A lifetime of maintenance and support?

by Frank 31. March 2013 06:00

I run a software company manufacturing enterprise content management products that has been offering maintenance on its products for nearly 30 years and that has never failed to produce at least one major update per year during that time. We have also always offered multiple year options for our software maintenance. We call it the ASU, Automatic Software Upgrade. We currently offer 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 year terms; the longer the term, the lower the cost per year.

I got the idea for a new software maintenance offering from Garmin, the satellite navigation company. Essentially, I bought a Garmin because the manufacturer of a car I bought in 2008 stopped issuing updates to its integrated satellite navigation system and it is now pretty useless as it doesn’t know about all the new and changed road systems.

An attraction of the Garmin was that they offered a ‘lifetime’ supply of updated maps for a single fee that I could download up to four times a year. The end result is that my Garmin is always up to date with all new and changed roads and is one hundred-percent useful while the satellite navigation system in my car is now useless because it is so out of date.

As well as the advantage of always being up to date the Garmin deal was great because it was a single transaction; I don’t have to worry about renewing it every year and I don’t have to worry about future cost increases.

I thought why not offer a similar deal to RecFind 6 customers? They too have to keep up to date and they too don’t want to worry about having to budget and renew the ASU every year and future cost increases.

In our case we chose to re-name the five year ASU option to the ‘Lifetime’ option. If you choose the Lifetime option you automatically receive all updates for as long as you use RecFind 6 and you also receive free support via email and our web form for as long as you use RecFind 6.

The fee is one-time and the price is therefore fixed for life. You no longer have to worry about budgeting and contracting for renewals every year and your RecFind 6 software will continue to be relevant, fully supported and improved with new and enhanced functionality.

If at any time in the future a customer purchases new software from us or additional licences they can be added to its Lifetime ASU for a single one-time fee.

Frank’s perspective:

For the record, I buy a lot of software for our development team and none offer lifetime maintenance; all only offer annual maintenance and it is very expensive (up to 25% of the value of the software) and the price seems to go up every year. If I could convince my software vendors to offer a lifetime deal I would jump at the offer.”

Frank McKenna | Knowledgeone Corporation
CEO & Sales & Marketing Director
f.mckenna@knowledgeonecorp.com

Why aren’t more software vendors offering this same maintenance option?

Ain’t life funny?

by Frank 27. January 2013 06:00

When I wrote at the bottom of my last blog that I would be taking some time off over Xmas I had little idea what that would actually entail. Seven days after writing that Blog about Santa Claus I was enjoying a ride in the country when I crashed my motorcycle into a guard rail (Armco). I don’t remember how the accident happened but I managed to write off the bike and do serious damage to myself.

Today is my first day back at work albeit in part-time mode as I am still receiving treatment for my injuries. As I try to get myself back into gear and get up to speed I realize again what a great family I have and what great staff I have. Thanks guys.

My heartfelt thanks to my family, especially my wife Kay who has carried all the burden of my hospitalization and treatment regime and my daughter Michelle who has taken on many of my duties at work, and my fantastic staff who have kept everything running smoothly and covered for me when required. Having a close call helps one to focus in on what is really important in life and that is without any shadow of doubt, family and friends.

Before the accident I was focussed on technology and spent hours a day researching the latest trends and development tools. Before the accident it was important to me to know which tablet was succeeding and which phone was selling the most and would the Surface RT capture market share, etc., but for now all that technology news seems so unimportant and transient. Basically, most of it is just recycled, repetitive floss.

To be truthful, despite hundreds of technical papers and blogs since my accident nothing in the IT world has really changed; most of the daily news is just noise. Most of the emails are just noise. I have discovered that I can miss five weeks of technical news and emails and not really miss a thing. It literally took me an hour or so this morning to speed read the latest IT news and get up to date. I have missed nothing by being cut off from the news for 5 weeks.

I also realize that I can happily live without ninety-percent of the emails I receive. This is important because I also believe that most of us waste an enormous amount of time reading and replying to emails that are really of no consequence. My New Year’s resolution is now to unsubscribe from most of the technical emails and blogs I subscribe to; they really are a waste of time when viewed in a wider, whole-of-life, what-is-really-important perspective.

The only emails I want to receive at work are from customers, prospective customers and partners. That is, from ‘real’ people about real issues important to them and my business. Everything else I am going to ignore, spam or unsubscribe from to leave more time for real work, not ‘busy’ work.

My advice to you is to do likewise. You don’t need a serious motorcycle crash to learn the valuable lesson I have just learned; I am happily passing on the lesson to you as my gift for the New Year.

My other New Year’s resolution is to quit riding motorcycles and all other dangerous pursuits. To those of you who are still engaging in dangerous disputes my message is that it is the worst kind of selfish behaviour. Please do what I didn’t do and put your family and friends and employees (if you have them) first. Realize how much they depend upon you and realize the impact any accident would have on them.

