Notes from the Field: Solving the Plague of Windows

Application Overload for End Users

I have been seeing a trend in requests from IT and business users to solve a critical issue in most organizations: The Plague of Windows.  We have all seen it, and definitely experienced it.  How many application windows do you need to have open to get your work done during the day?  Are you copying and pasting, flipping back and forth between apps?  Entering data multiple times, in multiple applications?  Referencing data in one app to accomplish a task in another?  So I asked myself, why now?  Why has this started to become a critical issue?  Below are the reasons as I see them:

  • The rise of cloud based Software as a Service (SaaS) – platforms like Salesforce, Workday, Box, Dropbox, Office 365 and others have revolutionized the way we conduct our daily work lives, and given us anywhere access to our information.  Unfortunately, when it comes to integrating them with on premise apps, getting them to talk to each other, and sharing data and UI information is absolutely painful.  In essence, we have complicated the always present application “silo” issue, and required heavy custom development for true integration.  Most organizations avoid the pain, or create difficult to manage one-off apps to solve niche problems.
  • Niche/specialty applications are on the rise – every day, I am involved in discussions with IT management and execs that are pondering the ever-present issue in the IT landscape – Do I buy the specialty app for my problem?  The burgeoning start-up ecosystem has created amazing applications that fix focused issues.  Want to provide field inspectors with an inspection tool?  Need to create and manage CapEx requests?  Looking for expense management?  There are specific apps for all those key areas, but when you buy them, you create another silo, another set of data, and another barrier to dissolve.
  • The plethora of data – Ok, there is my $20 word 😉  We have more data today available to us than ever before.  Organizations are leveraging reports and information from all systems to make informed decisions, create strategy and just get there work done.  Access to this data is usually accomplished through the system of record, or through, yet another, application for reporting.

So how do we fix this?  The first step is to solve the data problem, which requires a data integration bus technology (An example is K2’s smartobject layer) .   This can facilitate the creation of this “data foundation”, providing access to all your systems .   Once we have access to the information, now we need a consolidated, dynamic UI to surface the data to the end-user.  This unified interface provides all the necessary information at-a-glance, eliminating the plague or windows, and improving productivity and adding immense efficiency.

Below is a quick video overview of how K2 “no code” technology can solve these app aggregation issues:

K2: Enterprise Mobility Demo with Box and SharePoint

Enterprise Mobility and K2

Rapid Mobile Application Development with K2

Tying in with my theme this quarter of Enterprise Mobility, and adding onto my previous post, Mobile Apps and Rapid Development,  here is a quick video overview of a mobile construction safety application that includes not only an iPhone/iPad app, but also encompasses integration with  SQL, CRM, Box and SharePoint.


Notes From The Field: Beyond SharePoint Workflow

Beyond SharePoint Workflow

What Companies Look For As A Next Step In Their BPM Journey

As I continue to work with customers and prospects, I find some common ground in those looking to expand beyond SharePoint Workflow and Forms (And those products that rely on the underlying engine) .   There is definitely a BPM journey that organizations seem to take, regardless of whether they realize they have embarked.  This journey almost always leads to expanding beyond the confines of SharePoint, as well as a deepening need for more complex capabilities.    Here are some of the common trends I see in organizations looking to take their business process management to the next step:

  • The Requirement for Complex Workflow Patterns (With No Code) – simple serial workflows can only take you so far, and organizations quickly realize that rework steps, and moving to previous steps in any process is an absolute necessity in common business flow.  Having a BPM platform that integrates with SharePoint lists and libraries, and provides support for all types of workflow patterns can provide immense value, and eliminate the need for complex custom code and management of state.
Complex Workflow in SharePoint
Rework Should Not = Custom Code
  • Wanting Reusable, Shared Data Layer and Simple LOB Data Access – Accessing external data in SharePoint can be challenging, and I find many companies are looking to simplify the integration with external business systems.  The tiresome process of setting up Business Connectivity Services/External Lists in SharePoint, and maintaining them can be problematic.   A reusable model, as seen in K2’s smartobjects, can provide agility and reduce the overall time required to configure forms, workflow and reports.  The “create once” and reuse theme provides power and flexibility.
SharePoint External System Integration with Data
Simple, Visual Data Integration Tools
  • The Need to Surface Forms and Workflows Outside of SharePoint – SharePoint is a great tool, but should every form and workflow live  within its UI?  More and more, I am seeing organizations that want to have business apps (forms, workflow, data and reports) that live outside of SharePoint and can stand alone.  This is especially true when it comes to mobility, and the need to support various device types with web-based forms.
Supporting SharePoint access through mobile devices
Support for Mobile
  • The Need for A Broad Set of Design Tools – BPM in any organization is a broad undertaking, and usually involves a wide variety of individuals, with varying skill sets.  With Business Process Design, one size does not fit all, and organizations are looking to support power users, business analysts and developers.  See my post: BPA, BPM and Design.

So, in summary, if you are looking to step outside of the SharePoint workflow engine and its forms capabilities, take some time to evaluate your next step in the journey and focus on at least these 4 points.   For some additional considerations, see the below post:

10 Key Features In 3rd Party SharePoint Solutions

Comments?  Thoughts?

What’s Missing From SharePoint? Infographic

Augmenting SharePoint Workflow and Forms


To see the full infographic, click on the image below:

SharePoint Workflow
Click the Image for the Full Story

Location, Location, Location: GeoData Value in Forms, Workflow and Reports

Adding a New Dimension to Your Data: Location Services

Having been a Flight Officer in the Navy, one of my core duties was navigation.   Position was everything, especially in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, or in the tight spaces of the Persian Gulf.   In the beginning, it was all about using our Inertial Nav System (INS).   A box with gyros that  used inertia to determine position.  Then we received hand-held Garmin GPS units as a test squadron, and nav was reinvented.  At that time, our GPS used the military system, and we had pinpoint accuracy at any point in time, and we used it with all our other systems to maintain navigation accuracy.

