Tag Archive for Work Management

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

Using software to improve your capture competitiveness in 2014

execs-at-the-starting-line

Next week the 2014 Federal Government Contractor race begins.  The competitive landscape will just get more intense.  Last week, Bob Lohfeld, CEO of Lohfeld Consulting Group, wrote the article 2014 realities force companies to change tactics in Washington Technology.  They surveyed 300 Federal Contractors to assess where they are today in their capture process and where they plan to invest in 2014 to improve their capture competitiveness.  The article tells you why change is needed by most and what most intend to change.  In this article I address the how – as in how you can actually get to where you need to be and beyond.  I explain how software, the new generation of Work Management systems represented by CorasWorks, can be a differentiator in this increasingly competitive marketplace.

First, a few key takeaways from the Lohfeld article:

  • Only 22% of the 300 companies surveyed felt that they had a competitive capture process that was a) defined, b) repeatable, and c) well-managed.
  • 49% of the survey respondents planned to invest to improve their capture process.
  • Another 24% believe they need to improve pricing methods and 22% need improvement in the quality of their proposals.

In summary, most Federal Contractors have a lot of room to improve the effectiveness of their capture process, capture analytics, and pricing approaches to be at a top competitive level.  It starts by defining your process, including the phases, activities, methods, and decision making approaches.  But, to be competitive in 2014 you have to ensure that you not only have a process but ensure it is standardized across your company, is repeatable, is flexible enough to tailor as things change, is measurable, and provides good management visibility to enable educated decision-making. Translating this defined approach into software systems that drive the process and support its management will accomplish this. The new generation of Work Management systems like CorasWorks makes this practical and raises the bar.  The mix of people, process, and technology as applied to the capture function of Federal Contractors is in a big state of transformation.

Let’s look at where most competitors are in terms of their systems to support their capture process…

The Situation

Based upon my many discussions with Federal Government Contractors, here is what I would define as the norm for mid-size to larger organizations:

  • They have a commercial CRM/Opportunity Management system.  The most common are Deltek GovWin CRM, Microsoft CRM, Salesforce and Oracle Siebel.  For small businesses, Zoho CRM is up-and-coming.
  • They have a “modern” document management (DM) system.  They are off file shares.  The most common are SharePoint, Documentum, eRoom, and Alfresco. I estimate that half are using SharePoint as their primary DM system.
  • The majority use their DM system to manage Proposal Development, basically to store documents.  Each proposal is usually siloed.  A smaller portion also have a commercial, proprietary Proposal Automation system such as Privia or VPC.
  • Reporting is all over the map, pulling from different systems.

Limitations of the Status Quo

The current status quo noted above is limiting and constraining.  Here are the realities of this situation:

  • Siloed, mostly proprietary systems – the core systems noted above are greatly siloed.  The systems aren’t usually connected.  Even within systems, like the DM systems, the information is in silos. In addition, within the same organizations they often have different systems or instances of the system for the same purpose. The glue for capture activity is ad hoc email, excel, and navigation links. It is everything except a unified, manageable system to support a defined capture process.
  • The process is not embedded in the software – if they have a defined process it is usually on the whiteboard, in a 100+ page manual, and, in people’s heads.  At best, they might have broken the activities of the process into sections stored as documents or web page narratives. The capture process, the activities, the work to be done is not “instantiated” in a software system that structures the process, captures the activity, drives the results, and measures progress.
  • No Phase-Gate based process system – the religion of capture is by definition a Phase-Gate based process. The best processes have systems to track the activities and automate the work. Yet, most organizations don’t have a process-based system to use for capture. Instead, they tend to leverage CRM databases or document management to do parts of the work. Then, to address process needs they do a great deal of manual work.  They simply lack a process-based system.
  • Lack of Work Automation – the day-to-day work is still incredibly manual vs. automated which results in lost productivity and inconsistencies in results.
  • Little Real time Visibility – given the above, the real-time visibility of executives, managers, and contributors into capture is limited. In most cases organizations invest a great amount of effort to manually put information together for gate reviews, executive reviews, and briefings, often repeatedly “repackaging” the same data (hosted in myriad documents) into templates or formats du jour—an unbelievable waste of time.
  • Advanced Management Tools are missing – capture process analytics, portfolio optimization, real-time reporting, capture M&S/B&P burn-down, resource allocation management – largely doesn’t exist. The core data for capture activity isn’t captured in a way to drive these management capabilities.

