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A Case of Component Based Authoring

September 30th, 2015 Comments off

Component Based AuthoringYesterday afternoon I attended an EMC webinar about their Next Generation solutions for Life Science, when a slide passed by about Component Based Authoring. It was a different way of expressing the same subject Jeroen van Rotterdam addressed recently in his EMC Spark blog called ‘Who is using Word?‘ From that blog, comes this quote:

Then there is the trend towards targeted point solutions with very domain-specific capabilities to create these smaller chunks of content. A generic word processor is far from efficient in this scenario, and even harder to customize with the desired user experience. Content creation applications are so much more powerful in a business context and becoming less focused on text.

It’s fun to read about a trend – in this case Component Based Authoring – when you’re already practising this approach. It feels for me as if this is the only way forward in case based solutions being delivered today.

My current project is implementing an EMC xCP based solution to support a decision making process where each decision is backed by carefully build cases.

In its previous implementation, documents were the content containers. A lot of copying and rewriting was taking place. A cumbersome and error prone way of working. We didn’t investigate it, but if I were to place a bet, I would say that it’s almost a guarantee that each document is formatted uniquely and it’s highly likely that not every document contains the mandatory information. The flip-side of the coin is, that this freedom is very well received by the end-user who is using Microsoft Word, a tool perceived as very user friendly and productive (don’t get me started…), to let his creativity flow.
You could argue that the needs of the end-user are prevailing over those of the enterprise. At Informed Consulting we believe that connecting people and the enterprise should be a win-win situation and is key to success.

With the new xCP solution we’re applying Component Based Authoring and Word is now only needed for the supporting documents. Not for the key information of the case. That key information is divided into logical components and authored independently. With this approach we created a balance between both user and enterprise needs. But in order to achieve this, more is needed than just solving the challenge of business process re-engineering. In fact, in this case the process is hardly changed.

Once you know what key information you need to capture, it’s time to let the UX (user experience) designer do her thing. My colleague Sandra did a tremendous job with the key users, to design screens for both capturing and displaying information. There has to be a natural order in the information that fits the way of working in the business. This means defining where on the screen a content component is positioned for a particular role (yes, different roles will typically lead to different positioning…), which content components need just plain text formatting and which need rich text to be able to add lists, mark text bold or even include hyperlinks but on the other hand prevent the usage of fonts other than what the corporate style-guide dictates. It means defining where you need to restrict input to predefined taxonomies (or just simple drop-down boxes populated with values) and where you need supporting wizards. A sample of the latter is one where the user provides answers and numbers after which the system draws a conclusion that is used as input for the decision. To cut a long story short, information with a good user experience will help to make the transition into component based authoring smooth.

Another key aspect is the transition from paper to digital. A topic on its own. In our project we opted for a gradual transition because it’s more than a business process change to replace meetings full of annotated documents, prepared off-line over the weekend, with information accessed digitally through tablets and laptops. As an intermediate, the individually authored content components are aggregated in PDF/A documents. These documents are available for on-line reading as well as printing. It’s now up to the business themselves to execute the behavioural change process. In the mean time they can still print and scribble away where and whenever they want.

The third aspect I want to mention is archiving. Although it should be part of your business process re-engineering, it typically isn’t. Too often archiving is not seen as a business process. But even if it is, it’s a beast of its own. Still today it is common practice to archive ‘just’ documents. With component based authoring, you can no longer think in terms of archiving documents. Neither can you think in terms of archiving these content components on their own. They have relationships with other content components and together they have meaning. A content component that holds the annotation of an approval, only has meaning in its context. Archiving thus needs to evolve into Contextual Archiving whereby containers are archived and these containers include the appropriate content components as well as their relationships. Rethinking needs to be done around the purpose of the archival and the retention policies. How can you meet the archival goals for a case if key information in that case needs to be destroyed before the case itself gets destroyed? And what will regulators say when you include a content component into multiple containers which are managed independently and whereby not all (logical) instances of the content components are destroyed simultaneously? When you think about it, component based authoring reveals what has been hidden under the covers of a Word document for a long time: we didn’t manage the information but only the container that carried that information…

Times are changing in the ECM playing field. New ways of working, progressing technology, distributed collaboration and blurring boundaries pave the way into an interesting future. Next-Gen ECM / Next-Gen Information Management… Welcome into my world!

 

This post also appeared on LinkedIn.

Day 8 in the countdown and UI is key for Case Management

April 27th, 2015 1 comment

and the story continues…

Today is King’s Day in The Netherlands. A good day to dress in orange and have some fun. One of the ‘fun’ things is that everybody is allowed to sell their junk. A garage sale only with everybody together in one street on little carpets. In theory it is for kids but the parents control the cash. 🙂 Walking with my seven year old daughter and seeing her rushing through the stuff to find the perfect thing, I could not help and drift away to my previous blog. User Experience and case management.

Walking with hundreds of people in one little street and looking at hundreds of carpets with stuff, how do I see what I need and where I really should steer away from? There are some basic rules. If it is dirty, stay away. If it is boy stuff, probably not interesting; if it is all black and army green, same thing. If it is pink, white, light blue, stop and have a look; if there are two girls in the age of 10-14 sitting on the carpet, same thing. So in less that an hour we where able to ‘do’ the street and my daughter was some good stuff richer.

And doing good case management is all about this. How can I, as a designer, setup a page of a case or a task, in a way that the person looking at it can easily make a judgement on the case within seconds. Working with our user designers at Informed Consulting, I notice they use these same concepts I just described to create the PERFECT page:

  • Simple and serene look and feel;
  • Try to identify blocks of data that have some sort of understandable relationship within the whole case/task;
  • Use colors and/or icons to show states and actions;
  • Distinguish between viewing and editing;
  • ‘Important’ stuff should be in the top center;

And the list is longer, but when a good UI expert is finished, it all sounds so natural, so logical. It is super but sometimes also a bit frustrating to see the reactions of the users. I did spend hours and hours, to define all the requirements SMART and good, came up with the perfect solution and set of functions needed per role. But only when they have seen our mock-up, the users are getting excited: This is what I want, this is what we need! When do we get it?

Suddenly, that system that helps them do their tasks in the way the company wants them to, is actually fun to use and simple and easy. Things I did not hear a lot when developing a WebTop solution.

At our booth in the Momentum area we are showing our great products SPA4D and LoBConnect, but if you are interested in good xCP2 design or a good mock-up, please step up to our booth and I will show some great examples.

Writing Bootstrap applications for Documentum 7

May 14th, 2014 2 comments

We all know that the modern user wants to use our applications on any device, from anywhere in the world. This used to be a real challenge for applications using EMC Documentum. The out of the box applications such as WebTop, Administrator and TaskSpace where all designed to be used on a PC or laptop with a big screen. If you try to use those on your smartphone, the usability is going down the drain. And I’m not even mentioning that is uses a browser plugin for file transfers.

With the advent of Documentum 7 and xCP 2, things are looking better. The new xCP application UI works in all major browsers without using plugins. It also scales better to fit on smaller size screens.
However, there is still a way to go before the xCP UI can be called Responsive.
Read more…