Downtime messages – When “making it personal” makes it personal

walle

NZPost has a tracking facility (as most postal services do). One of their offerings with this tracking service is to send automated tweet notifications from a Twitterbot when the status of a tracked item changes. Pretty cool, definitely handy. 

To set this up requires “following” @nzposttracking. You are automatically followed back and send you a direct message when the status changes.

On the Twitter homepage I got to read some of the public tweets that this account has been sending out…

NZPostTracking_tweets

These “friendly” tweets that were sent out, for “routine maintenance“, made me smile.

 

eve_2

Hah! My first data scrape

leaves

I’ve just finished Module 2 of the MOOC Data Journalism course (that I mentioned in an earlier post).

The description for this module is:

This module deals with the range of skills that journalists use to obtain data. This includes setting up alerts to regular sources of information, simple search engine techniques that can save hours of time and using laws in your own and other countries.”

And (like all the other Modules) is made up of four parts:

  1. Setting up ‘data newswires’
  2. Strategic searching – tips and tricks
  3. Introduction to scraping
  4. Data laws and sources

In Part 3, I learnt to do some basic data scraping. This, essentially, is a way of grabbing content from lists, and tables, on web sites.

We covered a few tools that make this possible. The one that did surprise me was that you can use a spreadsheet created in Google Drive.

The command is IMPORTHTML(url, query, index)

Just as a practice I used it to scrape the list of Titanic passengers from Wikipedia.

Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Titanic_passengers#Survivors_and_victims

And here is the Google spreadsheet that I imported the data to: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1g_ngM049ZgAPh25UXMmwWwMDlvGY_nD6aGbFLhBJwXo/edit?usp=sharing

It was my first scraping, and nothing fancy. Also the data does need a bit of cleaning (in one case, there was extra info in the HTML that the scraping pulled in).

Also, this functionality is not just available in Google Spreadsheet. I have read that Excel can also do this. If you know of any more, please let me know.

Cheers

 

Why I hate CAPTCHA (or “I am a Human!”)

I think that most people have, at one point, come across CAPTCHA (or similar), that small box that contains a distorted word that you have to type correctly.

Kill Captchas

This is done to prevent bots, or automated software from logging into sites, or filling in forms, etc.

What really bugs me about this approach (from a User Experience point of view) is “Why do I have to prove that I am human?! It’s putting the onus on me, as a visitor. The system should be putting the demand for proof on the bots!

Here are two excellent articles that cover exactly what I am referring to:

The Scientific American article discusses how, whenever there’s a problem in the modern world, we counter it by building barriers. Barriers that provide more inconvenience to genuine users, than for the “bad guys”.

Beyond CAPTCHA: No Bots Allowed!” goes into the problems that are encountered with CAPTCHA. How the distorted text is so hard to read, etc. It carries on describing alternatives that can be put in place. It was, however, in its conclusion that the author showed that he understood my pain, with this sentence:

Don’t make users take responsibility for our (site owners) problems.

This followed up with the succinct:

Bots, and the damage they cause, are not the fault or responsibility of individual users, and it’s totally unfair to expect them to take the responsibility. They’re not the fault of site owners either, but like it or not they are our responsibility — it’s we who suffer from them, we who benefit from their eradication, and therefore we who should shoulder the burden. And using interactive authentication systems such as CAPTCHA effectively passes the buck from us to our users.

 

Kapow!! There it is…don’t make the problem with bots, the responsibility of the users!

I agree totally! Do you?

(What are your thoughts on CAPTCHA?)

Captcha

“We use Google…to find out about our own company”

Using 3rd party tools to find what I wantYou wouldn’t believe the number of times I have heard people say that when they want to find out about their own company, they use Google

Case in point – I was at a well-known appliance store the other day, that has branches throughout the country.I asked the girl at the checkout whether there was a store in one particular city. While she looked furtively at her screen, I took a peek over her shoulder. It was the company’s intranet. I advised her to open up a new tab in her browser, go to Google, and type in the name of the store plus the word “branches”. She obediently followed my instructions, and two minutes later she was able to give me an answer.

I won’t talk about the magic that Google performs to bring you the information that you want. I do want to talk, however, about why people are going to an outside facility rather than using the companies own resource…findability  and usability.