As my older brother Pat said to me after my accident, “You didn’t have to crash your bike; I could have given you photos of my crashed bike.” He too had a serious motorcycle accident some years ago and I was just too dumb to learn from his experience.

Life is precious, family and friends are precious and none of us know how much time we have so it behoves us to enjoy every single minute of every day and to think about the people that depend upon us before we take those silly risks.

I am lucky because I will fully recover. I am also blessed with a wonderful and supportive family and great employees that stepped up and kept everything running smoothly in my absence. However, I caused the problem through selfish behaviour and this was neatly summed up my five year old granddaughter who made me a get well card addressed to “Silly Grandad”, now isn’t that just so true?

How does Santa Claus handle all those letters?

by Frank 2. December 2012 06:02

All over the Western world little kids are writing to Santa Claus asking for presents for Christmas and telling Santa what good children they have been.

However, Santa must receive tens or even hundreds of millions of letters and all within the short few months before Christmas. How does he handle this veritable avalanche of mail? How does he process it? How does he even read each and every letter? How does he match the presents to the letters? How does he make sure the child has been good?

As Santa has been doing this for some time we can only assume that he has some pretty slick systems in place so as not to disappoint even a single child. The scale of his operation is awesome and dwarfs anything undertaken by any other organization.  Granted some of the work may well be handled by elves and fairies but surely in this day and age even Santa makes use of computers and software? I mean, there are millions and millions of letters, how many elves and fairies can he employ? How would he house and feed them all? You can imagine the problems if they are unionised; he must be automated in some way.

I don’t know but I envision that he must use at least a super computer or two and some really very, very clever auto-reading, auto-matching and auto-ordering software. This isn’t the kind of job you could do manually. He has to read let’s say one hundred million letters and at even just one minute a letter that equates to 1,666,667 hours of reading or 69,444 days of reading (if he works 24 hours a day) in just 60 days. That is a tough ask even for someone as experienced and capable as Santa Claus.

Yet despite these astounding statistics Santa meets his objectives year after year after year.  This is the man I would like to have as Prime Minister or President. Can you just imagine what he could achieve if he was running the country?

But, back to the question; just how does he do it?

Well obviously he must have a central mail room with a very fancy machine that opens every letter and separates the letter from the envelope. Then every letter must pass by a reading station that scans and OCRs it allowing for multiple languages, fonts and any kind of hand writing, including that of a two-year old. Santa’s software must be significantly more sophisticated than anything I have seen.

Then the text of each letter has to be intelligently analysed to extract the child’s name and address as well as the list of presents.  This information then feeds into Santa’s purchasing system that issues orders to toy manufacturers world-wide. Then he needs to track millions of orders and deliveries and package and stack everything in the correct order for his deliveries all around the world on Christmas Eve; phew!

Just think about the difficulty of ensuring that the right toys are at Santa’s hand very time he stops over a home. On second thoughts, he must be automating the process by uniquely tagging every toy with Santa’s advanced (and invisible) version of RFID tags. Maybe he even has his elves or fairies go out in advance and RFID tag the homes or even the children to ensure a perfect match? All I know is that he gets it right year after year after year so whatever hardware and software he uses it must be pretty special.

Of course, my admiration for Santa’s abilities grows by leaps and bounds when I try to work out just how fast he moves. Even allowing for an extended Christmas Eve because of multiple time zones he still has to visit hundreds of millions of homes in just 24 hours (1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds). This means that good old Santa manages to visit a home, deliver a present, eat the cake or biscuit the good child has left for him and drink whatever libation the child or dad or mum has provided in around eight ten-thousandths of a second. This man is fast and I don’t know what he feeds his reindeers but it must be the ultimate ultra-high energy food to support this pace; it is no wonder that Rudolph’s nose glows.

There may well be some miserable, glass-half-empty, doubting Thomas’ out there who look at these amazing statistics and say Santa can’t be real because it is just not doable. But that is a dumb thing to say because it is as obvious as the nose on your face (or even the nose on Rudolph) that Santa is real and that it is undeniable that every Christmas Eve for centuries he has left presents for good little children all around the world. His record is impeccable; this man sets a standard for all of us to aspire to and admire. Santa never disappoints any child despite the enormous challenge he sets himself every Christmas Eve.

Santa brought me presents when I was a child (I still remember the Hopalong Cassidy cap-gun and holster), he brought presents to my children when they were little and now he brings presents to my grandchildren. This man is real and he has never let me or my family down; what a wonderful person he must be to do so much to make children happy.

When I read the newspapers, listen to the depressing news on radio or watch it on TV I realize just how much we all need to believe in Santa Claus and what he stands for. A wonderful, loving, caring and unselfish person who does everything in his power to help the most helpless; our beautiful children. Would it be that our leaders were even a fraction as good and as unselfish and as accomplished and as trustworthy as Santa. Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be?

Santa is my hero and I hope he is yours too; Merry Xmas to you all.

