So you’ve passed the latest ISO audit and are certified for another three years.  Congratulations! Documenting your processes was a lot of work, and the auditor was impressed. But are you getting full value from the documents you’ve worked hard to produce? Are you leveraging them to actually improve the processes they capture?paperworkAsk yourself the following questions about the SOP documents the auditor just signed-off on:

1) Are they actually usable? Or do they consist of hundreds of pages of turgid, soporific prose that only a protocol droid could manage to read?

2) If your SOPs are in fact usable by humans, do the humans in your organization know how to access them? Are your documents stored and catalogued electronically to make access easy and efficient, or are they contained within a series of massive binders and housed on a closet shelf somewhere—probably in the basement?

3) Even if your documents are both usable and accessible, do you have a process in place to make sure they’re updated and maintained? Or is your documentation process essentially an ad hoc-ness monster?

The point of all this is that even if your SOP documents dazzled the auditor, there’s a good chance your organization isn’t getting much value from them. Done right, SOPs can yield significant benefits such as improved training and knowledge transfer, consistent IT operations, process optimization, and IT automation. These, in turn, can lead to cost savings; for instance, work gets assigned to the lowest level of support cost, IT operations avoid expensive breakdowns, process improvements lead to greater efficiency, and so on.

While documenting SOPs will probably never be anyone’s favorite project, the medicine doesn’t have to taste so bad. Taking a visual approach to documentation makes SOPs easy to create, manage, and absorb—which means that they’re more likely to be updated and actually used. Adopting a simple electronic management and distribution strategy also helps with these goals, and can promote buy-in among members. Even when the task of building an SOP library seems daunting, identifying clear priorities and taking a collaborative approach is the path to quick progress and process improvement.

To optimize your SOPs, see Info-Tech’s Create Visual SOP Documents that Drive Process Optimization, Not Just Peace of Mind.

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Today is International Data Privacy Day (more details can be found at http://dataprivacyday2011.org/). This is a relatively new “international holiday” and the intention is to place focus on issues which are of increasing importance to our generation.

The day is about generating discussion around privacy, both for the sake of our personal security, and also to limit the powers of corporations to abuse our personal data. To celebrate this momentous day, we’ve put together a list of twelve things you can do to celebrate privacy in your home or office.

