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

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.

 

SharePoint again

Posted by David Cornwell on 17. March 2015 15:40

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


AIIM recently published its latest survey on SharePoint ‘Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint – important strategy choices’ and it has provoked a lot of comment. 

The survey collates information from over 400 organizations and identifies the fact that, whilst a minority of organizations (11%) reports that they have been successful in their use/deployment of SharePoint and that the project met its objectives, the majority haven’t (63%). The remainder (26%) appear to live in optimism - that if they continue to plug away they'll get there eventually. Technically the category was called ‘Just about there as planned and moving forward’. 

This survey paints a worse picture than the Forrester survey last year, which found that over 40% of respondents reported that their deployments of SharePoint overran the project timescale, mostly due to technical difficulties. 

Various reasons for this lack of success are given in the AIIM survey including lack of senior management buy-in, lack of training, lack of planning, lack of user buy-in, etc. Various defenders of SharePoint point out that only 22% of organizations are running the latest and greatest, namely SharePoint 2013, and that this explains the lack of user delight! 

Personally, as a user of Office 365 (i.e. the very latest version), I think that it is, unfortunately, a very long way from delighting users. The old expression ‘as user friendly as a cornered rat’ comes to mind. My view is endorsed by the fact that only 25% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘We have a good level of adoption and the users like it’. A full 60% of respondents identified that one of the ‘three biggest ongoing issues for SharePoint in their organization’ was ‘persuading users to manage and share their content in SharePoint and not elsewhere’.

So what happens when users find the technology getting in the way of productivity? The answer, as we all know, is that they develop a workaround. And so employees are starting to use things like Box, Dropbox and even OneDrive to share documents. As, indeed, are we. 

Despite all this, the report notes that less than 10% of organizations have replaced SharePoint or are considering a replacement. Surely a triumph of hope over experience, if ever there was one.

In my blog post on September 2nd last year I shared my hope that we were entering the ‘realistic SharePoint’ era. Maybe I was premature.  However, one assumes that, if (as reported) 90% of organizations have no intention to abandon SharePoint, they will need to become more realistic in their SharePoint objectives. This, I guess, in itself would bring on the realistic SharePoint era. 

My blog further suggested that in the realistic SharePoint era the reality that SharePoint can’t do everything would dawn. The good news is that there is some evidence that interest in 3rd party ‘add on’ solutions is increasing. The AIIM report suggests that 36% of organizations are using 3rd party add on tools. Hopefully, as organizations become more realistic about what can be achieved with SharePoint, more will start seeking out tools such as PleaseReview to enhance their SharePoint experience. 

PleaseReview is available fully integrated with both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. So if you want a SharePoint based collaborative review and co-authoring solution that really works and want to join the 11% of organizations reporting success in their use and deployment of SharePoint, you know what to do! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back at 2014 and forward to 2015 - views from PleaseTech CEO, David Cornwell

Posted by David Cornwell on 19. January 2015 12:16

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


Welcome to 2015 which has started at a gallop!  

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

2014 delivered 25% growth in sales order value over 2013 with 36 new clients and a massive 35% growth in annual recurring revenue (ARR).  Of particular note is that revenue from term license sales rose over 70% reflecting the industry trend towards renewable licenses.  Maintaining the headline sales growth whilst, at the same time, boosting ARR growth is, we think, an impressive achievement.

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, which is exactly what we plan to do in 2015.

With approximately 65% of 2014 sales, the trend of Life Sciences being our largest sector continues. However, this is down from 80% last year reflecting our success in expanding into other sectors. Once again, North America is our largest market accounting for 77% of all sales. This is in line with the trend of North America averaging around 73% of sales over the last five years.

In terms of product, 2014 saw the release of PleaseReview v5.1. Key enhancements included: 

  • The introduction of a context-based review capability; 
  • Additional review workflow capabilities such as hierarchical/tiered reviews;
  • Enhanced post-review reporting capabilities; 
  • An optional Archive feature;
  • Enhancements to the review templating capability now called ‘Review Types’;
  • Enhancements to the configurability of the system to facilitate its use in large corporations with disparate configuration requirements;
  • A cost-center licensing capability. 

These enhancements continue to establish our thought leadership in the critical business process of document review, which is exemplified by our ‘Beyond Review’ strategy. This strategy uses the metrics from the business process optimization associated with using PleaseReview, for further analysis and optimization. 

We continue to have our enterprise clients at the forefront of our thinking and conversations with them both in terms of the infrastructure challenges they face and in the details of the complexities of their review requirements continue to drive our development. 

Once again 2014 saw customer praise for our service and support. For example, a customer commented: “I definitely have to say that your company has raised the bar for vendor support.  Nick continues to go above and beyond my expectations for support.  I truly appreciate everything your team does.”

As ever we continue to develop partner relations and deliver new integrations. Last year we delivered integrations with Veeva Vault, CARA for Documentum and OKTA.

All of this was accomplished whilst, at the same time, undertaking one of the most stressful things a company can do which is the move to larger premises!  

So, looking back I think we can be proud of what we achieved in 2014. 

What can we expect in 2015?  Well, from our perspective the answer is: more of the same.  We will continue to work hard and deliver excellent software. 

We expect to release PleaseReview v6.0 which will include a substantial upgrading of PleaseReview’s user interface. The idea is to borrow from the consumer web 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 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.  Already 2015 has seen two new starters!

