I'm 'that person'. You know, the colleague that returns from a two-day seminar and won't stop talking about it. For the past two days, I've had the pleasure of participating in the Petroleum Industry Overview course offered by the MacPhail School of Energy at SAIT. While most students have headed home for the summer, I was eagerly rushing off to find my session. On Monday morning I had no idea that I was entering the first school of energy in Canada focused on providing comprehensive training to the energy sector. By end of day Tuesday, I understood the secret to their success: collaboration with business and industry around the globe.
My first shout out is to SAIT and the stellar facilities they offer their students. Wow! They are worth checking out, regardless of whether you take a course there or not. Second, I'd like to acknowledge the incredibly knowledgeable and talented educator who shared his 30 years of experience with our group. My last (but not least) offer of praise is to the Oil and Gas industry itself.
Contrary to all the negative media, the Energy industry is extremely committed to investing in a safe and informed future for everyone. The commitment to technological advancement, safety practices, accurate information and continuous improvement in training techniques is evidenced in all this program offers. I was struck by how many of Calgary's energy companies have invested in, and committed to, this program.
Yes, I'm much more informed today than I was Sunday evening about our energy industry; thank you NeoStream for the support and commitment to continuous learning. I will also say, that I'm holding my head higher today. I take great pride in what this industry has contributed to Alberta's (and Canada's) history and I have nothing but excitement for what the future holds.
So thank you, Mr. Keith MacPhail, for your very generous donation to this incredible organization. Thank you to all of the incredible companies who have and continue to support this learning facility and program. And cheers to the dedicated Oil and Gas professionals who share their vast experience and knowledge with us - you leave us informed and looking for ways to make our own positive contribution.
Congratulations to our partners in the Oil and Gas industry! I couldn't be more proud to be an Albertan and to be part a team servicing the Energy industry.
I’ve just returned from Kofax’s annual conference, aptly named Transform. This year was rich with great content, speakers and networking events. It was a fantastic investment in time and (as always) was great to see so many friends.
For those who know of the world renowned author Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, and most recently Escape Velocity), you know it was a fantastic treat to have him present as our key note speaker. He gave us many gems, and his knowledge and analysis of current IT and corporate trends was masterfully delivered. Upon reflection, I think the most prevalent concept he shared was one that more spoke to a gap, rather than a product or killer app.
Mr. Moore quickly and eloquently defined and differentiated between a System of Record, and a System of Engagement. The System of Record is what we commonly think of when we refer to ‘Enterprise IT’. It’s the Accounting and HR systems, the Well and Land databases and other ERP solutions. These systems are transactional systems, largely designed for commerce and are mostly (if not completely) data centric. They are big, powerful and are built for processing data. Accuracy, integrity, uniformity, reliability and security drive the ship.
Systems of Engagement are different. Very different in fact. They are designed to re-engineer the human experience a ‘customer’ has with a company. These solutions have transcended transactions and become about the interactions. But don’t mistake these systems as hap-hazard, or informal. These systems are often THE way a company transacts business with its customers. We’re talking about apps for onboarding new customers, sites for delivering customer service, communications tools to stay connected with our accounts and, at the end of the day, the interfaces we’re using to collect money from customers. Think mobile apps, ‘live chat’ support websites, surveys, forms, suggestions about additional products to buy appearing on a commerce website and tools like the credit card reader for iPhones. There are many Systems of Engagement hitting the app stores worldwide, each week. They are how customers interact with our businesses.
Moore’s point is blunt – Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement are not an easy marriage. Picture the hippies dating the drill sergeants. Picture the Computer Club at the Playboy Mansion. It’s an awkward paring. The concept of seamless integration is very, very difficult. Systems of Record are about operational excellence, and they are designed for efficiency (which often means rigid structure and rules). Systems of Engagement are about customer intimacy, designed to be easy for the customer. Simplicity, speed and an enjoyable experience are the goals. Both systems are important, both are correct in their goals and purpose…they just aren’t easy to connect.
Impressively, this is where Kofax has dedicated their focus…connecting the information captured by Systems of Engagement to the Systems of Record. Specifically, they wish to support business processes that are people intensive, information heavy, highly variable and unpredictable… where there is loose structure (read: a high rate of change to the process and data collected) and where the interaction with the customer is collaborative. Kofax says ‘let each do their thing, we’ll connect them’.
Kofax outlines five key components that are necessary to succeed at helping companies link their Systems of Engagement with their Systems of Records. These elements are:
Capture: The ability to bring paper, edocs, forms, data and email into the system with relevant indexing information attached. Kofax’s ability to automate much of this process reduces cost, time and errors.
Business Process Management: The ability to move information – data and documents – from Systems of Engagement to Systems of Record. This often involves rules for determining the appropriate route, and when to trigger additional input.
Collaboration: The ability to interface with people to complete the proper capture and movement of information. This recognizes that information can be incomplete upon initial entry into a system and human involvement is often required.
Analysis: The ability for business intelligence and reporting on the entire process. Dashboards, alerts and visual representation of results enable operators and managers alike to assess performance.
Awareness: The ability to ‘see’ the full process lifecycle, providing visibility and issue handling opportunities.
The slogan Kofax is using to position their value proposition is “Navigating the first mile”. I like it! I think it quickly points us to the front of the information lifecycle and focuses on capture and information movement. It provides us with the clarity that information repositories (the desired end state) are nothing if you can’t populate them with good information (the starting point…aka, the first mile). The more companies experience the issues associated with connecting Systems of Engagement with Systems of Record, the more ‘navigational assistance’ they will seek.