 

Footnote:

Frank is taking a break over Christmas and New Year and will be back writing his Blog again in late January 2013.

 

I am willing to bet that you are still not managing your emails effectively

by Frank 25. November 2012 06:00

According to various industry surveys, 65% to 75% of companies still have no systems in place to manage email records. Based on my own observations and dialog with Knowledgeone Corporation’s customers and prospects, I would say the percentage is far higher; say 85% or more. My guess is that the industry surveys inadvertently included a number of email ‘cleaning’ systems as email management systems; thereby skewing the figures.

 

Given that there is now a variety of proven email management systems (like Knowledgeone Corporation’s GEM) available for most email servers (e.g., Exchange, GroupWise and Notes) and given the enormous danger of unmanaged email it is, on the surface, difficult to explain the apparent reluctance of organizations to implement email management policies and systems.

 

My own experience leads me to believe that the following are the major reasons organizations do not take this critical step:

1. Lack of ownership and leadership

Email management transects all of the traditional vertical organizational boundaries. There may well be an IT person in charge of the email servers but there is rarely a senior management person in charge of email organization-wide. That is, no one person actually ‘owns’ the problem and no one person has the authority to implement an organization-wide solution.

2. Lack of an understanding of the problem and of the solution

Most of the people who are senior enough in an organization to be aware of this problem do not comprehend the complexities of the problem. They have dialogs with IT people who explain the issues in technical terms, not in business or risk-management terms. Email management should come under an organization’s risk management regime because that is where a great deal of risk lies.

3. Lack of desire to solve the problem plus active opposition to a solution

There are a large number of IT people and others in every organization who simply do not want their emails managed, analysed, scrutinized, indexed and saved. This fact is never going to change and must always be addressed at a senior level by the person responsible for risk management policies and practice. Uncooperative and/or recalcitrant employees should not be allowed to put an organization at risk no matter what their position in the management hierarchy.

4. Confusion over what is involved in complying with a plethora of laws and regulations

One hundred percent of what well-meaning bureaucrats and politicians have done to ‘solve’ what they see as email privacy issues has been badly thought out, badly drafted and counterproductive; simply ill-informed, knee-jerk reactions. As you can see, I am no fan of politicians and bureaucrats who pass knee-jerk laws without understanding or caring about the full implications.

 

As far as I am concerned the privacy issue is secondary to the fact that every employer has to right to determine how its resources are used. Every employer has the right to protect itself. Every employer has the right to tell its employees if private emails are allowed or not. Every employer has the right to tell its employees what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in an email.

 

Solving the so called privacy policy is dead easy; herewith is the McKenna solution.

 

Tell employees that:

1. Private emails are not allowed and all emails will be scrutinized for inappropriate content; or

2. Private emails are allowed (in moderation) but that all emails, including private emails, will be scrutinized for inappropriate content; or

3. Private emails are allowed (in moderation) but that they MUST be identified by the keyword “Private” (or a word or phrase of your choice) in the subject line. All emails without the keyword “Private” in the subject line will be scrutinized for inappropriate content.

5. Confusing and misleading claims by companies marketing email management systems

It is a complex problem (have you ever tried to set up a multi-server email system in a large organization?) often poorly understood and poorly explained by the sales person. Add to this the fact that the sales person is usually speaking to the IT person (who lives in a different universe) who then has to ‘translate’ what he thinks the sales person said to senior management. Too often, the harried sales person, under intense pressure from the IT interrogator, will simply say “Yes” without really understanding the question or its implications.

 

My best advice to senior management is that if they don’t fully understand, keep asking questions until they do or, seek assistance from an independent authority. It is just plain dumb and dangerous to sign something off you don’t really understand.

6. Multiple and conflicting objectives

Is your objective to simply be aware of everything that is in your email store or is it to also meet a plethora of complex and competing regulations and certification standards?

 

Have you inadvertently set the goal post too high? Have you made the problem many times more complex than it should be? Has it become a “Wish List” instead of a requirement? Is the selection of a suitable product always held up by someone demanding that it has to also do something else? Has your horse now morphed into a camel?

 

My best advice? Why don’t you try ‘Getting wet slowly’ and review your needs again when the basic but critical email management problem is solved?

 

In the end it is about ownership, understanding and will. If just one senior person with the necessary authority understands the problem and commits to a solution then it will happen. The solutions are out there; they are just waiting for a committed purchaser with a clear and simple view of what needs to be achieved.

 

You must be aware of what is in your email store and you must be alerted to infringements before they grow into expensive problems. You can’t do this without an email management system in place.

 

Are you still losing information in your shared drives?

by Frank 18. November 2012 06:00

Organizations both large and small, government and private have been accumulating electronic documents in shared drives since time immemorial (or at least since the early 1980’s when networked computers and file servers became part of the business world). Some organizations still have those early documents, “just in case”.

Every organization has some form of shared drives whether or not they have an effective and all-encompassing document management system in place (and very few organizations even come close to meeting this level of organization).

