Shove over old codger, the next generation are here!

I recently saw a tweet about how we should teach our kids to type even though they probably will not need it. Well for the most part they won’t.

My eldest daughter has just started to learn to code through coder dojo in Cork. It is amazing to watch the excitement of getting hello world to appear, and it reminds me of my first experience of coding learned from my own father over 30 years ago.

Of course things are different now, and despite working in IT my whole career, I can still learn from a child. When it came to searching for pictures in google, I explained that she should type the question into the box. She simply clicked the microphone icon dictated her question and asked me “why do you type it dad?”

The answer, I’m ashamed to say is because I assumed it would be rubbish at voice recognition, a 7 year old in 2013 assumes she can talk to the computer!

The end game is that voice recognition is still not perfect because “this is stupid dad, I asked for a colouring picture of a fairy and an angel under a mushroom and there was none” epic fail google ūüėČ

The pain of public sector tendering

Times are hard. They are hard everywhere, and everyone is working harder for less money. I get that. New ways of working are needed. We must work smarter not harder – so why has it taken me 2 days to complete a Pre qualification Questionnaire for an Irish semi state company? I am not tendering to do a complicated job here – in fact I don’t even know what they want done. Truth be told, I don’t even know if I will have the resources and skills available within the company if (big if), and when I do pre qualify.

No The last 2 days have been spent preparing and assembling, in the precise order requested, basic information and declarations that allow us, as a company, compete for public sector work. I know we can compete for public sector work – we are already doing public sector contracts.

For those lucky enough not to have had to do this process, it goes a bit like this:

We are not restricted by any of the elements contained in Article 45 of EU Directive 2004/18/EC: – ¬†so I’ll fill in your version of the declaration to confirm that, print it twice, and sign it, and include it as an annexe, and note in your document what annexe number it is, and make sure that I scan it, and file it so that I can include it in the 3 CD (CDs! it’s 2013) copies I have to provide you. Excellent, requirement number 1 completed – oh sorry no, I now need to find your checklist and work out a way of marking within Microsoft Word (proprietary format – not very inclusive, but we’ll let that drop for now) how to say Yes (or is it no check the wording for a double negative, would be foolish to fall at the first hurdle) in your Yes [ ] ¬†No [ ] piece of text neatly formatted with the use of 300 spaces, formatting which goes completely mad when I add anything into the [ ] and knocks out all subsequent page breaks in the document.

Right, get a coffee – it’s going to be a long day.

Now repeat the above process for:

Conflict of interest, Insurance cover, Turnover, Company Background, Tax clearance Certificate, corporate safety statement, Quality manual – the list seems to go on for ever.

I get that to be eligible for public sector work you need these things – that is not the issue, the issue is that two weeks ago I filled in the exact same information in a slightly different format and order for your “colleagues” in a different department, and again last month, and 3 months ago and…

Last week I attended a very interesting presentation, organised by IT@Cork. Irelands new CIO, Bill McCluggage (@BillMcCluggage) was giving an insight into his first 100 days in office. He has a great vision for a reformed, digital first, public service – I have a pile of notes and hope to get a post written on the talk in the coming days. I came away energised and hopeful that this small country so adept at punching above it’s weight in so many arenas would lead a new digital public service revolution. When during the Q&A Bill was asked would his role include, in any way, making the tendering process easier, there was a collective groan of “please” from the audience.

To his credit Bill did say that he saw technology as being vitally important in the work being done by his colleagues in the Office of Public Procurement. That technology has to work both ways if there is to be both better engagement from the SME sector and lower prices for the public sector. SME’s of ireland let’s reinforce that point – the public procurement process needs to become more cost effective and efficient, not just for the public service but also for the bidders.

So here is a deal. I’m prepared ¬†to create a web based system that returns a PDF declaration for ¬†Article 45 and Conflict of interests, which the tenderer could then print and sign (forget digital signatures we are MILES away from that!). It won’t solve all the problems by any means but it might just knock a hour or so off the tender preparation marathon – it’s a big elephant, so take it one bite at a time. I am prepared to do this for free if the Office of Public Procurement will give the nod that the produced documents will be satisfactory for ALL tender cases. Why am I prepared to do it for free? Because it would take me longer to bid for the job (assuming it was ever advertised) than to do the work.

