PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction - for us

Posted by David Cornwell on 16. October 2015 10:34

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

So now we know what is happening with respect to co-authoring in Word 2016 when combined with SharePoint or OneDrive.

Microsoft has gone for 'real-time co-authoring'.

How does this work? Well, to quote from Word's Office Blog post: “when two or more users …. open the same Word document from OneDrive they can co-author with others in real-time, which allows them to see the cursor location and text edits made by the other users automatically appear as they happen”. The same is true for SharePoint 2016.

Microsoft has obviously taken their lead from Google as ITPro demonstrates by saying, “The move should bring a major advantage to Microsoft over Google’s Google Docs when Office 2016 is released ……”. Interestingly, its justification for this advantage is that it brings co-authoring to the desktop version of Word.

Some commentators are being brutally realistic. I particularly like Office Watch when they say:

“If you’re having a touch of ‘déjà vu’ right now … it's not your imagination. Microsoft has announced document collaboration so, so many times over the years. But each time the press falls for it and parrot the Microsoft hype. Sigh.

Document collaboration isn’t new in Office.  For some years, two or more people have been able to open the same document and edit it at the same time.

What’s changed is the level of detail in displaying changes to the other users online.  In Office 2013 if you edited a paragraph, that paragraph was locked out for other editors until you’d finished.  Then the paragraph changes were pushed out to the other editors.

In Office 2016, it’s more detailed with edits appearing to other users in what Microsoft calls ‘real time’.   Co-authors can see text edits and even the cursor position of other editors as they all work on a document.”

They go on to add:

“Nitpickers will know that ‘real time’ really means ‘as fast as possible’ which is fast enough.  The speed that updates show to other editors depends on the speed of the various Internet connections and the hosting server.  Our informal tests, with side-by-side computers, suggest that ‘real time’ really means about ’10-20 seconds’.  That’s more than adequate for document collaboration.”

Others are waxing lyrical over this.  John Brandon writes in a ComputerWorld article:

“There’s something really satisfying about working on a business document with another person or in a group. The thoughts often come together in unison. One person adds a paragraph, another person makes a quick correction. It’s about as close to having a video chat as you can get ….” He continues: “ …. brainstorming sessions with a few writers in one document working in tandem is an enjoyable and highly productive experience …...”.

So let’s get back to reality and work out whether this is going to revolutionize the world of document creation.

I doubt that there are many in the corporate sphere who believe that one person adding a paragraph and another making a quick correction in real time is either enjoyable or particularly productive. I fully accept John’s position that, if you are genuinely brainstorming and simply downloading ideas to the page then it may, and I stress may, be useful. But is it really more useful than existing Word co-authoring?

Remember, the only real limitation of the current Office 2010/2013 functionality is that it locks edited paragraphs until the editor ‘saves’ the changes. With Word 2016 many people can simultaneously edit the same paragraph. But, when you stop and think, you’d soon settle on the fact that several users not being able to simultaneously edit exactly the same paragraph is not a major limitation when they could be editing adjacent paragraphs.

Sure, there may be a few converts from Google Docs who are using the Google platform because simultaneously editing exactly the same paragraph is critical for their business process, but I’m finding it hard to think of examples.

What about control? What about the document owner? What about reporting? What about accountability?

This co-authoring functionality offered by Word 2016 (in conjunction with SharePoint 2016 or OneDrive) is what we call ‘uncontrolled co-authoring’. This means anyone can materially edit anywhere in the document. I can delete your stuff, you can delete my stuff and we can all gang up on poor Fred and delete his stuff. No traceability, no accountability, no responsibility.

Our position is quite simply that this type of uncontrolled real-time co-authoring works for specific business processes if you have a small team of trained, rational and courteous users.

So nothing changes our view that SharePoint is fine for casual, light usage. A bit of brainstorming here and there perhaps. However, for industrial strength document review and co-authoring, you are going to need more control and not a co-authoring space with no audit trail and where anything goes.

Thousands of documents, multiple reviewers, potentially hundreds of comments – that’s the reality of the world we and our clients live in. To manage this control is the key. Control of the process but also control of ‘who can do what to where’ in the document.

So, our conclusion is threefold:

1.   Those happy with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to be happy with it and will probably welcome this enhancement;

2.   Those struggling with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to struggle in the naïve belief that it’s the Microsoft way or the highway – a position unfortunately adopted by many IT departments desperate to justify their investment in Sharepoint;

3.   No-one is going to abandon PleaseReview and rush to the new functionality because the current advantages PleaseReview has over SharePoint for collaborative document review and co-authoring remain. 

