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 ‘realistic SharePoint’ era?

Posted by David Cornwell on 2. September 2014 12:54

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


Apparently when you are a CEO of a growing company there comes a tipping point when you stop telling everyone what to do and start being told by your staff what to do! "David, we need a blog entry from you on SharePoint" - was the command from marketing. So, being a dutiful, obedient servant to the cause, here it is.  

It was actually moderately topical because whilst on holiday with friends, a couple of us were chewing the cud over a glass or two and he was complaining that you can’t get SharePoint developers for love or money in central London. I questioned why they were developing in SharePoint but he didn’t know (he is an accountant and was only interested in the money side of the equation). Anyway, we talked through the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and whether we are entering the ‘post SharePoint’ era as some seem to believe. 

Personally, I don’t think we are entering the post SharePoint era but I do hope we are entering the ‘realistic SharePoint’ era. This is the era when  people work out what SharePoint does well and what it doesn’t do well. 

I guess it is what Gartner calls the ‘slope of enlightenment’ in its Hype Cycle model. In the model, the slope of enlightenment follows the 'trough of disillusionment' which follows the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. Check out this link for an overview of the model.

And, let’s be honest, expectations have been inflated. PleaseTech, along with many others I'm sure, suffers from IT departments the world over saying "SharePoint can do that ..... it’s the collaboration platform/it’s the records management platform/and it’s the [insert term here] platform."

In my opinion, this is partly the fault of the Microsoft hype. I’ve personally sat in presentations given by Microsoft personnel where they explain to the audience that SharePoint does everything and there is no need for anything else.  

Unfortunately, some people seem to have been listening to the presentations and appear to have been swayed by Microsoft's marketing. In the trade this is known as drinking the Microsoft 'kool aid'. They emerge from these sessions repeating in rote ‘SharePoint can do that’. 

No it can’t – not everything. Stop people. Take time to understand the problem (aka the requirement) and research the best method of delivering it. BTW, here is a clue: The answer is not always SharePoint. 

When it comes to PleaseReview and what it offers, SharePoint CAN’T DO IT.  Not out of the box, not with lots of clever development of workflow, not at all. And, the unfortunate thing is, organizations waste millions of dollars trying to make SharePoint do what PleaseReview does when all they have to do is buy a license from us, buy our SharePoint integration license, deliver to the business, save a load of development dollars and bask in the reflected glory of a job well done.  

Too often the end user client wants our software but has to fight tooth and nail with IT as their response is ‘SharePoint can do that’.

I am personally aware of several projects where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars have been spent trying to make SharePoint do what PleaseReview does. Recently we had a series of emergency presentations with a prospect because the committee was meeting to approve a project which was going to throw ‘good money after bad’ and spend even more money on a failed SharePoint project. The project was trying to emulate PleaseReview functionality. I’m pleased to say that it appears, even at the 11th hour, that common sense has prevailed and PleaseReview looks like it will be the preferred option.

It seems that the basic problem is that, when it comes to SharePoint, the ‘Law of the Instrument’ (otherwise known as Maslow’s hammer) applies. The law is typified by the saying ‘if all you have is a hammer, all problems look like a nail’ and, what it means is, people become over reliant on familiar tools. 

This is perhaps why in their 'Collaborative Credentials'  report, the Mando Group (a UK based web design and SharePoint consultancy) have found that the majority of Microsoft SharePoint users are 'disillusioned' with SharePoint implementations. When you start to believe that every requirement simply needs hitting with the SharePoint hammer you lose sight of the fact that not every requirement resembles a nail. Sometimes it's better to screw things together, sometimes to glue them together and sometimes to weld them together. Hammers are blunt instruments, after all. 

So, I do look forward to the dawning of a new age, the age of ‘realistic SharePoint’. This will be an age in which there is a new sense of enlightenment, where there will be less kool aid consumed, where appropriate tools for the job in hand will be used and, as a consequence, where PleaseTech’s revenue will go through the stratosphere! Let the sun shine in!

For more information on how PleaseReview works with SharePoint, please visit our website or contact us.

