Monday, August 29, 2016

Looking at Cloud Licensing - Microsoft, IBM and Google

We live in interesting times and while I haven't changed jobs in years, I now do IT for several companies.  What makes this even more interesting is that some are on the IBM infrastructure, some are on Google and some are on Microsoft...   ...and of course, there's a bit of change from one to the other.

I tend to get a lot of licensing-based invoices across my desk nowadays. 


Recently, we shifted our IBM licensing to the new IBM Mail Dual Entitlement plan. It's basically a combined Notes and Connections licence. Since I've been doing a lot of Microsoft work for another company, I thought I might do a comparison... especially since numbers are so hard to find on the web.

Note that these figures are in Australian dollars and they're probably not entirely "apples to apples" (or entirely perfect -- I've rounded) but they still make for interesting comparisons.  They're not intended to be proper comparisons.... more for interest sake.

IBM $150pp pa. 

IBM Mail Dual Entitlement works out at about $150 per person, per year. For that you get mail in the cloud, plus instant messaging, cloud storage, IBM Notes (which is a great App platform -- but if you're not already using it, it's probably too late to spend time on it).  You also get access to IBM Connections which is the most "full featured" of the social platforms I've seen.  Connections has lots of different kinds of plug-ins, such as Surveys & Wikis.  The interface is terribly clunky though.

IBM's entitlement also comes with a pretty impressive meetings package and IBM Docs, which is a web-based "office" suite. It would have been good once but it's not as good as google docs -- and the web versions of Microsoft Office completely blow it out of the water.

Archiving is extra. I'm not entirely sure of the cost.

Microsoft $330pp pa.

Microsoft works out at about $210 per user, but for that you get the entire Microsoft Office suite, Word, Excel, Powerpoint (and I think Access and Publisher, though what you'd do with those two nowadays is beyond me). More importantly, you use the software on the web or you can can install the software on various PCs, Mobiles and Tablets. It's a very impressive licencing plan and at only $60 more than IBM, it's clearly the better value option.

Of course, what's missing is Sharepoint and Yammer which are required to at least "equal" IBM Connections. They don't quite manage the functionality and security that IBM provides but they're a good example of how to do an interface right.

If you're heading down the Microsoft route, you need to go for the full thing... Office and Sharepoint/Yammer (which will come with a few other bonuses, like Corporate Skype). This bumps the Microsoft price up to about $330 per user, per year, making it clearly the most expensive of the three -- but it's well worth it.

Google $120

Google is undoubtedly the cheapest option, at $60 per user per year or $120 if you want archiving. Google has easily the best mail package of the three (in my opinion) and while the Google Docs suite is nowhere near as full featured as Microsoft's, it's still a lot better than IBM's.

Google also has some pretty good mobile applications, including the google docs suite, hangouts, duo and plethora of other apps (arguably more third party apps that Microsoft or IBM in this space).

Of course, Google really doesn't have much more to offer in terms of social computing. They have no platform... well, they have Google plus but the less said about that, the better.


The Round-up

So, which is the best?  I can't really answer that. If money is more important than Microsoft Office, then you really should consider Google.  If you still have an existing IBM Notes environment to support, then IBM is the one (but you'll probably find yourself paying for Microsoft Office licensing too) and for everything else... there's Microsoft Office 365.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

IBM's Cloud takes the Pain out of Updates

I’ll admit that I'm generally not very kind to IBM on this blog. It's not that they're doing a worse job than their competitors, I'm still very impressed with some of the things they're doing. 

It's just that after using Notes/Domino for over 20 years, I hold them, sometimes impossibly, to very high standards…. and, of course, any goofs on their part affect my systems a little too directly.

The Quiet Migration to 24x7

One of our biggest frustrations in recent years has been the understated migration of our systems from a business hours model to a 24x7 one. It's not so much that our business became so critical that it needed to go 24 hour but more that changes in mobility and connectivity mean that people now expect to be able to connect to our systems at any time, anywhere.

Almost imperceptibly, we quietly moved to a "zero tolerance for downtime" model.