If the above sounds a bit like where you are, that is okay because 60-70% of your competitors are also in that place. The question is how to do better.

How to Get Ahead of the Pack

The design of software systems has greatly changed over the last 5 years to accommodate collaborative processes such as capture. We provide software, particularly Work Management software that, when combined with good capture process definition, will get you ahead of the pack. Our approach is simply different than the databases, document management systems and proprietary applications of the past.  Here are the core elements…

  • Purpose Built, Off-the-Shelf Solution – We put the capture process front and center. We have a purpose-built, off-the-shelf base solution called CorasWorks Capture and Proposal Management. It is built specially to address the full life-cycle of capture. This provides an out-of-the-box integrated system. It brings all of the core parts of the capture process together.  But it is— by design—just the start.
  • Phase-Gate Based Process System – Our solution is designed from the ground-up to support the full capture life-cycle. This means that at its core it is designed to support a collaborative Phase-Gate based process and to automate and track the capture activity. Our design gives you the foundation for your process.
  • Unique Flexibility - Our solution is built using the CorasWorks Work Management platform which runs on Microsoft SharePoint. This platform approach makes the solution open (vs. proprietary) and uniquely flexible. Thus, organizations are able to easily embed their defined process, their language, their data to capture, and their activities into the system. In fact, it is so open, flexible, and non-proprietary that our customers are able to customize it and enhance it on their own, and even, create new features and completely separate applications that support the capture process. As a result, organizations are able to create a capture system that is a competitive differentiator.
  • On and Within SharePoint – As above, our solution and our platform runs on SharePoint which we use for data, security and administration. If you already own SharePoint, then we leverage your existing investment and skills and lower your costs. In addition, it means that it is a native part of your existing work environment on SharePoint and can natively connect to and interact with other existing information and applications.
  • Work Automation Drives Consistency and Analytics – With the above, a great deal of the work becomes automated. By automating the user actions and activities based upon your defined process, the work is done more efficiently, in a consistent way, and you are then empowered to have real-time visibility, reporting, and analytics.
  • The Glue for Capture – Our Work Management platform contains a comprehensive integration framework to integrate with external systems such as your CRM, HR, ERP, Contracts and Program and Project Management systems. This puts your CorasWorks based Capture system in the middle of the activity serving as the glue to bring it all together. For instance, many Federal Contractors leverage Deltek products.  A common integration for capture processes is with Deltek GovWin IQ and GovWin Capture Management (their CRM, read a case study of this in Leveraging CorasWorks to integrate Deltek GovWin CRM with SharePoint-based Capture and Proposal system).

Quick ROI and Continuous Improvement

There are two practical benefits to adopting a CorasWorks-powered approach for capture: Quick ROI and Continuous Improvement.

The pricing and cost of our software and solutions is incremental so you have a low cost to start. You can also get up and running very quickly, usually faster than proprietary systems and way faster than custom development.  And, the flexibility of our software allows you to decide where and when you want to address needs.  The result is a Quick ROI from the start.

In addition, in the past, when you had to buy proprietary software or invest to custom develop it, you were locked in. Improvement was too hard and costly. Where CorasWorks really excels is empowering you to continuously improve your process (now instantiated via software) and the results you get. The unique flexibility of CorasWorks means that you can have it your way to start, learn, then easily and cost-effectively change the software to get better.

