Posts tagged ‘eRoom’

June 22, 2009

Considerations for Migrating eRoom to SharePoint

I wanted to talk about some considerations for anyone who is deciding to migrate eRoom over to SharePoint.    I’ve been working with eRoom for 10 years now and still think it’s the best and most secure team collaboration tool out there.   However, I’m excited about SharePoint these days as the strong Microsoft developer community continues to build cool stuff to really enhance SharePoint and make it sing.    Of course SharePoint is really a platform that does a whole lot more than just the “team collaboration” that eRoom focuses on.   eRoom is simply the “secure team sites” / collaboration component of the larger SharePoint ecosystem.   How you deal with team sites in SharePoint may be dependent on the larger SharePoint logical design.  And for those who are migrating to SharePoint, you have to think about 3 things:

1. Logical Design – what does an eRoom community map to in SharePoint?  an eRoom facility?  an eRoom itself?

2. Scalability – Physically, eRoom packages content into rooms within facility SQL databases, files stored separately.  SharePoint’s different and how will it handle all that eRoom content within its content databases?

3. Migration of Data – do you want just files or files with all eRoom content?

eRoom to SharePoint is not like comparing apples to apples.   As a general rule, communities in eRoom might equate to a Site Collection in SharePoint and each eRoom might equate to a subsite.   I recommend to create a unique site collection in SharePoint just to administer your secure team workspaces.   You might want to create separate site collections for internal eRooms and external ones.  The Site Collection might have a defined member list and all subsites can then filter members as needed from the larger site collection.    While the majority of eRooms will follow the mapping I just described, there will be cases where one eRoom might equate to a site collection — and that would depend on the use of that eRoom, how large is it, structure and security.   eRoom Site Reports will easily help you identify those really large team workspaces so you can determine how to deal with them in SharePoint.

For the “My eRooms” home page, I’d recommend using My Sites where each individual person can see his/her team sites.   But you’ll need MOSS for My Sites.   If you opt for WSS only, you’ll have to think about something which provides that “portal” view for an individual user listing all their secure team workspaces.   Either way, I still prefer 1 URL to goto that lists all my secure team workspaces no matter where they exist in SharePoint — and I want to see it in a My Sites and a Portal view.

The SharePoint architecture is similar to eRoom in that there is a “logical” side and a “physical” side (or virtual side these days).   The eRoom site logically is a collection of servers, members, communities, and individual eRooms.   The logical side of SharePoint (apps, site collections, sites, etc..) all need to map to the physical (servers, content databases, etc..).    Depending on the scale of your eRoom environment, this is probably the most difficult thing to do in SharePoint.   In some cases, you might have create 1 Site Collection per eRoom or per eRoom Facility – which can make it harder to administer.   What was easy to adminster within the overall eRoom environment becomes harder in SharePoint.  Fortunately there are many good tools out there to help admin SharePoint across sites and site collections.   

Once you figure out the logical and physical design and how eRoom maps to SharePoint, you need to think about migrating data.   I’d recommend you look at a leveraging a migration tool — and there are not many commercially available.   AvePoint seems like a good bet for most.   The word on the Tsunami tool is that it’s too expensive and not worth it.   You can also contact me as I know of a cheaper tool which may work just as well 😉     Save yourself the developer effort as coding this could take many many weeks if not months.    And you don’t have to migrate all of eRoom at once, you can run parallel and migrate over time.   Lastly, test, test, test, and test the migration.

May 18, 2008

eRoom created a mess. Was it the software or IT?

I came across a post by an individual sharing their story of how they made a mess with eRoom.  He talked of communities and openness and how eRoom prevented that — creating a “debacle”.   My response to his blog post was that I agreed and disagreed.  And I’d like to elaborate on that….

eRoom is a business tool like anything else.  If you don’t use the tool the right way, or educate users on how to use the tool the right way…then you just might make a mess.   I’ve seen some great uses of eRoom and in other cases, it was just a place to dump files. 

