Life is messy. Those of us who work as business analysts see it in the myriad of ways in which people create, store and retrieve information in order to do their work. Called upon to help improve a situation, we often reach for help in the form of a methodology. The trouble with most system design methodologies is that they are made for giving structure to the process of building a solution, not for helping people living in a messy situation decide what would actually make things better. It is all too easy, particularly with larger projects, to get to design without fully understanding the context in which people will use the solution. What’s missing is an explicit way of[…]

As much as technology permeates our daily lives it has been slow to enter the simple act of note-taking. Look around the next time you’re in a meeting: low-tech rules. If there are a dozen people in the room, chances are that no more than one or two will be using anything more sophisticated than pen and paper to take notes. And that’s not a bad thing; the technology we use to record notes shouldn’t take attention away from the rest of what’s going on in the meeting. So I find myself resisting this particular shift in technology just as much as anyone else. At least that was the story until about six months ago. This post started out handwritten on an iPad using MyScript Memo, one[…]

How do you use Microsoft and Open Source in the same sentence without creating an oxymoron? Answer: talk about the application, not the technology stack that runs it. The application is DotNetNuke, also known as the DNN Platform and Evoq. Originally bundled with the first release of Visual Studio .NET as a sample project, the “IBuySpy” portal has taken on a life of its own as DotNetNuke. Ten years, 7 million downloads and one million web sites later we have a thriving open source community. DNN is a portal for capturing and presenting web content. It provides a standardized framework for managing security, user access and page layout, and a set of modules that deliver discrete functions within each page.[…]

Last month I started talking about open source alternatives to SharePoint for document management and team collaboration. Before getting into the merits of any particular solution let me say a bit more about the business problem that’s behind the evaluation.  As a writer I read a lot and I accumulate material in the form of documents, articles, images, video clips, podcasts and web links, all of which serves as research for things I write about. As a consultant I also need to organize project files, provide the means to ensure that confidential files are maintained securely, to share documents with clients and provide them with a way to give feedback on in-process material. My ideal content management solution would make[…]

Managing electronic documents isn’t just a “big organization” problem. Small and mid-sized organizations need to be able to protect, organize and share electronic content just as much but they don’t have a $1 million+ budget to deal with the problem. Convinced that “making do” with file shares is not enough, a budget conscious buyer is likely to look in one of two directions, SharePoint or Open Source. While both options have plenty to offer, neither is a magic bullet. SharePoint is attractive, especially in organizations looking for a collaboration tool. For an group of even 500 people the infrastructure and licensing costs are affordable, but getting people to use SharePoint effectively can take a long time. Often, IT leads the[…]

This post started with some random skips in the music on the CD player in my home stereo. The unit is just old enough that the skips prompted questions about whether to repair or replace it. A few phone calls and a couple of trips to some local audio shops delivered an ominous message: CDs as a medium for recorded music are on their way out. Major audio manufacturers have stopped making CD players; replacing one has reached the same state as replacing a VCR – can be done, but… The mainstream medium has become downloaded digital music. My reaction has been mixed. Mostly I enjoy my iPod, at least as a portable player, and most of my music purchases[…]

Have you ever read something you wrote a long time ago and then compared it to the way you think today? Cleaning up my home office on the weekend I came across a review I had written about 10 years ago about some research published in Harvard Business Review. The original research article was about knowledge management practices in a number of different organizations. Titled “What’s Your Strategy for Knowledge Management?”, it made an impression on me at the time.  The researchers identified two generic approaches that organizations use in order to get value from what they know: Codification: Efficient reuse of experience within a firm through documents and software tools that enable information storage and retrieval.  Personalization: Build creative[…]

Like a lot of people, I tend to view operating system upgrades as something to avoid. If forced to change I want the experience to be as simple and painless as possible. So, when the support lifetime ended for the Linux Mint version I had been running on my main desktop, there was a wee bit of angst over what to do. For 2 years Mint had served me well as a stable, functional environment on an older desktop machine from which I had retired a copy of Windows XP. Staying with Mint was a know quantity, and version 13 had just been released in April with a 5-year support plan. It looked like a OS I could stay with[…]

Effective collaboration is the result of good communication and coordination of work. So far this series has been mostly about communication tools that appeal to small teams who don’t have much formal process in the way they approach project management. Teams like that want just enough structure to organize their work without introducing much process overhead. The strength of tools like BaseCamp and OneHub is effortless delivery of functions that promote good communication without much need to formalize the way work gets done. A lot of projects happen in that kind of setting but it can be pretty casual. As organizations get larger and the number of projects in the mix increases so does the need to pay attention to[…]

With over 5 million subscribers world-wide, Basecamp rivals MS Project for most-used project management software. Yet these two tools offer very different capabilities. MS Project has a well-established place in the Project Manager’s tool kit as an aid to managing schedules and budgets. Basecamp focuses on team collaboration. This post takes a closer look at some of the features that have made Basecamp so popular. Basecamp from 37Signals is part of a suite of software-as-a-service tools for team communication. Aimed primarily at small and mid-sized organizations, this Chicago-based provider sets out to provide “frustration-free web-based apps for collaboration, sharing information, and making decisions.” The other tools in the suite include Highrise for contact management, Campfire for instant messaging and Backpack[…]