Kofax’s solutions have long been the industry leader in capture (they currently hold 15% of the world’s capture market share). What’s exciting for us information management types is the clarity of the positioning the slogan brings. Kofax connects your Systems of Engagement with your Systems of Record. Kofax has all the products to capture, move, address incomplete information and provide visibility into the whole process. This is very useful to Calgary’s energy industry where NeoStream works. We're glad to have this valuable tool set to work with.
I’m extremely pleased to have attended the conference.
I attended the Deloitte Technology Predications conference on Tuesday (Jan 29, 2013) at Flames Central. It was well done, with lots of insight into where opportunities and threats exist in the coming years.
A point that caught my attention, given my profession, was their rather conservative stance on Enterprise Social – the ability for people to communicate within an organization in informal ways. They pointed to existing data – low usage, low engagement, infrequent checking of accounts – as the indicators that Enterprise Social will not likely grow much in 2013/2014. Respectfully, I think they missed the mark on this one.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of not getting caught up in the language of ‘Enterprise Social’. Don’t allow this set of tools to be positioned as “Facebook for your company”, if people are insinuating that it’s just a tool for entertainment, delivering little value. Think of Enterprise Social as ‘many to many communication’. Put differently, Enterprise Social is the ability for people to ‘follow’ and ‘add to’ any topic, document, person or project within the company that has relevance to them (or that they have knowledge about). It allows people to declare their interests, skills and roles and then participate in the business processes the company engages in on a daily basis.
What are the benefits of an effectively implemented Enterprise Social solution?
Massive reduction of information based emails (specifically the ones titled “FYI”);
Reduction of time spent in meetings, and the elimination of the need to attend some meetings;
Ability to reach out to people for help, including people you don’t even know;
Ability to be notified of changes that are relevant to your position / role;
Mobility – keep informed when you’re not in the office;
Speed – ability to bring information and other resources to bare on an issue quickly;
Communicate ideas or announce changing circumstances in a wide or highly targeted fashion;
and the list goes on…this is a game changer in terms of communication.
Imagine your email inbox receiving 10% of the volume it receives today…This is just one of the promises of Enterprise Social.
To be clear, many to many communication is a new concept for most companies, but it’s not new for your team members. They use these tools to communicate with their family, friends and other communities. Many under the age of 30 prefer to use ‘social communication’ vs. the telephone and email. Let me say that again, there is an entire generation now that doesn’t use the phone or email to communicate…and they’re more ‘connected’ than most.
I’m sure ‘uptake’ has been poor in companies for many reasons, most having nothing to do with the value of the concept. I suspect that poor adoption from Sr. Leadership and poor technical implementation lead the list. Proper change management is also essential. As I heard over and over again at the 2012 SharePoint Conference; “you can’t be ‘half in’ on social”. Those who allow early Enterprise Social failures to taint the value of this revolutionary communication concept will continue to be doomed with too many meetings and an email inbox that’s overflowing with ill-timed information. And that would be a shame.
It reinforced some of the thoughts I’ve provided above. It’s a two pager, so check it out…a very solid read.
I want to thank Deloitte for inviting me to the event. It was informative, entertaining and thought provoking. I look forward to being a part of the implementation of many to many communication in Calgary’s energy industry…and proving their ‘slow to adopt’ prediction wrong.
I love hot yoga. I usually make it to a 65 minute class three times a week...six am - Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I'm actually quite proud of that, given how incredibly hard I find each and every class.
It’s so challenging because there is so much going on with each and every pose...strength, balance, core, flexibility (or extreme lack thereof), breath. And for me, sweat. I should disclose here, I'm a sweater...and at 40 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, there is a lot of sweat!
I'm a person who always tries to ‘maximize’ my time. I often try to cram a lot of things into a day. While I've learned a lot about choosing how I spent my time, if I'm being honest, I'm still pretty much moving from one thing to another from 5:30 am until 8:30 pm, every day. I do my best not to spend precious time on "low value” activities...this includes washing a sweat drenched yoga mat, 3 times a week.
Think about it - picture the process. Finish yoga, lying in a pool of sweat, 7:05 am (the time crunch is on). Roll up the mat, dripping. Cram it into the car, smelling...lay it down and clean it at home - where, when? You get the point; it's a hassle if you're a clean freak and like things to be…fresh.
Hot Yoga on 17th has this great little service. For a loonie, I can rent a mat. And so I enter the cloud. I pay when I use, and I'm not troubled with the burden of ownership. Every time I walk through the door, I'm greeted by a smiling face and a yoga mat...a clean, sterile, rolled up tight, yoga mat. Here's my dollar, good morning...
And when I'm done, I simply stager to the locker room, finished. They take care of it. I don't know how, I don't know when or where. I don't know if the job sucks or if it’s such a cash cow that everyone in the studio likes it when I rent a mat. Though I'm slightly interested, I don't really care. I value the service - I feel I get a lot for my buck.
And then there's the automatic upgrade. I walked in last week and was met with mat 2.0. As I handed over my loonie, a new, thicker (now foam) and slightly more grippy mat was extended my way. I extended my hand in the same fashion, grabbed the mat...and everything carried on the same...except the mat was better.
They took care of that for me - I didn't even know I wanted or needed a better mat, but the industry did. They're the people going to work every day thinking about this stuff. They walk the trade show floors, attend the conferences, follow the injury data, fashion, environmental impact...they're the ones who know what my yoga mat needs to be. And I appreciate that...I'm focused on other thoughts...other places.