Of course, anyone wishing to adopt this brave new land of, this time, real simultaneous co-authoring will have to wait a while anyway. Not only will they need Word 2016 but also SharePoint 2016 (or OneDrive) as Microsoft is quite clear that “Word 2016 co-authoring fails when the file is stored on SharePoint 2013” and the recommended solution is to turn it off with a registry fix!

So, as my title suggests, Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction – for us!


The search for the guilty

Posted by David Cornwell on 29. September 2015 15:31

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

The UK's The Times newspaper (28th September 2015) in an article on the VW emissions scandal, states: “Matthias Müller, the new VW chief, has made hunting down those directly responsible his priority.” It goes on to say about two senior executives ‘relieved of their posts’: “Both deny commissioning the controversial software or knowing about it.”

Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty will not be helped by the fact that the use of this software appears to have been going on for some time. It is also being reported that “Volkswagen was reportedly warned about rigging emissions tests on its vehicles” in 2007 and 2011.

It will, of course, be interesting to see what happens. Can VW survive? What will it cost them?

But, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with document review?

Well, the answer is that Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty would be helped if there is a comprehensive audit trail for all the reviews of documents associated with the software. We do not know whether this comprehensive audit trail exists, but I doubt it. I expect that there's a whole bunch of long forgotten emails which contain the data. Even now, I suspect, management within VW are searching their personal email databases preparing their ‘Pearl Harbor files’.

However, what I do know is that somewhere there will be specifications for the software (Functional, Design, Test, etc.) and some other documents associated with the process, and that these documents will have been reviewed. There may well be minutes of product management meetings. Also, the software itself would have been peer reviewed. There would also, presumably, be some form of output documentation (user manual, technical release notes, etc.) associated with the software. We do not know how the review of these documents took place, but we do know that it did. No one delivers a bit of software which is going into production in, reportedly, 11 million cars without detailed specifications, design, testing and the review of all those items.

Currently The Times is suggesting that Bosch, a VW subcontractor, provided the software. It matters not. What would help the new management at VW is a clear audit trail of all decisions. In this, the review process is critical as it’s where a lot of far reaching suggestions and decisions are made.

Maybe, and I stress I have no knowledge of this and am purely suggesting a plausible scenario, an innocent comment in a review of a discussion document on how to meet the emission level tests sparked the whole process. Who knows? However, an audit trail of the reviews would certainly help in the process of uncovering the truth.

PleaseReview provides an audit trail, tracking every comment and change including who made it and when. It also captures the reasons for accepting and rejecting changes, as well as who did so and supports advanced comment and change categorization. All the information I bet the new VW management team wished it had to hand!

An increasing number of companies are using PleaseReview in association with the software and other product development life cycle as it supports review of associated documentation including, in fact, the software itself.

With the increasing need for compliance and transparency, the availability of comprehensive audit trails are an important side benefit to the real savings obtained by using PleaseReview. As, perhaps, the sorry case of VW illustrates.

So, I leave you with our current review cartoon ………


Microsoft Word - the most complex software product in the world?

Posted by David Cornwell on 10. June 2015 11:09

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

“Microsoft Word must be one of the most complex software products in the world” was the thought I had a couple of weeks ago whilst sitting in a hotel room in Seattle preparing to give a Word Master Class presentation at the APMP Bid & Proposal Conference 2015.

I’d just done the maths. Word 2010 has 10 menus (not including the Help function) with over 350 commands. The standard and formatting toolbars alone have around 200 options. What does the web say on the subject? Excel certainly features in some of the ramblings of people who consider such things and most agree that Word has several millions lines of code behind it. Of course, Word is part of the Office Suite and has a number of items in common. The exact number of lines of code in the Office suite is a Microsoft secret but one helpful blog post noted that LibreOffice (broadly functionally equivalent) has just over 7 million lines of code and just under 1.5 million comments (within the code).

Whatever the statistics I think we can agree it’s more complex than your average user needs. Indeed, it’s said that '90% of people only ever use 10% of the functionality'. Of course, not everyone uses the same 10% and therein lies the rub. There are so many ways to do things in Word and, with many people ‘self-taught’, it means that you can very quickly get into a complete mess. In fact, one of our key benefit messages with respect to PleaseReview for document authors is that reviewers can ‘mark-up the document but not mess it up’.

