Archive for App Development

Application Delivery Therapy for IT and Business

pond

With our v11.3.2 wave, Application Designer, the Design Canvas and our 6 pack of sample apps we are in the process of providing a new service – Application Delivery Therapy - to IT and Business Groups within our customers.  Well, not really.  But, these simple additions to our product line have enabled our customers to rethink how they get the job done.  We are now often engaging pretty much as a therapist to help both IT and Business readjust to a better way to work together.  Let’s talk about it.

Should be easy and painless – right?

The vast majority of the business applications we address on SharePoint are what I would call “business critical” vs. mission critical.  They are departmental level apps, generally around work management, involve some business process vs. just content, and would seem to be rather tightly scoped.  So, you think the work would be easy and painless.  Yet, in most cases, if both IT and Business have to get involved, the situation devolves into a classic battle filled with tension.

Regular SharePoint – normal IT and Business misalignment

In a normal SharePoint world, IT and business are coming from two different places.  IT is looking to bring up and deliver an infrastructure service within a particular SLA.  Business is after unique, business applications that can drive better results.  When the two meet it is usually in a situation where IT is being asked to deliver a custom application on top of SharePoint for business.  The conversation quickly becomes about IT’s needs for the detailed requirements (like all good custom app shops), budget allocations, a long lead time, and business pushing back.  The tension mounts.  Business tries to get around IT…

CorasWorks changing the dynamic of delivering apps

CorasWorks has always had a play here to simply make it faster and easier for IT or Business IT to get the job done in a more agile manner.  However, the new wave of App add-ons actually changes the dynamics of the work.  It goes like this:

  1. With the 6 pack of Apps, IT is able to have instances of a bunch of apps that cover a common spectrum of application cases.  These aren’t necessarily the exact app but close enough for business to “get it and see how they would apply it.”   Seeing is a big piece of believing.
  2. They can then do what we call “walkthroughs” and talk about which is the most relevant app and design for the business need.  This gets them on the same page very quickly.  It allows them to specify their joint approach.
  3. Armed with the CorasWorks Design Canvas, IT is able to quickly make changes – usually in real time as they discuss things. They can ask what Business wants and talk options.  Requirements details come out of the process – naturally and relatively reasonably.
  4. Then, they can do what we call “workouts” to workout the app, both IT and Business hands on.  Through the workout, business refines their requirements and IT has the attention to figure out the best way.
  5. Gradually, working side by side, the apps take form.  Usually, rather quickly, business is ready to begin using it, knowing that it can be changed.
  6. Advanced enhancements can now be dropped in with a bit more lead time as a phase 2.
  7. The new app can then be added to IT’s catalog of sample apps to serve the next business group.

Some Comments

  • Initially, business thinks their app is completely unique.  It isn’t – 80% is the same as others.  It is very odd to see how quickly business folks will “apply” an existing app to their needs – once they see it.  What they need is the extra 20% that is unique – which we support.
  • The above flow eliminates that upfront confrontation around requirements and business’s lack of confidence that IT can deliver.  Often, the battle happens before IT and Business have even engaged.  To make this really work well, the desired app needs to fit into the “wheelhouse” of what IT already has at its fingertips.  The 6 pack of apps is a starter.
  • You don’t even talk budgets until you reach step 3 above.
  • It is a virtuous cycle.  The more apps you do this way, the bigger the catalog of apps in IT and more skilled they are at the process – so the more business needs fall into the “wheelhouse,” the quicker the success.
  • The best results are achieved when you can make someone from IT and someone from Business jointly accountable in real time for the results.  It is side by side and collaborative.  It is about the shared objective.  It is Joint Application Building.
  • Force as much real time changes as you can.  Sometimes it is best to have two people from IT involved – one talking and taking notes and one building (“the person behind the curtain”).  Real time makes a difference.
  • In this way you are building up a new Application Delivery capability.  It is not just ITs job but also the job of business to leverage the capability to deliver improved results.
  • IT should be willing to empower Business to use the Design Canvas to make certain changes in the application.

Application Delivery Therapy

We are helping customers change.  We help you get set up with CorasWorks v11.3.2, things IT needs to know, and your catalog of apps.  We help you get your approach for working with business in place.  We often help with getting business to try it out.  We often support your team on the first few apps.

Like any good therapy our approach is to seek alignment, remove distractions, and put in place positive tools and behavior to reinforce success.

 

william

CorasWorks v11.3.2 wave includes Application Designer v4.0 and new Six Pack of Apps

sprouting

In the beginning of June, we launched our v11.3.2 wave of products.  This includes new builds of CorasWorks for SharePoint 2010 and 2013 with a bunch of new features – somewhat unusual for a minor (x.x.x) release.  In addition, we also released two key add-ons that make it easier for power users to build business applications with CorasWorks.  I’ll focus on the latter in this article.  They are free to CorasWorks customers.

The Objective

The objective of these two add-ons to v11.3.2 is to make it easier for power users/builders to create finished business applications.  It takes too much knowledge, too much skill, and too much time to try and use native SharePoint to deliver finished business applications.  With these tools and the CorasWorks platform it is much easier, more straight forward, and much more re-useable.

Application Designer v4.0

The core add-on is Application Designer (version 4.0).  I introduced v2.0 of this visual design and build tool in a previous article.  This v4.0 release has a host of new features for the builder/power user.  A key changeup is how we have changed the “widget” toolset of the Design Canvas to follow the logical order that people go through to “build up” a business application.  These are shown on the left in the screenshot below.

image

So, what is logical as you build any business application:

  1. Create your content (lists and libraries)
  2. Lay out your navigation tabs, buttons, and pages
  3. Drop your displays on pages of different types
  4. Add your users forms
  5. Add your user actions and business rules
  6. Create your reports and add them to dashboards
  7. Set your role-based security.

Accordingly, this is now how we’ve organized the features.

Of all the new features, I believe the most powerful is the ability to make your application role-based using the Design Canvas.  You can apply roles for users or Groups to any tabs and buttons.  This removes the need to go down into the messy SharePoint content-based permissions to apply security.