All of this is exactly what the cloud is offering us – both personally and professionally. Paying to use software (hosted on computers located ‘somewhere else’) instead of buying it is changing the way technology serves us. Through the cloud model, software is consistently refined to meet our needs, and the experts who offer each cloud service are more knowledgeable about how to design, develop and support the solutions than we are. We calculate the value of what we receive based on convenience, availability (there when we need it), performance and the support we receive if/when we need it. Generally, we focus on what we need the software for, and the not the software itself.
There is one difference that's worth pointing out in my yoga mat and cloud example. Price is NOT reflective of the cloud model in this example. In the yoga mat instance, I'm actually paying more for "use" vs. ownership. I did hot yoga 63 times in 2011 and this year I'm tracking for 87 sweat filled sessions. Even if I had bought mat 1.0 and then threw it out and bought 2.0, at full price I would have spent about $140....vs. the $150 and counting that I'm running with my rental model. But with the cloud, it's almost always less – usually considerably. Few companies can actually run their hardware, software, people and process for less than the cloud model can. The scale possible with cloud pricing models usually means it’s less expensive by 1/2 to 1/4 of the ‘on premise’ price. (But for clarity on the mat thing, I don't care if I’m paying more than if I owned the mat, the service and enjoyment I receive far out way my need to "win" on price).
I think it’s interesting to see that ownership of certain things that I use regularly is becoming an option. Music, mats, cars and of course, software. As it relates to software, the model is shifting rapidly towards the cloud these days. People are finding the service better, the currency of the software greater (i.e. version upgrades don’t take years…this is a quarterly game now) and the price is significantly lower. As with my yoga mat, the cloud keeps me focused on my job and interests, and the infrastructure needed to perform is provided by others.
See you on the mat … and in the cloud.
Peter Lafontaine is a friend of mine. It begins and finishes there. We were hanging our feet off the swim dock at Columbia Lake this summer when we agreed it was time to work more closely again.
I like Pete. He lives by the kind of integrity I want to associate with. His name is good in this town. Raise your hand if you’ve been done well by him, and step forward if you haven’t. Pete always makes it right.
NeoStream is now ready for Pete. It’s been just over two years since we started our conversion to a software company, and now we have the products, the methodologies and the references to scale.
To grow NeoStream into the international energy industry solution provider we see it becoming, we need a real pro to scale our sales organization. And we won’t stand for it to be done in any ordinary way…
Pete insists on solving real business problems, not just providing cool software and placing people. He is often heard evangelizing the idea that “Delivery of great information systems and business solutions is a team sport, customers and vendors are in it together with a common goal of improving the business.” His belief that the business and IT community must work more closely together to provide value for Operational Users is core to every conversation he has. The guy is as passionate as we are about collaboration simplicity and information clarity. He’s dedicated himself to creating places for people to share activities, data and documents within, and between, energy companies. He wants people in the energy industry to happily use our software, every day.
Many don’t know that Pete worked for NeoStream in 2009 and 2010. Then, he was the VP Business Development and Partner, as he is today. In 2010, he was the major force in driving our shift to software based solutions vs. providing custom services. He led NeoStream into the Microsoft family and worked tirelessly to embed a culture of serving the client within our company. NeoStream has grown up a lot in the past couple of years, but our values and practices continue to be representative of Pete. He really fits here.
I want to sincerely thank the team at Microsoft – both for welcoming him onto your team in 2011/2012…and for giving him back. The lessons he learned in working within your organization will be implemented into our strategy and we’ll ensure our mutual customers benefit from this common understanding. As it is with Pete, he’ll stay in close contact.
So here we go Pete – welcome back! Thanks so much for coming and directing your experience, integrity and passion to our vision. We’re excited to have you here, my friend.
Those of you who know me, know that I love to write – for business and for fun. I wanted to write something about the recent SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas to share some thoughts, but this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive technical review or anything ‘formal’ like that. Consider this a ‘place holder’ type article, simply intended to identify important topics for further conversation.
Las Vegas is a great place for a conference! Everyone has a dynamic frame of mind, allowing reality and possibilities to intertwine. Put 10,000 of the world’s leading Microsoft SharePoint experts together and you know you’re in for a good time. (Some of you may snicker, but it really was a fantastic conference).
I want to tell you about what I saw. It’s an intimidating feat, given both the abundance of content, ideas, case studies, products…patterns; and the fact that there are about 15 layers of detail that could be provided for each topic. I’ll forget the excuses and simply start writing.
It was an energizing conference – mostly for the validation that NeoStream received. We are excited to see that Microsoft’s entire software and hardware strategy is in alignment with NeoStream’s products and services…or perhaps it’s the other way around… Anyways – no sales pitch here, just the observations, the discoveries and the quotes that turned my head…or smirked my smile.
It started with a registration website that was entirely tag based. Courses were tagged with all sorts of information about what they were about. You could then slice the information by terms , interests and perspectives…by time, author, area of focus – you get it. There were people who knew how to use this form of technology, and those who didn’t. It demonstrated an skill all of us need to have – people must know how to search for, and slice, information based on tags.
Vendor Expo, Sunday night. Vegas cocktails and 250 SharePoint service and product companies. The real frontier, I assure you. The innovation and experimentation in the industry is growing quickly. Products – apps; security, migration, infrastructure, cloud, forms, BI, mobile, search, UI etc. It’s valuable stuff if you have the need. It’s all horizontal plays though (cross industry)…the industry vertical applications just don’t show up on an international stage like this. Industry based applications for SharePoint is still a niche player’s game. You can bring in the horizontal tools as you need them.