People, process, technology – have the right mix and you’ll be on top.

william

Taskboarding with CorasWorks v11.3–make work easier and better

With the release of CorasWorks v11.3 that includes CAPS you are able to create and deploy very rich, interactive web features for your work management applications on SharePoint.  A popular one to get started with is TaskBoards.  They provide a visual way to see where work stands, organize and prioritize it, collaborate, and, track the flow of the work.  The approach started with the Kanban method of working in automobile manufacturing.  This style has been adopted as a key piece of Agile software development, for instance when doing Scrum.  In the digital world, TaskBoards are all about drag and drop and interactivity.  In this article, I’ll show you what we offer out-of-the-box and explain how you can leverage this way of working to improve results in many areas across your organization.

TaskBoarding Demo

We first added TaskBoards to our Project & Portfolio Management solution about 6 months ago in version 3.2.  It gives users an easy way to manage  task work for a team, project, or Agile sprint.  The drag and drop user interface and interactivity make work seem and feel much easier. Our standard TaskBoard goes a step beyond most others by enabling users to add new tasks and do updates in a smart, guided, interactive way.  This makes the work more manageable.

In the video below, I’ll look at the use of a TaskBoard for a SharePoint Service Delivery Team whose purpose is to provide a great SharePoint environment and deliver new applications and enhancements.  The tasks/requests come in, then, the team uses the task board to organize the work and to get it done.

Let’s do some Taskboarding – just click the image below for a 6 minute demo.TaskBoard

 

From TaskBoards to Workboarding on SharePoint

The TaskBoard you just saw makes work easier, more effective, and, more manageable.  The common use of it would be for projects and teams.  Use it with a tablet and you’ll have a really great experience.

Being based upon CorasWorks v11.3 CAPS, it is now totally customizable, portable, and re-purposable. So, you can use this style of work, let’s call it “workboarding”, as a feature of any application.  Fundamentally, it gives you an easier way for a group of people to work together to move things forward.  It would make a great new feature for any Stage-based collaborative process.    So, how about:

  • ChangeBoards – to manage change requests
  • IssueBoards – to manage issues
  • IdeaBoards – to manage ideas and innovation
  • PolicyBoards – to submit HR policy changes and approve them
  • ProductBoards – to plan product features for a release
  • ProposalBoards – to manage the work of business development proposals
  • SalesBoards – to track sales opportunities
  • RecruitBoards – to manage the HR recruiting process

I could go on.  But, it is now time for you to get your creative juices flowing.  With CorasWorks CAPS, you are empowered to go far beyond the out-of-the-box and come up with your own applications of this feature.  You don’t have to wait for CorasWorks to make changes and release a new version of it.  Just go forth and innovate.  You can drop it into any CorasWorks Application template, or, any native SharePoint site, or, a custom SP site.  Workboarding can be put at the fingertips of users anywhere across your SharePoint work environment. Your users will love you for it.

william

CorasWorks for Legal Work Management on SharePoint

In addition to everything else, we are doing quite a bit of work these days within the Legal departments of organizations and for Law Firms.  The standard needs of this department for legal matters, ad hoc requests, and case management fit well with the CorasWorks Work Management capabilities.  I’ll briefly cover a few examples in this article.

Matters Management – a 3,000 person Non Governmental Organization (NG0) used CorasWorks to create their Legal Matters Management process.  The work was done by a CorasWorks partner using our off the shelf framework.

Case Management – we are completing a project for an Arbitration Case Management system for an association.  This system is really a service to the legal community where they can request arbitration cases and then the arbitrator can manage the cases.  It is Case Management as a service.

Claims Management – we support a Law Firm that has built an extensive Claims Management system for insurance claims.  This office of this global 1,000 attorney firm does 80% of its business managing claims for Insurers.  It is a large system with thousands of claims.  A key part of this solution is its 360 degree Dashboard that puts all of the information about a claim, and all of the actions people need to do, at the fingertips of the attorneys.  The system was built by our customer and a CorasWorks partner specializing in Legal systems with support from us.

