Q & A – Reflections After a Week on Stage

clip_image002This week began with me playing straight-man to Jill Hart in a presentation on User Experience to the CT Project Management Institute’s conference. The fun part of presenting as an employed end-user is that I get to talk about the things we did wrong, or in this case, the things we didn’t get right until the second attempt. I told my story and Jill talked about what I did wrong (at first) and what I did right (eventually). Although I was trying to get off the stage to let Jill work the room, I got a question about the process we had worked to automate. If you’re familiar with this blog, I’m talking about our loss-control inspections. A young woman asked me “why do people have to create agendas? Couldn’t your process start by generating a suggested agenda of inspection items?” I explained that while we do have inspection guidelines, the nature of our business doesn’t lend itself to a fully-scripted process, but I honestly thanked her for the question. That’s an example of the kind of questions we simply have to ask – “is there a way I could make this process even better?

The very next day, I gave the presentation I talked about last week, the Career Day presentation to our local high school. We didn’t have a big crowd, but I verified that every guy and each of the two girls all wanted a technology-based career. One of the questions that I was asked was “what do you like most about your job?” This came after I had shown a slide of about seven things I like about my job and a slide of the single thing I hate – meetings – but the answer I gave the young man wasn’t on the slide. I like learning new things, I like that I was able to build an app for my iPhone, I like playing conducting research with new technology, but the thing I like most is solving problems. A love of problem solving is what originally sent me to college to be a chemist. Solving problems with technology is what I appeared to be better at than chemistry, and for 35 years, that’s what I’ve been doing for a living. SharePoint is simply the latest in a long list of technologies that I have been able to bring to bear on the problems presented to me.

Thursday, AIIM New England held its first event in Connecticut in recent memory. Steve Weissman led a spirited discussion around the mission of AIIM and the local chapter. We had so many interested people in the room, that we are already planning a CT meeting in the upcoming chapter year. I was batting clean-up in this meeting by reprising a presentation I made at the AIIM Conference titled “Expand, Unlearn and Ignore.” I am not going to go through that here, but if you want to see it, I think it’s part of the Virtual Best of AIIM Conference on June 7th. The memorable question I received after that presentation is “what did you try before SharePoint (for content management)?” I get that question a lot, and I love answering it. I point out that I’ve been a systems developer throughout my career, so my first thought was “I can build that!” Then I explained how we did build a system for storing documents, and that we did include some cool features, including a controlled upgrade process (PDF(n) to PDF(n+1)) but that when it came to access and retrieval, we struggled to meet the needs of our coworkers. Whenever I do think of SharePoint’s weaknesses, I remind myself that SharePoint 2003 was better at navigation, search and web-based access than the system I built.

The question that I really enjoyed was when a woman asked about controlling content management in things like cloud-based solutions that our employees can download for free, or controlling the proliferation of smart phones and tablets that have spawned the term BYOD (bring your own device). You might think that I planted that question, because the answer was “I am so glad you asked that!

On May 23rd, the AIIM New England chapter is staging our final event of the 2011-2012 chapter year, and the topic of conversation is going to be “The Cloud, Mobile Content Management, and BYOD” – seriously, how cool is that? When I say conversation, I mean conversation. We have assembled a panel that includes: Roger Bottum – VP of Marketing, SpringCM; Christopher J Luise – Executive VP, ADNET Technologies and Marc D. Anderson – Co-Founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting. I have seen these guys give presentations on their own, and I can’t wait to see them together! This event will be held at the Marriott in Newton, MA, so if you’re in the greater Boston area (that includes CT, just sayin), join us and be part of the conversation. Oh, did I mention breakfast? I think that means there will be bacon.

Three Themes – One Goal

clip_image002A few days ago, I returned from the AIIM Conference. Having extended my trip with a short vacation, I missed the ‘recap window’, but I can still say that it was a great event, and its success helps me segue into a point I wanted to make about conferences. AIIM’s new focus on Information Management fits so nicely with my job, and my department’s goals that it makes me think of woodworking joints like the ones shown to the right. AIIM has always helped me to reach my goals, but now they complement my work and add strength to my mission. AIIM’s emphasis on people might seem like a hard thing for me to cope with (given my track record) but it really isn’t. I have been waiting for over 35 years for people and technology to be discussed as if they belong together, as opposed to being at odds with each other. My hat’s off to the people at AIIM for deciding to push this notion forward.

Now that the AIIM Conference is over, I have to prepare for another presentation. This time, I will be pairing up again with my User Experience mentor Jill Hart as we talk about Usability at the 2012 SNEC-PMI conference.