So we will dispatch the 3 trees and 3 CD’s and wait, not with bated breath, for the response. I really want to do work for this particular organisation, they are a major operator in Ireland, ¬†down the road from the office,¬†and the potential is there for a long and prosperous client supplier relationship, but boy oh boy the tendering process nearly made me walk away before even trying!

Document collaboration is not the same as document review

Recently there has been much debate in ECM circles on the death of traditional ECM systems because the users are self serving their requirements using the new breed of Cloud platforms. I have followed the ebbs and flows with interest, there is no doubt that enterprise IT is faced with a huge challenge. The user community are far more aware of IT in general outside of work – there is an App for everything – and they want the “at work” experience to match their personal and social IT realities.

Lawrence Hart (@piewords) in this piece I think put’s his finger neatly on why the ¬†“new kids on the block” are gaining momentum with the end users – usability. I think that the improved usability bonus for their day to day work is what appeals the most. As “information workers” we now have too much “local personal” data to be able to keep track of it with simple folders or in “My Documents” or by e-mail collaboration. Right now I think that the cloud providers are providing a massive improvement for part of the process, the part the users see most, but there is more to a complete ECM. Let’s take two area’s for an example:

Document review – the process of another person (usually further up the chain of command) reading a document for accuracy and peer review is a task that has long been in the ownership of the traditional document management sphere. It requires the data to be “secured” and the ability to establish an audit trail of when the document was sent, and if it was considered accepted or not. This process is where the traditional Document management solutions excel with rules and workflows and auditability. the actual interaction with the system are minimal, so the fact that for the most part the usability is poor is less of a turn of – though improved usability would certainly help.

Document collaboration is another whole domain – this is the brave new world where 10 people spread across 3 continents are all collectively working to shape the document that will be sent for review. This is the arena of the cloud upstarts, and this is where they offer so much more than their traditional rivals. The real breakthrough here is not just in the area of ECM, but more in the area of document composition. Track changes in Microsoft word seems so woefully underpowered as a collaboration tool when you have seen text appearing in a different colour form a different user on your google doc in real time, or when the though you had at lunch and typed into the document on your phone is there on your PC screen when you come back from lunch.

My view is that in the short term the 2 players will continue to sit comfortably side by side with the new players offering a brilliant usable multi person ability to create and collaborate on content, and the traditional industry taking to product of this collaboration and putting it through the corporate business rules for publication. In the medium to long term, will the existing cloud providers create sufficient functionality to take over the “business rules” end of this market without losing their end user appeal? Or will a new breed of cloud providers emerge – ones that will replace the second half of the process, providing the level of control and security required, but with reduced licencing and implementation costs? The one certainty as I see it is that traditional on premise solutions are history.

The market is huge, and growing and there is in my opinion, a number of major disruptions still to come – interesting times for those of us in the game.

The Joys of engrained “systems”

I am always amazed by the acceptance levels of management in organisations of a lack of standardisation amongst the documents produced under their watch.

I could be considered a bit of a freak about standardisation of look¬†and feel ‚Äď but I really strongly belive that where a single department¬†is producing large volumes of similar (or let‚Äôs face it identical)¬†documents that they are then distributing, a casual observer should¬†have a good chance when looking at a number of them of knowing that¬†they came from the same place. This week I was involved in launching a¬†new ECM and BPM system which included as a pivotal part of it the fact¬†that the content and the look and feel were, for a large part, going¬†to be separated. We had been given a great steer by one of the¬†ultimate end users, the project had progressed really well, and there¬†was very strong management buy in ‚Äď all good ingredients for a¬†successful launch ‚Äď but then the rub. The system was to be used to¬†collate points for agendas, something this organisation had been doing¬†for years, and the team of 5 secretaries that managed it were all¬†extremly proficient, but each of them and their own unique way of¬†doing it.

Now local variation is nothing new, but when it applies to all aspects including point numbering, fonts, layout, cover page etc. for a series of documents all approved and signed by the same management it does seem a bit farcical. The level of re-work being done here by each of the different secretaries managing all aspects of each of the agendas they look after is amazing.

In this case all was well that ends well as everyone has agreed that¬†in fact the new standard look and feel is a big step forward ‚Äď but¬†management should really grasp the fact that by imposing easy to¬†follow standards for their documents they will free up huge amounts of¬†their knowledge workers time ‚Äď after all the real purpose of hiring¬†intelligent people is for their content knowledge not their MS word¬†formatting skills!