You also now have a great new simple Report Designer with automatic two- level drill downs (chart sections to item listing and item details) along with drag and drop to add reports to dashboards.

Six pack of Apps

With the v11.3.2 wave, we have released a set of 6 sample applications.  These were all built using Application Designer v4.0.  They are easy to modify, enhance, and reuse leveraging the Design Canvas that is part of each.  The applications are:

  • Knowledge Base
  • Help Desk
  • Expense Management
  • Job & Interview Management
  • Time Clock Management
  • Work Order Approval.

You can leverage these applications as follows:

  1. Use them as-is out of the box
  2. Customize them and enhance them to meet specific needs using the Design Canvas
  3. Re-purpose them to similar but different applications, again leveraging the Design Canvas
  4. Use them to learn how a business application is designed using CorasWorks and then go off and create completely new applications.

Unlike sample apps of old like CorasWorks apps or the Fab 40 from Microsoft, the on-board Design Canvas makes it easy to a) visually understand how the applications are laid out, and b) customize and enhance using the wizards of the Design Canvas.

Getting them

These add-ons are free to CorasWorks customers on Premier Support.  They are available for download, by your administrator, via the CorasWorks Customer Center (http://help.corasworks.net).

Enjoy,

William

CorasWorks Application Designer – The “Just Right” Way to Create Business Applications on SharePoint

justright We just released the CorasWorks Application Designer.  It is a tool that you use to rapidly build the most common types of work management business applications.  In this article, I’ll provide you with an overview and explain why it should become the “Just Right” tool for a lot of your business applications.

Getting Started and Building Momentum

It is available for free to all CorasWorks customers on active Premier Support and Maintenance.  You’ll find it in the Download section of the new Customer Center.  It is available for download by any employees that have been given access to the Learning Centers of the Customer Center (see this article for information on the Customer Center).  It requires that you are running v11.3.1 of CorasWorks or greater.

To get going, read the rest of the article, download the tool, upload it to a site collection, create a site with it, and then, build your first app.

When done, templatize that first app, make 10 changes in 30 minutes, and then, deliver your second app for a similar but different need.

Repeat, to create more apps.

Why “Just Right”?

February 13th was our 11th anniversary.  For 11 years, we have been committed to helping our customers deliver business applications on SharePoint.  Principally, we have done this by offering a powerful Work Management platform and COTS purpose-built solutions.  It has worked for many.  However, we think there is a large group of people out there that still haven’t been enabled to add business value.  We believe that there is a “just right” spot that we haven’t tackled yet.

Let me explain.  Our platform requires that you know CorasWorks technology, some SharePoint, and that, you can design a business application.  Our off-the-shelf applications deliver the value quickly — if it is the application you need.

So, for some the platform is Too Cold – they can’t get that deep, don’t have the app design skills, not enough time, just not enough there to get over the hump…

For others, the purpose built apps are too much or just don’t apply – let us say Too Hot.

What we’ve done with the CorasWorks Application Designer is to build a “generic” tool that lets you build very quickly and within a well defined application framework to meet that middle majority of application needs.  The tool is not overbuilt so that it applies only to a narrow application need.  Nor, does it require you to learn much technology to deliver robust apps.  It is in the middle – just the right place to start.

All of the elements are there for you to quickly create work management applications.  And, whatever you build is a) polished and ready to be put to work, b) very easy to modify and c) even quicker and easier to re-configure to deliver for the next similar, but different, application.

So, not too hot, not too cold, just right.

A Sample Application

What does it looks like? What kind of apps are just right?  Here is an example.

I do a lot of work with Federal Government Contractors.  They have a department– Contract Administration–that manages their government contracts.  They get a huge volume of requests, normally by email, from all parts of the organization.  The application is to funnel the requests into a work management application to be centrally managed, assigned, tracked, and reported on.  Below is a sample page, All Open Requests, from the application.

image

How You Get There with Application Designer

You start by creating a new site using Application Designer (or re-using an app already delivered based upon Application Designer). The Application Designer is packaged as a SharePoint template, so it’s as simple as creating a new site using the Application Designer template. Once you create the site, you’re ready to start creating.  The Application Designer design canvas shown below is what you use to layout your application.image

This easy-to-use designer allows you to lay out your navigation and drop “widgets” into it that provide the functionality.  Widgets are navigation items (tabs, buttons), web part pages, displays, actions, and links that build out the user interface.  It is rather amazing how productive people can be just because it is easy to visually lay out the application with pre-built functionality.

You can reuse web part pages with web parts as features.  So, you can create your first one, and populate it with CorasWorks displays and actions and then clone it for use for other similar pages.  For instance, each page above in the “Manage Requests” tab is a clone of New Requests showing different information and with different user work actions.

Each page can be managed here via the Application Designer design canvas.  A key feature is the ability to secure each feature/page to a SharePoint Group or one or more users.  This enables you to easily design a robust role-based UI within a single app.

You then leverage the CorasWorks Application Wizards (Display Wizard, Action Wizard, Activation Wizard, etc.) to get into details for each feature you’ve added to the app such as custom tailoring the user actions or notifications or reports.

Branding.  Yes, people want it to look their way.  The Options feature of the Application Designer console allows you to control the look and feel.  We’ve incorporated ThemeRoller into the solution.  As it sounds, it lets you “roll your own” theme for branding or use one of the default options.

Quick Answers

How do I get it?  Go to the CorasWorks Customer Center, Download link at the top.  You need to be a user that has access to the Learning Centers of the CorasWorks Customer Center.  If you are an employee of a customer and don’t have access, just request access from the home page of the Customer Center.

How to learn to get started?  See the Application Designer video in the Platform Learning Center.  You need to have access to that Learning Center.

How to learn to build with CorasWorks?  See the “Essentials” videos in the Platform Learning Center.

Who can help me at CorasWorks?  Contact us at CustomerSuccess@corasworks.net.  We’ll also set up 1-on-1 sessions with our solution consultants to help you get started.