All have megabytes (1 million bytes or characters, 106=ten to the power of 6) of information stored in shared drives, the vast majority has gigabytes (109), many now have terabytes (1012) and the worst have petabytes (1015).

As all the IT consultants are now fixated on “Big Data” and how to solve the rapidly growing problem it won’t be long before we are into really big numbers like exabytes (1018), zettabytes (1021) and finally when civilization collapses under the weight, yottabytes. For the record, a yottabyte is 1024 or one quadrillion gigabytes or to keep it simple, one septillion bytes. And believe me the problem is real because data breeds faster than rabbits and mice.

Most of this electronic information is unstructured (e.g., Word and text files of various kinds) and most of it is unclassified (other than maybe being in named folders or sub-folders or sub-sub-folders). None of it is easily searchable in a normal lifetime and there are multiple copies and versions some of which will lead to legal and compliance nightmares.

The idea of assigning retention schedules to these documents is laughable and in general everyone knows about the problem but no one wants to solve it. Or, more precisely, no one wants to spend the time and money required to solve this problem. It is analogous to the billions of dollars being wasted each year by companies storing useless old paper records in dusty offsite storage locations; no one wants to step up and solve the problem. It is a race to see which will destroy civilization first, electronic or paper records.

When people can’t find a document they create a new one. No one knows which is the latest version and no one wants to clean up the store in case they accidentally delete something they will need in a month or a year (or two or three). Employees often spend far more (frustrating) time searching for a document to use as a template or premise than it would take to create a new one from scratch.

No one knows what is readable (WordStar anyone?) and no one knows what is relevant and no one knows what should be kept and what should be destroyed. Many of the documents have become corrupted over time but no one is aware of this.

Some organizations have folders and sub folders defined in their shared drives which may have at one time roughly related to the type of documents being stored within them. Over time, different people had different ideas about how the shared drives and folders should be organized and they have probably been changed and renamed and reorganized multiple times.  Employees however, didn’t always follow the rules so there are miss-filings, dangerous copies and orphans everywhere.

IT thinks it is an end user problem and end users think it is an IT problem.

The real problem is that most of these unstructured documents are legal records (evidence of a business transaction) and some are even vital records (essential to the ongoing operation of the entity). Some could be potentially damaging and some could be potentially beneficial but no one knows. Some could involve the organization in legal disputes, some could involve the organization in  compliance disputes and some could save the organization thousands or millions of dollars; but no one knows.

Some should have been properly destroyed years ago (thus avoiding the aforementioned legal and compliance disputes) and some should never have been destroyed (costing the organization evidence of IP ownership or a billable transaction). But, no one knows.

However, everyone does know that shared drives waste an enormous amount of people’s time and are a virtual ‘black hole’ for both important documents and productivity.

There is a solution to the shared-drives problem but it can’t happen until some bright and responsible person steps up and takes ownership of both the problem and the solution.

For example, here is my recommendation using our product RecCapture (other vendors will have similar products designed as ours is to automatically capture all new and modified electronic documents fully automatically according to a set of business rules you develop for your organization). RecCapture is an add-on to RecFind 6 and uses the RecFind 6 relational database to store all captured documents.

RecCapture allows you to:

  • Develop and apply an initial set of document rules (which to ignore, which to keep, how to store and classify them, etc.) based on what you know about your shared drives (and yes, the first set of rules will be pretty basic because you won’t know much about the vast amount of documents in your shared drives).
  • Use these rules to capture and classify all corporate documents from your shared drives and store and index them in the RecFind 6 relational SQL database (the initial ‘sweep’).
  • Once they are in the relational database you can then utilize advanced search and global change capabilities to further organize and classify them and apply formal retention schedules.You will find that it is a thousand times easier to organize your documents once they are in RecFind 6.
  • Once the documents are saved in the RecFind 6 database (we maintain them in an inviolate state as indexed Blobs) you can safely and confidently delete most of them from your shared drives.
  • Then use these same document rules (continually being updated as you gain experience and knowledge) to automatically capture all new and modified (i.e., new versions) electronic documents as they are stored in your shared folders. Your users don’t need to change the way they work because the operation of RecCapture is invisible to them, it is a server-centric (not user-centric) and a fully automatic background process.
  • Use the advanced search features, powerful security system and versioning control of RecFind 6 to give everyone appropriate access to the RecCapture store so users can find any document in seconds thus avoiding errors and frustration and maximizing productivity and job satisfaction.

RecCapture isn’t expensive, it isn’t difficult to set up and configure and it isn’t difficult to maintain. It can be installed, configured and operational in a few days. It doesn’t interfere with your users and doesn’t require them to do anything other than their normal work.

It captures, indexes and classifies documents of any type. It can also be used to automatically abstract any text based document during the capture process. It makes all documents findable online (full text and Metadata) via a sophisticated search module (BOOLEAN, Metadata, Range searching etc.) and military strength security regime.