IT changed to suit the business needs in this regard but the change itself and the implications have been largely overlooked.

We're not alone. This seems to be a recurring theme across businesses of all sizes.


Moving to the Cloud Solves Infrastructure Problems 

Like many businesses, we moved to the cloud in two phases. The first was moving our production systems offsite into a hosted environment where they continued to run as servers, albeit virtual ones.

This solution made 24 hour operations easier as it meant that there was always a team available onsite to deal with infrastructure. We no longer had to worry about power failures, air conditioning failures or just "being onsite to push the button".

It didn't solve our downtime problems entirely though, there's always patches to be applied.

The second phase of migration was to cloud services and we moved to various vendors including IBM - Of course, we couldn't move everything. We're still waiting for true “Domino as a service”.

Our mail is now a proper 24 hour service thanks to the cloud failover model and now, instead of dreading the patch cycle, I actually look forward to it. 

The What's New option on the help menu is my new best friend.

Each cycle brings with it a bunch of necessary fixes but it also brings exciting new functionality.


Keep on those PMRs

The best part about this? IBM has become much more responsive on PMRs (fixes).

We recently discovered an issue with address books; turned out that if you removed the last member of a group, it didn't get updated on the cloud.

You'd think that an “empty group” wouldn't matter but in our case, since we need them for nesting, they're important.

For example We might send a mail to the “xyz committee” and we might have a subgroup called “xyz committee.chairman”. In this scenario, even though the chairman had been removed, the cloud wouldn't update and they'd still be on the mailing list. To make matters worse, the lack of an “expand groups” function in verse meant that the problem would only be detected in iNotes or when a bounce occurred.

It took a bit of bouncing to and fro in IBM’s PMR system (a few weeks) before the problem was understood - and then a few more conversations before it was recognised as an important issue and added to the “fix list”.

Although this problem was significant, we were expecting to have to wait a while until the next patch cycle. Imagine our surprise when it was fixed in under a week.

Well done IBM, clearly this is a key benefit of cloud services.

Monday, August 08, 2016

What's Wrong with the IBM Connections.Cloud Welcome Message (and what IBM Needs to do to fix it)

One of the interesting things about being in IT is that you're responsible for hundreds of "automated" messages each day but... as an IT person, who was already set up on the system from day one, you never actually get to see them - at least, not until someone complains.

One of the things we do at work is provide an area on IBM Connections.Cloud for parties external to our own organisation to collaborate. The collaboration in this space is with some pretty important people. 

Recently we had our "communications" staff member express unhappiness about the IBM Connections welcome message which went to the CEO of a large institution.

I've been sitting on it for a while wondering how to explain this to IBM but today I read a great article on welcome messages.  I figured that blogging might be the best way to explain the problem.

The Message

So, without further ado, here is the message (which apart from 5 words) is entirely created by IBM. See if you can spot the issues. Remember: This was sent on our behalf by IBM to the CEO of another company....


What's Wrong?

....and here's what's wrong with it....

  • Hi: This is a bit overly friendly for a CEO don't you think?  (Dear is more appropriate)

  • First and Last Name: This is just wrong. I think that if you were sending an email to Ginni Rometty at IBM, you'd either address it as "Dear Ms Rometty" or "Dear Ginni" - certainly not "Hi Ginni Rometty"

  • Be a Guest in IBM Connections Cloud! If you assume that my company, for example ABC Finances Incorporated is inviting someone from a fellow Financial Institution to connect, then it makes absolutely no sense at all to start talking about IBM Connections.  That would be like sending a quote for a building project to someone and then talking about Adobe's PDF cloud because your quote is a PDF file. It's irrelevant. 

  • Admin: This is technically one of our words... because we've used the "Admin" user to do the invitations. There's a good reason for this. If you want to be able to centrally track how many users have responded to your invitation, you need to use a single user for the invites. Of course, our invited users don't know anyone called "Admin".  To them, it just sounds like spam. 