Enjoy,

william

CorasWorks as the GoTo Application Platform for Your Private Cloud

There is a lot of chatter about the public cloud these days.  But, the data tells us that the majority of enterprises are actually investing heavily in “Private Clouds” (see article about Gartner Private Cloud report). They are starting with efficient virtualized infrastructures and moving up the stack to “infrastructure platforms as a service” (IPAAS).  The reality is that the new cloud technologies are enabling the enterprise to get the cost benefits they seek on their own without losing control.  So, the private cloud trend is accelerating and maturing.

This article talks about the next step in the Private Cloud stack for the enterprise.  Now that they are gaining this highly efficient infrastructure platform, what are they doing about the application tier of the enterprise stack.  For most, they are still following legacy approaches based upon custom development.  80% of the applications are based upon .Net or Java.  Largely these are the “mission critical” apps.  Yet, all enterprises have a huge set of applications that are now referred to as “business critical”.  These applications are less transactional and more about collaboration and work management processes.  These are the apps driving the programs, processes, projects, requests, tasks, analytics, collaborative work that drive the bigger decisions and work in enterprises.  This is where CorasWorks plays.

So, if you are an enterprise company, and want to leverage your private cloud to address your business critical application needs – what direction do you go?

Let’s look at the status quo scenario.  You invest in your Private Cloud.  This provides you with an efficient, scalable, and stable infrastructure.  You open it up to your horde of custom development professionals (internal IT and external vendors).  They start custom building all of your business critical applications, as well as, porting or building your mission critical applications.  Or, you start buying COTS applications from third party vendors and loading them all onto the shared infrastructure and learning to support them.  Basically, those organizations following this approach are using the same application delivery paradigm that the enterprise has followed for the last 20 years.

So, you gain infrastructure efficiency, but, your application delivery capacity is the same as it always has been.  What if you could gain similar efficiencies up the stack at the application tier?  Let’s look at a CorasWorks enhanced alternative…

CorasWorks provides an integrated work management application platform that runs on Microsoft SharePoint.  It enables you to buy and build a very broad range of business critical applications.  Yet, it enables you to change your approach to drive a new level of effectiveness at the application tier.

Okay, so let’s first talk about the application stack (the what) before we talk about the new value drivers that CorasWorks brings to the enterprise.

  • You start with your wonderful Private Cloud infrastructure as above.  You get the same efficiency gain – that is good.
  • On top of this you deploy SharePoint (say SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013). This gives you the core information worker infrastructure and the base capabilities for content management. But, before you revert to custom development on this platform, let’s keep going.
  • Then, you drop in the CorasWorks v11 Application Platform.  This contains the enabling work management application software – all of the  actual complied code.
  • On top of this you start to deploy all of the business critical applications that you need.  You buy then from CorasWorks or partners or you build them using the CorasWorks platform.

How does this change things in the application tier?

  • The CorasWorks application platform is designed to enable “builders” (our word for the next gen developer using configuration vs. coding) to create applications or customize existing applications without new compiled code – just using the browser.  This means that your SharePoint environment and infrastructure remain unusually pure and stable.
  • Talented web developers can go to town doing very cool, jazzy, and business rich things, leveraging client-side CSS, Javascript, JQuery, XML, XSLT 2.0 etc. but with a structured server-side API and no new compiled code.
  • The business critical applications range from simple work management applications, to complex composite applications even integrating with external enterprise systems and public cloud applications, and, broad and deep inter-connected, distributed business systems.  So, you have a broad range of supported applications within this one, stable environment.
  • The environment is an enterprise, multi-tenant environment.  Many apps of different types across the environment based upon a common platform.  A couple times a year you upgrade CorasWorks and keep going.
  • It is an OpenApp system.  Any employee, vendor, or CorasWorks can come in and modify an application (if allowed) or create a new one or enhance and extend an existing one without a) waiting for a change by an application vendor (comparative to COTS apps) or b) being dependent on some custom development professional to modify the code and then get it deployed and supported.
  • Business users are empowered to make simple, but important and relevant, process/application changes with proper training vastly reducing ongoing requirements gathering, development, and support costs and accelerating the positive impact of business innovation and continuous improvement.
  • The applications and their design patterns are extensively re-usable. Many would think that an HR Staffing Request app, a Manufacturing Materials Storage app or a Legal Organizational Conflict of Interest app are very different applications.  In this new app platform world you find out that they are all based upon a common “request management” design pattern and easily repeatable reusing existing generic apps.  This has a vast reduction in costs, risks, and increase in stability and supportability.
  • All of the applications in this next generation work environment are natively integrated.  They are all based upon CorasWorks and running within the SharePoint based work environment.  CorasWorks has the unique capability to bridge common structural barriers of SharePoint to enable inter-connection of applications – natively.
  • Because the cost of change (new apps, integration, enhanced features, process changes) is so much smaller and easier, your enterprise business becomes more agile and more innovative.
  • Based upon the above, you can now standardize your application service delivery operations leveraging re-usable generic app catalogs, application design patterns, portable features, agile delivery processes, self-service and empowerment, and native integration (reducing enterprise duplication).

The Result

CorasWorks’ customers have been realizing the benefits of the above for more than 10 years at the application level.  The difference over the last few years is that the ramp to Private Clouds has provided a more efficient and scalable operating environment.  It has also started driving a common view of the stack – folks are looking to do at the application tier what they are doing at the infrastructure tier.  We are now seeing this full stack approach using CorasWorks being implemented in the largest enterprises (100,000+ users) down to small 15 person companies (that yes have a very scalable efficient Private Cloud infrastructure).

In the status quo scenario the enterprise is not getting the benefits at the application level of their private cloud.  Their progress gets stuck in the same old paradigm.  By adding CorasWorks and SharePoint to the stack they change the outcome.  The result is a reduction in the cost and risk of application delivery.  It drives a much, much greater degree of re-usability and re-purposability and therefore application delivery efficiency.  And, it enables organizations to be far more agile with their business critical applications, which is where the innovation and continuous learning and improvement really makes a difference.