Accredited users can access the document store over the network and over the Internet.  Stored documents can be exported in native format or industry standard XML. It is a complete and easy to implement solution to the shared drives problem.

I am sure that Knowledgeone Corporation isn’t the only vendor offering modern tools like RecFind 6 and RecCapture so there is no excuse for you continuing to lose documents in your shared drives.

Why don’t you talk to a few enterprise content software vendors and find a tool that suits you? You will be amazed at the difference in your work environment once you solve the shared drives problem.  Then ask the boss for a pay rise and a promotion; you deserve it.

Do you really need all those boxes of records in offsite storage?

by Frank 11. November 2012 06:39

Is it jobs or useless paper records?

It is my belief that all over the western world companies and government agencies are wasting enormous amounts of money maintaining boxes of paper on the dusty but lucrative shelves of offsite storage companies like Grace Records Management, Iron Mountain and Crown Records Management. In total, it must be hundreds of millions (I know of one Australian company that spends a million dollars a year on offsite storage at multiple offsite repositories and doesn’t even know what its holdings are) or even billions of dollars a year; most of it wasted.

It is almost enough for me to dive into debt to build an offsite storage facility and then buy a few vans and shredders. I say almost because I am not a hypocrite and I wouldn’t be able to sell a service to my customers I didn’t believe in. For the life of me, I cannot understand why senior management delegates this level of expenditure to junior or mid-level managers when it really should be scrutinized at board level like every other significant cost.

Even the advent of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) beginning in 2008 doesn’t seem to have woken up senior management or board members to this area of massive waste. Instead, big corporations and government are ‘saving money’ laying off staff and outsourcing jobs to third world and developing countries. Where is the sense in that when there are easier and less disruptive and more ‘humane’ savings to be made by simply reducing the money being paid to store useless paper records that will never be referenced again? How would you feel if management laid you off because they thought it was more important to keep paying for boxes of old paper they will never use again?

Is it really only me that sees the unfairness and absurdity in this archaic paradigm? Why is the huge cost of the offsite storage of useless paper often overlooked when management is fighting to find cost savings? Why are people’s livelihoods sacrificed in deference to the need to maintain old, never-to-be-referenced-again, useless paper? Is it just because senior management is too busy with more important stuff like negotiating their next executive pay increase?

If you talk to the records manager you will be told that all that paper has to be maintained whatever the cost because of the Retention Schedule. In most cases, the Retention Schedule will be mentioned in the same way one talks about the Bible. That is, it is holy and sacrosanct and anyone who dares question it will be charged with heresy and subjected to torture and extreme deprivation in a rat infested, mouldy, dark and damp cell in the basement.

But, dig deeper and you will discover that the Retention Schedule is way too complex for the organization. You will also discover that no one really understands or can explain all the variations and that the application of it is at best, haphazard and irregular. This is when you will also discover that no one in records can actually justify why a huge percentage of those old, dusty and now irrelevant paper records are still costing you real hard cash each and every month. More importantly, they may have also cost you some of your most trusted and most valuable employees.

Isn’t it time someone senior actually looked at the money you are spending to manage mostly paper rubbish in very expensive containers?

Can you save money with document imaging?

by Frank 4. November 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6 that includes extensive document imaging capabilities. We have thousands of customers around the world and as far as I can see most use RecFind 6 for document imaging of one kind or another.

This certainly wasn’t the case twenty years ago when document imaging tools were difficult to use and were expensive stand-alone ‘specialised’ products. Today however, almost every document management or records management product includes document imaging capabilities as a normal part of the expected functionality. That is, document imaging has gone from being an expensive specialised product to just a commodity, an expected feature in almost any information management product.

This means most customers have a readily available, easy-to-use and cost-effective document imaging tool at their fingertips. That being the case there should be no excuse for not utilizing it to save both time and money. However, I guarantee that I could visit any of my customers and quickly find unrealised opportunities for them to increase productivity and save money by using the document imaging capabilities of my product RecFind 6. They don’t even have to spend any money with me because the document imaging functions of RecFind 6 are integrated as ‘standard’ functionality and there is no additional charge for using them.

So, why aren’t my customers and every other vendor’s customers making best use of the document imaging capabilities of their already purchased software?

In my experience there are many reasons but the main ones are:

Lack of knowledge

To the uninitiated document imaging may look simple but there is far more to it than first appears and unless your staff have hands-on experience there is unlikely to be an ‘expert’ in your organization. For this reason I wrote a couple of Blogs earlier this year for the benefit of my customers; Estimating the cost of your next imaging job and The importance of document imaging. This was my attempt to add to the knowledge base about document imaging.

Lack of ownership

The need for document imaging transects the whole enterprise but there is rarely any one person or department charged with ‘owning’ this need and with applying best-practice document imaging policies and procedures to ensure that the organization obtains maximum benefits across all departments and divisions. It tends to be left to the odd innovative employee to come up with solutions just for his or her area.