Leverage CorasWorks in your in house Legal departments

It is clear that our Work Management framework is a good fit for a lot of the work done by Legal departments.  In most organizations (vs. Law Firms), the Legal department is one those under-served departments that are low on the list of enterprise IT priorities.  But, if your organization is already using CorasWorks, you may want to look at re-purposing it to address needs of the Legal department.  Many of the needs of the Legal department are rather straight forward from a CorasWorks perspective.  And, the capabilities we provide are pretty slick when compared to many of the Legal products out there that are usually based upon legacy technologies and targeted at law firms and tend to be overly complex for an in-house legal department.

Legal Project Management – A Next Step In Innovation…

With that said, I also see a new area of innovation by CorasWorks for in-house legal departments and law firms.  Over the last few years, innovative and leading legal teams are starting to adopt a structured Project Management approach to large legal cases.  It makes sense.  Part of this is driven by a shift to fixed price work, part is just the idea that legal cases can be better managed.  I’m looking for some opportunities to apply our Project Portfolio Management solution to this need – any takers?

william

New Solutions and Case Studies for Federal Contractors

We continue to enhance our support for Federal Government Contractors.  We just updated the Federal Contractor microsite section of our web site.  Assuming that you have been there before, press CNTRL-F5 to refresh the content.

We now highlight 5 solutions for Federal Contractors.  We have 6 new Case Studies for a total of 10.  The solutions are:

  • IDIQ Task Order Management
  • Capture and Proposal Management
  • Program, Project and Portfolio Management
  • Idea and Innovation Management (new)
  • Shared Services Work Management Environments

For an overview of our Federal Contractor vertical in 2012 and solution plans in 2013 see the following article:

CorasWorks’ Federal Contractor Business Grows 75% in 2012 Fueled by Accelerating Industry Competition–Review and 2013 Plans

Do More With Less and Do More for Less

The new solutions and case studies are evidence of our core message to Federal Contractors which is how we enable them to Do More With Less (the competitive business value) and Do More For Less (our cost improvement value proposition).  As we invest in this area and “standardize” the solutions, our value proposition just gets stronger.

The key is that CorasWorks on SharePoint is a platform approach that is enabling Federal Contractors to get great leverage through a Shared Services model.  Once you have the platform in place, any and all of the solutions we offer or that you build can be dropped in, natively integrated, re-purposed, enhanced and extended.  It just works.

Make sure to look at the 2 case studies under “Shared Services Work Management Environments”.  These given a sense of how this approach has worked for a 1,000 person and a 20,000 person organization.

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

Customer Examples of Work Request Management apps for SharePoint

Over the last month, I’ve worked with a number of customers that are deploying applications for various scenarios of work request management.  This category of application is very common for all organizations and works great with CorasWorks on SharePoint.  It leverages the collaborative nature of a SharePoint environment and the work management feature set of CorasWorks.  The key design principal is to recognize that they are fundamentally cross-functional processes.  In this article, I’ll look at 4 different customer scenarios.  I’ll talk about what is common amongst them and how they differ.  I believe that any SharePoint Service Delivery Management team should make this category of app a staple of their offerings.  Once you get the core design pattern, you’ll find lots of applications for it.

Basic Work Request Management app

There are six core elements that are common to work request apps as follows:

  • They are an app, meaning there is a core site dedicated to this purpose vs. it being a feature added to a team site.
  • A requestor fills in a form to kick off a request.
  • The requestor can see, track, and engage with assigned “workers” on their requests.
  • Workers and Managers do various things (automated CorasWorks actions and forms) to respond to and complete the request.
  • Requestors and others are notified of activities and/or collaborated with.
  • You have reporting on the activity.

Customers Scenarios

Here are the 4 customer scenarios:.

Materials Storage for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

This application is for requests to store chemicals (materials) within a manufacturing group.  People make their requests and others work the requests noting how long items are stored and where. Requestors are notified of the work and they get pinged when their storage expiration date is approaching.