Note that I am not saying that we will address all of your business critical application needs.  But, assume that we can address half or just a third of this vast and growing part of your application portfolio within the above model.  It makes it the GoTo platform – if the app fits then it is the way to go.  What value does that create for your enterprise?

william

A Top 10 Pharmaceutical Leverages CorasWorks for Program Management of $200M Global Product Serialization Initiative

drugs

The pharmaceutical industry is going through a significant change in manufacturing and supply chain management driven by emerging global government mandates for them to “serialize” their products.  Each unit of product must have a unique ID that can be tracked through the full supply chain to the end user customer. This is to insure quality, to enable tracing, and also, to suppress the use of counterfeit drugs (estimated at 10% of the worlds’ drugs).  The mandates have been coming out across the globe over the last few years.  The US is on the verge of putting their “mandate” in place this year.  (Click here to learn more about pharmaceutical product serialization.)

In this article I will look at how our customer, one of the top 10 pharmaceuticals, used CorasWorks to create a Program Management solution that is used to manage their $200M global product serialization manufacturing change program.  I will also address how the process worked as this story is a great example of how customers are able to achieve breakthrough results without the risks, costs, and time delays that are common for most enterprise application projects.

The Challenge

This customer is a very large manufacturer of pharmaceuticals – one of the worlds largest.  These mandates from around the world are requiring them to update all of their manufacturing lines to support the unique ID serialization requirements for each unit that is produced.  Different mandates from different countries/regions also have different requirements.  This process will cost our customer 200 million dollars over the next five years.  They will need to upgrade more than 100 different manufacturing lines in 400 different projects around the world in more than 20 countries.

The objective of our customer was to be able to centrally manage the program across the globe.  They had a strategic team in place to drive this initiative globally.   They had very precise requirements such as:

  • They needed top down management visibility and the ability to then drill down in details.
  • They wanted to be able to see all of the projects by a) defined KPI’s for the b) defined stages of work.
  • Their process requires that each local manager provide updates on each project each month.
  •  Most projects actually had two workstreams, so two different updates, for a total of 400 managers providing updating.
  • They wanted the ability for comments for each update.
  • These updates drive the KPI’s from the bottom, up the stack.
  • There were very complex KPI roll-up calculations so that KPIs would cascade upward from the base project to the top of the Mandate, Geography, Country, Product, etc.
  • The customer then wanted to be able to see where everything stood by different pivots such as by Mandate, by Country, by Product, by Workstream, by Line within in a real time, interactive interface.

The customer had detailed, application specific requirements for the Program Management system. Yet, time was short.  Some projects were already under way, so they wanted the system relatively quickly targeting about 4 months. They had evaluated options of custom development however the cost, risk of delivery, and length of time to delivery deterred them from this option.  They also looked at leveraging other owned Project Portfolio Management systems, however, they needed very precise features and in effect this made the use of these systems as risky as custom development.

So, the challenge was how to:

  • get a Program Management system that met their very precise requirements
  • in a relatively short time frame
  • at the lowest cost possible and without “breaking the bank”
  • with an acceptable level of risk of delivery
  • that would support changes as the program evolved and lessons were learned
  • and that was acceptable to IT today and supportable over the 5 years of the program.

The Solution

This customer uses SharePoint 2010.  In fact, they are in the Top 100 of SharePoint deployments supporting more than 80,000 users across four global regions.  They have adopted an Enterprise Shared Services Environment (ESSE) model in which they have a common infrastructure that is shared across all global geographies, all business groups, and, all employees.  They have three different farms (server environments) for different categories of work.

  • The Enterprise Shared Services Environment for those applications that do not require any custom compiled code.
  • A Custom Environment that allows custom code but is much more expensive to manage.
  • A Regulated Environment that is certified for regulated processes and information such as Clinical Trials.

They have been a CorasWorks customer since 2004.  The CorasWorks  v11 Work Management Platform is part of the infrastructure on the Enterprise Shared Services Environment available to all 80,000+ users.  The complex requirements of this Program Management application were more sophisticated than just about any other application running on ESSE.  However, they believed that it might be possible to build and deploy it on ESSE.  This would mean that it would have to be created without requiring custom coding, just leveraging the CorasWorks Work Management Advanced Configuration Tools.  If it worked, it would also mean that they could meet all of the challenge criteria noted above.

Working with the customers’ Service Delivery Team for the manufacturing group (that delivers applications to that group on ESSE) we did a quick pilot to simulate the applications’ operating requirements in the ESSE environment.  This was successful and the business customer decided to go with CorasWorks software and CorasWorks Professional Services to build the application on the ESSE environment.

This was a joint application development project.  The Service Delivery Team had built other applications using CorasWorks within ESSE so they were familiar with the core capabilities of CorasWorks.  They were able to work closely with CorasWorks on the design, the requirements, the testing, and changes.  They also handled the interactions with the business group.  The teams approach was an Agile methodology with the objective of having an early working solution in place, that would be built through sprints with user input.  In sum, it was a highly collaborative project between CorasWorks, the customers’ Service Delivery Team, and the business user group.

The Result

The base application was deployed for initial testing within 60 days.  The ability to quickly get the base application with a full information data set up and running was important for real time user input and changes.  It went through a series of sprints for additional phases and changes.  In addition, the application was re-factored three times in order to accommodate the changes and stay within the specified end user performance limits.

In sum, within 5 months the system went from development to enterprise production within the ESSE environment. Comparing the results to the challenge criteria stated above, the system was delivered:

  • meeting the specified technical requirements and the ones that came up through ongoing changes
  • almost within the time frame (it actually took an extra month to finish the project due to elapsed time delays with changes, user testing, and data loading) – but the project was still 2x faster than alternatives had been estimated
  • within the specified budget – that was about half of the initial estimate for competitive alternatives
  • the risk was mitigated by the known factor of CorasWorks capabilities on the ESSE environment
  • the resulting system is fully supportable by the customers’ Service Delivery Team since it is built on the open standard CorasWorks platform
  • and IT was already supporting ESSE and CorasWorks and will continue to support it as part of their global ESSE environment

My Wrap Up

This customer now has the capability to manage the global product serialization program.  They are in a great position to work towards success.  The program, an important one for them (remember counterfeiting is 10% of drugs), is also very important to the health and safety of all of us.  By investing to put the proper, well specified, program management system in place to support their defined process they have decreased their risks and increased their probability of success because they are providing a lot more visibility which drives greater accountability for results.