Lack of consultancy skills

We often say that before we can propose a solution we need to know what the problem is. The way to discover the true nature of a problem is to deploy an experienced consultant to review and analyse the supposed problem and then present an analysis, conclusions and recommendations that should always include a cost-benefit analysis. In our experience very few organizations have staff with this kind of expertise.

Negative impact of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008

All over the world since 2008 our customers have been cutting staff and cutting costs and eliminating or postponing non-critical projects. Some of this cost cutting has been self-defeating and has produced negative results and reduced productivity. One common example is the cancelling or postponing of document imaging projects that could have significantly improved efficiency, productivity and competitiveness as well as reducing processing costs.  This is especially true if document imaging is combined with workflow to better automate business processes.  I also wrote a Blog back in July 2012 for the benefit our customers to better explain just what business process management is all about called Business Process Management, just what does it entail?

In answer to the original question I posed, yes you can save money utilizing simple document imaging functionality especially if you combine the results with new workflow processes to do things faster, more accurately and smarter. It is really a no-brainer and it should be the easiest cost justification you have ever written.

We have already seen how most information management solutions like RecFind 6 have embedded document imaging capabilities so most of you should have existing and paid-for document imaging functionality you can leverage off.

All you really need to do to save your organization money and improve your work processes is look for and then analyse any one of many document imaging opportunities within your organization.

A clue, wherever there is paper there is a document imaging opportunity.

Will the Microsoft Surface tablet unseat the iPad?

by Frank 28. October 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces a content management system called RecFind 6. We need to be on top of what is happening in the hardware market because we are required to support the latest devices such as Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface tablet. Our job after all is to capture and manage content and the main job of devices like the iPad and Surface tablet is to allow end users to search for and display content.

At this time we plan to support both with our web client but each device has its special requirements and we need to invest in our software to make sure it perfectly suits each device. The iPad is by now a well-known partner but the Surface tablet is still something of a mystery and we await the full local release and our first test devices.

As we produce business software for corporations and government our focus is on the use of tablets in a business scenario.  This means using the tablets for both input and output meaning, capturing information and documents from the end user and well as presenting information and documents to the end user.

When looked at from a business perspective the Surface tablet starts to be a much better proposition for us than the iPad. I say this because of three factors; connectivity, screen size and open file system. To my mind these are the same three factors that severely limit the use of the iPad in a business environment.

Let me elaborate; I can connect more devices to the Surface, the slightly larger screen makes it easier to read big or long documents and the open file system allows us to easily upload and download whatever documents the customer wants. Ergo, the Surface is a much more useful product for our needs and the needs of our corporate and government customers.

So, after a superficial comparison, the Surface appears to have it all over the iPad or does it?

Maybe not given the early reviews of the buggy nature of Windows 8 on RT. Maybe not given that Windows 8 will never be as easy to use or as intuitive as iOS. Maybe not given that the iPad just works and no end user ever needed a training course or user manual. I very much doubt that end users will ‘learn’ Windows 8 as easily as they learnt iOS.

One unkind reviewer even referred to the Surface as a light-weight notebook.  I don’t agree though with its attached keyboard it is very close. I do think it is different to a notebook and I do applaud Microsoft for its investment and innovation. I think the Surface is a new product as opposed to a new generation notebook and I think most end users will see it that way too.

As is often the case both products have strengths and weaknesses and the real battle is yet to come as early adopters buy the Surface and test it. This is a critical time for acceptance and I hope Microsoft hasn’t released this product before it is ready. The early reviews I have read about the RT version are not encouraging especially as everyone still has awful memories of the Visa experience.

Microsoft is super brave because it is releasing two new products at the same time, the Surface hardware and Windows 8. Maybe it would have been smarter to get Windows 8 out and proven before loading it on the Surface but my guess is that Microsoft marketing is in one hell of hurry to try to turn the iPad tide around. There must be a lot of senior executives in Microsoft desperate to gain control of the mobile revolution in the same way they dominated the PC revolution. The Surface plus Windows 8 is a big-bang approach rather than the more conservative get-wet-slowly approach and I sincerely wish them all the best because we all need a much better tablet for business use. Apple also needs a little scare to remind it to be more respectful of the needs of its customers. Competition is always a good thing for consumers and Apple has had its own way with the iPad for too long now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad but I am frustrated with its shortcomings and I am hoping that more aggressive competition will force them to lift their game and stop being so damn arrogant.

I am about to place my orders for some Surface tablets for testing as soon as the Windows 8 Pro version is available and promise an update sometime soon about what we find. Watch out for an update in a month or so.

What is the future for real IT professionals?

by Frank 21. October 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6. As such, our business is the design and programming of complex, heavy-duty application software. This means that we do the hard stuff, including all of the invention, and that I need really clever and innovative and productive IT people (mainly programmers) to work for me.