Monday morning came with the energy of a Tragically Hip concert, expectant. Breakfast couldn’t be done fast enough to race to the Keynote ballroom and cram in amongst 46 country’s best. The next question is who spoke – but that’s not how Microsoft roles. They really don’t bother with the celebrity appearances when they’re in front of the real pros. We all wanted the goods, the future … bring it!
The keynote was fantastic. The head of Microsoft’s SharePoint program, head of Office 365, head of this and that…doesn’t matter their names. These are the guys guiding the tools the world is working with. They’re the guys who watch the world work, and try to make it better. They’re backed by Microsoft’s funding…the ability to innovate – invent anything – or simply buy any technology they want. And they do…and they did. Yammer being a prime example.
A memorable situation / quote: As the Office 365 guys was running SharePoint over a web application hosted out of an Amsterdam based data centre, he says in reference to the power of the cloud, “gone are the days of software releases every 3 years, this is a quarterly game now”.
Think about that! New software features and refinements every quarter. How will IT departments keep up with that pace? (answer: cloud). How will software companies keep up with that pace? (answer: apps). There is so much more to talk about here with respect to the Cloud and Apps – but keep those two words close my friends. They both must be understood, and leveraged heavily.
There was a lot of talk about Microsoft’s purchase of Yammer. The acquisition makes sense to me. Yammer is the corporate version of the best of Facebook and Twitter. It’s corporate social – and social is the way the world wants to work.
(Before we go on with the whole case for social in the work place, I need to separate the conversation into two camps – one for those of you who know how to use Facebook and Twitter, and one for those who don’t:
If you know how to use Facebook and Twitter (and it doesn’t matter if you use them or not, as long as you have the skills to use the tools), then you likely understand the ease at which you can stay in touch with people, topics and places through these tools. You know that you can reach out and be heard, and helped. And that you can listen and contribute to someone else in some way, easily.
If you don’t know how to use Facebook and Twitter (and it doesn’t matter if you like, hate or have never heard of them… if you don’t have the skills to use these communication tools), then you are likely to have a negative reaction to the concept of ‘social within the enterprise’. So let’s change the language, immediately. Let’s make the question, What is your company’s ‘many to many’ communication strategy? How do you plan to apply the entire base of corporate knowledge to any and every problem in your company? How do you intend to operate an agile way, to be capable of responding to the changes within minutes (instead of months)? Forget the word social, let’s simply talk communication (unless you want to be hip with the times, than call it social).
SharePoint 2013 has fully integrated social into its fabric. It’s brilliant the way people can communicate within the organization now. The combination of Lync, SharePoint, Yammer, Office and the rest of the Microsoft stack makes it easy. That’s the value proposition for social… people know how to use this stuff, which means they will. The result is having the right information, and expertise, applied to every situation.
I went to a few customer implementation case study sessions about social. All of them spoke to a common theme, ‘you can’t do social half way…you’re either all in, as a company, or don’t bother’. Good advice I thought. eBay, Unisys and several other big names are ‘all in’.
The Keynote ended, and the courses began. NeoStream had 9 people at the conference, so our coverage of the topics was vast. We scattered like a good snooker break to different course topics, and then met for every meal to unload our thoughts, and brainstorm with each other. We adjusted the course schedule for each person based on what we were learning, observing and curious about. It was fantastically energizing, just being involved with such a dynamic team.
Search was a major topic during the conference. Many sessions were entirely dedicated to it. There’s a lot going on with Search. (Those who know this will laugh at the simplicity of my statement). But let’s just leave it at that for the moment, or this paper will become too technical. There are a couple short stories I have to share with you though, regarding search.
The first is an example of how fast the SharePoint market is changing. Up to SharePoint 2010, there were three core ways to create and use search within SharePoint. With 2013, there is only one. Two methods were mostly discarded, based on the (now) proven abilities of the third method. That’s something fairly significant for those companies who may have custom built search into the core of their solutions. Can you see how this sort of change could be a disaster for individual companies who aren’t aligned with a Microsoft Gold Partner who knows where they’re taking their product? An upgrade could kill them (or more likely, cost them dearly). That’s why we’re such strong believers in the product model that NeoStream is offering (I know, no pitch…but think about it...if you’re developing your own stuff, you better be really tied into Microsoft’s product direction…like we are).
Second search story is really more of a quote from one of NeoStream’s Senior Developers. I recount it here verbatim.
- Sean to Vince: “Hey Vince, how were your afternoon sessions?”
- Vince to Sean: “Amazing! I’m so excited…everything is search.”
- Sean to Vince: “Ah…yeah…” (lingering look)
- Vince to Sean: “No really Sean…Everything. Is. Search.”
(Drop us a line if you’d like to explore that comment more).
Mobility was obviously another major topic. Microsoft’s Windows 8 platform is the hub of all mobility opportunities (for the Windows phone and Surface), but they’ve heartedly embraced the Apple and Android devices as well. The summarizing quote of the conference for me was when Microsoft said, “we’re going to bring your personal and business lives together, onto a single device”. Ten years ago, those were fighting words (many didn’t want their business and personal lives brought together), but I’ll tell you, as I sit and watch my three year old take swimming lessons early on a Wednesday afternoon, I’m feeling pretty good about having a single device that connects me to my business, my family and friends as well as all of my hobbies and interests. I love technology simplicity – it’s the only way to go!