The General Challenge.  Most business-driven Program Management solutions are very custom.  It is the nature of the beast.  It is also a key to competitive differentiation.  Your programs/initiatives tend to be your big value creating or risk reducing activities.  But, it is very difficult and almost counter-productive for a vendor to try and build a general product for this purpose.  There are some COTS Program Management systems, but, if you try to use them for a significant program like this one you’d have to basically rip them apart to deliver on a typical set of requirements.  The unique flexibility of the CorasWorks Work Management platform makes it a very effective way to deliver on these custom Program Management applications.  As shown in this example, effectively they used a COTS product (CorasWorks) on an existing enterprise shared services (ESSE) platform to create a very custom Program Management solution without requiring any new custom compiled code.

william

Request Management Solution (Beta) – One solution, many applications, much easier

About a year ago I wrote an article about “work request management” that drills into 4 scenarios and compares and contrasts them – Customer Examples of Work Request Management apps for SharePoint.  Lots of type of requests should be managed.  Examples are: Trouble tickets (IT), Requests for proposal (BD), Capital Purchase Requests (Finance), HR Staffing (HR), Contract Reviews (Legal), Material Storage (Manufacturing), Demo Requests (Sales) and Marketing Campaign Requests (Marketing) …

These types of Requests are important to respond to.  They generate work or use capital or other resources and should be managed.  Requests and the associated work need visibility, tracking, reporting, a structured and automated way of getting them approved and tracking the work.  They are a core way that work gets initiated and done across your workplace.  The problem is that often, the types of requests that should be managed end up instead being driven through ad hoc activity, mainly email.  This adds costs and risks to the organization.  Multiple the cost/risk of one scenario times the number of scenarios and it is a big cost with a lot of risk.

CorasWorks is very well suited for request management applications.  Over the last year, we’ve seen more and more CorasWorks-based applications created to address all sorts of types of request management needs.  The ROI on these apps is very good – however…

The practical challenge for organizations is that there are so many different scenarios. They are architecturally quite similar but differ in the details.  And, the details matter to the end customer.  While the end result is quite good using CorasWorks, it takes a bit of time and some knowledge to configure CorasWorks for each specific application and to modify it when things change.  Compared to other options, we have a good general solution.  But, we thought that with a bit of focus we could make it even easier, more approachable, more scalable, and, more cost-effective for you to meet the business needs.

So, we decided to create a “vanilla” Request Management solution.  This solution, now in Beta, leverages the new v11.3 feature set to make it much easier to crank out purpose-specific request management apps.  It is the “vanilla” version.  You use the solution and the new onboard features to create your flavor of it to meet the specific business needs. Thus, the value proposition is not that you get just one application, but, you get a one solution that allows you address a whole lot of applications.

The Demo – 6 minutes

Below is a video that shows the new Request Management solution.  It walks you through the “vanilla” solution and then shows you some of the new features to make configuration a snap such as the Application Designer, Process Designer, Business Rule Sets, and Stage-based Request Details (shown below).

Request Management Video image

 

The Solution Beta

The solution is now in Beta.  We are working with customers that want to try it out and have specific application scenarios in mind that they want to address.  If you are interested, send an email to info@corasworks.net or contact your account representative.

wiilliam

CorasWorks v11.3 is Released-that makes 10 Years, 4 SharePoint Platforms-and now CAPS

On Monday, July 15th, we released version 11.3 of the CorasWorks platform to the CorasWorks download library.  The v11.3 release supports SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2010.  This is our first release for SharePoint 2013 (although we’ve worked with Microsoft on this release for 2 years). 

This means that over the last 10 years, we have released the CorasWorks Solution Platform for four SharePoint platforms:

  • SharePoint 2003
  • SharePoint 2007
  • SharePoint 2010
  • SharePoint 2013

With each SharePoint platform and each CorasWorks release we have enhanced the ability of our customers to address their work management needs within a CorasWorks-SharePoint shared application services environment.  We have also continued to perfect our “puttyware” approach that enables users to design, build, enhance and extend applications, without the need for custom compiled code to be introduced into the shared services environment.

CAPS – A Big Step Forward in v11.3 (SP2010 and SP2013)

While v11.3 is just a .dot release, it is also of major importance.  I believe that for CorasWorks customers, the most important part is not the support for SP2013, but rather, that we have included the CorasWorks Application Service (CAPS) technology

CAPS is just the right thing at the right time.  Client side web development is exploding and so is the potential for a mess.

CAPS is a REST-like service (runs server side) that enables client-side web developers to build very rich and performant apps and advanced features that leverage a clean server-side service.  We have been using it in our off-the-shelf Solutions and in custom solutions for the last 6 months.  With v11.3, it is now included in the CorasWorks platform. 

CAPS is targeted towards the web app developer.  It gives them a powerful service, including items like XSLT 2.0 support, one call joins, one call batch requests, Global Variables, mobile/tablet support and lots of good clean stuff.  But, it is also important because it simplifies and structures the architecture to avoid client-side chaos and bloat.

To launch CAPS, we have provided the new CAPS Learning Center (available in the Resources section of CorasWorks Community) that takes a more developer approach to learning with online examples, scenarios, and features that can be re-used, leveraged, and learned from.  If you can cut and paste, you can leverage CAPS in your work environment.

william

Building a Solution Catalog? Start with These 4 Core Work Management Solutions

Are you building out a re-usable solution catalog?  If you use SharePoint as an application platform, you should.  This is how you get tremendous leverage, save costs, decrease time to app, reduce risk, and, cut out lots of “noise”.  In this article, I’ll give you some context of why you should have a generic, re-usable solution catalog.  Then, I cover 4 core Work Management solutions that I’d recommend you add to your catalog.

Don’t have a Solution Catalog?  You are not alone.