I’d argue the problem was in the way this organization deployed and managed eRoom.  The IT was not CLOSE enough to the business to understand exactly how people were using the tool and educating them on how they should be using the tool.   eRoom is not a tool for building open communities within or outside an organization and is not about love, peace, and the 1960s.   I “heart” eRoom was just not part of the marketing strategy from what I remember.   eRoom is a tool for secure workgroup and team collaboration!!!   Plain and simple.

Yes, people want communities and openness to share knowledge and connect and locate expertise….all that great web 2.0 stuff.   And we’ve seen a new set of tools to help address that.  However, the demand for eRoom grew because customers wanted to put content on their extranet and securely work with suppliers, partners, clients, contractors, and everyone in their extended enterprise.  

The point here is that you need to think about CONTEXT before you rollout this type of technology and make it too CONVENIENT for people to start creating messes in.   What’s the business focus?  Who is using it?  Why?  How do they want to use it?    Synchronously?  Asynchronously?  Are the users on the road alot?   What is the business context? 

Now I’m not opposed to openness and community.  However, you also need secure collaboration for projects, client work, product development, mergers & acquistions, etc….  And as much as the 20th century command-control organization might be slanting towards openness and community — I have to point to Tom Davenport (one of the foremost thought leaders for years on all this knowledge stuff) who believes that companies compete an analytics.   And my take on that is as follows — you need to take those analytics and provide visibility, transparency, measurability, and accountability to managers and partners and customers — IN A SECURE collaborative context to protect the single most important competitive advantage that companies have in this copy cat world we live in.   And that is what eRoom is best at — both inside a company and outside.  

May 18, 2008

Some economics to consider

eRoom’s days are numbered.  I remain a fan but I’m realistic.  Why?  Simple economics.   Sharepoint Services is free — and customers are looking to reduce costs today wherever possible.  And switching off of eRoom will save money in the short run.   The return on investment to hire some consultant or 2 to migrate off of eRoom will be recouped in a year as companies save the maintenance/support they used to pay EMC.  

Now MOSS will cost them down the road and it’s unsure if these eRoom customers actually consider the total cost of ownership and how Sharepoint might affect that over time.   The reality is that Sharepoint is untested in a large deployment — and no one really knows what type of mess it might create down the road.  You just might be migrating one mess of eroom, documentum, notes, fileshares to an even bigger consolidated mess in sharepoint —  that is if its deployment and growth are not managed properly.  

And keep in mind that it’s not easy to do migrate off a platform like eRoom…as eRoom in most organizations as mission critical an application as email.   The switching costs are high.  Even a small installation with 1 eRoom server and a few hundred rooms and a few hundred gb of data is not a trivial migration.   Imagine 7 servers or 20 servers and terabytes of data.   Sure you can write some code that dumps data out of eRoom and puts it into Sharepoint.   However, the project planning and change management planning that needs to go into this does takes many months if not longer and is a significant investment.   I think the point here is simple economics. 

I think EMC shouldn’t forget why thousands of customers use eRoom today and grew eRoom so quickly in their organization….it’s called user adoption as eRoom was easier to setup,  easy to install, easy to use (compared to the alternatives) — which made it a very economical application with a solid ROI.   And customers paid for that convenience (with licensing costs).  However, today customers no longer have to pay for the same convenience as Microsoft gives WSS away and offers a comparative collaboration and content management alternative.   And you’ve got other web 2.0 competitors jumping on the bandwagon making it a more competitive landscape now.  So you have to look at simple economics if you want to compete.  

Anyway, one word of caution for anyone thinking of migrating to Sharepoint….eRoom and Documentum have been battle tested for many years — and Sharepoint has not been tested.   And as someone who has spent years traveling the globe making this technology work over the last decade, troubleshooted headache after headache after headache — it is NOT easy to scale and manage any collaboration & content management application.   Sure, sharepoint has tight integration with office and WSS is free and there are some very positive feature of the application as a whole.   HOWEVER…I leave you with this final thought….