  1. Update your (and your family’s) Facebook settings. Facebook’s settings change often and this makes it that much harder to keep profiles private. Facebook has faced criticism and lawsuits over this, as a result of sharing user data with 3rd parties without notification. They have settled these lawsuits out of court, but violating privacy is an essential part of their business model and they don’t mind paying out of court settlements to continue doing business. Endlessly altering account settings to ensure Facebook privacy is another chore that is easily forgotten. Data Privacy Day is the perfect time to go through Facebook settings, delete embarrassing photos, and maybe unfriend some of those corporate accounts you accidentally “liked” while browsing the Web.  Don’t forget to help your parents out too; there’s a good chance your older family members could use some help with their Facebook settings.
  2. Keep your family photos out of the public domain. Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, and now Microsoft have made our private photos public. With search capabilities digging deep into our hard-drives, and features like tagging and geo-tagging, family photos are slowly falling into the public domain and likely telling more of a story than we may have intended. Parents need to be particularly aware of the risks of posting and tagging their own children’s photos. A best practice for protecting children is to not tag and name your children on Facebook photos . You may even be inadvertently breaking the law if photos  you’ve posted from your six year old’s birthday party include images of kids other than your own.
  3. Learn and teach some Twitter etiquette. Yes, some people still don’t know how to use Twitter. Twitter is searchable…you did know that right? http://www.cio.com/article/480318/Twitter_Etiquette_Five_Dos_and_Don_ts_
  4. Take note of you children’s’ online activities. While you are busy protecting yours, Data Privacy Day is a good day to violate your children’s privacy. For their own good, of course. Make sure you know where your kid’s have an online presence and that they understand the implications of putting their private information online.  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Protect-your-Kids-Online/120124878014653
  5. Clear cookies from your browser. Tracking cookies monitor web traffic and are legal so long as they are disclosed within the web privacy statement of the organization that delivers them. This Data Privacy Day go through your browser and clear all those cookies. Not only will you clear your footprints from advertiser radars, but you may speed up your browsing experience in the process.
  6. Update anti-virus. Make sure all your home computers are running basic anti-virus software. If your subscription has expired there are many free options including Microsoft’s Security Essential http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/
  7. Secure your home network, wireless router. Do you or someone you know still have an unprotected wireless network? Not only is this a privacy threat, but with changes to Internet billing (upload and download caps) you may be stuck with the fees for someone else’s surfing.  Make sure to add some form of encryption and to change both your default passwords for router access and the default name of your router.
  8. Change your PINs and Passwords. Most people use the same two or three passwords for everything, and have had them forever. If you’re one of those many individuals who has some variation on the same password for all your devices and accounts, Data Privacy Day is a good time to change them up.  Given the degree of payment card fraud occurring in gas stations and secluded bank machines, changing your payment card PINs wouldn’t hurt either.
  9. Password protect your mobile devices. Celebrate Data Privacy Day by activating password access to your phone. Access to smart phones could mean access to your banking information, e-mail accounts and Angry Birds high scores – nobody needs to know how much time you spend playing Angry Birds.
  10. Destroy unnecessary documents. There’s a good chance you have documents at home that contain personally identifiable information that are simply unnecessary and no longer irrelevant. While corporations must retain financial information for the sake of legislation, most individuals do not need to save transaction records for nine years. Take this Data Privacy Day weekend and destroy any documents that you no longer need.
  11. Know your rights. Privacy is your right! Before sharing personal information, make sure that it is required. Think twice about giving your home phone number and postal codes at retail outlets and don’t hesitate to request for supporting documentation when an institution asks for your grades, social insurance/security, health, or any other personal information. You probably have the law on your side.
  12. BONUS ACTIVITY!!!! Protect against alien mind reading and abductions. It happens all too frequently, and the only way to keep your thoughts private when it comes to aliens is with foil helmets… If you can’t make your own, you can order one here: http://www.stopabductions.com/

 Have a safe and happy Data Privacy Day!

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Adobe Systems officially announced that version “X” (ten) of its flagship Acrobat line of desktop products will ship within 30 days. Info-Tech Research Group Lead Analyst Tim Hickernell got his first peek at Acrobat X four months ago and has been beta testing it since. He shares the highlights of the new version and his comments.

User Interface

For about the third time in its 15 year history, Acrobat has received a new user interface. Adobe has always struggled to get the right balance between adding lots of new features and making finding those features intuitive for end users. This time, they seem to have gotten it right.The new tool pane definitely reduces clutter and is easy to use, despite being new.

SharePoint Integration

This is likely to be the most valued Acrobat X feature by end users in the enterprise. While Acrobat has always supported robust PDF-based workflows using email, Adobe is aware that most organizations use SharePoint for document collaboration. Indeed, Info-Tech’s own surveys reveal that 71% or organizations use some version of SharePoint and over 80% intend to have one of the two versions of SharePoint 2010 implemented by year-end 2011. With Acrobat X, users can now access SharePoint sites to store and retrieve documents, taking full advantage of SharePoint version control and any workflows that exist in the site. This will especially benefit organizations that use PDF as the format for document reviews with external parties, such as regulators, when maintaining document fidelity is essential. This feature also enables organizations with a whole new PDF form-based workflow option, using SharePoint instead of email or the large enterprise Adobe LiveCycle servers.

Security

IT and Information Security Directors will be thrilled to learn that Reader X finally gets sandboxed with a new “Protected Mode,” addressing the explosion of PDF and Javascript exploits that have occurred over the past few years. Had Adobe not addressed this issue now, Info-Tech believes organizations would have abandoned the Adobe Reader in droves over the next few years for PDF viewer competitors perceived as being safer.

Automation

A new feature called “Actions” allows users to automate a series of functions and share the automation scripts among fellow employees. Organizations that employ PDF for more formal document and forms based workflows will appreciate this built in automation capability, alleviating the need to constantly write javascripts or even PERL scripts to make things happen automatically inside a PDF. It’s a wonder why Adobe hasn’t added this feature sooner. PDF professionals will love it.