Most folks started with SharePoint for Portals, Intranets, and general collaboration, largely via collaborative Team Sites.  When the idea of doing more on top occurs, such as business applications, they tend to think of development.  Over the years, as the standard enterprise application development teams have been migrating to the SharePoint world, the habit of doing “classic” development of applications has infiltrated the SharePoint world.  So, for anything that sounds like a business application, they do requirements gathering, waterfall development, custom code development, and hopefully, end up with an application.  This approach doesn’t lead to a catalog of re-usable solutions because it is technology focused vs. business focused.

This is unfortunate.  SharePoint, particularly in an environment enabled by CorasWorks, is the ideal environment for re-useable applications.   All of the elements are there to dramatically improve the process of delivering applications and be able to serve demand based upon known, re-usable frameworks and “base solutions”.   It is not just about the cost of developing a single application, but, about how you can transform the process into a virtuous cycle that actually drives business innovation and continuous improvement.

Envision A World of “Magic Apps”

Imagine, a world where there were 10 basic application frameworks or design patterns for information work.  These 10 were the core elements for 90% of what most business users needed.  If you had these 10 pre-packaged as templates in your Solution Catalog, you’d be able to reduce time to solution 5x, cut your costs in half, and, be able to focus right in on the key features that drive productivity and enable innovation.

The challenge is that these 10 core design patterns aren’t easy to see.  We get focused on the specifics of a requested app and fail to step back and see the pattern which is necessary to build up your generic catalog of what I call “magic apps”.  Here is an example…

A business customer comes to you asking for a Materials Storage Request solution for managing the storage of manufacturing chemicals.  They have come up with some requirements.  Of course, the application is unique or so they think.  But, you happen to have a Work Request Management magic app in your catalog.  You whip it out, spin up a site, spend a couple hours tweaking some words, fields, navigation to “localize” your magic app to the “language” of the customer.  Then, you engage with them.  All of the sudden you are not doing requirements, but rather, you are in the stage of “finishing” the application.  You immediately have them working with the app, thinking through the process as they touch and feel it.  In this imaginary world, good things happen all around.  But, is it really fantasy?

4 Base Work Management “Magic Apps” for your Catalog

If it is real, then what are the 10 magic apps for your catalog?  We’ll start with the basic 4 for work management that we use with new customers.  They cover a lot of needs.  Each is targeted at structured work management – getting specific work done.  However, their design is different because of the context of the work.  They are:

  • Team Work Management
  • Work Request Management
  • Role-Based Process Management
  • Stage-Based Process Management

We’ll take a look at each below.  Along the way you’ll get examples and see how they build and differ.

NOTE: I tend to think of Solutions as the somewhat generic way to meet a need.  The Application is the solution that is applied to a specific problem for a specific person or group.  Example: we provide coffee (solution), do you want a Mocha Chai Latte or a Yukon Drip with Soy (specific applications).

Team Work Management

This solution is used by a self-contained team to get work done amongst themselves.  It is not a Team Site where a team can generally collaborate.  It is purpose specific and structured to help the team get something specific done.  A key difference the others that I’ll cover below is that you don’t have external people requesting things or external parties involved in the process.  The team is creating the work and managing the work.

Examples for this would include: Task Management, Marketing Collateral Management, Idea Management, Meeting Management, Knowledge Bases, Design & Work Standards.

This is really the most basic solution for work management.  In a SharePoint-context the key is that the users are working in a controlled UI, with a managed set of things they can see and actions they can take.  This separation of the work from the content (which would be users working directly in native SharePoint in a list or library) is what gets you into structured work management and gives you control, consistency, and user task automation.

Work Request Management

How many apps depend on one team getting requests from a) individuals or b) other teams?  A lot.  The key difference in this solution design is that there is an external individual or group that is making a request.  Then, a specific team manages these requests through to completion.  By its nature this work is “interrupt” driven – the team is responding to outsiders.

Examples include:  a Help Desk, Change Requests, Materials Storage Requests, Product Information Requests, Security Clearance Requests, Contract Review Requests. (see article with examples)

In a sense these apps are just one step up from Team Work Management.  The external Request and the interactivity with the requestor are the additions.  A standard application contains the request form, the work management displays and user activity, and reporting.

Role-Based Process Management

SharePoint is natively content-based and many of us are used to the idea of simple sequential workflows to individuals for document approvals.  With this type of solution, we change the design to provide a common UI where people in their roles vs. as individuals, usually cross-functionally, participate in the process of reviewing requests/submissions to arrive at an outcome.

Examples include: Contract Review, Policy and Procedure Management, Legal Matter Management, Capital Approval, Project Proposal Review.

The standard application is a UI with tabs for different roles and the work management to control the flow and the activity that occurs within each role.

Stage-Based Process Management

This is similar to role-based process management yet fundamentally different.  The process is typically a Stage-Gate based process.  Thus, instead of roles or individuals, work flows through a set of standard Stages.  This solution is designed to open up a process and allow for collaboration within the Stages.

Examples includes: New Project Onramps, Idea Management, Business Development Capture & Proposal Processes, Knowledge Creation/Publishing Processes, R&D Product Innovation, Patent & Trademark Reviews.  (See article with examples)

Again, you typically have a UI with tabs, but here, each represents a Stage vs. a Role.  Then, you have the work management to automate the activity within each stage and promote work through its gate to the next stage.

Build the Catalog.

The above is a bit abstract.  It should be, that is the key to building your catalog of “magic apps”.  You are abstracting from the specific to the general.

My recommendations are simple.  Decide that you will build a Solution Catalog for your organization.  Understand the standard business design patterns that apply in a workplace.  Measure how many solutions you add to the catalog per quarter and how much you use them.  Promote the applications that you deliver leveraging the catalog.  You’ll have better results.