IT Requests for SharePoint Work and Help Desk Tickets for Health Agency

This customer uses a couple of different WRM apps for IT to support the organization.  One allows users to log the requests for the SharePoint team for new sites, changes to sites, or new apps.  The SharePoint team then manages these requests.  The other is a WRM-based “Help Desk” app where users enter tickets and Help Desk folks work them.

Employee Requests of HR for Pharmaceutical

This customer is using WRM to enable employee across the enterprise to make requests of HR.  In this case, they created three request workstreams.  Each has a slightly different set of work management activities.  From the user perspective they are able to see the different requests in a single display from wherever they work.

HR Staffing Requests for Federal Contractor

An important process for many Federal Contractors is making requests of HR to find or recruit people to work on contracts.  In this case, a business development (BD) person working on a new proposal/task order makes requests of HR to staff specific positions.  The requests are related to specific Proposals/Task Orders.  However, HR manages all of the requests centrally.

Commonalities

All of the above follow the same basic design as described above.  People make requests.  People work on the requests.  There is back and forth.  The requests are closed out.  There is reporting.

The interesting part is that these are four very different “applications”.  In many organizations, they would presume that they would be looking to go out and buy or build completely different applications.  However, with CorasWorks on SharePoint each of these uses the same basic framework.  Thus, armed with one basic design you can now fill many different needs and save lots of time an money in the process.

Further, when you build them, the things that you will primarily change are also common:

  • The core data (fields) of the “work request” list are different.
  • The request form is different.
  • The worker roles are specific to the process.
  • The app navigation is different.
  • The displays and most importantly the worker/manager actions, work forms, and notifications are different.
  • Reports are different.

With CorasWorks, each of the above is easily modified using our wizards.  So, you have a common app design and you know the common things that you will be changing to accommodate the specific needs of the app.  If you look at it like an assembly line, you are all set to deliver.

Key Deployment Differences of the Apps

While the four apps have many core commonalities, there are differences in the overall deployment approach across the SharePoint environment.  This is important because work request management is fundamentally a cross-functional collaborative process.  Thus, where people go to engage, whether requestor, worker, or manager, can be different based upon the scenario.

All-in-one

In the Materials Storage app, all of the different users work in a single app site.  Requestors go there to make their requests.  Workers go there to do their work.  Managers go there to manage.  This makes it easier to create the app and is the way you would typically start.  However, it is not really a best practice given the ability to distribute functionality using CorasWorks.

Distributed

In the IT Request app, the Requestors don’t go into the app app site to make requests.  They are able to be elsewhere across the SharePoint environment and enter their requests from their and see their requests and interact.  This makes it more convenient for the users.  Generally, you start by building the app as an All-in-one and then just distribute the displays.

Many Projects to Work Management Team (Hub and Spoke)

The HR Staffing app is a bit different.  In this specific scenario, you have many Proposal/Task Order sites (or could be project sites).  A team is working on these projects.  They enter their requests from the site.  However, the HR Work Request site is central – all of the requests feed into the one app.  HR is then able to manage it all in one place and interact with the requestors via their project sites.  This ends up as a Hub and Spoke deployment.

Self-Service

The Employee request design is different also.  In this case, there is a self-service page in the enterprise portal.  Users go to this one place and enter and see their requests across the three types.  The requests are funneled into the three different workstreams managed by HR.  HR is also able to work on them via a single display.

Getting You Spun Up for Work Request Management

The work request management category of app is a staple of SharePoint environments that have gone past basic site centric content sharing.  We often work with customers to train up their SDM teams to deliver this category of app.  We have a standard set of templatized apps and training to help get you going quickly.  Email support@corasworks.net for more information.

william

CorasWorks Customers Putting SharePoint to Work

I spent a great deal of time in January talking with customers.  We did a lot of show and tell, mostly our customers showing what they have done using CorasWorks on SharePoint.  They cover a very broad range of solutions.  A common desire was to learn what others are doing.  In this blog, I’ll go over the general classes of solutions that customers are implementing using CorasWorks to drive value on SharePoint. In following articles, I’ll drill down into specific customer solutions and the business value.

