Random Acts of IT Project Management

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Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Tool

Posted by iammarchhare on 21 August 2009

At one place I worked, we were looking into some content management systems.  When I found out the licensing cost for one tool we were already using, I was pretty much floored.  The old pricing scheme was pretty high, but in order to update, we had to move to a licensing scheme that seemed pretty insane to me.

Since there already was a Microsoft license in place, the recommendation was to move to MS Sharepoint and dump the more expensive tool.   It literally meant quite a bit of conversion and testing time, though.  There was a weird path assignment for many documents, and it would have been easy to have a lot of broken links.

Well, Alfresco offers an alternative to the more expensive contenders.

Twenty years of experience drove us to believe that the Enterprise Content Management industry was driven by:

  • High Cost — Application driven purchases with a high up-front investment and per user pricing
  • High Complexity — Long rollout cycles and complexity resulting in software either not being implemented or used
  • Lack of Customer Control — Proprietary control preventing choice and ability to switch to other vendors

For these reasons the vast majority of people do not use ECM systems but instead work with shared drives and email to create, share and store content.

That last paragraph really hit home with me.  At the company I was working for (above), there were quite a few pockets of people using shared drive because no one wanted to pay for the overpriced licensing.  While an older version of Sharepoint was in place, it’s use was mostly for project work.  There really was no central schema to how to get information.

At any rate, I plan to have a further look into Alfresco.

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Posted in Knowledge Management, Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Tool

Free Faxing

Posted by iammarchhare on 16 July 2009

Whether you are a contractor or a person looking for a job, chances are that sooner or later you will have to send a fax.  Yes, facsimiles haven’t yet gone the way of the dinosaur.  In fact, I still prefer something like a fax over email when it comes to transmitting personal information, such as SSN, date of birth, etc.

However, considering how little I’ve sent any faxes in the past couple of years, I really don’t feel like investing in a fax machine, toner, etc.  I think I’m averaging maybe one a year at this point.  Hardly worth the cost of even a fax program.

Well, when someone wanted me to fax them a document earlier in the week, I agreed.  When I saw what they wanted me to fill out and send back to them, though, I was disappointed that they didn’t just ask for a scanned copy with a signature to be emailed to them.  There was nothing confidential on the form, so it seemed like a hassle.

OK, I could have gone to Kinko’s and sent it.  However, the time, the gas, etc., just didn’t seem all that justifiable either.  So, I figured that instead of just emailing it to them with some sarcastic blurb, I would try out one of the free online fax sites.

So, after a little research, I tried GotFreeFax.com.  It turned out to be rather painless, and it really was free.  There are no ads on the fax or on the coversheet, either.  You upload the file and send it (it accepts PDF, MS Word DOC or you can type in a message).  You will get a confirmation email in order to send the fax.  I also got an update status email and one a completed status email.  It takes a little longer this way, but I had until the end of the day anyhow.

At any rate, GotFreeFax.com is now bookmarked in my browser.

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Another Online Tool

Posted by iammarchhare on 15 July 2009

As the “cloud” becomes the current model of computing, it only makes sense that more and more project management tools move in that direction.

In that vein, it looks like Michael and Brian Surkan are “Seeking software developer guinea pigs for on-line project management”.  I have not tried the tool out, but the list of features looks promising.  If you have the time and patience for a beta, it may be worth a spin.  I am not associated with them, nor have I even asked permission to blog about their product.  For those of you that like to be on the bleeding edge, though, it might just give you your fix for a while.

So, what do you think?  Is “cloud computing” here to stay?  If it is online, then it can be hacked if someone has the time, energy and know-how.  How can that risk be mitigated?  How can those who use such services be assured of reasonable security?

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Gantter

Posted by iammarchhare on 18 June 2009

LifeHacker did an article about how “Gantter Does Project Management in Your Browser”.  With an MS Project-like interface, Gantter is free to use.

I haven’t used it, but I do hope to give it a whirl on a non-mission critical project when I get the chance.

Posted in Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Project and Program Management Key to IT Efficiency

Posted by iammarchhare on 11 June 2009

I attended a seminar last week in Columbus put on by CA called “Challenging Times Require Efficient IT”.  In it, they showcased the CA Clarity TM PPM On Demand solution.   If you have worked with Clarity before, it is basically just the version that they push for their Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.  If you haven’t worked with Clarity before, you might want to give it a once over if you are looking for an enterprise solution to PPM.  I don’t get paid for any endorsements, I just prefer their solution over at least one other.

Overall, it may seem like a strange time to invest in a tool.  However, curbing waste and ensuring your project portfolio is strategically aligned with your business goals can save you money in the first year, or so believes CA (note that isn’t a guarantee; they are just saying it can do so).

At any rate, the real attraction was the first part, “Why Project and Portfolio Management Matters More in an Economic Downturn”.  There wasn’t anything really earth shattering in the presentation, but I did want to hear what they had to say.  Without taking notes, here are my take-aways:

Gaining insights into what is going on with your resources answers the question: Are you working on what’s strategically important?  Strategies may need to change.  Ongoing projects need to be regularly evaluated to see if they are still meeting strategic needs.

The CIO really needs to be part of the change governance board.  Prior to the economic mess, there actually was an upswing in CIO participation on these boards.  The CIO is the one that can reach across the organization to get the right kind of input from other departments.  Without CIO participation, the other departments discount the board’s importance and so key decision makers are not present at the meetings.  After the economic mess, CIO participation is down from what it was, which is a disturbing trend.

A strong governance board and appropriate executive views into work allow projects to be killed earlier.  If they are not meeting the strategic needs or it turns out they are too costly, then the proper decision makers can kill it before it gets worse.  In a down economy, lessening such waste is a huge benefit to the company.

New projects are less likely to be started if they do not meet strategic needs.  Again, this reduces wasteful spending.