  • No Obligation to buy: This is stunning. It's basically a sales pitch in the middle of the "welcome email".  If your clients have managed to read this far through their welcome letter, they'll be abandoning in droves now. Especially if they're CEO material. 

  • IBM Connections Cloud (Advert): While it's informative, it's still an advert. It doesn't belong in the Welcome Message. You'd be better off having this as an animated (or otherwise exciting looking link) available on the Connections site as the user completes their registration...
    eg: "Learn more about connections!"

  • Finally, we Apologise: This is an amazing paragraph.  There's absolutely nothing right with it at all. You have to wonder whether this is a product of the Watson tone analyser.  Essentially this paragraph says it all.
    .
    Finally = Whew, we're going to stop talking soon.
    We apologise if you received this email by mistake = What it says...
    This email was generated automatically. = It's not our fault, blame the robot instead.
    Do not reply = Don't bother emailing, we're not listening. 

  • If you have questions: This bit is pretty amazing too.  Essentially it says to contact your own company's helpdesk. So... in my example, even though the email was sent by ABC Finances Incorporated, the recipient at MyPiggyBank Ltd is being directed to their own internal helpdesk to ask questions -- what are they going to know?


The Welcome is Everything

You may think that I'm being a little harsh here but the Welcome is everything. If you fail to get people to register after the welcome message, then your system will fail. 

It's the equivalent of having closed doors, a complex puzzle lock and no branding on the outside of your office building. Refer to my example below for a donut shop. 


Getting the Welcome Right

I could take a little time and discuss how to get the welcome right but in reality, the solution is pretty simple; 

IBM needs to allow Connections.Cloud administrators to write their ENTIRE welcome message in HTML and save it as a template.  There should be an out-of-the-box message which adheres to good practice but it should be able to be previewed and completely changed.

... and in case you forgot that I mentioned a "great article on Welcome Messages", here's a link; 

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Good Resources for Support with IBM Connections and Verse 2: Official Channel Web Sites

A couple of posts ago, I provided a list of LinkedIn Groups which I've found to be good sources of IBM Connections Information.  In this post, I aim to provide some "Official" web sites.  Needless to say, the majority of these will be IBM resources. 

Of course, there are lots of great personal blogs out there too but I'll cover them in a different post.


The Three Big Questions for "Developing Products & Services"

IBM Connections (and specifically Connections.cloud) is a "developing product/service". As such there are always new holes, new fixes and new ideas.  There's always just that little bit of functionality which either doesn't work as expected or doesn't go as far as it could. 

That's not to say that IBM Connections is a bad product, simply that like all "developing products/services" (indeed, like all Modern Products & Services) the ground is constantly moving and sometimes you need to stop and figure out where you are.

The three big questions we're always asking about Connections are; 

  • How does it work?
  • Why can't it do this?
  • Why is isn't it working?
Note: Many of these sites require a login however if you're a paid connections user, all of the resources here are available to you. If you don't have a login for these sites, fill out the registration forms on the sites and get connected .

How does it Work?



  • If you find that Video is more aligned with the way you learn, check out the IBM Social Business Youtube page. Don't just rely on what you can see on the front page, click on Videos and "load more" to see the rest.  

Why Can't it do this?

  • The IBM Connections Forum (http://www-10.lotus.com/ldd/lcforum.nsf) is very similar to the old Notes.Net forum and it's a great place to trawl through old discussions (and add a few new topics yourself).  If you're having any problems with connections, this is a great place to post an exploratory question. 

  • I don't think that anyone is entirely sure what connections is and where the boundaries of the product lie.  It's very like Notes/Domino in that respect.  If you have an idea for a new feature or a great enhancement for an old feature (or even a tiny "fix") then be sure to let IBM know about it. The best way to float your ideas is via the IBM Connections Idea Jam (https://greenhouse.lotus.com/blogs/login?lang=en_us) on IBM Greenhouse.

    While you're in the Idea Jam, have a look through other people's ideas and be sure to "vote up" the ones that are important to you too. 

  • What's new in IBM Connections. As previously mentioned, IBM Connections is a developing product and the connections you're using this week could well have a few features which weren't available last week. Be sure to keep up by reading What's new in IBM Connections

Why isn't it Working?