 

Ways that Customers are Putting SharePoint to Work

In this section I’ll give you a sense of the different ways that customers are leveraging CorasWorks to put SharePoint to work by looking at general classes of solutions.  This is a bit of a “state of the union” as it reflects where they are today.

 

Investing in Work on top of Content – A lot of time, money and resources still go into the basic SharePoint infrastructure to support file sharing and good looking, and largely passive, content environments like Intranets.  Our customers tend to drive value when they break out of the general content environment context, and, focus on specific work to be done, i.e., apps. The delta is just a mindset: is SharePoint an application for content or is it an application platform to get work done and drive your business.  Thus, with CorasWorks, often either a business group drives the requirements or an IT organization does a really nice job of demand management and on-ramping applications onto the platform.  In effect, what is happening is the consolidation of business applications onto the SharePoint platform which a) reduces costs and avoids costs, b) promotes reusability, and c) gives them the value of the app and the value of apps working together across a common work environment.  But note, most of our customers also have nice looking Intranets, they just don’t focus on it.

 

 

Self-Service Work Management – With CorasWorks, basic work management is simply the ability to see, contribute, and act with information from anywhere. It is about doing structured work where you can control what users see, what they can and can’t do, and automate the work that they need and want to do. The basics are forms, displays, actions, and workflow/notifications that structure and automate the work of users.  With CorasWorks and our wizards, creating these work management applets is a snap, basically, self-service apps done by business users.  The majority of our customers are leveraging this broadly across their environments.

 

Project Work – This is really a staple of SharePoint and CorasWorks.  It is an extension of work management.  Many customers start with our straight-forward, pretty much out of the box, project portfolio approach where they have a portfolio dashboard and multiple project sites.  With our pre-packaged Project Portfolio Management solution customers are moving up a notch to a more robust and out of the box feature rich solution for project work that is supported as a product.  There is now a rather new trend to leverage our collaboration features with project work for enterprise wide, project collaboration.  In many cases we are finding the new style of project collaboration, that is easy, interactive, and convenient, to be what people really want.  Further, at the high end customers are creating custom “executive information systems” that surface project work and work in other project systems (like Microsoft Project/Server), SharePoint apps and external systems.  With project work, our customers often implement multiple solutions up an down this continuum.  We just make it much easier, standardized, and less costly to get this done.

 

Processes and LOB Apps – This is also a staple of CorasWorks customers.  Using our standard app framework, customers spin up apps to get work done.  A common one is a Help Desk.  This often morphs into Request processes, ticketing systems, approval processes. With CorasWorks, it is easy for customers to create processes/apps that follow a stage-activity-gate structure.  The work flows through stages.  At each stage there is activity.  We structure and automate what the user does and can do at a point.  As required we fire off notifications, flow the work to different user consoles, and/or kick off workflows to support the process.  These solutions may be simple point solutions, or, they can be very broad processes such as a multi-stage, multi-year, innovation process.  Yet, they are easy to create, change, enhance, and maintain.

 

Purposeful Collaboration – You’d really think that by now, most SharePoint users would have effective collaborative environments.  In truth, for most, collaboration is still sharing files within a team site, assuming they know it exists, have access, and, the will to navigate. Or, with SharePoint 2010 it could be social networking or social activity. Leveraging the newish CorasWorks collaboration solutions, customers are putting in place very effective, purposeful collaboration systems.  These are systems with specific collaborative apps for knowledge, team work, project work, ideas, processes, news, policies etc.  Each collaborative app has a purpose and becomes a visible and interactive resource across the environment that is easy, convenient, and interactive.  Very slick, very collaborative, but, focused on the purpose.