NeoStream is excited about mobility for lots of reasons, two of them are mobile Business Intelligence and offline information capture. Both are extremely relevant for the Energy Industry. More about these topics as the conversation progresses (in this document and beyond).
Speaking of Business Intelligence, that got is fair share of course time as well. Microsoft has continued to push the envelope with Excel, Excel Services, Power Pivot and Power View. They’ve made it accessible for Users to drive their own BI experience, though we suspect we’ll still be asked to create and monitor these tools for our clients. Suffice it to say, BI is advancing fast (many vendors on the Expo floor were also showing BI tools) and the best is still yet to come.
Office 2013. I commented when I saw SharePoint 2010 for the first time that it was getting harder and harder to differentiate Office from SharePoint. That trend has only deepened in Office and SharePoint 2013. This is a good thing, because the seamless integration means that document capture and proper indexing will be used more by the people creating documents. Further, per above, BI and other features are actually being driven off common Office documents (Excel mostly). Pay attention to PowerPoint, as Microsoft has reinvigorated that tool to become a SharePoint based, web publishing tool. And, for the first time, Microsoft’s SharePoint and email strategy are now starting to get along (there is still great room for improvement in this category though).
The Pace of Change
I mentioned the pace that the SharePoint community is moving at these days with my reference to the search changes that have taken place. This is worth commenting on further, as our clients look to NeoStream to provide stability and predictability within a rapidly advancing environment. There are several key things to consider.
Apps and Governance: The app model is one thing, but you don’t inherently have governance, scalability, ECM, security and retention built into your SharePoint solution just because you have a fancy site with a few cool apps. Look to your SharePoint architecture and your governance model for control of the apps and sites. NeoStream works with site templates to control much of this. You can’t just focus on functionality, consider this warning carefully as you look at how you’re going to maintain control of an advancing app world.
On Premise vs. Cloud: It’s not for NeoStream to say what you should be doing with respect to infrastructure. What we’re seeing now, and as a future roadmap for many companies, is that there will be all three: On Premise infrastructure will be used for some information / sites (particularly those with heavy integration to in house line of business applications); a Canadian-based cloud solution will be used for information you’d like in Canada; and Office 365 / hosted SharePoint will be used for functionality and hosting that can be placed in Microsoft’s hands. The point is this, there is a continuum and each company will find its way along it. It is worth knowing though, that technical agility lies in the cloud, and that’s what Users are asking for.
Those who know me, know I’m an ECM guy from the start. I have worked in the industry for over 15 years now and I’m pretty unforgiving when I see poor ECM practices or technical tools. SharePoint has come a long way with respect to ECM. SP 2013 continues with increased functionality around e-Discovery functionality and records management. I see Microsoft using the tag model extensively, which in many cases will provide search value. It should be remembered that proper meta-data provides value in terms of search, systems integration, workflow, reporting, security and retention (i.e. tags won’t cut it for some business purposes). NeoStream sees a number of opportunities to ‘assist’ Microsoft with meta-data capture, specifically around Site Mailboxes, and during the drag and drop process of capturing electronic documents. Yes, tags are easier, but there are times when they are just not enough.
One of the best practices shared by Microsoft during the conference, with respect to architecting a social experience in SharePoint, was to have fewer sites with more members. Said differently, it’s better to have a few sites with lots of members, vs. lots of sites with few members (each). In our opinion, this will work well for some of the energy sites we work with (E,H & S or HR for example), however it’s not a reasonable solution design when sites have been created for each well, or facility construction project (these will have many sites, with different departments accessing them for different purposes).
It’s exciting to see how the world is and will be working in the near future. If you’re betting on Microsoft in the professional workspace, then you’re inherently betting on SharePoint. The product has been positioned in the centre of the stack, with Lync, Office, Exchange, SQL and Dynamics circling around it. While I wish to avoid the ‘did he ever drink the Kool Aid!” comments, I will stand accused that working with the full Microsoft stack is going to make life a whole lot easier for many people and companies.
The cloud, business social, mobility, business intelligence, search and the app model will bring about change faster than we’ve ever experienced…and yet most of us will be pulling it into our professional and personal lives. These are truly exciting times…
NeoStream is going to be hosting an “Overview / Reflections” session on January 24, 2013 at our office. We’ll offer both technical and Business Analysts tracks so the material is relevant to those attending. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Dawn Lutz at our office.
Sean Halliday is the CEO of NeoStream Technologies, a Calgary based energy services company serving the oil and gas community.
Tim O’Connor, the CEO of Results.com Canada wrote an interesting article on the Results.com blog the other day (http://blog.results.com). Tim was identifying that it’s harder and harder for a company’s marketing strategy to get the company noticed, and that ‘picking a fight’ (with a competitor or an annoying ‘industry norm’) can actually be quite effective. He encouraged companies to ask three key questions at their next Leadership meeting – and to think aggressively about the answers. Here are NeoStream’s answers:
1.How is NeoStream different from our competitors, and how could we leverage that difference to create some remarkable, conspicuous conflict within the industry?
NeoStream has created software solutions for the energy industry. We’ve built them on top of Microsoft SharePoint (now an industry standard platform) and wrapped a complete delivery and support methodology around the solutions so that budgets are predictable, timelines are fixed, scope is contained and anticipated results are achieved. This is a new way of doing things in the ECM industry – the previous way was to: hire professional service providers, start from a blank page and build, build, build.