So this inevitably brings us onto best practice. Whilst some clients, typically those in the Pharmaceutical Industry, use standardized templates which (usually) follow best practice, there are many who are using internal (and sometimes very poorly developed) templates and others who are using templates developed 20 years ago which have been progressively updated to the newer versions of Word and, as such, contain a whole load of what can only be described as garbage. 

How do we know this? It’s simple, we have the challenge of taking these various documents, processing them and displaying them in PleaseReview, our collaborative review software. This is difficult enough if the document is a nice consistent document based on Word Styles and following best practice. It’s not at all straightforward if the document is a mess of styles, direct formatting, lists lined up with spaces and so on. 

The types of thing we see are hand typed tables of contents; hand typed numbered lists; hybrids of where the initial TOC/list has been manually edited; direct formatting, drawings all over the place and, of course, manual cross references – I’m sure you get the picture. 

So, when we were considering new topics for speaking slots at events we came up with the concept of the Word Master Class. Offering to speak on document collaboration or document review was not really an option as, by definition, we had to discuss our own products and this was considered as a product pitch. These are deeply frowned upon in conferences and therefore to be avoided.

So the Word Master Class was developed. It leverages the company’s detailed knowledge of Word, helps us as we want nice consistent documents based on Styles and following best practice and appears to be a subject a lot of people want to listen to. It’s proving very popular and receiving some great feedback. An example is given below:

“I attended your session today and wanted to reach out and say thank you. In one hour you managed to save me a serious amount of time formatting and editing documents. Can you please send me the instructions so I can try the new techniques on my own? Again, thanks for opening my eyes to easy tricks to solving everyday proposal problems!”

The Master Class is constantly evolving based on feedback and further research. In addition to the more serious material, we try to cover some of the more quirky items to lighten the mood. A specific trick is the ‘Rand’ function. Typing '=RAND(x,y)' – where x & y are numbers - will generate random Lorem Ipsum text where x is the number of paragraphs and y is the number of lines per paragraph. Most people understand that Lorem Ipsum text is dummy text used to test document layouts, etc. Just to give some background on Lorem Ipsum, its origin is in the early days of typesetting (in the early 1500s) when an unknown printer took a gallery of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. Since then, further research has concluded that it has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC (source: I use the Rand function regularly when demonstrating co-authoring and it occasionally raises a comment along the lines of "I didn’t know you could do that in Word". 

Whilst writing this blog I thought I’d research 'Microsoft Word and humor' to see if there was anything which caught my eye. Well I’m very grateful to a chap called William Smith who preserved and published this exchange from a Microsoft Word forum which was about to be terminated. 

In short and in summary, the questioner concludes that “Latin seems a bizarre choice”. I guess if we look beyond the immediate humor this demonstrates that it’s not just professional writers who use Word. Almost everyone uses it and, if they haven’t been trained (and they frequently haven’t), they somehow make it look right using their limited knowledge. This even applies to people who spend a considerable amount of their time using Word in a professional capacity. 

In fact, it’s precisely these people – people who may be subject matter experts who end up writing documents rather than Word experts – who are the target audience for our Master Class. 

Anyway, the Word Master Class is a 45 minute presentation/demonstration of some of the features of Word, covering the use of Styles, Section Breaks, Outline View, Drawings, Hyperlinks and Cross References, Macros and the Quick Access Toolbar. We will be running the Word Master Class as a webinar in the 2nd half of the year so, if it’s of interest, send us an email and we will advise you of the webinar details as soon as available.


Raising PleaseTech’s profile through analyst relations

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 28. May 2015 10:33

The other half of marketing... Google

Over the last three years, a key arm of our marketing strategy has been to raise PleaseTech’s profile amongst the analyst community from a starting point of almost zero.  How did we do this?  Quite simply we began to brief the key analysts who focus on the document collaboration space.

In 2013, this led to us being named as a Gartner Cool Vendor in the ‘Cool Vendors in Social Software and Collaboration, 2013’ report, describing us as ‘innovative players in the collaboration and social software space, emerging to address specific gaps in the offerings from the more established vendors or are breaking new ground in creative ways in the social media space’.  This had a huge positive PR impact and also led to several exciting new sales leads.