  • Speaking of PMRs or Problem Management Reports, IBM seems to have renamed them Service Requests (https://www-947.ibm.com/support/servicerequest/Home.action).  These are a great way of getting IBM support on something that is broken or at least "not working for you". IBM have put a bit of effort into making these service requests easier to submit and update and you can now access them online. The key to a good service request is to keep on top of them and always read the last line which says where exactly the next action is coming from.   If it's pointing at you, be sure to provide IBM with what they need because without your action, nothing will get done.

    Finally, on PMRs, don't simply accept "No" for an answer.

    All helpdesks exist to ultimately "close" calls - and IBM is no exception.  If you discover something  in connections which simply doesn't work, their helpdesk will often try to close it with a "working as intended" or "feature not available" message.

    If you really think that connections should be doing something that it isn't, ask for your request to be submitted for consideration (or use the Idea Jam mentioned earlier). 


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Importance of Email Retention, Journaling and Recoverability (and why Cloud Solutions Fail)

For most of us, email is simply a means of communicating work.  It's a glorified, bi-directional to-do list with comments. Emails come in, we read, do and delete. Once the work is done, there's usually no need to find the email again. 

That's all very true except for when something goes wrong and your company gets taken to court. Suddenly then, all those deleted emails are very, very important. 

How Email Discovery could work under Litigation

So, assuming that there's a legal case, such as a lawsuit, that involves your company. You could be asked to produce all the emails within a given period (say, six months) which include certain key phrases -- or perhaps all emails from a now-terminated employee.

In the event that email cannot be produced, you could be fined or worse, you could lose the ability to defend your company in court. 

...and it doesn't stop there, your company might not even be directly involved in the court case but could be dragged in as a third party via a subpoena.

No matter how lawfully YOU run your business, not having adequate email retention is a business risk that you simply can't afford to take.

Why A Restore is Not Enough

From an IT point of view, we don't usually talk about legal things.  We're all about Backups and Restores (and recoverability) as if it's simply a matter of getting missing data back.

The theory, for example being that if a user loses their file today and they've not worked on it for a couple of weeks, then any backup from the last few weeks is sufficient.

In this case, the intention is simply to recover the lost data.

What we're finding though is that recoverability is much more than simple data restoration. What if, instead of simply recovering the data, we had to prove that no changes had occurred in it between the recovered date and the date it was deleted.  The only way to do that would be to recover all versions of this (or to have unquestioned data tracking enabled).

Email is very much a dynamic kind of "file".  For example, you might be able to recover a mail from July 7 which was deleted on July 20, via the Backup from July 15, but that doesn't mean that someone didn't reply to that message on July 16 and then delete the reply along with the original message on July 20.

Mail Journaling

There's only one sure way to demonstrate that you've effectively captured all email;

Have a copy of every single inbound, outbound and internal mail copied to mail storage which does not permit deletion - and retain that mail for the appropriate legal period (not necessarily 7 years) - even if the employee in question has left the company. 

and...

Have auditing facilities in place to protect the mail stores from administrator intervention or unauthorised access and, have a monitoring process watching the store-process to ensure that it doesn't stop.

In our case, we've been using the Veritas solution... but now we've discovered that moving to IBM Verse will prevent us from being able to journal purely internal mail.

Why the Cloud Systems are failing us

In the past, when we had our own mail servers on-site, we could direct outbound SMTP traffic to go via our external archiving partners, our inbound mail could be captured via redirected MX records and our purely internal mail could be captured via Journaling.

With the cloud services, attempting to provide a one-size-fits-all solution, these options are not necessarily available to us. In our case, with IBM Verse, we've been able to sort out inbound and outbound mail mail via the traditional means (after a bit of fiddling) but it turns out that there's no way to journal purely internal mail to an external system (so much for open systems).

We have to abandon our archive solution and go for IBM's offering -- except, of course, that we can't really abandon our old solution because we need to keep it going, possibly indefinitely... unless we migrate it elsewhere (See the Chart at the end of this post).