Findability does not just mean being able to search for something and getting results. It also means that the information on the intranet is structured in a logical way that allows people to navigate to information quickly. Often, little thought has gone into the way information should be presented:

  • What information do the users (in this case all staff ranging from back office workers to those at the client interface) need access to?
    Analytics will show you what is being accessed the most. Well thought surveys can return valuable information. Even talking to staff members individually,or in groups, can add a lot of value.
  • How can the navigation structure be set up so that it is intuitive?
    Use the feedback you got. Perform a card sort to help build up a understanding of how the staff want information grouped. Put together a “mock navigation”,using a suitable tool such as Optimal’s Treejack, and see how easy it is for user’s to find what they are looking for.
  • What other ways are there that the information can be accessed quickly? Short-cuts, quick links, FAQs.
    Create a screen mock-up, and test how easy it is for staff to find the information. Use a tool that allows this to be simulated on-line, and set up real-life scenarios involving staff members with different functions to determine whether improvements can be made.
  • Pay attention to the questions that are often asked by staff.
    These will usually turn up questions that get repeatedly asked. “How is xyz done?”, “Where do I find information on our widgets?”. These questions make up the basis for the FAQs or a wiki.

 

Should we brand our Intranet?

IntranetLocation:    LinkedIn SharePoint Users Group
Date:           2 days ago
Situation:   Jodi Stevens, a Web Content Specialist” put a question to the group…

 

Just curious how many brand their intranets beyond the basics like changing themes?

 

At the time I read it, there were already two responses. I added my own…

It’s an interesting discussion – whether to brand, or not.

With regards SharePoint, Microsoft’s Jeff Teper – senior vice president for SharePoint, advises…

“Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible — We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.”

However, and this is something that Dan Adams touched upon, you need to think about the purpose of the Intranet. Is it just a file-share-replacement? or is it a focus point for staff members to learn about the company, about each other, as well as to engage them and to foster exchange of ideas?A “branded” intranet, if done properly, can achieve the latter. I say “if done properly” because a “hack-job” can result in a something worse than a plain vanilla install. To do it properly, it is essentially to have, not only developers who know what can be changed without breaking something, but also a designer with UX/UI skills. These make for a very pleasant user experience, and one that helps the intranet align with the company values, as well as being somewhere that people “want” to go to when they turn their computers on first thing in the morning.

At the same time, a good Information Architecture (IA) helps, enormously, with usability and findability. Often, when an intranet is created, items and content are put into places “that make sense…at the time. Then as more things are added, they are placed either “where it makes sense for the person adding it”, or a new grouping is created. As time flows forward, the intranet becomes more and more complex. Having an IA that is usable, as well as maintainable, requires a lot of work, but can make a big difference to the system.

The Intranet can also act as a file share replacement. There are many benefits to this. Being able to label content as well as apply extra metadata to it, adds considerable value. Content can be grouped more effectively, and can be surfaced (through search functionality) in a way that has more meaning to the end-user. However, here also, great care must be taken. A suitable taxonomy should be created, as well as a way that allows content to be correctly labelled. Otherwise you end up with the original file share – just in a different format.

Underpinning all this.. some form of governance is important. This is what ensures that the intranet remains that great place that it started out as, rather than degenerating into a complex, tangled bog of despair that people use because “they have to”.

New & Classic – Ways that SharePoint & Traditional ECM systems can play together

In this post I look at some SharePoint-ECM Integration scenarios.

————————————————

The AIIM SharePoint Master course material that I am studying at the moment presents 4 scenarios about how SharePoint can be used alongside, or integrated with, traditional ECM systems.

These are:

1. External Storage Provider

In this scenario, SharePoint is used to manage indexes, metadata, user presentation, etc, and the ECM application manages content storage/retrieval

2.  External Repository of Record

In this, all content is managed in SharePoint, until it is declared a record. Then a copy is pushed into the ECM application, where it can only be accessed by Record Managers. SharePoint provides the user interface where documents are created, and edited. The ECM application handles the security, record retention, etc of the document once it has the status of a record. Content only gets into the ECM app via SharePoint.

3. Cooperative

In a cooperative scenario, all documents are created in SharePoint, where they can be edited, etc. The ECM system  is used to manage and control documents that have the status of a Record. Unlike the External Repository of Record scenario, in the Cooperative scenario, content can only exist in one system at a time.

4. Portal

In this scenario SharePoint acts merely as an interface into the ECM app. All documents are created, and managed there.

In researching this further, I came across  Andrew Chapman blog “Never Talk When You can Nod“. In it he covers the use of SharePoint with existing ECM systems a lot better in his .