The last part was a demo on the On Demand solution.  Like I said, if you’ve used Clarity, the interface is pretty familiar.  I don’t know the costs involved, but having someone else worry about the infrastructure costs may be attractive to certain companies.  Obviously, a lot will depend upon company size and IT objectives.

Posted in Economy, Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Wave” of the Future

Posted by iammarchhare on 4 June 2009

Email has been around a long time.  Longer than the web, actually.  It was the first form of communication on a network.  Yet, it is still the most popular application in use today.  Google is working on something now that is so revolutionary that it might actually knock email off of its pedestal.

You have probably heard that claim before.  Yet, email has remained king of the hill.  So, how likely is it that there may actually be something revolutionary enough to do it?

Google is working on a new application that runs in a browser.  No surprise.  However, according to Andy Wibbels’ blog, “Google Wave Obliterates Everything”.  Imagine only needing one application for email/IM, wikis, forums, blogs, and so on.  Oh, and did I mention it will work on Android as well?

It is also pretty cool watching pictures being dragged and dropped onto a web browser and have them automatically upload.  While uploading, the thumbnails appear on other users’ web browsers.  Not to mention watching 3 people edit the same page at the same time.

I remember the first time I saw a web browser.  I knew then that what I was looking at was nothing less than revolutionary.  This has the same potential, IMO.  If anyone can pull this off, Google can.

This might change the way we work, even.

I will warn you that the entire video is 1:20:11 long.  However, I am writing this the evening before making a trip to Columbus for an 8:30 am event, but I could not resist watching the entire thing!

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Flowcharts Using Word 2007

Posted by iammarchhare on 23 April 2009

MS Project is undoubtedly the most widely known tool in the project management (PM) field.  After it might come a myriad of clones and/or ERP solutions.

However, I would argue that MS Office actually should be inserted between those two.  Did you know you can do Gantt charts in Excel?  Some people actually track projects using Excel.  There are even templates for doing this.  That might be more at the extreme end, though.  MS Word, PowerPoint and Visio, or perhaps OpenOffice equivalents, are all part of the PM toolbox.

I’ve never really understood why I need another application to do diagrams, though.  Visio can be expensive on top of that.  What if all you want to do is flowcharts, and only occasionally at that?

Well, if you have Word 2007, you are in luck!  The How-To Geek posted an article on how to “Create A Flow Chart In Word 2007”.  And, it’s about time, MS!

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Can Social Networking Replace Email?

Posted by iammarchhare on 14 April 2009

Last year, one of my favorite blogs LifeHacker asked the question “Can Social Tools Really Replace Email?”  That question has been somewhat on my mind lately.  Their question is based upon the New York Times article by IBM Social Computing Evangelist (how do I get that job?) Luis Suarez titled “I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip“.

I reported the other day how “32% of ‘Influential Churches’ in US are on Facebook” on the Church of God Perspective blog.  Adoptions of technology in churches can be slow, perhaps because of the top-down nature of the organizations involved.  However, there are financial and time commitment constraints that have to weigh in as well.  Is it any different in a business, however?  Most businesses these days are very conscious of their cash flow.  If they are not laying people off, then they are freezing new hires.

What can organizations do to make their members more efficient?  Is wading through tons of email really that efficient?  Sure, you can setup filters, but those are usually best guesses that try to predict certain types of messages.  When emails don’t fit the mold, this can backfire.

Suarez talks about an internal tool similar to Facebook where you can look up experts on particular subjects.  There are many other collaboration and ERP systems that have adopted similar types of directories.

With the churn of turnover in many companies these days, you can no longer assume Sally who took over maintenance of that Access database will be there tomorrow.  Who do you call now for your Access advice?  As far as you know, all the others on the database team are SQL Server experts.  You can either call each one, or you can try to chase down their boss to see who else might know Access.

Churches sometimes are small enough where you don’t have that problem.  However, even then there is what is known as the “tribal knowledge” effect.  What if an outsider needs counseling on alcoholism?  As in right now?  That person can try to find the email for the pastor or ask around (if they aren’t too embarrassed).  Perhaps they will give up trying.

These situations can be vital problems that need a solution.  The larger the organization, the more the need for an answer.  Email just won’t cut it.

Wikis, IMO, are far underrated.  Anyone who has used Wikipedia knows that there is a world of information right at your fingertips.  Even if you do not have an expert directory, you can put up articles, cross-link them, do searches and present a complete picture of information on topics in a manner that is difficult otherwise.  The best part is that if you allow participation of an entire group, the organization is organically grown, thus making it easier for people to find the information.

Now, I love email.  It can leave a trail of discussion that is helpful and I can organize it how I want.  However, it is in my private inbox.  No one else can see it.  If everyone keeps all of their “pertinent” emails, then server space can be eaten up quickly.  Yet, how does one know what’s going to be needed in the future?  Usually, one doesn’t, so the user just saves it off “just in case”.  If John deletes an email he later needs, he may ask Sally for a copy or vice-versa.  A discussion forum, though, is centralized.  There aren’t concerns about what to keep and what not to keep.  There is only one copy of the discussion, not 10 or 20.

Can these tools really replace email?  No, not completely.  Suarez seems to argue that email can become extinct, yet even he mentions that he still uses it for more private discussions.  His argument, though, is that in many cases a phone call or an instant message can replace even that.  There is a time for a phone call, and I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of IM.  Email provides a record that I can look up later, where I can jog my memory or copy and paste as appropriate.  I don’t see it completely going away.

However, how many conversations are tucked away in various email files that really are not private?  How many are you just Cc’ed on “just in case”?  How many would benefit a much larger audience?  That is where the beauty of social tools comes in.

Social tools, if used appropriately, can benefit any organization, whether for- or non-profit.

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