I have written previously about how hard it is nowadays to find the quality of people I need, see my previous blog entitled “Where have all the good applicants gone?” However, there is an even bigger problem in our industry with an ongoing fall in standards that began way back with the Y2K problem in the late 1990’s as everyone panicked about the problem of date handling once the year 2,000 clicked over.

The problem was basically one of greed where emerging countries like India realized there was a lot of money in providing IT expertise and started mass-producing so called ‘experts’ and shipping them all over the world. Very soon a resume or list of qualifications or certifications was all that was needed to convince paper-bound and rules-bound bureaucrats that an individual had the prerequisite skills to either immigrate or be awarded a work permit.

And of course, young people in countries like India and Pakistan and the Philippines moved into the IT industry not because they were motivated by the prospect of becoming IT professionals but because it was their ticket out of poverty and an entry opportunity into countries like the USA, Canada and Australia. So, we started to fill up the ranks of IT professionals with people that did not have the aptitude or motivation, just a strong desire for a better life (and who can blame them?).

Greed raided its ugly head again as local executives linked bigger bonuses to lower costs and the Indian companies further reduced ‘real’ qualifications to increase the supply of experts. Universities also got in on the act, again motivated by greed (more students equals more income) and standards were again lowered to create  a production line mentality, “Just pump more out of the system, we can sell them overseas!”

The law of averaging applies and as you gradually increase the number of the less talented and less well qualified people into the talent pool the lower the ‘average’ standard becomes. It is analogous to starting with a glass of the best Scotch Whiskey and then gradually adding more and more water. After a while it isn’t worth drinking because it isn’t whiskey any more, it is just flavoured water. We have similarly diminished our IT talent pool (especially in the ranks of programmers) to the degree where the average programmer can’t actually program.

For a long while we imported tens of thousands of these less-than-adequate programmers and they filled up the holes in mainly large enterprises like banks and finance companies and the public sector where they could hide their lack of real expertise. However, and unfortunately for them, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has accelerated the growth of outsourcing (back to even less qualified people in places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines) and our recent immigrants are now losing their jobs to their home country-men. I find this ironic but maybe you don’t agree.

In another previous blog, the world according to Frank, I predicted a significant rise in unemployment numbers within our IT industry. I also said it has been happening for some time but that the real numbers won’t be clear until around mid-2013.

Greed will continue to drive the outsourcing phenomenon just as it will continue to drive the lowering of standards and the overall effect on our industry will be significant as the available pool of real talent becomes smaller and smaller. Similarly, local opportunities for real professionals are disappearing fast. Many of you will end up having to help justify your boss’s big bonus by approving software created overseas when it isn’t really up to scratch and many more of you will relegated to fixing the crappy code being delivered to your company from the outsourced incompetents. Not a good future for real professionals and definitely not an environment of high job satisfaction.

When I began as a programmer in the 1960s everyone I worked with was highly motivated and everyone had a high aptitude because it was such a difficult industry to enter. You had no chance of working for a mainframe vendor unless you scored at least an A+ on the infamous IBM or Burroughs or ICL or GE or CDC aptitude tests. We were a very small and very exclusive group and to my mind, a dedicated band of professionals who were in IT because we loved it and were really good at it. The average level of expertise was extraordinarily high and this is now patently no longer the case because our industry has changed dramatically since those early and halcyon days.

So what is the future for real IT professionals who are in this industry because they love it and are really good at it? Like with all things, I believe there is good news and there is bad news.

The good news is that as a true IT professional your value is higher but, probably much higher than the less-than-competent manager who is interviewing knows. This is because many incompetent programmers have now managed to become incompetent managers and this situation protects incompetent programmers but punishes highly competent ones. Basically, your manager isn’t smart enough to recognize how different you are to the average programmer in his team. This makes getting paid what you are really worth very difficult.

Ergo, if you are really good at what you do and want to be paid what you are worth and want to do challenging and satisfying work your only chance is to select a company doing challenging work and a smart manager to be interviewed by. Oh, and don’t select a company with a greedy CEO who is looking to increase his bonus by outsourcing (regardless of the result) and lowering costs to impress the board and or shareholders. Sounds like a tough ask to me, thank God I am self-employed.

Would I recommend the IT industry to any young person today in high school contemplating a future career? No I probably wouldn’t. I would probably recommend accountancy, business studies, medicine or dentistry instead. So where am I going to find the really bright, talented and motivated programmers I need in the future? This almost certainly doesn’t bear thinking about but maybe it is an opportunity as most problems are.

We need a new way to select and train IT professionals; the universities are simply not doing a good enough job. Is there anyone out there with the money, ideas and knowledge willing to set up a new kind of highly selective IT training program? If so, please contact me, I will be more than happy to be one of your first customers.

The world according to Frank

by Frank 14. October 2012 06:10

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that builds an enterprise content management software solution called RecFind 6 and that sells to government and private corporations all around the world but mainly the western world. That is, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the USA and Canada. Thankfully, I don’t sell much into mainland Europe so the imminent collapse of the Eurozone will have little short term impact on my business.