Another great success was from Ovum, who reviewed PleaseReview 5.0, our collaborative review and co-authoring solution, stating that, “This is a specialist area and document management and enterprise content management (ECM) platforms do not always include the required level of control.  PleaseReview provides tight management for the entire process.”

We also featured in an Ovum article entitled ‘On the Radar’ and have appeared in analyst blogs, radio and print interviews.  

We continue to strengthen relationships with key analysts through a series of briefings as we roll out updates and cutting edge enhancements to PleaseReview.  As business sector experts and the middle man between the end user and software provider, analysts provide insightful feedback, and we very much value their opinions.

In addition to one on one conversations, for the first time this year, we’re working with a leading firm on a more formal basis.  Osterman Research, headed up by Micheal Osterman, provides timely and accurate market research, cost data and benchmarking information to technology-based companies.

Led by Osterman, in December 2014 we conducted a survey to look at document collaboration amongst knowledge workers, in both regulated and non-regulated industries, to examine the impact inadequate IT systems have on productivity and indeed the wider issue of employee retention in a buoyant labor market.   

The results are quite startling…Osterman found that knowledge workers collaborate on an average of 69.4 documents per month, or 3.3 documents per workday.  If we conservatively assume that each document requires approximately only 20 minutes of collaborative work, this equates to each knowledge worker spending 66 minutes per day in document collaboration activities, or about 14% of a typical eight-hour workday, adding up to more than 34 days per year.  

And the impact of inadequate tools?  You’ll have to register for our forthcoming webinar to find out.  Led by Michael Osterman and co-hosted by David Cornwell, CEO of PleaseTech, it will be taking place on:

Thursday June 4th

8.00am PDT / 11.00am EDT / 4.00pm GMT

SharePoint again

Posted by David Cornwell on 17. March 2015 15:40

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

AIIM recently published its latest survey on SharePoint ‘Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint – important strategy choices’ and it has provoked a lot of comment. 

The survey collates information from over 400 organizations and identifies the fact that, whilst a minority of organizations (11%) reports that they have been successful in their use/deployment of SharePoint and that the project met its objectives, the majority haven’t (63%). The remainder (26%) appear to live in optimism - that if they continue to plug away they'll get there eventually. Technically the category was called ‘Just about there as planned and moving forward’. 

This survey paints a worse picture than the Forrester survey last year, which found that over 40% of respondents reported that their deployments of SharePoint overran the project timescale, mostly due to technical difficulties. 

Various reasons for this lack of success are given in the AIIM survey including lack of senior management buy-in, lack of training, lack of planning, lack of user buy-in, etc. Various defenders of SharePoint point out that only 22% of organizations are running the latest and greatest, namely SharePoint 2013, and that this explains the lack of user delight! 

Personally, as a user of Office 365 (i.e. the very latest version), I think that it is, unfortunately, a very long way from delighting users. The old expression ‘as user friendly as a cornered rat’ comes to mind. My view is endorsed by the fact that only 25% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘We have a good level of adoption and the users like it’. A full 60% of respondents identified that one of the ‘three biggest ongoing issues for SharePoint in their organization’ was ‘persuading users to manage and share their content in SharePoint and not elsewhere’.

So what happens when users find the technology getting in the way of productivity? The answer, as we all know, is that they develop a workaround. And so employees are starting to use things like Box, Dropbox and even OneDrive to share documents. As, indeed, are we. 

Despite all this, the report notes that less than 10% of organizations have replaced SharePoint or are considering a replacement. Surely a triumph of hope over experience, if ever there was one.

In my blog post on September 2nd last year I shared my hope that we were entering the ‘realistic SharePoint’ era. Maybe I was premature.  However, one assumes that, if (as reported) 90% of organizations have no intention to abandon SharePoint, they will need to become more realistic in their SharePoint objectives. This, I guess, in itself would bring on the realistic SharePoint era. 

My blog further suggested that in the realistic SharePoint era the reality that SharePoint can’t do everything would dawn. The good news is that there is some evidence that interest in 3rd party ‘add on’ solutions is increasing. The AIIM report suggests that 36% of organizations are using 3rd party add on tools. Hopefully, as organizations become more realistic about what can be achieved with SharePoint, more will start seeking out tools such as PleaseReview to enhance their SharePoint experience. 

PleaseReview is available fully integrated with both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. So if you want a SharePoint based collaborative review and co-authoring solution that really works and want to join the 11% of organizations reporting success in their use and deployment of SharePoint, you know what to do! 








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