Collaboration & content management technology has become and will continue to become mission criticial for managing projects and streamlining and running your business processes.   Economics is really important to consider….   But so is reliability and scalability.   Think about it – can you live without email today?   Yes and no…but if email is down, it’s a headache for a CIO to hear the user complaints.   So if I’m a CIO — do you want to trust your mission critical business processes to something that has not been tested and proven????    If it goes down….if it doesn’t quite work right….or doesn’t scale right…. do you want to trust your business on it?    So seriously think about that as you think about saving costs in the short run.   Take baby steps if you are going to migrate…. think about context, make sure you are close your users, and get the right advice.  Be skeptical of the cool demos, song and dance, and marketing before you make an investment in this type of technology – no matter what platform you choose.

May 14, 2008

Lessons Learned from eRoom …

Once you start to use eRoom, it’s very hard to work any other way.  I have used Sharepoint, Lotus Quickr, and of course the old standard email to manage projects.   And I’m a little biased towards eRoom even to this day.    Now in full disclosure I used to work for eRoom(which became Documentum then EMC) since 1999 and I have seen the cult-like following its users have.   From early adopters like the Wharton Business School to Deloitte and Ford….. I’ve been inside too many customers to count across the globe.   

SharePoint is definitely getting better and has a developer community which will no doubt help drive it’s ultimate dominance over the market.  eRoom was definitely bleeding edge for it time and there is a lesson to be learned from it.   And the lesson is that the designers and product managers of eRoom listened to customers and listened to the people in the field who made this technology work.   As a result, eRoom was rapidly deployed and easily adopted by end users.   10 things that made eRoom implemented and accepted so quickly are:

1. Ease of setup and adoption.  eRoom was designed to be easy from the start — from install to room creation — the designers of this product recognized eRoom is a productivity tool for knowledge workers and adoption is the most important thing to consider with this type of technology.   

2.  The eRoom database feature.  Again easy — simple wizard to create a database inside a room.  If you ever used Lotus Notes, there is NO developer required here.   From a simple contact list to Q&As, to part or inventory lists to document libraries — this is probably the most used and most powerful feature inside eRoom.    Highly customizable, highly secure, AND the ability to nest any other eRoom object inside a row.  And accessible via API/XML makes this a POWERFUL feature.

3. Nesting.   This is simply smart design.  It’s much more than a folder or file inside a folder….it’s ANY object inside ANY other object.   Again, this parent-child relationship makes it secure and easy to see what belongs where — keeping everything organized within whatever “context” you desire.   This also helps you secure the workspace.  And if you are anal and like to be organized — so you can easily find things later — you’ll like eRoom’s ability to nest objects too.    

4. Communities.  Again – ahead of its time.   Tight integration with multiple LDAP vendors and native eRoom membership — this community model came out in like 2001? — before the Web 2.0 craze made this a more popular buzzword.   And one of the most critical things for these types of applications is the ability to get people quick, easy, and secure access.  We’re NOT talking about openness here.  eRoom communities help you secure your workspaces, allow you to do segment the user population, and prevent “potential” access to eRooms within a community (that is if you setup communities the right way). 

5. Flexible interface.  What I mean by this is eRoom is like a blank canvas for me to paint.  As a project manager or person “coordinating” the room — I can design the room layout however I want — and again it’s EASY!   Folders, databases, room settings for announcements or status… so so so smart!!    Other competing apps — sorry, they just don’t compare (try and mess with Sharepoint interface as a non-techy…not so easy).   eRoom is flexible because it is not as structured in its taxonomy like a Documentum content server for example.  While Documentum is powerful in its own right for heavy duty content/document management — eRoom removes alot of that complexity and provides simple document management & controls.   This is yet another example where eRoom was ahead of its time — allowing users to create their own “folksonomy” using eRoom objects like folders, databases, notes, discussions, etc…   Tagging can be done with custom fields, but not many customers have exposed that feature which is ashame.  

6. Supportability — okay, every software application has it’s problems.   Having done some technical support in my former life, it’s like seeing someone naked — all the flaws, cellulite, wrinkles, etc..   And while eRoom has some sex appeal, the app is no exception 🙂   However, most sys admins setup eRoom and let it run.  The learning curve for admins is low and the biggest issue is probably scalability – not because it doesn’t scale — you just have to scale it correctly.   So don’t take the easy supportability for granted and pay attention to both hardware and application limitations as you grow your deployment — and this will make supportability easier.   Let’s face it — growth isn’t such a bad problem to have….