Whereas we are not immune, Australia has fared better than most but mainly due to our resources industry exports, not our self-congratulating politicians. Have you ever noticed how politicians are quick to claim credit for good times but never claim blame for bad times? When bad times arrive all we hear from our previously brilliant economic managers is that it is out of their control and due to external issues like the world slowdown. I wish I could get a job like that.

Because I have to guess what the future will bring I get up early every morning and watch the overseas news and business channels. I also watch the Australian business news when that comes on around 7:00am.  At work I subscribe to a number of business newsletters and I monitor the markets using a Bloomberg app on my iPad. In other words, in the limited time available (I do have a business to run), I try to get as much information as I can about ‘what is happening’.

In December 2011 I wrote a blog titled, “What will be the real impact of the meltdown in Europe? I have just read it again and today looks pretty much like I forecast. China has slowed down and Europe and the USA continue to talk rather than do.

Europe is still a mess, Greece will never repay its debts and we are still to face the fallout of bigger countries like Spain also not being able to repay its debts. Germany and France are now in a much worse state than they were in 2011. France is now under a socialist government that doesn’t believe in cutting wages or pensions and Germany is facing the real prospect of moving into a recession.

The UK lurches along with an incompetent government run buy upper-class university debaters and teeters on recession while the USA in election year is going backwards fast and may get much worse in 2013 if they don’t soon fix what they are calling the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ or the imposition of a much heavier tax burden on everyone starting in the new year.

I read an article in the Financial Review this morning where a pundit said no one should expect any improvements in Europe until around 2018. We should be so lucky.

I have listened to Gillard, Swan, Abbott, Bernanke, Obama, Romney, Draghi and countless experts and none have filled me with confidence. In fact, none have yet convinced me that they have any idea how to solve the world’s financial problems.  

It is obvious that we have not improved since December 2011; in fact, we have gone backwards since then.

The well-fed and pampered bureaucrats of the EU are now promoting what they call ‘closer fiscal union’ to solve the problems (and protect their jobs and extensive benefits). However, ‘closer fiscal union’ translates to “Give up your sovereignty and your right to self-determination and let us faceless bureaucrats in Brussels make all the decisions for you” and most ordinary people of Europe are smart enough to know this. This is a solution proposed by the elite for the benefit of the elite and ordinary Europeans would be crazy to accept it.

The alternative of course is the breakup of the Eurozone and the loss of tens of thousands of cushy jobs for the useless paper pushers and senseless legislators now protected within the walls of the EU monolith. It is their jobs they are worried about, not the jobs of ordinary people in Greece and Spain and Portugal and Italy and France, etc.

However, I am now going to forecast that the Eurozone will break up and that all the extended, protracted negotiations and procrastinating going on in Europe is just to delay the inevitable.  It is to give the elite and the banks time to get their houses in order and to minimize the impact of the break-up when it comes. I think we will see the first fall-outs in 2013. Greece is the best bet closely followed by Spain, Portugal and Ireland but an even bigger danger is that the German taxpayers will get tired of paying extravagant southern European pensions and will revolt and force Germany to leave the AU.

In a way the procrastination of the European leaders has been good for Australia because it has given our banks and financial institutions the time they so badly needed to do as much as possible to isolate themselves from the inevitable European collapse. As far as our major banks are concerned the longer the talks go on the better because it allows them to withdraw from Europe and minimize the inevitable impact.

China is slowing and this is to be expected given that since the beginning of modern economies we have moved through economic cycles and that natural cyclic rhythm isn’t likely to change. Ups and downs are part and parcel of the game. However, when you consider the growing demands of the Chinese middle class and the fact that China adds twenty to thirty million new job seekers to its economy each year it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that China will continue to grow for many years to come and will continue to buy our food and resources. In fact, China’s insatiable appetite for resources and food, especially food, will become even more so.

India is also growing but India is so corrupt and so inept at the top that it won’t keep pace with China’s much better managed economy. However, the future demand from Asian powerhouses like China and India and even from lesser economies like Indonesia will continue to power western economies like Australia albeit at a lesser intensity than a few years ago. We in Australia may have to downgrade our expectations and manage our money a little better but we are not yet facing the prospect of a recession, just slower growth and higher unemployment. Worst case is you may have to buy a Toyota instead of a BMW (if you still have a job).

The real and most painful impact in Australia will be in the loss of jobs particularly in the manufacturing and services industries. I think my industry, IT, will be hard hit as our big banks and financial institutions continue or even accelerate their cost cutting programs as they prepare for the mini Armageddon of a Eurozone collapse and of the USA also sliding into recession because of the gross ineptitude of its government. I believe that it probably won’t be until around mid-2013 that we will all become aware of the real extent of job losses in Australia. This coming bad news is also probably why we may see an early federal election called. The current federal government is cunning enough to want to go to the polls on the basis of promises and a good news story, not the unpalatable facts.

Let’s see if I am right.

Month List