Andrew offers 8 scenarios. I won’t regurgitate all of what he has written (you can read the posts yourself – see link at the end of this post), but I do want to summarise his 8 scenarios, and discuss where the AIIM scenarios match. (Andrew has got some really cool images on his post that visually represent each of the 8 possibilities beautifully. I’ll use this as well, but remember, they came from his site :-)

Andrew Chapman’s 8 Reference Architectures

——————————————————————–

1: Keep Systems Separate, Restrict Usage.

 

1: Keep Systems Separate, Restrict Usage.

Content is moved manually from SharePoint into the ECM application.

2: Loosely Coupled Solution

2: Loosely Coupled Solution

Content is moved from SharePoint into the ECM application based on some rule, or event.

3: Use SharePoint as a Portal Container

3: Use SharePoint as a Portal Container

SharePoint uses Web Parts that allow content from the ECM application to be seen, and at the same time, other Web Parts that allow the user to interact with content in SharePoint.

4: Passive Unification in Web Part

4: Passive Unification in Web Part

SharePoint contains Web Parts that allow a user to see content from both the SharePoint system, and the ECM system. This is from within the same Web Part. The user is unaware that the documents are located in separate systems.

5: Active Unification

5: Active Unification

Similar to Architecture 4 except that in this Architecture, the user is able to perform more complex operations with the content (managing versions, attaching objects to versions, etc).

6: Passive Back-end Aggregation

6: Passive Back-end Aggregation

An aggregated view of all the content stored across all libraries in created in the ECM. This aggregated view could then be used to make security decisions, perform risk analysis, monitor file usage, etc.

7: Active Back-end Aggregation

7: Active Back-end Aggregation

All content is aggregated from SharePoint into the ECM system where it is managed, and controlled.

8: Synchronized, Intelligent, 2-way Shortcutting

8: Synchronized, Intelligent, 2-way Shortcutting

As with Architecture 7, all content is transparently moved from SharePoint into the ECM system. However in this scenario, users can still act upon the document directly from SharePoint.

—————————————–

As you can see, Andrew Chapman has put a lot of thought into the various possibilities of SharePoint and tradition ECM systems working together.

Looking at what the AIIM SharePoint course material mentions, and comparing it to Andrew’s various architectures, there are close correlations – the AIIM scenarios match the first four of Andrew’s Architectures, with the last four describing variations on the Portal concept.

Andrew Chapman’s post: Eight Reference Architecture Organizer

—————————

AIIM SharePoint Master Course – Day 2, 3 & 4

Day 2 was the second day of the Practitioner’s part of the course. The day was very similar to the previous day – we covered the course material, which Mr English interspersed with real world examples, along with “Bill’s take” on a particular subject. The members of the class also contributed with their own experiences.

To summarise, on Day 1 we covered:

  • Product
    • Core Capabilities
    • Components and Parts
  • Function
    • Records Center
    • Document Libraries
    • Imaging & Capture
    • Report Management
    • Forms Design
    • WCM/Sites
    • Workflow & BPM
    • Email Management
    • SharePoint & MS Office Integration

On Day 2, we covered:

  • Design Elements
    • Content types
    • Classification
    • Search
    • Workflow
    • Communities
  • Infrastructure
    • Architecture
    • Governance
    • Site Provisioning
    • Admin & Maintenance.

The Practitioner’s course gave a good overview of the capabilities of SharePoint 2010 within the framework of content and records management. The people attending were made up of consultants, Record Managers, Business Managements and similar. When necessary Bill would delve into the technical realm of specific parts of SharePoint 2010, but this was not frequent as the course was not a technical one.

On Day 3 we started the Specialist course. The class was smaller as several people had only been attending the Practitioner’s part.

The material covered for the Specialist course included:

  • Assess
    • Information Gathering
    • Strategy
    • Business Case
  • Implement
    • Customisation
    • Integration
    • Migration
  • Sustain
    • Change Management
    • Test, train, sustain

Initially I felt that a lot of the material covered in the Specialist course could be used in any ECM decision making process.

However, upon re-reading the material I see that it is applicable to SharePoint, in the sense of deciding whether SharePoint is actually the best solution for the business needs, as well as outlining SharePoint strengths and weaknesses. Many useful assessment and decision making strategies tools are described.

Much of what was covered in this course, was of a “dryer” nature (i.e. more conceptual) than in the previous course, and this would result in a slight drop in the attention, and enthusiasm of everyone.