A little further down the line, I will be part of a panel at Info360, talking about SharePoint adoption. AIIM and Info360 used to be one great conference, but beginning this year they are two great conferences. I love the fact that I am going to get a chance to be on stage at the Javits Center before someone tears it down and moves NY conferences to Queens. I used to live in Queens, and I don’t think that when people talk about visiting NY, they’re talking about Queens, unless they have relatives there.

Information Management, Usability, Adoption – three disparate topics, or components of the same stool? I’m going with the stool analogy, and I’m going to say that Information Management is the seat, the goal, the functional element we are trying to achieve. Usability, adoption and technology are the legs. Throughout my career, technology has gotten the lion’s share of my attention. Although I have seen one-legged stools, I’m not sure I want to build one or use one. Now, with the additional focus on those other legs, I get a sense that we are building stronger solutions. I also get the sense that the solutions we are building in SharePoint are going to be easier to market. Simply put, Information Management is an easier sell than Content Management, which is just one of the reasons I like the show name Info360.

Information is truly all around us; our 360° view includes an amazing array of information sources and an equally large number of consumers. This is the nature of business today, but that is a concept that we (information professionals) understand better than our counterparts in other areas of business. Technically, I’m not in the business of selling SharePoint; I’m trying to solve the real-life business problem of connecting the creators and consumers of information. When I consider that as my goal, I start to appreciate the need to attend conferences, follow blogs, to follow people on Twitter and other social media – in other words, the need to join the conversation. In many of the presentations I have given, I have included the following quote (Attributed to Albert Einstein):

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them

We need new ideas, and the chances that we are going to stumble upon a lot of them, let alone the best ones by ourselves are pretty slim. I need help, and the best place to find the people that can help me are at events like this. These events are also a fantastic place to meet the people you already follow in order to match a face with an avatar.

In many of the sessions I attended at the AIIM Conference, people talked about the role that user experience has in driving the adoption of information management technology (see, three legs). I heard researchers tell us how people will ignore or find ways to work around technology that does not offer a good user experience. I heard practitioners talk about and demonstrate the ways that they achieve a good user experience. In addition, I heard prognosticators like John Mancini talk about how fast the trend toward social, mobile, and local solutions is moving. As much as I love SharePoint, selecting it as our information management platform didn’t exactly give us the pole position in the race for a good user experience. SharePoint, if I can extend yet another analogy, is a fantastic race track, but we have to build the winning car. My team (maybe I’ll start referring to them as my pit crew) and I are learning how to do that, but we know that we have to continue to learn and I expect that we will have to pick up the pace. I hope to see you at Info360 in NY, where the learning will continue.

Thank You

imageEarlier this week, I was honored to receive AIIM’s Distinguished Service Award at their Awards Dinner in San Francisco. I can’t begin to describe how great it felt to receive this award, especially since I truly believe that I receive so much more from AIIM than I give back. I have enjoyed and benefited from AIIM programs, AIIM NE Chapter events, AIIM Education and the friendship and support of some of the nicest, most professional people I have ever met. I am particularly grateful to several people, and I want to thank them here today:

Ed LoTurcoEd nominated me for this award. Ed is retired now, but when I met him, he was the president of the AIIM New England Chapter. Ed’s accomplishments in the industry are too numerous to mention, and to be honest, I don’t know them that well. I know more about his tireless work to keep Lexington, MA a great place to live, his contribution to the lives of many hundreds of young track and field athletes that he coached, and his conquest of the grueling Pan Mass Challenge every year for as long as I can remember (if you want to join me in support for Ed, his rider ID is: EL0032). Mostly, I remember Ed from the first time I attended an AIIM NE meeting. I knew almost nothing about content management back then; I knew less about AIIM, and I felt out of place. But I only felt out of place for about a minute; Ed made me feel welcome. He explained the event, the chapter; the association and he introduced me to people who have been mentors and who have become friends. After Ed nominated me, the following three people supported my nomination with recommendations:

Jill Hart – I met Jill totally by chance at iPhone/iPad DevCon last year in Boston. Jill was attending with one of her clients, and it quickly became clear that Jill was knowledgeable and passionate about User Experience in everything. After a 30+ career in IT/Systems Development, I was only warming up to the notion that Usability Matters. I capitalized that because it’s also the title of an AIIM NE event where Jill and I gave a joint presentation last November. My coworkers should also thank Jill; without her infectious spirit, I would not be nearly as concerned about their experience in SharePoint and in the other systems we build.

Christopher Luise – I have known Chris for over 20 years. Like Ed LoTuco, Chris’s accomplishments in business are too numerous to mention. His accomplishments in the community are also almost too numerous to mention. He is serious about and seriously talented at making technology work in ways that add value to companies and benefit people. He is serious about mentoring the young people in a variety of fields, including one young person who is very important to me and my wife. Chris is Executive VP at ADNET Technologies, a company that has been instrumental in the success of technology at ANI almost as long as I’ve been working there. Chris and I are not related, but he shows up in my contacts and social media listings under the heading of ‘family’.