  

 

A decent ½ year and a couple of reflections

Posted by David Cornwell on 25. July 2014 12:51

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


It’s clearly something to do with my age – but it doesn’t seem a whole six months since New Year. When I look at the wall chart (yes I still like a wall chart despite have my Outlook Calendar), I can see why the time has flown past. I personally attended eight conferences in the last six months and found time to do other stuff such as sell software and recruit a new sales VP!

So the continued success of PleaseReview means we are able to continue to invest in growing the business and recruit additional people.  As our clients know, we are an organic growth business owned entirely by management and staff.  This means we adopt a controlled approach to growth and have to ‘earn a bit to spend a bit’.

So the first bit of news is that on 1st July Barry Lyne joined PleaseTech as our Sales VP. Barry is based in Malmesbury but has travel on his agenda and I’m sure he’ll be making a few visits to existing clients as he embarks on a learning curve to understand why PleaseReview is so successful.

And successful it is! In the first half of 2014 we gained 14 new corporate clients from a range of industries. The detail and a couple of sample client names is captured in our news item here, however a key factor is that the new clients represent diverse industries including engineering, technology, professional services and, of course our core market, life sciences.

Our recent strategy has been to expand into other industries whilst not losing focus on life sciences. The practical implementation of this is attending different conferences which focus on different industries and tailoring messaging appropriately.  This is paying off and is something Barry is keen to continue.

Another interesting trend has been the move to the cloud. Historically, we have had about 25% of our clients using our cloud services and the remainder being on premise. However, around 50% of the new clients this year have opted for the cloud service. It will be interesting to see whether that trend continues as the year progresses.

One of the headaches expansion brings is increased overhead. We have been struggling for space in our current offices for some time. With the staff additions both recruited and planned, more space is required. We have identified a suitable property and plans are underway to move in the autumn. Office moves require planning and are, as we are finding, very disruptive, so if the plans all work, we will have plenty of space to accommodate expansion over the next few years.

It’s important, however, that we don’t over expand and so our cautious approach means that we continue to hold a healthy cash balance so that both new and existing clients retain supreme confidence in our longevity!

Moving onto interesting observations from our various new conference visits ………..

At most conferences we attend these days we conduct a survey into people’s document related activities. One particular phrase we have coined is ‘the document workload’ and one of the questions we are asking is whether the individuals’ document workload is increasing.

Not surprisingly the compliance professionals surveyed from the banking industry, and the quality assurance professionals surveyed from a wide variety of industries, almost universally agreed that their document workload had increased.  Increasing regulation was the most common factor when asked ‘why’.

However, again not surprisingly, the only sector not to agree that the document workload was increasingly was, yes you’ve guessed it, life sciences. Already heavily regulated, the life sciences industry probably represents the ‘pinnacle’ of regulation - so we can see that other industries are on the path to this pinnacle. This can only be good for us because where there is regulation there is documentation, and where there is documentation there is review and that’s what we do better than anyone else!

One final thing: PleaseReview v5.1 is, thankfully, finally on the verge of release. More on that subject next month.  

 

An increasing document workload

Posted by David Cornwell on 2. June 2014 10:44

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


As you may be aware, PleaseTech attends a large number of conferences every year. Not only do we have a booth/stand to show our products and chat with existing and prospective customers, but also in order to get additional insight as to the pressures driving prospective clients, we conduct research at these conferences. This normally takes the form of a brief iPad questionnaire which we ask delegates to complete.

Where we get a statistically meaningful sample, we publish the results of this research as White Papers and webinars. The research tends to be geared towards the conferences’ specific industry or discipline, so the results from different conferences are not always directly comparable.

However, one of the recurring themes we see in this research is the increase in what we are calling the ‘document workload’. I’m thinking of the document workload as the number of documents required to achieve a certain goal. If that goal is running a successful business then let’s define it as the number of documents required to run the business.  Another way to think of it is, the number of documents required to do your job, or that you come across in your job. 

There is no doubt that the document workload is increasing. That’s what people tell us and it’s what we observe in our own business. Why? Well, the standard answer is the increased regulatory and legislative overhead and resulting increased emphasis in procedures and client auditing requirements. 

