Posted by David Cornwell on 23. August 2012 16:34
Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.
Long time no blog! I find it hard to believe that it's been four months since my last sensible blog post. The time has just flown past. My excuse is that we have been focusing on getting our new product, PleaseAuthor, out of the door. The effort taken to complete, document and deliver it has been all consuming.
PleaseAuthor is targeted at what I consider to be the ‘light weight’ structured authoring market - in other words those who need to implement structured authoring but who don't want to make the investment in, or require, the more complex solutions currently available. Structured authoring is not new but what is new is our approach - by basing it entirely around Microsoft Word we keep it within a familiar user environment and make it extremely simple to learn and use and, most importantly, set-up.
As always, with a new product, the aim of the first version is to provide a catalyst for debate and to initiate discussion with customers. Of course, this first version must work. But the real value is for potential customers to actually see, feel and play with it. By using customer feedback to develop enhancements to PleaseAuthor, I have no doubt that it will prove to be a very valuable tool for clients. As with any iterative process, each journey starts with a single step and we are actively working with clients to define the next step in PleaseAuthor’s journey.
One of the toughest aspects of extending a single product solution into a suite of products is to get the look and feel right so that the products co-exist seamlessly. There are, of course, two ways to approach this – the cheap way and the expensive way. The latter consists of employing user interface designers and the former involves asking everyone in the company for ideas. Needless to say we chose the former and, I think, it has worked rather well – as those of you who are lucky enough to use our products will discover.
Moving away from product development, what has worked less well in my opinion is some of the social media marketing we have been concentrating on. LinkedIn has been useful and provides value in driving traffic to our website, Twitter helps develop conversations where there is a defined hash tag (such as for a conference) but otherwise has yet to prove its worth and as for Facebook, not a success. If we were a ‘B2C’ business then I’d see Facebook in a different light, but as a ‘B2B’ I can’t see its value. Anyhow, we have a comprehensive review of the whole social media campaign in early September...I’ll let you know how it goes.
We are now at the stage of deciding ‘what next’ for PleaseReview, aside from a delegation module currently in development and to be delivered at the end of September.
In examining the document collaboration market, the big vendors seem fixated on the Google Docs ‘co-authoring’ approach. This is where Microsoft has focused its efforts with SharePoint 2010/Office 2010 and, from reading initial reviews of upcoming releases, interactive co-authoring continues to be the focus. I believe that whilst this is interesting, it’s not really what people want as it causes as many issues as it solves. True, people can work on the same document - but there is no control over who can do what to where and users can easily overwrite others' changes. As we say it requires ‘well trained, rational and courteous’ users.
People may think they want simultaneous, interactive co-authoring, but, given that not all users are rational and courteous, what they really want is control, reporting and a complete solution. Thus we have engineered more and more control into PleaseReview. For example, our ‘ReviewZones’ allow individuals to be locked out of part of the document or see sections of the document as ‘read only’. Authors want people to be able to ‘mark-up the document but not mess it up’. PleaseReview provides complete control over ‘who can do what to where’ and thus prevents over-enthusiastic reviewers messing up the document.
Clearly there are user cases for both approaches but we are planting our flag firmly in the ‘control’ territory. Going forward our tag line will be ‘controlled document collaboration’ – the emphasis being, of course, on the word ‘controlled’.
As evidence that our approach is extremely valid, we are finding that as people start experimenting with the interactive co-authoring provided by SharePoint and Office, they realise that control is a good thing and that PleaseReview is the only game in town. We add that layer of control and reporting to SharePoint which enhances its capabilities and delivers a more complete solution.
On the subject of SharePoint we finally released our SharePoint whitepaper reporting on the research we undertook at the SharePoint USA and European conferences last year. Two key findings really stood out for me. Firstly, 90% of respondents experienced issues with their document review process but nonetheless were ‘satisfied’ . This, to my mind is about education. People simply aren’t aware that a better alternative exists and make do with what they have. Secondly, a surprisingly large number of participants had a very simplistic view of what constitutes collaboration. For example, over 25% of respondents agreed that sequential access to a document was collaboration, whilst 32% were neutral on the subject. Oh dear, a fair amount of education to do!
Finally, as you may have noticed, the Olympics have just finished here in the UK with the Paralympics still to come. We commissioned a series of cartoons for the Games which are published on ourcartoon website. I hope you enjoy them.