Plan Faster

imageThat’s the Jack Rabbit pictured at the right. It’s a roller coaster in Kennywood Park outside of Pittsburgh and it’s been rolling since 1920. It has changed over time, but it still offers the basic promise of a thrilling ride. It’s still a very important part of the overall joy of spending a day at Kennywood. I’m sorry, this isn’t my vacation blog, and I do have a point. The world of information management is changing very fast, but we can still keep the whole package viable, if we manage change correctly.

About a year ago, we made the decision to use Citrix ShareFile. I started to explain that a while back, and I promised a more detailed explanation, but I’m not going to provide that today. One reason is that the ShareFile we decided to use has changed. It’s changed quite a bit, as has every other file-sharing service. If I explained the features we liked about ShareFile this time last year, you might say: “you can get 10x that amount of file space today for free!” You would be wrong. You can get closer to 50x today for free if you look in the right places.

That isn’t the point, that can’t be the point.

That could never be the point. You could never make business decisions based solely on price, but you clearly can’t do that today when it comes to file sharing and online storage.

The point, my dilemma, the next IT problem, is that the pace of change is exceeding our ability to plan like we used to. Remember Roadmaps? Remember when the industry leading vendors would tell you what they were planning to do over the course of the next 3-5 years? I do. I remember being able to take those roadmaps, with a few grains of salt, and build our 1-3 year plans from them.

Forget that.

You can’t do that anymore.

We selected a product/service (ShareFile) in October 2013. By the time we explained our plans to use that service to a committee representing our customers in April 2014, it had changed significantly. Now, as we are getting ready to roll out the solution, it has changed even more. It’s OK. It still does what we want it to do. And, the changes are mostly good, or the kind that might be good someday. I don’t have this stuff all figured out, but here are a few things I think we have to keep in mind as we try to hang onto this ride:

Maintain control – You can’t run your business if you cede control to vendors who are fighting for their own survival. You might not be able to specify the details of your plan as it extends very far into the future, but you still have to have a plan.

Maintain focus – If you’re saying “how can I plan when technology is changing so fast?” you might be focused on the wrong thing. You might be focused on the tools. My plan is to support the business needs of our company. ShareFile is a tool that I am using to meet those needs.

Be the buffer – If you think your head is swimming in a sea of technological change, think about your non-technical coworkers. You might be able to (I’m dropping the metaphor before I have to talk about someone drowning) deal with the pace of change, but they can’t. They shouldn’t have to. Remember, they have a day job. Even if you are using a cloud-based solution, you can control the pace of change through the solutions you build.

Avoid kit solutions – I buy a lot of tools, but the ones I won’t buy are the 18-piece battery powered every-tool-you-ever-need kits. I don’t buy them because when the batteries die and the new-fangled batteries aren’t being made to fit that kit, I’ve lost 18 tools. SharePoint might be a kit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy it, but we have narrowed our plans to use SharePoint to stay closer to what we think are its core capabilities. ShareFile basically does one thing. It’s a thing we need, so we’re good.

Avoid capital expenditures – One side-effect of cloud-based solutions is a move to subscription fees vs. capital expenditures. That’s a good thing. Large capital expenditures have to work over a long enough time to provide the return on the investment that you made to acquire them. The return on investment ends when those 18 inoperable tools have to be carted to the curb.

Communicate – Even though you can’t introduce change to your coworkers as fast as it’s being introduced to you, you have to change things faster than they want you to. Let people know what you’re thinking and where you are heading. Let people know when your plans start to change. Let them know that you’re managing rapid and uncontrollable change on their behalf.

Buckle-up, keeps your hands in the car at all times and enjoy the ride.

Episode II

imageShortly after I posted the first episode in this little mini-series on leaving SharePoint, Christophe a.k.a. @PathToSharePoint suggested that Office 365 might be the answer to the problems we are having. I responded, telling him SharePoint 365, sorry SharePoint Online will have a role in our future, just not this role. It is as if SharePoint Online had shown up for an audition, missed the lead role but got picked up as an extra on a different film. Hey, that’s show-biz.

The reason we looked at SharePoint Online was because we thought it would be easy. In some ways, it would be easy. Unfortunately, the ways in which it would be easy are the ways it would be easy for us. We already know SharePoint, so working with SharePoint in the cloud would be a snap. We already have the content organized in SharePoint so moving it to the cloud would be a snap. We already own MetaVis, so moving our on-premises SharePoint stuff into the cloud would be…what’s the word for a snappier snap…let’s say easy-peasy. The problem is that we’re supposed to be making life easier for our customers. How does that work for me?

Once when I was discussing two options with my boss, he summarized my arguments by saying:

“Let’s see, the business benefits are the same. Option one is expensive but it would be easy for you. Option two is cheap but it will be harder for you to work with. I’m going to go with option two.”