NeoStream is the ‘Buy’ option, in the ‘Buy vs. Build’ technology landscape. The ‘Build’ guys don’t like us because everyone knows you buy for standardization and build for competitive advantage. We’re the ones pointing out that the energy industry uses document management & collaboration tools to achieve standardization, cost control, efficiency and compliance – they don’t implement SharePoint solutions for competitive advantage. It’s a better business decision to buy, vs. build.
2. What major sticking point exists for all players in our industry, which – if it could be resolved – would provide NeoStream with a significant strategic advantage?
A major sticking point within the industry is that in order to deliver a successful SharePoint solution for oil and gas companies, the following skill sets are required:
- Knowledge of ECM (specifically document management, taxonomies, records management and workflow).
- Knowledge of Capture (for paper, edocs and email) – backfile and point forward.
- Knowledge of SharePoint (specifically design/architecture, configuration, development, testing, promotion from Dev to Test to Prod).
- Knowledge of the energy industry, and specifically the business processes as well as the related information sources and uses.
- Knowledge of the third party data systems related to the business process being addressed.
- Support abilities (specifically training, technical support and content services).
So, with this many skills being required to deliver a successful solution, the energy industry struggles because:
- Most companies don’t have all of these skills in house.
- Most companies aren’t able to assign their critical and knowledgeable personnel to educate the service provider on what their needs are, and how the information flows within their company.
- Most consulting companies and individuals can’t profitably assign this many people to a project in order to successfully deliver it.
- Most companies’ project budgets don’t support this many people / skill sets being involved (the project sponsor balks at the size and scale of the project).
- Most timelines don’t support a full project lifecycle (i.e. discovery through design, build, test etc.) when starting from a blank page…companies engage in these projects because they need solutions ‘now’, they can’t wait 6 – 12 months before they can use them.
- Most companies are terrified of a run-away IT project – especially in ECM – and senior managers are reluctant to get behind them when it looks like a custom solution is going to be built (they’ve been burned before).
This is why NeoStream’s pre-built SharePoint solutions for the oil and gas industry make a lot of sense (for any size company). The solutions were designed and built with the input of each skill set and years of accumulated knowledge of the energy industry. Since they are products, the deployment process can be well scripted and aligned with each skill set required. The implementation of the product becomes highly regimented and is streamlined to use resources efficiently (on both sides). For NeoStream, this enables us to profitably deliver a solution. For our clients, they benefit from project risk being greatly reduced – cost, functionality and time doesn’t change much from the original quote.
3. Who’s looking to pick a fight with us?
There are three groups that don’t like NeoStream’s message and offerings (but one of them simply mis-understands us).
- This first group is the “we can build it ourselves” answer that still comes from many companies’ internal IT departments. We’re not saying they can’t – perhaps the team has the skills – but we question whether ECM, SharePoint, Capture and software development are really their core expertise. Were they hired for this purpose – to custom build ECM solutions? Is the company prepared to pay for their trial and error learning? (This is a complicated, fast moving industry).
- The second group (identified earlier) that doesn’t like NeoStream’s ‘Buy instead of Build’ message are the professional services / consulting organizations (or individuals). These companies make a lot of money starting projects from scratch, gathering requirements, designing solutions and building, building, building. The longer a project takes, the more they make.
- The group that’s still unsure of NeoStream, is the energy industry’s third party data system companies (many of whom have cobbled together a way to attach documents to their data records). This group is concerned about guarding their information management territory, and our solutions bring into question who should manage the documents. We believe centralizing all document storage in a capable document management solution (such as SharePoint) is a better information architecture strategy (thus eliminating the silos of information that exist when each data application manages its own documents). However, where we have common ground is with respect to data. The data contained in these systems can – no, should be managed in the source data system and only surfaced through the SharePoint interface. And that’s what NeoStream has done with our solutions, we’ve integrated them with the energy industry’s data systems, thus providing a single place for all well, facility, plant and/or corporate services information. They manage the data, we manage the documents and provide a simple interface to access everything. This relationship is powerful!
I’ve been in this business for more than 15 years now, specifically in the energy industry, focusing on document management, workflow, collaboration and information management challenges. I’m not saying every need in the oil and gas industry can be met by a pre-built SharePoint software solution, but I am saying that many can be. It’s time that Executives and IT Managers took a serious look at the Buy vs. Build offerings in the SharePoint realm. Project cost and timelines don’t need to be as large as they once were – there is a better way…
Are those fighting words?
There is a SharePoint story circulating in Calgary right now – a nightmare really. I’ve personally spoken with the company affected and know these details to be true. While I’m happy to say NeoStream wasn’t involved in this implementation disaster, I’m saddened by the damage situations like this can do to our entire industry. I won’t share the names of the companies involved (the vendors or the client), but I want to bring situations like this to Calgary’s attention, as I believe this issue could have been avoided, and certainly could have been rectified in a much better way.
The story begins with a simple request for a SharePoint intranet. The client’s desire wasn’t even for a full blown, company wide solution, but rather for some basic document management sites for particular projects, as well as positioning for future enhancement (i.e. phase 1 included integrating with Active Directory, setting up the Content Type Hub, provisioning the proper infrastructure, setting up a scalable security model etc.)….all things that should be considered “SharePoint 101”. The project was estimated at $80,000.