I've looked at Microsoft and Google and they seem to have the same problems. Their products don't seem to support external journaling any more (or they're in the process of depreciating them).

I've also noticed that since we're using cloud services, it's no longer possible to restore mail (after the trash has been emptied).  This too is a feature of the three cloud services I looked at.

One thing is certain - If you're looking to put your email in the cloud you MUST subscribe to the cloud mail retention service from the SAME vendor.... and, the choices you make today could be the choices you continue to pay for well after you've migrated to a competitor's system. 

Recommended Reading and thinking

The whole Email Retention thing pretty much kicked off in 2002 with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US.  Most of the western world now has an equivalent act in place. If you're not up on that, it's good reading.

The whole Hillary Clinton thing is worth reading too - it's a bit wider than simply mail preservation but it's a good example of the rules around email in action.

There are lots of free whitepapers around on Email Retention. Just do a google search and click on some of the PDFs that come up.

Thinking more widely, we need to be prepared for the next leap in litigation; At some point, the courts are going to start asking people to produce records of instant messaging, posts and comments on collaboration platforms.

Do your staff leaving processes leave their collaborative data intact and allocated to the original owner?  How do you handle "deleted comments"?


How Long do we need to Retain Email?

This excellent chart is from Contural Inc's excellent 2007 Whitepaper: How Long Should Email be Saved?  It was sponsored by Symantec who have since moved the business to Veritas.  The chart shows that different types of emails have different retention times.


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Copy as Table works (in One Direction) for IBM Notes/Verse Interactions

Copy as table used to be one of my favourite IBM Notes features. We have a lot of databases full of documents, news stories etc. We also have an office which is "entirely migrated to connections.cloud" but not entirely using Verse. 

Some people just won't let go of the Notes interface - we're working on that problem. 

One of our databases contains news stories, the links for which we regularly send out to the rest of the organisation.

We quickly discovered that the Verse users couldn't open the links. This is because the doclinks had our Notes Server names (eg: http://internalserver.ournetwork.local) as http, instead of Notes protocol; (Notes://internalserver).

This morning I discovered a great update to Verse.  I don't know when exactly IBM did it, but I'm very grateful.

To Copy Documents as a Table


  1. Go to a Notes database (in the Notes Client) and select a bunch of documents 
  2. Use Right Mouse click, Copy as Table, 
  3. They're now on the clipboard. 
If you paste these into a new email via the Notes client, then ONLY notes users will be able to use them. 

If you paste these into a new email via the VERSE client, then clients with either Notes or Verse will be able to use them. 

Always use the Verse client... even if your people aren't on verse yet.  One day they will be ... and wouldn't it be nice if the old emails still worked. 



Copy as Table - in Action

For added fun, in case you don't want a table in your email, you can try merging the cells in verse and then re-copying the data out of the table into another part of verse (and deleting the original table).

One Final Caution

Since the links are Notes:// links, they won't work on mobile versions of Verse - at least not yet.  Not until IBM provides us with the mobile app for ICAA - IBM® Client Application Access (formerly known as IBM Notes® Browser Plug-in).

(hint, hint IBM).

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Good Resources for Support with IBM Connections and Verse 1: Linked In Groups

I was originally hoping to produce a single list of all of my (so far) collected resources. Of course, the problem with that is that I have to review the sites to make sure that they're still relevant -- and provide at least some added value.  

I've decided, that in the short term, I'll just point out some useful groups of sites. This is the first of a bunch of posts on the topic. This time, I'm covering LinkedIN. 

LinkedIN

If you're not a member of LinkedIN, it's well worth signing up (it's free anyway).

LinkedIN has matured over the years and while people are usually still "too serious" on the site, It's no longer just a place for jobs.  There's some great technical discussions and articles that come up on there.

LinkedIN isn't the best resource for connections but it's one of the easiest ones to engage.