7. Security.   Ahh .. the global economy and new buzzwords like open collaboration, peace, love and sharing and caring — well that was great in the 1960’s, but this is 2008 — and the real buzzword people should be saying is SECURE COLLABORATION!!!!    And eRoom is by far the most secure collaboration tool out there.  Why?  Because again designers listened to customers early on and designed it that way.  Okay, one could argue “it runs on microsoft IIS”.   Sure, like 90% of the world, we are at the mercy of Mr. Softy.  But there’s a reason why law firms, professional service firms, pharma firms, energy companies and just about every industry out there uses eRoom — and that’s because they can use it on the public internet, put highly sensitive documents and project / product information in an eRoom, and TRUST that they can securely collaborate with their extended enterprise or clients.  And eRoom 7.4 even integrates rights management around documents to make it even more secure. 

8. Document Management.  Uploading documents into eRoom is easy.  3 step process: Add file, browse, okay – you’re done.  Of course with the plugin, you drag & drop from your desktop to the browser — doesn’t get easier than that.   In an eRoom, double click on the file to read or edit it — once again easy.   You want to do some lightweight content management for your line of business or department or project or business process?  Create an eRoom database with an “attachment field”.  Keep things neat, organized, and again easy to search.   It’s all about context!   Sure, Sharepoint has a doc library — but try to nest a discussion thread under each row… not so easy,

9. Project Management.  By far the biggest use of eroom is to manage projects.  Everyone works off the same page…no emailing documents back and forth, version control, etc..  And as I mentioned earlier, I like the flexibility of painting my eRoom canvas to match my project.  Easy to add a custom banner graphic, a project plan feature, easy status reporting, easy to manage issues/Q&A/tasks/scope changes, an approval process database for change requests — simple basic project management stuff most people find painful to manage in Word or Excel.   Even better, I can setup an alert email that is sent to me immediately if someone updates something I think is important.  Or I can just opt to get a nightly email summary of changes in an eroom.  This push communications makes my life easier as a project manager.

10. Customizability.  You can build so much cool stuff on top of eRoom or push / pull data to/from an eRoom.   And you can brand eRoom to make it your own too.  You want to bring visibility into who is working on what task and when it’s due across all eRooms — and the dashboard feature doesn’t quite cut it?    It’s easy to add a custom web page that allows you to slice and dice data within the eRoom tree structure and bring transparency and accountability to the work people are doing.   You want to see more robust reporting on an eRoom database?  Easy to build and secure API/xml access.    You want to pull ERP data into an eRoom to bring visibility to it there within a “secure context” — you can do it easily.

May 14, 2008

4Cs of Collaboration…

4 things to consider when implementing collaboration technology.   Any collaborative technology is difficult to implement because of change and you need to get users to adopt the software.    So if you’re concerned about end user adoption, think about these 4c’s:  context, convenience, closeness, and convergence.   

Context.  This is about focus, filtering, and providing visiblity — i.e. helping users to make sense of the digital mess of information that we manage for projects, clients, process, etc…   AND putting it all within a secure context that users can easily understand and find later.   You might think “it’s like a portal” — but it’s much more than a basic portal because an collaborative space is not just a means to display information, it provides a context to actually get work done.

Convenience.  This is about usability and ease of use — again helping to keep things as simple as possible for end users.  Fitting the technology into their daily work and personal lives.  Making this technology easy means users adopt it.  Once they adopt it — it’s hard to change as you just can’t work any other way. 

Closeness. This about end users and understanding what they need, what they want, and how they work.   If you think you can just “build it” and they will come, you are wrong.  Some will understand this technology and become power users.  As an IT organization, you need to empower those individuals to be change agents and educate them as much as possible.  You also need to pick specific projects or “contexts” and be consultative with best practices.

Convergence. A buzz word that is now more popular.  This about converging technologies.  As technology converges within the context of communities – no matter how big or small they are — the focus still remains on things like convenience, context, and closeness to foster user adoption.