Now of course, I’d highly recommend that you include lots of CorasWorks in your apps.  Our software gives you the consistent framework as your base and we have many base solutions to leverage to augment your catalog.  The great flexibility of CorasWorks allows you to easily customize the “magic apps” of your catalog to meet specific needs and enhance, extend and integrate them.  It is time to get your virtuous cycle humming…

william

10 Fundamentals to Know When Delivering Apps in a CorasWorks-powered Environment

I’ve spent a lot of time with customers over the last year working with the internal people who are delivering apps to business users.  You are out there busily building apps, setting standards, listening, supporting and connecting things. Your technical skills range from beginning builders to workplace wizards.  Along the way it has become clear that core fundamentals of CorasWorks have gotten lost or are at least lumpy.  I am not talking about technical items, but, about how to think about what you are doing when delivering collaborative work management apps using CorasWorks.  I guess with the time, new folks coming in and churn it makes sense.  In this article, I’ll go over my list of Top 10 fundamentals of CorasWorks that every app builder and every application service delivery manager should know.

You can templatize an App and Reuse it for another Purpose/Group

A key value proposition of CorasWorks is the reusability.  Yet, a surprising number of people don’t even know that you can templatize and re-use an existing SharePoint site.  So, if you build a CorasWorks app, why not re-use/re-purpose it for another use.  Better yet, how about maintaining a central catalog of cleaned, re-usable application templates, and, giving it visibility across business groups.

Context vs. Content

I often hear business users say that the UI of a CorasWorks PS delivered app is simpler to use, easier to understand and much better than native SharePoint.  The reason is context vs. content.  An average native SharePoint user is used to working in a team site.  By design SharePoint is a content driven experience – really collaboration by proximity.  You go to some place (a site) and hit a page to access content.  CorasWorks changes this.  Effectively, what you do with CorasWorks is overlay a business context.  When our Professional Services does the work we use our in-house standardized application templates that strip away all of the ancillary content baggage like announcements and quick links and provide business users with an experience that is relevant to the business context.  This seems much “easier” to business users.  I recommend that you take a look at our PS standard and do the same.

Three Main Tiers of CorasWorks App Value

When using CorasWorks, you can add value in three main tiers.  Always triage your work into one these tiers as follows:

  • Self-service – this is where you expose native SharePoint and CorasWorks capabilities to a broad group of users that use them to enhance their team collaboration sites.
  • Standardized solution types – CorasWorks has defined, trains on, and supports about 15 types of standardized solutions for collaborative work management.  The idea is for your organization to understand these, buy or build your first one, catalog them, and reuse, reuse, reuse.
  • Custom solutions – These are solutions that are so unique that you need to do requirements and then build them out.  The box for doing this with CorasWorks is very, very big, particularly when leveraging the Advanced Framework of v11 (see next item).

NOTE: Most people are binary; either self-service or custom.  What is really lacking is the middle tier – this is probably the area of greatest opportunity to add value to your organization.

CorasWorks v11 and our Advanced Framework

The Advanced what???  The current shipping version of CorasWorks is v11.2. This is the 11th major release of our core platform since 2003. With CorasWorks all of the software (.dll’s) are in this platform product. Your solutions are created on top by configuration. v11 includes an Advanced Framework. This is a multi-tier app framework that allows you to build very custom extensions or new apps without doing custom compiled code. You can even go as far as to build a custom database app with a separate SQL server database and a CorasWorks front-end surfaced in SharePoint – again without custom compiled code. This means that your IT Governance model can be centrally managed, but, the business groups can get lots of value.  The box of what you can do with CorasWorks is probably a lot bigger than you think.

Basic Apps are Built Up – Like Layering

When you use our basic framework/components we call that a basic app.  A standard, single-site CorasWorks basic app is built up.  It is like an assembly line.  The standard steps are:

  • Create a new site using a standard base solution template
  • Add navigation
  • Modify the data – lists and libraries, custom “workplace” fields, and data relationships
  • Add basic displays (usually grids for apps)
  • Add forms (action forms for new items and in process action forms)
  • Add user task automation actions
  • Add email notification actions, activations and workflow
  • Add reporting
  • Add Advanced Framework extensions (after business user feedback, see last point)

CorasWorks Actions Control What Users Can Do

CorasWorks comes with its Actions Framework.  Using a wizard you can create actions for users to perform.  This is your control point.  It allows you to separate the user from the data (If you think about it with native SharePoint you are pretty much giving users direct access to the data).  So with your apps, think actions for users.  They need not know what magic the action does behind the scenes or what gets kicked off (emails, workflow, other actions, etc.).

CorasWorks Cuts Across Structural Barriers of SharePoint

Native SharePoint has a number of structural “barriers” that constrain your canvas for designing and building apps.  CorasWorks separates the user context from the content meaning that people can basically do anything from anywhere.  We make all of SharePoint your design canvas.  The main barriers we cut across are data types, lists, sites, site collections, web applications, and, even farms.  The impact is that for advanced designers they think in terms of the actual user experience wherever and in whatever context vs. the app user interface.

Apps: Single Sites vs. Distributed Systems

Most people are site bound.  They think of SharePoint site by site – because they have learned to live within the barriers.  In reality, SharePoint is a distributed system or even more correctly a “system of systems”.  Sometimes you will build a single site app, like a Help Desk.  Other times you are really designing and building systems – a collection of sites.  An example is a Portfolio of project sites where you might have a PMO, a couple of Portfolio Management sites, and a mere 50 or 100 project sites spread across departments working in different site collections.  The key is to design at the system level first, thinking about the user role and experience, with the local sites coming next.  Back to the Help Desk and that single site.  Where do the users enter in their Help Desk requests? Where do they see the status and activity?  Can they first search a knowledge base or access a self-service community?  Should it really be designed as just a single Help Desk site for 10 help desk engineers or is it really a system to help users be more productive with a user population of say 3,000?

Think Collaborative Application Design Patterns

Most users think that an IT Help Desk, a Chemical Materials Storage Request system for a Pharmaceutical, and, an IDIQ HR Staffing app are very different applications.  To a CorasWorks builder they are basically the same with a bit of work to customize the “language” of the app.  In effect, they are what we would call a “Request” collaborative application design pattern.  In this world of collaborative work management apps you begin to see that most apps fit into common, re-usable patterns.  This is what drives the repeatability of our Standardized Solution Types mentioned above.  Thus, a catalog of 10 standard base app templates representing each of the solution types can serve your needs to create 100’s of business function specific applications.