IBM Messaging & Collaboration Professionals

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/37836

This group has 29,000 members and it's fairly active (with at least weekly posts on interesting articles). There are questions on IBM Notes, information on Sametime, links to bootstrap articles and summaries of connections events.  It's probably the best of the linkedIN groups to join.



IBM Enterprise Social Software Technologies

This group has 9,000 members and it's probably  the most active of the IBM Connections LinkedIN groups with new posts every couple of days.  Subjects covered include training, connections features, verse on mobile devices and more.  This is a good second group to join. 


Social Connections - The IBM Connections User Group


This group has around 4,000 members and seems to post weekly. It covers news about IBM and Connections. It seems to be good for non-technical information. 


Lotus Software Users Group


This painfully titled group has only 3,000 members but it does cover quite a bit of ground from Verse to Notes/Domino, to XPages and OpenNTF.  There's a little spam in this group and it's updated fortnightly but there's still some good info and contacts. 


More to come?

I hope to follow this post up with posts about connections resources at IBM, in Connections, on Twitter and on other people's blogs, so stay tuned. Also, if you have any other good LinkedIN groups, please feel free to comment them. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Turn off Location Services on your iPhone to Conserve Power

My iPhone has been driving me crazy these last few weeks. The power has been draining so fast that I need to recharge by lunch time if I still want a phone (and not a brick) by the afternoon.

I'd been blaming my iPhone for being old but as it turns out, the problem was much simpler than that - It was location settings. 

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. After all, you have to assume that if your phone is going to communicate with the satellites (and other receivers), it's probably going to need a bit of power to get up there. Then of course you factor in the number of apps which are using location services (it's exploded since I last looked in there).... and of course, many of the apps use location services "always".

Yep, that's right... even when you're not using the phone.

So, how do you turn these things off?

First, you need to get to Location Services.
The easiest way is via these three icons;

  • Settings
  • Privacy
  • Location Services


Once you get there either slide it to the OFF position (which I did for a couple of days)

or

Go through all of the settings and set them to NEVER.
In my case, I left Camera, Google Maps and Map my Walk but only "While Using".

If there's anything that says "Always" shut it down for sure.

The proof is undeniable. I've not made any other changes to my phone and it's been going 15 hours and I still have 54% battery left. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cloud is great but IBM Verse misses a step in Business Continuity

Today's world is all about cloud. 

We have email in the cloud, document storage in the cloud, data, applications and even development in the cloud.

Why Cloud is Best

From one point of view, cloud is an excellent choice. You no longer need to worry about;

  • Physical servers which can suffer hardware failures.
  • Storage and rack space for servers
  • Local services, such as Air Conditioning and the Water Supply in the computer room.
  • Local environmental factors, such as storms which can directly impact your infrastructure.
  • Local backups, which can take hours and require special software
  • Tape management (or streaming backup services)
  • Server failover -- this is managed by the cloud sites.
  • Hotfixes and patches to operating systems and applications.

Most of the cloud systems offer some pretty good restore functionality too.

For example; IBM Connections has some great version control tools which allow you to roll back to previous versions of your file.  This means that if a user damages a file (or even if some malware damages the files), you can easily restore old versions of the files -- individually, of course.

There doesn't seem to be any kind of en-masse restore option. This could become a problem if something like CryptoLocker which traverses the directory structure, was involved. 

Verse Folder Issues and Restoration

So, apart from en-masse restoration, (and of course the myriad of much discussed privacy issues) what's missing? why am I worried?

We've been experiencing a few folder issues in IBM Verse lately because although IBM appears to be discouraging the use of folders, we have a number of users in our organisation who swear by them.

One thing that we've noticed is that IBM appears to have done some upgrades on the structure of our cloud-hosted mail files.  That's okay, we should expect that as a constant part of the general development of verse. 

What's not okay is that these changes seem to have affected how folders work in the Notes client.

We've also noticed that some of our users are reacting to these changes by attempting to move folders around via the Notes client. When they do this, quite often, the folders are disappearing entirely from Verse and from Notes.

Now, folders these days are just another form of tagging, so the original messages are all still okay. They're just no longer neatly organised into a folder.

