoubted success of Office 365, Microsoft is fighting back with companies now switching from Google Apps to Office 365. 

There is, of course, the whole cloud vs on premise debate. Whilst the cloud is a fine invention and our cloud business is growing rapidly, not everyone wants their valuable intellectual property in the cloud. 

Is a company really prepared to entrust valuable documents to a generic cloud? Obviously not, so we see on premise being equally as important as cloud and, that of course, is where Microsoft wins again with its Office Suite. Its commercial competitors are all 100% cloud based.

What about the future of documents themselves? With individuals entering the workforce now being classified as ‘digital natives’, does the whole concept of a ‘document’ go away? Is this our black swan? 

I’m of an age where I recall typing pools. Professional Engineers (as I was attempting to be as I entered the workforce back then) didn’t type their own documents. They were submitted to a typing pool, where they were created, printed and returned to you for review. A red pen was then used and the cycle continued. However, the introduction of PCs and word processors was a disruptive technology and the typing pool vanished. Yet, despite the disruption, the concept of paper document format lived on electronically with Adobe Acrobat. The delivery mechanism may have changed but the concept of a document is still very much alive. 

Do digital natives think the same way? The research suggests not. They think in social media terms and moving them beyond this is one of the challenges educators are having to deal with. Can we see contracts being agreed in informal language? I think not. One of the first lessons in business is understanding that the way something is worded can form the basis of a legal contract or instruction. The language used is all important. 

So it seems to be that the document creation process of create, review, finalize, approve, disseminate isn’t going to change anytime soon – certainly not in my business career and probably not in my children’s business career. 

It’s hard to see something replacing Word even with initiatives such as the Open Document Format (ODF) supported by the UK Government. However the whole point of a Black Swan event is that it comes out of left field and is extremely difficult to predict. So who knows what the future holds?

If you believe that document creation is as important as I do, I suggest you contact us at PleaseTech to find out how we could help you better face what the future might throw at you.

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!

 

 

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.

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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