Now here we are in 2015.  Everyone has a GPS in the palm of their hand, or in their back pocket, and positional data is available at any time.  The modern GPS chipsets utilize not only GPS technology, but also leverage the wi-fi hotspots and cellular networks triangulation to get down to under 10m in accuracy (in many cases under 3m,  see this cool test here: GPS Device Accuracy).  In the past, if a business wanted geo-data for any type of purpose, they needed to invest in an expensive infrastructure of hardware devices and software, and the capability would only be given to a handful of people as it was cost prohibitive to make it pervasive.

K2 Geo-enabled Form with Location Services

Along with the pervasive hardware today, Business Process Application (BPA) platforms now provide “location services” to surface GPS/location data in their forms from just about any device type.  What type of information is available?  Latitude, longitude, altitude, accuracy estimates, position time stamp and position age.  So what are some use cases, and how can this all be leveraged?  See below for some industry ideas:

Oil, Gas and Natural Resources – obviously, and organization with field-based assets can leverage positional technology.  Take a field technician working on a well, where his positional information is reported back to a supervisor and mapped.  Maybe a mining company doing an asset inventory across all their mines, and creating a real-time database of equipment position.

Government – there is a great opportunity for just about any level of government to leverage this technology, whether it is a city allowing citizens to report potholes, or a county assessor surveying property, with positional information at their disposal, services can be accelerated.

Law Enforcement and Fire – imagine a fire fighter that could walk the line of a forest fire, and report back real-time to the command center.  Maybe a disaster recovery effort where just mobile phones can be utilized to crowd source information.

Construction – with all employees on site armed with positional information, management can get real-time information on progress of jobs, location of assets, and automatic location reporting of safety incidents.

K2 Location-enabled smartform On iPad
K2 Location-enabled smartform On iPad

So how can a BPA platform utilize this information?  See below:

Geo-enabled Digital Forms – forms are for data collection, and with location services enabled, positional information can be transferred with any form submission.  This data can be stored, and used for trend analysis, mapping or decision-making all based on location.

Real Time Decisions – with smartform technology, dynamic form decisions can be made based on location information.  Maybe the currency on a form is auto-adjusted based on the location, or available options in a drop down list are adjusted based on position.

Workflow and Branching – when a form is utilized to initiate a digital business process, that information is now carried through the process, and work can be routed based on location.  How about a workflow that routes to an appropriate service manager based on region?

Reporting – With a location dimension now enabled, organizations can now use mapping for trending and analysis.  This data dimension can be compiled without any further information entry from end users, and can just become part of any submission.

Just some thoughts…more to come on the topic.





What’s in Your SharePoint Workflow Box?

SharePoint Workflow

Key Features for SharePoint Workflow Enhancement

SharePoint Workflow Key Features
Click to See K2 Appit

SharePoint Workflow and Forms: Limitations Got You Down?

SharePoint Workflow Limitations

SharePoint and Office 365 Workflow and Forms Limitations Webinar

Is the Cloud the Ultimate Silo?

There she stands.  Alone and unafraid.  The Breaker of Silos.

One of the core challenges for any CIO and his/her team is to create a seamless flow of information throughout their organization, and that begins with the breaking down of silos.  Connecting the dots, and creating those all important system-to-system touch points is almost always a custom development effort including integration at the data layer, forms and some portion of workflow.

BPA to Connect Silos
Every CIO’s Silo Nightmare

As the cloud has become a logical extension of the enterprise network, it brings with it additional challenges when it comes to integration.  Below are some of the key challenges:

  1. Security – Cloud security has always been a core concern of CIOs, with a focus on confidential information exposure.  When it comes to breaking silos, there is a whole new dimension around authentication and authorization.  How do I allow users access, but restrict what they see and use?  How do I link my on-prem security structure with my cloud additions?
  2. Data – Cloud data is readily available to enterprise applications through a host of APIs and services.  But what happens when I want cloud apps to have access to my enterprise line of business (LOB) systems?  We now create a plethora (one $20 word per post 😉 ) of issues that usually involves an endless array of meetings with the IT Security Team.
  3. The Flow of Work (Or workflow for the so inclined) – creating an end-user experience that is not totally painful is quite difficult as teams struggle on how to flow “digital work” in and out of the cloud.  Do I start my process in the cloud app, or as an on-prem experience?  Can I surface data from both cloud and on-prem systems in a form?
  4. Mobile – Mobile adds an entirely new dimension to the game, with most cloud-based apps providing a singular and “pre-silo-ed” experience.  This is great if users only use a single system, but how many mobile apps do I really need to get my job done?  Creating a single mobile user interface for work is the cloud “unicorn”.
  5. Duplication of Information – as a workaround, organizations typically have some degree of data duplication in their cloud applications.  The above mentioned challenges usually lead to many violations of a core tenet of every IT department: Minimize duplication of data.  Pulling down cloud information for cross-platform reporting can be a painful and labor intensive exercise.

So how can we solve these key challenges?  Business Process Application platforms hold the key to solving the cloud-silo dilemma.   Platforms like K2 blackpearl and Appit address all of the above concerns and then some without the need for costly custom development, and are built with the Hybrid Enterprise in mind.  More info: BPA for the Hybrid Enterprise

Upcoming Webinar Schedule

Business Process Management Applications


Want to learn more about how business process application can transform your business and improve efficiency?  See the below webinar schedule to get more information on some great topics.