 

Blending of Collaboration and Work Management – This is newish as we’ve rolled out the collaboration solutions.  However, many customers are getting the hang of solutions that blend collaboration and work management.  At the core is the idea of having structured work with a broad collaborative footprint.  For instance, you might have the whole organization able to enter Product Change Requests and collaborate.  They then get feed into a Product Team to slice and dice and put to work.  Or, the inverse, you may have a small group that manages HR/Corporate Policies through a review and approval process that then publishes them out to the organization and enables people to comment, ask questions and interact.  The collaborative and process activity is all feed into users business activity streams so that they can easily know what is going on with what matters and act on it.

 

Deep, Unique Applications – Particularly leveraging the “Advanced” toolset now in CorasWorks v11, customers are building very deep, custom applications.  They may use SharePoint data, a database, or a mash-up of enterprise data, applications, and services.  The value is the CorasWorks 80/20/20 value proposition.  80% is CorasWorks COTS software.  20% is the customer getting just the features that they want.  The other 20% is the ability of the customer to continuously improve and extend the app.  Since, all of this can now be done on the CorasWorks v11 platform, we take care of the dll’s and upgrading – no new compiled code.  The result is that customers are able to create unique applications that drive competitive differentiation in a fraction of the time, risk and cost.

 

Broad, Distributed Work Systems – Certain customers are realizing fantastic benefits with distributed work systems that incorporate multiple activities across different phases of a workstream and allow people to engage from wherever they work.  Examples are Idea & Innovation systems, Project Portfolio systems, and Capture/Bid/Manage/Deliver workstreams.  These systems often have many sites, different processes at different phases, and, are loosely connected.  Because of this they also allow for great innovation and extension. It would seem to be a natural for a SharePoint environment.  In fact, I find it hard to imagine how such systems would be designed and implemented on any other platform.  This provides a big competitive advantage.  Yet, at this time most organizations just can’t wrap their minds and hearts around this.  Those that have are really rocking.

 

Dashboards, Interactive Work, Virtual Slideshows and the Apps – It is two sides of the coin: the app and the UI that enables top down visibility and interactive work.  Powered by the “Advanced” toolset, customers are creating very slick, interactive ways of surfacing information and getting work done.  They are using SharePoint as the host, but, incorporating data from SharePoint and external data, applications, and systems.  The secret sauce is the CorasWorks v11 “Advanced” toolset that allows them to structure the “middle-ware” in a SharePoint context.  They can also create apps in SharePoint using CorasWorks for people to do their work that get surfaced.  Because of CorasWorks’ flexibility, customers are able to evolve these systems as the need arises and do so much more quickly, easily, and for less cost.

 

What we have done to help our customers succeed

Let me start by saying that in most cases, success is customer driven.  Our most successful customers have people that know what they want and use us to get there.  You folks are the subject matter experts and the heroes of your success.  With that said, here are a few things that we have done that customers tell us have helped them succeed…

 

CorasWorks v11 Base Improvements – we did a lot of base work for this release which first came out in October of 2010.  It is going into v11.2 in March 2012.  A couple basic items are improved installation and upgrade process, greater system integration, enhanced native SharePoint integration such as actions directly driving Windows Workflow Foundation, and 100’s of small features.  It is also great that the same product runs on SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 which has made it easy for customers to migrate.

 

Adding “Advanced” Toolset to v11 – In v11 we added the Advanced toolset into the product.  This provides customers with the ability to greatly enhance and extend what they do.  It includes a componentized middle-ware framework, an XML transport layer, and provides a great deal of flexibility at all tiers, UI, business logic, and data.  This has allowed our customers to achieve just about whatever they want.

 

Our Pre-Packaged Solution “Frameworks” – Over the last couple of years we have built pre-packaged solutions for Collaboration, Process, LOB Apps, Idea Management and Project Management.  These solutions make it easier to get to the business solution customers want without having to deeply understand SharePoint, CorasWorks, or do design.  Usually, customers don’t use them right off the shelf.  They customize them and leverage them to do what they want.  With CorasWorks they are then empowered to maintain the solution and even enhance and extend it at will.