The phrase ‘If it’s not documented it didn’t happen’ (or similar wording) is well known, especially in the FDA-regulated Life Sciences market, which historically has been and remains our largest market. This is the corollary of procedures where it’s commonly stated that: 'If a process is not documented it doesn’t exist’. Whilst these clichés have always been true in Life Sciences, if you search for the terms you will find them equally applicable to Legal, Government, Healthcare, etc.

So the good news is that the document workload is increasing. Good news? Yes, very much so if you are a vendor in the ‘document workload mitigation’ industry. Whilst I suspect that the ‘document workload mitigation’ industry isn’t an officially recognized industry sector, it’s really the reason why there is so much focus on document management and document collaboration - a recognized sector which PleaseTech is very much part of. 

This increase in the document workload leads directly and unequivocally to an increase in the ‘review workload’. An increase in the review workload means an increase in demand for PleaseReview. In fact, we would argue that the review workload is a significant percentage of the effort required in dealing with the document workload. 

We have previously documented the results of our research which suggest that people have a low expectation of document collaboration solutions. Everyone just assumes that there is no way around the ‘tracked changes nightmare’. As the document workload increases, so will that nightmare and the associated pain. 

Mitigation is all about the reduction of pain and one of the things I’ve come to understand in my long career is that in order to sell a software product it must solve a pain point. If it doesn’t solve a pain point there won’t be a compelling ROI and it becomes a ‘nice to have’ - and no one has the time or budget for that stuff these days. 

Whilst I was thinking about the document workload and collating the ideas as a subject for this blog post, I thought a bit of research of my own was in order. I was hoping to find some research which quantified the increase of the document workload on businesses. From that I reasoned I could work out the increase in the review workload. I was somewhat surprised to find that there doesn’t appear to be much, if any, research on the subject. A search for ‘document workload’ resulted in nothing meaningful. Likewise ‘document burden’ didn’t produce anything interesting. There were a number of vendors talking about the ‘document burden’ but no hard research.

So, I’m thinking that we need to start researching this. We need to find out by how much the document workload is increasing year on year. We need to ask people what percentage of the document workload they estimate can be attributed to the review workload and what the pain is, in real terms, of the review workload. The output of all this research is a marketing campaign!

If you wish to be a part of this research, please let us know by emailing us at marketing@pleasetech.com!

 

Introducing PleaseReview v5.1

Posted by David Cornwell on 2. April 2014 09:34

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


April already. They say that ‘time flies when you're having fun’. I can tell you that it certainly flies when you are trying to get a software release out.

The testing of PleaseReview v5.1 is now well under way and, assuming no major issues are identified, we expect a release date towards the end of May. We never release until we are sure it’s a quality product and our testing is complete. There is testing of the new functionality, regression testing and installation and upgrade testing and, of course, all documentation and other support material to prepare. There are so many elements in the mix.

So what will PleaseReview v5.1 contain? Well, as always, the thinking behind the release is to:

·         Continue the ‘beyond review’ strategy;

·         Facilitate enterprise rollout with enterprise enhancements;

·         Address new client requirements;

·         Keep up with the changing environment.

The ‘beyond review’ strategy’s intention is to consolidate our thought and technology leadership by adding value to the review process.

So, what does PleaseReview v5.1 include?

Sub-review and parallel reviews

One of the new features in v5.1 will be the concept of a sub-review. This will allow a review participant to create a sub-review, review the document(s) with their own chosen review participants and then publish selected comments and changes from the sub-review to the master review. To explain:

Imagine I was a department head and was invited to review a corporate policy or procedure which affected my department. I would want to first discuss this with my management team to get their feedback and consolidate their comments. Sub-reviews are designed for exactly this scenario. We can have an ‘internal’ departmental review and then publish our consolidated feedback to the master review without having to ‘wash our dirty linen in public’.

Parallel reviews are somewhat different. This would be appropriate if you wanted to gather feedback from two entirely separate groups at the same time without each of the other groups being aware of the other’s existence.

This increases the ‘workflows’ available in PleaseReview so with v5.1 there will be, out-of-the-box:

1.       Standard single stage collaborative review

2.       Sequential reviews where each stage can comprise one or many participants;

3.       Sub-reviews;

4.       Parallel reviews

Combinations are possible. For example, if permitted, it will possible for a participant in a stage of a sequential review to create a sub-review. This allows for very sophisticated review management.