Think about the Work-Stream(s)

We are very focused on the app.  In practice, this allows us to focus and meet a need.  However, in reality often work in one activity kicks off work in the next.  Or, in order to get the work done of one app you need to tap into another set of teams/apps/processes. When you step back and see how these activities tie together, you are thinking about what we call the work-stream.  For instance, in the big picture, an Idea Management app, would hand off to a Project Approval App, that hands off to a Development Project app that feeds your Change Management app.  The project approval app may have a process to request a capital expenditure (from finance) or a market study (from marketing).  Each of these apps can live on their own and usually have completely different users and contexts and make up multiple work-streams.  But, they connect.  They are loosely coupled.  And, you can have them all inter-operating within a CorasWorks-SharePoint environment.

william

Using Stage-Gate Processes for More Effective Collaborative Work

Stage-Gate processes have been around for many years. They grew up to serve the needs of Product Development.  Over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of customers opting to use this type of design for their applications across many other functions (vs. role-based application design and classic workflow).  The main driver of this new adoption is that organizations are finding this type of design to be more effective for purposeful, collaborative work.  It lends itself to bringing a group of people together to collectively drive the results of the process.  In this article, I’ll look at the overall design of a Stage-Gate process, provide examples of different uses, and talk about how it drives effectiveness for collaborative work processes.

Stage-Gate Process Design

It starts with people aligning on the high-level Stages an item will go through.  Each Stage is then represented visually to make it easy for the group to see where things stand.  Within each Stage there are a set of activities, which must be completed for an item to pass through the Gate and progress to the next Stage.  This is really the power of this design in that the activity is separated from the top-level Stage flow.  The activities can change, but it doesn’t affect the Stages or the Gate.

Below is a screenshot of a standard CorasWorks-based Stage-Gate application.  It is used to manage an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery – Indefinite Quantity) contract, which is a business development vehicle most often used by Federal Contractors.  The Contractor gets a contract.  The government then issues Task Orders, each of which is bid on by a number of contractors.  Each Task Order goes through a set of Stages along its life-cycle.  Decisions are made and work happens to drive the Task Orders forward.

 

IDIQ Program - New Task Order - ITES - annotated

 

Above we are showing the New Task Order stage.  The Task Orders come in here and are reviewed and prepped.  When ready, they are pushed to the Bid Assessment stage where the team decides whether to bid on the Task Order.  The key elements of the design are:

A. Stages – lay out your stages as you want them

B. Stage Management Display – where you see the items in that Stage and can access information, report, slice, dice, and take action

C. Actions/Activities – custom set of actions to be used in the Stage to get the work done that needs to be done

 

An important part of the design is considering what is actually moving through the Stages.  It is common to think of each item above as a record of information (list/database).  However, with CorasWorks you can associate related information and sites that act like folders.  For instance, in the example above when a new Task Order is entered, a related Task Order collaboration site is automatically provisioned.  This site is where the detail information is and the detail collaboration happens.  In other scenarios, it might be a project site.  Or, an item might just have related information from within SharePoint or external data sources which is surfaced as a virtual workspace.  The upshot is that you have a simple top-level process to track the flow through the stages, but you have access to a very deep set of supporting information and activity for each item.

 

Examples of Stage-Gate Processes

Now let’s look at examples of different types of stage-gate processes and how they might differ.

 

R&D Innovation Process for Consumer Products

This is a classic application.  One customer is using this design to manage the full-life cycle for molecules it creates to be used for fragrances and flavors in consumer products.  The molecules are created in a lab and go into the process.  They go through a multi-phase process with many detailed activities (more than 50 activities are individually tracked).  The process takes about 3 years and they have about 700 molecules at a time.

 

e-Policy Management for HR

One customer uses this design for their corporate policies.  They have converted more than 600 corporate policies from documents into living, digital articles.  Each policy is submitted, reviewed, and published through a series of Stages involving Finance, Legal, Admin personnel, and more.  Users are empowered to ask questions, rate the articles and make comments that can be used for revisions.

 

Demand Management: New Project Initiation for Everyone

This is a common use of stage-gate.  The objective is to have a visible, collaborative review process BEFORE projects are initiated.  It is part of the evolving approach for Demand Management.  We have a standard solution for this where projects are proposed and then put through the stages leading to an approved process.  When approved, this information is used to kick off the actual project management site (a downstream activity).

 

Application Development for IT

A stage-gate process is great for application development.  You have your basic stages of the application development process that can span the full life cycle from proposal to completion or that might just cover the development process itself (because you are using the New Project Initiation process above as an upstream activity-right!).  When the project is approved you can have a project management/collaboration site that is used to manage the development work and the related information.  This site is effectively what is going through the stages.

 

Proposal Development for Business Development

Many BD organizations, particularly our Federal Contractor customers, use a standardized Stage-Gate process (originated by a company named Shipley) to manage business development.   This is very high level.  In addition, each Proposal they are working on has its own Stage-Gate process using a standardized system for color reviews.  Thus, in this scenario, you have a system with two-levels of Stage-Gates.  The top level is the overall BD process with each “opportunity” being managed.  Then, each opportunity that has made it to the Proposal Development stage has a collaborative site for the actual proposal work.

 

Effectiveness for Collaborative Work

The power of the Stage-Gate design is that it gets a group of people on the same page of where things stand and what needs to happen to achieve desired results.  It is simple to understand and easy to use.  The key is that the people involved will be aligned on the top stages.  From there, the systems empowers all of the people involved to work together collaboratively to achieve the result.

CorasWorks has built in a number of features over the years that enable effective solutions for stage-gating.  They enable the core solution and the ability to flexibly support the many different types of activities and changes to activities to support the process.  In addition, with CorasWorks on SharePoint you have the ability to engage “external” people in the process for upstream, downstream and supporting activities.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of a stage-gate process comes by having the visibility, input and the work coming from different people, but, aligned on the core objective of your process.