That’s the thing with business problems, the solutions are spread across a spectrum of benefit. If we can’t have the whole rainbow, we have to focus on our members and our customers first.

The big reason SharePoint Online would be easy is because we are going to use it for a part of our normal business process. We have some stuff in SharePoint on premises that requires high availability. Specifically, it needs to be available when our office is without power. We don’t have any redundant power options, so we have to create redundant content. The content is in SharePoint, the redundant content will be in SharePoint online, done. That works really well, but again, it works for us. There are ways to make it easy for our domain users to log into SharePoint in the cloud, but our customers aren’t in our domain. In order to get them to login, they would have to have some sort of Microsoft account.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, this isn’t an issue because everybody either has or can have a Microsoft account. Yeah, but that’s not really the case. Some people don’t have an account. Some of those people don’t want one. Some people have a Microsoft account, but it isn’t associated with their job.

I had to create a Microsoft account in order to work with an association I belong to. As an old boss used to say: “the process was 1, 2, 6;” in other words, a snap. I don’t use this account very often, but whenever I do, my first task is to delete about 100 pieces of junk mail. This is the last thing I want our customers to have to do in order to work with us.

In addition, for security reasons, some of our customers are prevented from using personal credentials to access content while at work and others are prevented from creating such an account that is linked to their domain email address. In our on premises implementation, we had a separate domain and we issued credentials when necessary. Moving to the cloud seemed like a step backward as far as user experience goes.

Finally, in addition to all of the above, if we did go with SharePoint Online as a solution, our content would be in SharePoint, duh. I you remember the original post in this series, the problem with that is that most of our customers, I’d say 95% of them; simply want to download files from our repository. They don’t want calendars, tasks, blogs, wikis, custom lists, metadata and workflows – just the files. When that’s all they want, you either have to spend time to make SharePoint look less capable than it is, or you are going to make your customers wade through a process that seems overly complex.

If you are a lover of suspense, stop reading. I’m going to spoil the ending of this saga. We have decided to use Citrix ShareFile for this application. I’ll explain why we selected it and how we use/plan to use that service in the final installment of this series. Until then, I can say that we are very excited about it, our employees are very excited about it and the customers we’ve spoken to are very excited about it.

Stories Yet to Come

This is my 250th SharePoint Story. I have to say that back in April 2009 I never imagined that I would write so often or that so many people would care to read what I had to say. I have received numerous comments, emails and tweets that indicate that people like the focus I try to put on “what we do and why we do it” and they seem to appreciate the fact that I share our mistakes. After last week’s post, it’s clear that I have ample fodder for that kind of post. As I look forward to 2014, I see some changes coming and this seems like a good time to talk about them:

Other Subjects – You may not have noticed, but at some point in 2013, I changed the tag line to include Information Management. I did that because I really do believe that it’s more important to understand why we do things than it is to know how to do them, and why we do things doesn’t always have anything to do with SharePoint. I had the privilege of working with several people during 2013 who reminded me that SharePoint is a technology with which we can improve business processes, but that the nature of those improvements often has nothing to do with technology in general, let alone this specific technology.

Other People – One of my major objectives at work is to prepare a new generation of employees to run my portion of this railroad after I retire. My retirement isn’t imminent, but our business is rather unique and learning about all the moving parts takes a long time. I’m not a minor player in our SharePoint cast yet, but I am becoming more of an end-user of SharePoint than I was in years past. So, in the future, when I say that “we” did something, keep in mind that I probably should have said “they” did something instead. Becoming a user of SharePoint might give me a different perspective from which to write about User Experience – that might be fun. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as comfortable writing about the mistakes others make as I am writing about my own mistakes, so, “they” might have to continue to suffer my development efforts.

Other Software – One of the first posts of 2014 will be about a content management solution that doesn’t involve SharePoint. We remain a SharePoint shop and a Microsoft-centric shop, but it’s no longer an exclusive relationship – we’ve decided to see other people. It’s OK, I told SharePoint “it’s not you; it’s me.” In a sense, this is really just a small extension of a previous theme. I’ve written numerous articles about software that we have bolted onto SharePoint, integrated inside SharePoint or used in order to affect SharePoint. I’ve also written about the stuff that we have written or paid someone else to write that runs within SharePoint but didn’t come in Microsoft’s, or anybody else’s box. I will continue to write about those things, too. In fact, I look forward to writing about a project management solution we recently purchased that runs inside SharePoint.

Other Blog – This last bit is nothing more than a shameless plug. I chose the meme for this blog because I enjoy telling stories. If you enjoy the storytelling nature of this blog, you might like my other ongoing attempt at writing – No Facilities. That blog is rarely technical and almost never about SharePoint. The tag line over there is “Random thoughts, life lessons, hopes and dreams” and it grew in popularity quite nicely in 2013.

Thanks so much for visiting this blog. Have a happy and prosperous New Year!