Acrobat.com Online Reviews

If you don’t recall Adobe Document Center web service, you’re not alone. Document Center was a prototype service to allow web-based PDF reviews with anyone with web access and the Adobe Reader. With Acrobat X, Adobe has now added such a feature to its Acrobat.com set of web services. So a valid holder of an Acrobat X license can use Acrobat to create a PDF, enable it for review with the Reader, then upload it to Acrobat.com and invite users to participate in the online review. This feature, plus SharePoint integration, finally brings simple review workflows to users without the need to circulate a PDF via email.

Data Analysis

If you’re one of those advanced users who needs to analyze a set of form data collected from PDF Forms, but don’t need large scale data analysis tools, you’ll probably like the new data analysis tools included in Acrobat X. You can aggregate and even perform simple filtering on collected form data right inside Acrobat, without having to export to Excel or another data analysis tool.

Product Versioning

Perhaps the most important new feature for true PDF and Acrobat Professionals is a new version called “Acrobat X Suite.” While Acrobat has always shipped as part of Adobe’s Creative Suite, PDF professionals on the business side of the house, rather than the design side, have always been forced to select a Creative Suite version that doesn’t really do everything they need. The previous Acrobat Pro Plus v9 helped address this user segment, but did not go far enough to enable business users to be independent in the creation of rich PDFs and interactive PDF Portfolios. Acrobat X Suite now bundles Acrobat X Pro, Photoshop CS5, Captivate 5, Adobe Media Encoder CS5, Adobe Presenter 7 and LiveCycle (forms) Designer ES2 for a MSRP of $1199 ($799 upgrade from qualifying products). Business Process Management design experts should investigate this version before upgrading to the lesser Acrobat X Standard or Pro versions.

In summary, Acrobat X is all about usability, security and enabling business process management professionals. Business professionals using older versions of Acrobat and whose organizations are committed to SharePoint, should consider upgrading to Acrobat X Standard, Pro or Suite; BPM extremists should definitely consider Acrobat X Suite. Creative professionals will likely be OK with Acrobat 9 as part of CS5 for now, but upgrade pricing is available for CS5 users. Info-Tech recommends all IT shops evaluate the free Reader X and consider upgrading soon, to take advantage of the new Protected Mode sand-boxing.

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A  client recently called Info-Tech’s Advisory Service to discuss their needs for maintaining information regarding the relationship between hardware, software and various business facing IT services.  The client request signaled a need for a configuration management database (CMBD) but the maturity of their existing change management process is not quite ready for the disciplined approach required to succeed.  Info-Tech pointed out that based on the customer’s size (200 users and 20+ IT staff) there is a middle ground approach using Visio or other visualization tools to map out the relationships between systems providing a given service.

Visio offers a decent integration with Microsoft’s tools, as well as Assetgen.  By documenting their system configurations and relationships they’ll be that much more prepared do go ahead with a CMDB.

There are a number of solutions that bolt onto Visio, or vice versa, Info-Tech suggested holding off on the automation for now until they master configuration decomposition. By using a business service view to break down the configurations you seek to document it will be much clearer what items relate to each other.

Move from a diagram like this;

(Source: Info-Tech Research Group)

By breaking the service down;

(Source: Info-Tech Research Group)

To a diagram like this;

(Source: Info-Tech Research Group)

See also:

How Value Propositions Improve Network Technology Decisions

How to Write an SOP  

Select a New Help Desk Software Solution

Help Desk Vendors: Service-now.com

Help Desk Vendors: Numara FootPrints

Help Desk Vendors: Avocent LANDesk Service Desk

Help Desk Vendors: AdventNet ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus

 

 

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For most electronic content management solution deployments, there are three key factors driving the decision. Here is a look at each of those factors, including steps you can take to ensure success.

1. Compliance & Litigation

Key Issues:

  • Compliance initiatives demand that records must be retained in a certain way for a minimum period of time.
  • Compliance can be compulsory (e.g., publicly traded enterprises) or voluntary (e.g., manufacturers pursuing quality control initiatives).
  • Litigation is different and requires a proactive defense. Changes to the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 2006 forced many CIO and legal counsels to rethink their defense strategy. While compliance typically deals with records, litigation deals with all information within the enterprise, including email. The best way to prepare for ediscovery requests is to know exactly what information the enterprise has and automate its disposition.