Context-based review

Most people see review as an ability to comment upon and mark-up a document. And, whilst that is correct, there are many ways to look at the document. You can sit down and read it as you would a book. You can follow all the cross references and therefore jump backwards and forwards in the document. Or you can ask the question: ‘What does the document say about nnnnnn’?

It is this latter approach which context-based review is designed to support. Reviewers are able to search the document for a phrase or text string and PleaseReview will produce a report with all instances of the phrase (or text string)  presented in context. This is much like a Concordance, whereby a list of the material words used in a work are presented together with their immediate context as a separate index.

Providing the context in the report is important. This allows the reviewer to rapidly scan the report and examine the document for consistency. It’s more than just checking for spelling or capitalization. It allows the reviewer to check that a phrase or term is used in a consistent way throughout the document.

These subtle requirements come from being involved in endless discussions in respect of document review and from listening to people struggling with these issues. By listening to our target audience and then incorporating their requests and requirements into our product plans, PleaseReview continues to set the standard for document review.

Post review reporting

Post review reporting will further extend PleaseReview's ability to deliver metrics around the review. Whilst with the current release a set of comprehensive review metrics is already available, these are mainly delivered at a document or system level. For example, how many reviewers made how many comments and what percentage were accepted or rejected, etc.

The post review reporting available with v5.1 will allow companies to drill down deeper within the document itself.  So, for example, let’s examine section 3 of the document. How many accepted proposed changes were there? In section 4 of the document how many rejected proposed changes were there?

This requirement has been driven by one of our clients who is looking to use review metrics to analyse the quality of writing and reviewing. By examining the number of accepted and rejected changes on different sections of the document, some initial determination can be made of the quality of the author and/or the reviewer. At the very least, flags can be raised as to which areas merit further investigation.

This illustrates that reporting can bring real value by helping to control and measure the review process. In all honesty, it's not the primary reason customers turn to PleaseReview but is simply a welcome side benefit.

Enhanced configurability

As PleaseReview gets rolled out across large organizations, the requirements of many thousands of users need to be addressed. For example, the comment categories which may be appropriate for an engineering document will not be appropriate for those in marketing and will be different again to those required when reviewing a proposal.

We could have done the basic minimum but we took the plunge and have implemented a full hierarchical inheritance model. What this means in English is that we will deliver a highly configurable system which retains central control with the absolute minimum work required. It is possible to specify the behavior of the system with respect to a specific department and/or review type (for review types see below) and have one override another. So, for example, if a review type permits the download of the original document and the departmental settings do not, the departmental settings will override the review type. We believe that this level of configuration will serve to meet the requirements of large enterprises going forward.

Cost Center licensing

An aligned but separate requirement is that of cost center licensing.

A large company may have a single installation of PleaseReview, but licenses are purchased from individual departmental budgets. These departments may take a dim view of another department using licenses purchased from their budget.

Cost center licensing will allow groups of licenses to be ring fenced for an individual department’s use.  Once again this facilitates enterprise deployment and, hopefully, keeps peace and harmony in the corporation.

Review types

Facilitated by the enhanced configurability, review types take PleaseReview's current templating capability to a whole new level.

Now standard review types can be set up which specify all review parameters including, potentially, the duration of the review, the review participants (via standard distribution lists) and a host of other configuration parameters.

So, for example, as someone who has just written a blog entry and wants it reviewed, there could be a standard review type called ‘Blog entry’. So all I have to do is upload the document, select the review type and the review will be started for a set duration to a standard set of people included on the ‘blog review’ distribution list. If, in the future I need to change who reviewed the blog entry, I wouldn’t change the review type I’d simply amend the distribution list associated with the review type 'Blog entry'.

Of course, for larger companies, it would be possible to have subsets, such as engineering blog, marketing blog, etc.  

This is especially powerful when coupled with standard workflow systems such as those found in a document management system (DMS). The DMS user simply initiates a pre-set workflow which in turn calls the PleaseReview review type. In this way a sophisticated, integrated system requires very little work.

Archive 

Finally, we will be offering an optional archive module as a cost option.  When we initially conceived PleaseReview we saw reviews as transient instances which, when the document was approved, would be discarded. The approved document would be the true electronic record and how it got there was immaterial.