Our users have been asking to get these folders restored.

In the pre-cloud days, we'd have restored a copy of the mail file and used that to determine which mails were in the folder and then rebuilt the folder and re-foldered that mail.  It's a time consuming task but it's one that many of our users would prefer to do, rather than lose the structure that the folder provided.

Guess what... that option is no longer available to us.

We talked to IBM. In fact, we raised a PMR on the issue.
It got noted.
discussed.
and then....

we got this;

I have checked materials and discuss in whole team, I am sorry to say that there is no way to restore the folders deleted by user himself. He needs to create folder and restore emails from "All documents" manually.

Sure, I accept that it's a manual process but right now, we're still working with IBM to find a way for the user to get a LIST of what exactly was in their folder prior to its removal. 

How Wide is the Issue?

In our case, all of our mail is forced through the Symantec/Veritas Archive system -- another cloud service. Mail in that system can't be deleted, so it means we have a permanent record.   Of course, the system doesn't support foldering because it uses "Journalling" to capture mail as it is sent or received. Foldering tends to be something that occurs long afterwards.

I have to wonder though....  what about the organisations without a separate archive system?
Do they still think that they can restore their mail? Do they still think that they're compliant with their email retention policies?

How many of us have really done proper DR testing on our cloud infrastructure?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

How to set IBM Verse as your Default Email Client

We've recently rolled out IBM Verse and we're trying to get our staff members to use it (willingly) rather than mandating the change. 

One of the issues that we've come up against is the humble Mailto link. 

If you go to any web page that has a mailto link and click it, it goes to Notes.

Obviously we want those links to go to Verse.

It's a simple fix, here's how to do it.

How To


  1. Open IBM Verse in Google Chrome
    (it might be possible to use other browser but I haven't tested them).
  2. Click on the Service Handler Icon in the Address Bar (Right hand side)
  3. A dialog box will appear asking if you want to allow Verse to open all Email links.
  4. Choose Allow.
  5. Click Finished.
That's all there is to it.  Now you can browse around and find a mailto link like this one and click it.  

and here's a picture (click on it if it's too small).


Monday, June 06, 2016

Harnessing the Power of Shadow IT

There seems to have been quite a bit of press lately about “Shadow IT” and it gives the impression that it's a new thing. Perhaps having a formally recognised name is new but shadow IT has been around throughout my (so far 28 year) career in IT and I suspect that it's much older than that.

What is Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is what happens when someone, not associated with the IT department, starts offering IT services to other parts of the business.

Shadow IT can take the form of someone bringing in software from home, downloading software or even writing their own.

Sometimes hardware is involved too with work PCs being opened, repaired, upgraded or otherwise "enhanced".

In particular, since the emergence of cheap network hardware and the explosive growth of USB, its become very common to find users trying to plug their own hardware into work systems and networks.

Sometimes new systems are developed. In one place I worked, a marketing employee rolled out a Large Lotus Approach database to interstate arms of the company before anyone noticed. Once the software was in use around the company, it couldn't be recalled. It filled a gap. Unfortunately, it also became a nightmare to support.

In recent times, shadow IT seems to be responsible for the proliferation of business data onto smartphones and tablets.

Why is Shadow IT bad news?

In the short term, Shadow IT seems helpful. They can reduce support calls and grant "technology wishes" within the organisation, particularly when IT or corporate management is slow to respond. Certainly Shadow IT is "IT for the people" and it makes employees generally happier.

Unfortunately, since Shadow IT usually lacks formal training in IT, they usually know "just enough to get themselves into trouble". The solutions they implement are often ill-considered. They often don't fit in with the corporate objectives, create incompatibilities and cause licensing headaches. They can hide deficiencies in the IT budget or corporate planning. Worst of all, they can open the business to security issues.

Can Shadow IT be positive?

The individuals who form shadow IT are often more aware of the technology problems that employees face on a day to day basis than the IT department. This is partially because the IT department is usually a "service department" and their primary objectives are to provide services and security to the business rather than to actually “further the business” of the company.