The first company hired to perform these tasks provided two resources to work with the company’s Project Manager / Business Analyst. Unfortunately, to the client’s discovery and complete surprise, the two ‘experts’ weren’t particularly knowledgeable in SharePoint. They knew how to access admin and configuration settings, however they lacked knowledge and experience in document management, SharePoint architecture/design and had never integrated Active Directory before. Since the client’s PM also didn’t know SharePoint, the situation predictably worsened. No results were produced, the project ran heavily over budget and the IT Manager began to be questioned by senior executives about what was going on.
The IT Manager and PM responded and fired the first SharePoint company, swallowing the loss, losing face with the business and becoming desperate to get the project ‘out of their hair’. It had become the ‘black sheep’ project that no one wanted to be connected with.
Enter two independent consultants, hired to right the wrongs of the past vendor, who in their words ‘clearly didn’t know what they were doing…but they could fix it”. Two more full time resources, several more months of work, and no results! In this case, it seems the consultants were well versed in SharePoint, but not in proper project methodologies. After making several critical changes to a Production server that brought it down entirely (instead of testing first on a test server) and improperly designing the content type hub, the project fell further behind. The two consultants turned on each other, blaming the other for the disaster that the project had become. The PM, in the middle, was reeling with ‘he said / she said’ accusations instead of being presented with solutions.
The PM (now fearing for his own job), and the IT Manager (with his executive breathing fire down his neck) decided to fire one of the consultants and hope the other could complete the project. At time of writing, this project is not yet completed, though hopes are high that they are in the final stretch…
The End Result: Over $300,000 spent. 10 months spent on a 2 month project. 1 Project Manager lost his job. 1 IT Manager doesn’t want to do anything with SharePoint anymore. One SharePoint vendor with a reputational ‘black eye’ and two independent consultants with no referenceable work for their efforts (in fact, each vendor better hope the reference doesn’t get out!). Everyone lost, including Calgary’s SharePoint industry.
Here are a few things NeoStream would have done differently:
- Our implementation teams are made up of Collaboration Architects, Infrastructure Architects, Document Management experts, a Project Manager/Business Analyst, a Quality Control tester and a Support Team member…NO ONE knows everything about SharePoint – we bring a team of experts to every job.
- NeoStream usually takes on a deliverable / project rather than simply providing hourly resources for the client to run. This ensures we are accountable for a result, rather than for simply showing up and billing. Our Statements of Work and Change Order process give our clients control over their budgets.
- We would have sold a solution template – in this case the Intranet 4 Energy™ solution – to eliminate the ‘start from nowhere’ effort that many companies seem to be so quick to take on. For example, our I4E solution comes with code for integrating Active Directory and an implementation process for designing the Content Type Hub…out of the box. It was unnecessary to custom build either of these pieces.
- We spend time with our clients setting proper expectations about what’s ‘easy’ in SharePoint, and what requires more effort, design and testing. SharePoint can be a solution that is configured AND a software development platform. Identifying which pieces of functionality are which is critical to setting client expectations (and again, to involving the right team members).
- Accountability. I’m shocked to hear that the client is out $300,000 and the solution still isn’t delivered. This is shameful! How could a respectful company (or independent consultant) in our city take that much money and not deliver something?! I know NeoStream too has some projects “go differently” than we all expected, but I can tell you we made it right with our clients (meaning, we ate hours / reduced bills AND stuck with it and delivered the solution the client wanted). We’re in this for the long term – our reputation in Calgary is a critical asset.
I share this story because many more companies will likely make the same mistakes this company did – they’ll hire resources to start building from scratch. They’ll pay for people’s education in SharePoint (even if the company they hire has a good reputation)…and that’s not good for our industry. NeoStream believes SharePoint is the answer for many energy companies in Calgary. It can be deployed successfully and cost effectively…but it does matter who you hire, what their solution approach is and the experience of the people placed on your project.
There are always ‘many ways to do something’, but my observation is that over time, optimization occurs…and the variations decrease. This is what we call standard…as in, industry standard (formal) or de facto Standard (informal, public opinion). THE way to do it.
What does it take to become a standard? I’d think it’d be better to represent the best. Optimization, efficiency, value based…all the words to describe something great. That’d be a start anyways. Basically, standards are formed when a group’s opinion is that something is better. And there is a desire to use it repeatedly.
Is the precursor to becoming a standard, intention? And if so, must it be openly stated? I’d think so, as most things don’t become much of anything without open intention.
It is NeoStream’s intention to provide the energy industry with de facto standard. We intend to have our solutions be an obvious choice for managing information. We’ve dedicated ourselves to applying our craft, and coming up with something better. We will improve the way energy companies collaborate upon information.
Please don’t mistake grand intention with bravado or arrogance. Quite the opposite. It’s been a humbling journey thus far. For 16 years I’ve been plying my trade. The industry’s changed its name from Imaging to Document Management to Knowledge Management to Enterprise Content Management (ECM – our current banner). The challenge of managing unstructured, critical enterprise information, however, remains unchanged…and rather poorly addressed to date.
NeoStream has been built to offer the energy industry an implementable, usable, affordable and WORKING document management, communication, collaboration, workflow – Enterprise Content Management – solution. Here’s what we’ve done to make this work for the energy industry.
- We’ve selected five core business functions that exist within all energy companies (including the service companies) and learned everything we could about the business processes, documents, data, people, roles, geographies, technical tools and challenges within those functions.
- We’ve centralized our technology on Microsoft’s platform; SharePoint, Lync, Office, Exchange, SQL and Windows specifically.
- We’ve written a number of software applications that work on top of SharePoint (so our clients don’t need to become software development shops – they can ‘buy vs. build’).
- We’ve created a platform solution so that all our products work together as well as being highly scalable and easy to update / upgrade.