Because many of Microsoft‘s definitions, or descriptions, do not quite match the global “standard” definitions/descriptions found in the Industry (in Records Management for example), often there would be healthy discussions. The specific functionalities of SharePoint were often questioned and the “intended purpose” of such functionality was debated. These times were really valuable, as everyone present had a good understanding of “real” Records Management.

At the end of the course we were presented with an 8 page Case Study. There were three assignments that, because of their group nature, were to be completed during the course, with a third assignment that needed to be done outside of the course, and then presented to AIIM. This, along with passing an online exam are requirements for achieving SharePoint Master Certification.

I felt that two days was not long enough for this course (especially if done in a class). As mentioned in my post on Day 1, the value of doing such a course in the classroom is the ability to ask questions, get feedback on comments, as well as expanding on topics through describing “real-world” situations. This requires extra time, and often we found we were racing through the material, so that we would have enough time for the Case Study assignments.

However, besides that one comment, I really enjoyed this course, and was happy with the material covered. As mentioned, the AIIM SharePoint Master Class is not a technical course, but one designed to describe the concepts and technologies of SharePoint as well as the best practices for implementing SharePoint. I think the course achieved that.

Day 1 of the AIIM SharePoint Master Class

Today was the first day in the AIIM SharePoint Master Class.

The class is being taught by Bill English. Bill is the CEO of Mindsharp, and has authored quite a few books and whitepapers. In fact, Bill’s whitepaper on SharePoint Indexing really helped me when I was struggling with the whole crawl/index process when I first got involved with SharePoint.

AIIM offer three SharePoint Certification tracks:

  • SharePoint Practitioner – concepts and technologies;
  • SharePoint Specialist – best practices for implementing solutions in SharePoint
  • SharePoint Master – provides a thorough understanding of SharePoint with the main elements from Practitioner and Specialists tracks.

For a detailed description of what each of these tracks offer, refer to my post where I also compare the AIIM offering with the Microsoft “equivalent”.

This course is the Master course, and covers both the Practitioner course, as well as the Specialist course.

As well as myself, there are 13 other people in the class. Some are there for just the Practitioner part.

We were supplied with a very thick book containing the course material for the first track.

And Bill started off going through it. However, one of the real advantages of having Bill English give this course is that he has an incredible amount of “real world” experience. This was apparent when he would (frequently) diverge from the course material and give us in-depth explanations on things as well as describe many real-life situations he has experienced. Bill is also not a fan of teaching by PowerPoint reasoning that we all can read the PowerPoint slides ourselves in the handout material. He takes a more “sum up 10, or 12 PowerPoint slides into an overview, and a discussion.

Before I go any further, I also need to explain that the course is more focused on the “Best Practices” approach to planning & deploying SharePoint implementations rather than a pure technical discussion. This fact meant that we often looked at things more from an “architect”, and business user, perspective than just from an IT perspective.

Two other things that I really found valuable: the first was that even though Bill “knows” SharePoint, he is a “SharePoint Realist”. He was not afraid to tell us of the weaker sides of SharePoint 2010, as well as the down-right bad sides of the product.

The second was that the people in the class all come from a Records Management/Content Management background. They all have their own real-world stories and experiences as well. And this would open up some really great discussions.

What is interesting (and this is something Bill mentioned) is that, in the stable of courses/certifications that AIIM offer, this is the first one that is product specific. All the others are more concept specific. For example AIIM has courses on ECM, BPM, ERM, E2.0, Information Organization and Access, and Email Management (for a full list refer to this site), but the SharePoint course is the first one that is focused on a particular product. And this is good, because the main design philosophy behind SharePoint is self-service. That is, SharePoint is designed to allow the end-user to be in control of what SharePoint is used for. This in the form of site collections, sites and sub-sites. The end-user is able to create, and design, and administer sites without the (direct) involvement of IT. And this is where it can be dangerous. In fact, at one stage, someone described SharePoint as a cancer – it just spreads, and spreads. It can take on a life of its own. One of the main messages being given by the course is the undeniable need for governance and training. And thus, this is most likely the reason that AIIM have a product-focused course.

I am very impressed with the course so far. I found the combination of real-world experience by the instructor, as well as the input and feedback offered by the other students gave richness that on-line course, or course taught by “full-time trainers” (without any real-world scars), don’t give.

This has just been day one of the course….