However, as we have started branching out into new market sectors and people are placing a greater importance on due diligence, compliance and being able to prove that company procedures were observed, several clients have requested the ability to archive review data.

The archiving module will meet the needs of these clients by ensuring that the review data is securely archived prior to a review being remvoed from the system.

Other stuff

Additionally there will be support for new environments. As a company offering on premise solutions (in addition to the cloud), we operate in a complex, ever changing environment as other companies upgrade their offerings.

Needless to say, with a release of this magnitude there are always minor enhancements and bug fixes included. These are too numerous to mention.

The only constant is change.

I’m confident that with PleaseReview v5.1 we maintain the high standards PleaseReview has been setting for years and that PleaseReview will continue to lead the market with respect to document review.

Looking back at 2013 and forward to 2014

Posted by David Cornwell on 7. January 2014 10:07

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


I hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year. Welcome to 2014. 

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! 

2013 revenue growth over 2012 was approximately 10%. Whilst that figure may seem disappointing in light of previous growth figures, it masks a much higher underlying sales growth reflected by our annual recurring revenue being up 25%. 2013 brought us a total of 21 new corporate clients.

We remain profitable and continue to retain a healthy cash balance. Given that we now employ more people and have further recruiting plans (meaning ever increasing projected overheads), this remains an excellent position to be in.

With approximately 80% of 2013 sales, the trend of Life Sciences being our largest sector continues and, once again, North America is our largest market accounting for 66% of all sales. This is a slight decrease from previous years following an increase in business with European customers.

In terms of product, 2013 saw the release of PleaseReview v5.0. Key enhancements included:

— An enhanced user interface

— The feedback capability which can be used both to capture high level feedback on a document set and thoughts and ideas to help with team brainstorming

— Flight mode. It's now possible to review Word documents offline on your tablet (Android and iPad) and then upload to the master review when back online

— User types to control the functionality available to reviewers according to the level of sophistication required

— Simplified licensing to take into account added product capabilities. 

From a customer service point of view, we continue to get excellent feedback on our support. For example, a recent customer commented: “Sadly, the sense of true customer service is lost on many vendors we do business with; we are happy to see that PleaseTech ‘gets it’.”

2013 was the year we 'landed' on the industry analysts radar and were recognized as thought leaders in the document review and collaboration space. Ovum, Info-Tech, Osterman Research and the Bloor Group all covered us and, to top it off, there was the Gartner 'Cool Vendor' award. I'm sure that our continuing understanding of the critical and ubiquitous business process of document review and how PleaseReview responds to this will continue to attract the analysts' attention.

As we continue to develop partner relations, we released a PleaseReview integration with Oracle WebCenter Content and achieved Oracle Gold Partner status. Work on other integrations and partnerships has been a constant theme of 2013 and continues into the new year.

So, looking back I think we can be proud of what we achieved in 2013. 

What can we expect in 2014?

Well, from our perspective the answer is: more of the same.  We will continue to work hard and deliver excellent software. 

There is increased optimism about the global economy which can only be a good thing. Given the high reliance we have on US dollar denominated sales, the volatility in the dollar/sterling exchange rate over the last 12 months remains a business risk that we need to manage, but isn't a threat to the fundamentals of our business.

We will continue to expand our presence in Life Sciences by working with new and existing partners, but 2014 should also bring to fruition the work we have been doing on some exciting new opportunities in new market sectors with new partners. Watch out for announcements over the course of the year.

We have PleaseReview v5.1 coming towards the end of its development phase with the test phase starting shortly. I’ll be devoting a whole blog post to v5.1 later in January so watch this space. Work has already started on v6.0 and we have no shortage of ideas and requests for enhancements. 2014 will also see further development of PleaseCompose.

So, from a business perspective, it’s ‘steady as she goes’ or in other words ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. 

From a personal perspective a year wouldn’t be the same without a physical challenge or two. Nothing major is planned yet but in the meantime I have signed up for the South Wales Three Peaks Trial Platinum walk at the end of March which is a 17 mile walk with a total ascent of 5,000 feet.

That will keep me focused for now!

 

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