 

CorasWorks Product Learning Centers – Over the last year, we brought online product learning centers for the CorasWorks v11 Platform and for our packaged Solutions.  These provide articles, videos, and other information to help customers succeed.  It extends the existing resources in the CorasWorks Community such as Forums, Blogs, Online Help, Downloads.

 

Distance Learning – The recession put a crimp on travel budgets.  This made our classroom training less effective.  Since then we have been doing a lot more distance learning (virtual classes).  We have standard, monthly distance learning classes and we also create custom distance learning sessions to specifically get customers what they need, when they need it.

 

CorasWorks Professional Services and Partners – Over the last few years we have grown our Professional Services.  Our PS used to simply help customers create their own solutions.  Now, we implement our pre-packaged solutions to their specs.  We also do a lot of projects for custom solutions that we deliver to the customer and are accountable for.  At the same time we are working with a smaller group of partners and going deeper to empower them to deliver more advanced solutions.

 

As above, in future articles I will be drilling down into specific customer solutions.  Talk to you then…

 

william

Put a little Managed Work behind your Collaboration and Make Things Happen

In my post Top 5 Collaborative Apps to Liven Up SharePoint in 2012 I gave you some ideas to get people off to an engaged and lively collaborative start to the year.  A good dose of lively, self-managed, engaged collaboration is fantastic and it will grow on people.  And, if you prepare to drop a little Managed Work into the apps I mentioned you’ll really get a boost.

Here is how it works…

You set up your engaging collaborative community.  Let’s take the Workplace Concierge Community (one of the 5).  People are asking questions, answering them and helping each other to succeed. Let’s say you are watching the activity.  You find out that you are getting a lot of questions about the clarity of your HR or Sales Policies.  So, you look into it and realize that you aren’t doing a great job with how you are publishing that information.  With some CorasWorks Work Management magic you can screen the collaborative activity and then drive tasks to others to make improvements and track the progress.  You can then comment on the item when new and improved material is available.

For instance, below we show a collaborative community for an R&D Research Project.  It is a listing of various posts in this community.  Here the project people collaborate to get things done.

image

 

The next tab is Managed Work.  Behind the collaboration is the ability to look at the collaborative activity and drive things forward in a structured way.  Below we show a view of the posts in Managed Work display.  These are available for managers/moderators to drive forward using CorasWorks actions.  These automate work.  You can create a broad range of actions to meet your needs.  Below we are getting ready to create a task that will be tracked as part of the managed work for a particular item.

image

 

To the users that are participating, this back-end management may be invisible.  The users may just interact in the community and see collaborative activity in their Activity Streams as shown below.  They are focused on easy and convenient collaboration.

activity stream

 

However, to managers you now have great resources to work with.  Lets, take a look at the other 4 of the 5 collaborative apps I wrote about and see how a little work management behind the scenes can leverage the collaborative activity.

 

News Channels – you can set up a process for people to submit News that only they see.  You then approve it and it is public and the collaboration begins. 

 

SharePoint Users Helping SharePoint Users – As the users do their work, you now have the best source of information to drive formal support content, knowledge bases, and training.  So, you can start creating tasks and tracking them for individual articles.  The contributions by the community become the source for more formal output.  BTW, make sure to provide recognition to the contributor and collaborators.  A simply comment that you are using this for x does the trick.

 

What is Working? – This is vehicle to get ideas.  Thus, you would put a simple process behind it to evaluate the contributions as ideas and approve them and then task them out for implementation.  It is a great feeder for best practices.  Again, make sure to provide recognition.

 

Build-Our-Workplace Request Community – This is really a process at its heart.  People make requests and collaborate.  But, by design it is publicly known that Team ABC is screening these items, engaging as a collaborators, and, approving items and pushing them forward.  The Community will be looking and watching for action and results on their requests.

 

Wrap Up

So, just because you have lively collaborative communities doesn’t mean that you aren’t leveraging these resources to make things happen that are concrete and purposeful.  CorasWorks makes it easy to get both elements, engaging collaboration and structured work management, all wrapped up into one package.  

 

william