Jane Zupan – I met Jane at an AIIM NE event shortly after she had transferred to New England. In an attempt to emulate Ed, I reached out to Jane to try to make her feel welcome to our Chapter. I was fascinated by her marketing work with Nuxeo, and she and I have been friends ever since. Last fall, I was asked to make a presentation at the University of Connecticut on the subject of content management. The UConn audience was considering SharePoint, but also wanted to know more about Open Source solutions. This wasn’t a sales opportunity, it was only an opportunity to educate people, but Jane drove down from Boston to join me in that presentation.

George Turner – I would be remiss if I didn’t include George, President & CEO of American Nuclear Insurers. George assigned the task of content management to me back in 2001 which sent me to AIIM and Ed, and the start of this journey. Given our disparate backgrounds and responsibilities, George once suggested that I probably don’t learn much from him. To the contrary, I learn by his example, every day about decision making, the importance of planning and doing the right thing. Most important, I have grown while working for George; I hope the people in my department can say that about me.

Notice the connections, the common threads, the way these people seem like a close knit group despite the fact that most of them don’t know each other? I am blessed to have these people in my life, and I sincerely appreciate their support and friendship.

Does SharePoint Make You Happy

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Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to share the stage with Jill Hart, at an AIIM New England event titled “Usability Matters”. Jill set me up, by asking me to speak first. She had the advantage of having seen my presentation and she knew that it included information about things we did wrong in addition to the things we did right. During my presentation, Jill revised her presentation to include quotes, examples and even pictures of me. Even as I introduced her, Jill was revising her presentation.

As we were preparing for the transition, I asked Jill if she wanted to use my remote control device to advance her slides. When she started speaking, she talked about how she immediately felt good once she realized that my remote was a Kensington. She had used this manufacture’s devices before, she knew it would work and, more importantly, she knew how it would work. She went on to talk about the ways that previously positive user experiences build brand loyalty with customers. She gave tons of examples, good and bad, and she helped me understand that although my wife jokes about me being a marketing sap, I am really responding to a great user experience when I reach for my Stanley FatMax tools. Then I started wondering about SharePoint.

If you are in a typical business environment, someone is bound to ask “where can I get a copy of…” and the answer, at least on occasion is going to be “that’s in SharePoint.” The next time that happens, watch the person’s facial expression. Are they as happy to know that the stuff they need is in SharePoint as Jill was to know that the remote was a Kensington? Are they as excited as I was the day I saw a Stanley FatMax Utility Knife hanging on the rack at Home Depot? If they aren’t then you haven’t done your job. If their expression is similar to that of someone who just realized that they are missing a key ingredient for a recipe, you could be in trouble. If their expression matches the one when they are told “you have to go to DMV to process that transaction” you might want to think about starting over.

I have to be honest, I am trying to stay out of trouble with SharePoint user experience; ours hasn’t always been good enough. The biggest problem has always been navigation. We would have that little discussion quoted above, and, along with the recipe face (see above), the person would say something like “oh, I can never find anything out there” in a way that would equate SharePoint with the area of space beyond the asteroid belt. When we upgraded to SharePoint 2010, we consolidated a lot of SharePoint content to make it easier to find. In some cases, we eliminated sites completely because the only thing of value in the site was a single document library. Why make people step around an empty task list, an empty list of links, an empty calendar and that picture of those freakishly happy people that adorns the Team Site template – all to get at one library. A very simple example of something we added was a link on most pages (we’re not done yet) back to the main page. Breadcrumbs are great, but they are still two clicks instead of one, and many people don’t realize that the little folder icon contains the breadcrumbs in SP 2010.

In my presentation, I also mentioned that we are working to decrease the degrees of separation between task and content. We bought SharePoint as an ECM solution, to manage our digital content, but there’s a problem with that approach. In most cases, digital content is the end of the line; the report, the PowerPoint file, the PDF, all represent end products of a sometimes lengthy process. We are working now to insert SharePoint into the process itself. We are trying to find ways to accommodate the precursors to those results, the links, data, reference material and images that went into the report or presentation. Hopefully, by bringing people into SharePoint earlier in their process, they will get more comfortable. Besides, someone is just as likely to want to find the image they used in a report last year as they are to find the actual report.

For the ROI fans in your organization, remind them that we will never get our money’s worth out of SharePoint if people only use it when they have to. If we want to move the bar on SharePoint adoption, we need to focus on user experience. I wonder if Stanley makes a FatMax web part.