From a personal perspective a year wouldn’t be the same without a physical challenge or two. There is early stage planning for Everest Base Camp but, for more immediate motivation, I have signed up for the South Wales Three Peaks Trial Gold walk at the end of March, which is a 20 mile walk with a total ascent of 5,000 feet. That will keep me focused for now!

If you want to follow what we are up to here at PleaseTech, do visit our website or follow our LinkedIn company page.

Thanks!

 

Document review is a non-trivial business problem for many companies

Posted by David Cornwell on 2. October 2014 11:46

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


How do we know that document review is a non-trivial business problem for many companies? The answer is quite simply that we spend our time talking with existing and prospective clients who have done the analysis. In order to justify a PleaseReview investment, they take the time and trouble to look at the benefits and build a business case and, if we are lucky, they share it with us!

For example, last week I was with a PleaseReview prospective customer. We were discussing the business case on which his PleaseReview project is based. He explained that the first business case he had calculated showed such a large benefit that he had to revise it as he didn't think it would be believed! He then recalculated it using conservative assumptions. These included only including those reviews with more than four participants and only taking into account the time saved by the document author not having to consolidate comments and changes with the ‘copy and paste’ process. BTW: This 'conservative' business case was estimated to save an average of eight hours per document - that is a working day!

In this particular company, there were 'thousands' of documents reviewed per year.

Furthermore, no consideration was given to the time saving at review meetings or any of the other standard benefits delivered by a PleaseReview system. And yet, even without this, the payback on the project was well under six months!

We know another company based its PleaseReview business case purely on the time saved in review meetings. During the software pilot, meetings which were scheduled to take all day were completed in a matter of hours. Thousands of hours per year would be saved if they went ahead with the purchase. This made PleaseReview a ‘no brainer’.

But, I hear you cry, statistics! I need statistics!

Well how about these statistics from live PleaseReview systems?

I found the following numbers from one of our clients: over a six year period this client has had around 20,000 documents involved in about 6,000 reviews, so an average of 3.4 documents per review and 3,333 documents per year. The user base is close to 1,500 and the client has historically had an average of 12 participants involved in each review.

So, if my sums are correct and assuming that the client gets the same level of saving (i.e. eight hours per document) over the last six years this client has conservatively saved around 26,600 hours per year. Let’s say that is an over estimate and base the calculation on reviews rather than documents. The figures now show a saving of ‘only’ 8,000 hours per year (based on 1,000 reviews, each with an eight hour saving) which equates to over 660 hours per month or 83 days per month. This is a considerable benefit.

Reviews can, of course, contain many comments and changes and the time saving will depend on the number of comments and changes.

Data from another client extracted from a single month in the middle of 2013, reveals an average of 175 comments/review. However, this is slightly skewed by the fact that one review had over 3,000 comments/changes whilst another had over 250! However, if you eliminate the extremes there was an average of just under 50 comments/changes per review.

I was actually sitting in a meeting at this client’s site when the above statistics were discussed. A senior manager was absolutely amazed that they had a business process which involved so many documents and so many people reviewing them. The ‘front line’ team explained that, before PleaseReview, it was a ‘horrid’ process that had taken weeks and now at least it was under some sort of control. In fact, the users now felt that they couldn’t do their job without PleaseReview. Further proof that document review really is a non-trivial business process.

Another client says: “we have cut the review time of most documents in half and turnaround time is much faster with the comments being automatically collated. I can’t say enough about the time that we have saved”. They also noted that the production of productivity reports was simplified.

Productivity reporting brings up the question of metrics. I’ve just quoted statistics from thousands of reviews with thousands of comments from a user base of thousands. Who has got time to collate that stuff? The answer is, of course, a database. It’s all there in the database and therefore it takes a matter of minutes to calculate the statistics.

How many people have any metrics around their document review process? Those using PleaseReview do. With metrics comes the ability to look at the business process – if only to show amazement that you have such a process!

PleaseReview v5.1 introduced additional analysis options including the ability to examine the data by document section using Excel.  Using standard Excel analysis features such as pivot tables, it is possible to rapidly produce reports on, for example, the number of accepted and rejected comments and changes per document section.

A simple sample report is shown below. The report details the number of rejected comments and changes per document section in the review. Using standard Excel filters this could, for example, be restricted to rejected changes, or comments, or any combination of desired search criteria.  This gives users a great tool for improving the quality of future documents, identifying training requirements, and so on.  

 

 

So it can be seen that PleaseReview can scale to very large user bases and review requirements.

However, of course, not every client is going to have such extreme requirements. Remember that the figures presented were averages. These clients run some very small reviews, with single documents as well.

The key point is that, without PleaseReview, the basic process of document review is an inefficient and cumbersome one. Highly paid and highly skilled medical and technical writers should not be spending their time copying and pasting! It’s hardly an efficient use of people’s time, energy and enthusiasm. With everyone pressed for time and having to ‘do more with less’, efficiency is mandatory.

Obviously the examples I have quoted are based around larger, heavily document intensive companies, but the same pain points and advantages are experienced by smaller companies with smaller teams. With smaller teams the relative percentage savings can be just as large. We have clients who gain significant benefits from just a user base of 30 people as well as those with thousands of people.

PleaseReview streamlines the process, saves everyone time and pays for itself in no time at all. Perhaps that is why, in an average year, 30% of our revenue comes from existing clients buying more licenses and 50% of our clients have purchased additional licenses.  Repeat business is the best endorsement a company can have and it acts as a great encouragement to the entire team.

So, many thanks to our clients – please keep up the good work and keep making the savings.  And don't forget to keep telling us about it!

 

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