- We’ve created a Managed Services department to not only provide technical support, but to assist with solution administration, reporting, training and real time configurations (to get the most out of our solutions every day, every time). This is the way SharePoint ‘support’ must be handled.
- We’ve created a cloud based hosting service at Q9 Networks and made sure all of our solutions can be hosted externally (or installed at the client’s site) because the majority of our solutions are being used as extranets (between our clients and their supplier / partner network).
- We’ve created a Professional Services team and tight implementation processes so our solutions can be set up, configured and integrated quickly, with minimal expenditure.
- We’ve hired User Experience experts to assist us in creating a software interface that is based on the principles of simplicity, cleanliness and navigational clarity.
- We’ve achieved Microsoft’s Gold certification for Portals and Collaboration so that our clients are confident in our ongoing relationship with, and knowledge of, Microsoft.
- We’ve educated our employees about the energy industry, specifically it’s processes, roles, language and documents so that we speak our client’s language and understand the complexities of each role.
- We’ve partnered with other technology companies (Kofax, Fujitsu and Tagle specifically) so our clients don’t need to source components to fully implement a solution.
- We’ve hired people who have proven experience and results in the roles they hold. We’ve invested heavily in our culture and communication to ensure every team member of NeoStream is passionate about achieving our goal – to become a de facto standard for the energy industry.
- We’ve created a change management program to ensure that our solutions are used and deliver results.
- We represent ourselves as a Calgary company, attending its events and giving to its charities, recognizing we’ll be held accountable for our work and actions … reputation matters in Calgary!
Those who have worked with me, or anyone at NeoStream, know that we’re passionate about this stuff – we believe we have the answer to improving the way the energy industry collaborates upon information. We hope every energy company in Calgary will give us an hour of their time to hear how we can help…if they do, we believe we can become a de facto standard.
I recently searched the web with the following term: “Software – Buy vs. Build”. The results came fast and furious and I was impressed with how well this topic has been dissected. Many of the articles were years old, validating that this isn’t a new topic. There was a great deal of criteria suggesting how a decision (to buy or build software) should be made. The quick summary was “Buy to standardize, build to compete”. As I read further, it was clear to me that virtually every article made one key assumption; that the person seeking advice was aware they had a decision to make (should they buy or write the software).
I searched the concept originally because I’ve been struck by how many of Calgary’s energy companies appear to be venturing down the ‘build path’ when it comes to Microsoft SharePoint. Are they doing this knowingly, or are they unaware they have a buy vs. build decision to make?
SharePoint can be a confusing thing – is it a software application? Is it a development platform? Does it really work ‘out of the box’? Is custom code necessary? Those who know SharePoint, know the answer to all of these questions can be both ‘yes’ and ‘no’…it depends. After being in this industry for a long time, I’ve come to conclude that while SharePoint is capable of working ‘out of the box’, this is really not how companies end up deploying it. At the end of the day, SharePoint is (at minimum) highly configured and (most often) customized (read: software code). Several examples of where software code enters the SharePoint picture are:
- Integrations to other line of business systems
- User Interface
- Web parts
- Custom functionality (such as auto population of meta data fields)
- Site Provisioning
- Site Security
It was a recent experience that prompted me to write this article. I was sitting in an IT team board room, literally staring at an “IT Philosophy” poster that read (among other things) “We buy vs. build”, listening to them tell me that they felt they could configure SharePoint to simply do what NeoStream’s products have been built to do. I politely acknowledged their team’s capabilities and the configurable functionality offered by SharePoint, but asked if they saw they were making a ‘build vs. buy decision’. They countered that configuring SharePoint doesn’t count as ‘building’. Not wanting to ruffle this new relationship too badly, I pointed out that to build a well or facility information management solution with SharePoint, you cannot simply ‘configure SharePoint’. There are too many customizations required, you WILL end up writing code… the only question is how much. While they seemed discouraged, they appeared to hear this new reality and began to contemplate the ramifications.
For some companies, the fact that code will be written is not an obstacle. From the SharePoint ‘build’ (vs. buy) perspective, some companies have a code management system and application development methodology. They have skilled and knowledgeable programmers who understand how to work with SharePoint’s architecture. They have support personnel who will be trained on supporting the application and they have the time and budget to fully document the solution. Hopefully they have the Enterprise Content Management expertise to properly architect the solution taxonomy (or they’re willing to contract this help in). Hopefully they won’t forget about the necessary capture strategy (for edocs, email and paper ingestion). And lastly, hopefully they understand the difference between a SharePoint Infrastructure Architect, a SharePoint Collaboration Architect and a SharePoint Developer…because the single ‘SharePoint expert’ isn’t likely to be able to cover all the necessary skills required to build a solution. Suffice it to say, some companies are equipped for this investment…and some aren’t.
For those who know their executives will not support them in a ‘build vs. buy’ decision, please do not be surprised that SharePoint requires each company to decide on which route they plan to take. It’s been NeoStream’s experience that many of Calgary’s energy companies are not well equipped to become software development shops and they specifically lack the ECM, SharePoint and capture expertise required to create a custom solution of their own. For these companies, deciding to go with SharePoint is still a good decision, they simply should consider buying the applications that run on top of SharePoint (instead of developing software themselves). NeoStream can help in this regard, it is our focus.
As with all things, it begins with recognizing you have a decision to make. Having decided on SharePoint does not mean you’ve made your buy vs. build decision. Either is possible – just know what you’re getting into.