Steps to Success:

  1. Get legal counsel on-board. Issues like retention schedules are business issues, not IT issues (although they will have an impact on storage growth estimates). Counsel and the business units must determine the retention period so that IT can impose the appropriate controls.
  2. Remember email. It’s often the most difficult type of content to control, record, and archive. Get records out of the email archive so it can be dealt with based on IT considerations, not litigation or compliance issues.

2. IT Efficiency

Key Issues:

  • Many ECM projects begin due to a very practical IT concern: the rate of data growth.
  • IT managers are confronted with the challenges of managing storage growth rates of over 40% per year. They worry about the scalability of their systems and the impact this rapid growth will have on their ability to effectively meet backup and disaster recovery requirements.
  • IT efficiencies are one of the few areas that demonstrate real ROI for ECM in terms of: deferred investment in new storage technology, improvements to business continuity, reduction in storage, improved ability to meet business unit demands for new functionality (for both process and knowledge workers), and reduced helpdesk requests for recovering lost documents.

Steps to Success:

  1. Prepare for ROI rejection. IT efficiencies will produce compelling ROI numbers but many CFOs will dismiss the storage concerns by saying “disk is cheap”. Remind them that adding disks to an array might be relatively inexpensive but major storage infrastructure upgrades are not cheap. Nor are business disruptions caused by the decay in business continuity provisions.
  2. Corral the key documents of the file share. ECM will never fully replace the file share. Use it for the most heavily used or process-dependent contents in the enterprise. The shared drive will always have a role for ephemeral documents (e.g., the folder “Summer Vacation Photos 2003”). It is, however, crucial to minimize the cost of maintaining the shared drive. It may, for example, be appropriate to support the shared drive on low-cost NAS storage with no business continuity provisions.
  3. Help end users to help themselves. The storage benefits of ECM are significant, but the greatest benefit comes from employee self service. Many ECM systems enable business units to create their own repositories and workflows, without the need for IT’s help, resulting in considerable reductions in developer effort.

3a. Business Efficiency: Knowledge Workers

Key Issues:

  • Knowledge workers must use information to be successful in their roles.
  • Typical roles include: analysts, engineers, managers, directors, producers, writers, and editors.
  • Knowledge workers value technologies like shared workspaces, search, document, collaboration, and document management.
  • The ECM business case for knowledge workers depends on a variety of factors: cycle time reduction to produce deliverables, reduced time spent finding information, increased productivity, and the reuse of knowledge assets (e.g., using existing marketing materials as opposed to creating new ones).

Steps to Success:

  1. Engage the end user. Process workers buy in to electronic content management because they have no choice. Knowledge workers must be sold. Identify and address their concerns. Ask questions like: “What are the biggest problems in your role?” and “In an ideal world, what technology would help you to do your job?”
  2. Bring collaboration back into content management. Many enterprises have content management and most have some collaboration tools. These tools are often not integrated, leading to workflow and productivity concerns.

3b. Business Efficiency: Process Workers

Key Issues:

  • Process workers complete documentation. They may process forms, complete transactions, or file updates. Their jobs are structured and related to key output metrics such as the number of invoices processed or claims filed.
  • Typical roles include: clerks (government, accounts payable, etc.), front line staff, inside sales people, and brokers.
  • Process workers rely on technologies like forms automation and business process management.
  • The ECM business case for process workers differs from that of knowledge workers. Key elements include: cycle time reduction (cash cycle, time to process inventories, etc.), reduction in paper and storage space, increased productivity due to online information access, and improved customer service and responsiveness to inquiries.

Steps to Success:

  1. Know the process. The ECM project will fail if the strategy or tool doesn’t completely address what the users require. Engage the business units to model the process and to explore ways of improving or streamlining it.
  2. Remember the outputs. Most enterprises focus their efforts on business process management and on the use of forms to create documentation. They often neglect output: how the documents become records, how they are rendered for external use (e.g., printed bills), and how they are stored for future reference.
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