Shadow IT on the other hand, tend to come from within the business itself. They’re usually from core areas of the business and they’re aware of the difficulties in processes and the needs of people around them. Shadow IT can also help to highlight training issues within the organisation.

What does Shadow IT mean for the Business?

Every medium sized (or greater) business will have at least one or two elements of shadow IT but if you find that more than just a single individual is very active, then it means that the business has unresolved issues.

It means that either the business hardware or software isn't meeting the needs of the users, that the security is either too tight or too lapse or that there is a need for training. Quite often it means that more than one of these things is out of balance.

What can be done about Shadow IT?

While it’s not uncommon for CIOs to want to get rid of the individuals causing IT problems, the best thing to do is to actually bring shadow IT in as an informal part of the IT team.  One of the best ways to do this is to set up a regular meeting between IT and the various shadow IT people (ideally the most tech-savvy person from each department).

Give the group a name like, "technology experts" or "support team" and get the meetings formally recognised by management. Little rewards, like training, being the first to get a new PC or software can really help these people feel appreciated.

In your meetings, talk about impending systems changes, outages, frequent helpdesk calls and systems issues. Ask your group about technology problems, wants and needs and what each of their departments have been up to.

Be careful not to give outright "no" answers without due consideration -- even when you know the answer is going to be no. Remember that you're trying to help them see that IT is "here to help".

Take notes and ensure that documentation from those meetings reaches management.

Harnessing the power of Shadow IT can significantly extend the reach of your already stretched IT resources.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Embed Video into your IBM Connections Wiki

Everybody loves video but while IBM Connections allows you to upload images, for some reason it doesn't have a simple "video upload" function.

No problems though... just add your own code.

Attaching your MP4 File

If you're referencing an external public video, for example something on Youtube, then you can simply copy the embed codes from there.  If you want to host your own video (privately) on connections, you'll need to follow these instructions;


  1. Open your IBM Connections Wiki and go to attachments. 
  2. Upload your MP4 file as an attachment.
  3. Once it's uploaded, right mouse click on it and copy the URL to the Clipboard.



Figuring out How Big Your Video Is

You'll probably have seen your video playing somewhere already, so if you can, screenshot it and put it into a graphics package.  Crop the edges so that just your video is showing and then attempt to do a resize.  The original dimensions shown, should give you an indication of the size.

Alternatively, you can just take an educated guess....

From Youtube, the Common sizes video are;

  • 560x340, 640x385, and 853x505 for HD
  • 425x344, 480x385, and 640x505 for SD


Referencing your Video

Edit your Wiki Page and then click on the HTML Source Tab in the Top Right hand corner.  Find some blank space in the html and add the following;



Unfortunately, with this blog being on the web, I can't paste the exact code (because it gets interpreted by the browser) but to make things easier I've added the sample code below.  Simply;


  1. Change all of the curly braces { and } to html braces < and >.  
  2. Replace the Pink Width and Height with your own Width and Height
  3. Replace the Green url with the URL you copied earlier.


{object width="660" height="360"}
    {param name="movie" value="https://apps.ap.collabserv.com/wikis/form/api/wiki/12358946/page/1235446/attachment/123546/media/Game1.mp4"}{/param}
{param name="wmode" value="transparent"}{/param}
{/object}



Enjoy.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Designing Layout in IBM Connections Communities

Two of the most critical factors in the success or failure of your intranet are the ease of use and the degree to which it catches the eye. 

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of choices you can make with regards to IBM Connections Community design past the front page. Once you hit a forum or a library of files and folders, every single community starts to look the same. 

Luckily though, there's a fair bit of flexibility on the  opening page and on the Wiki Pages.  I've already covered how to make your community look more appealing in other posts (See Part 1 and Part 2) but I recently created an internal community that I thought might be useful as a design exercise.

A Tiled Community Example

This is an internal "social" community which uses a style similar to the Microsoft Windows 10 tiles. I chose that look because I thought it would be both "fun" and "familiar" to our users.

To build this, I simply made a 4 x 3 table and set it to 100% width. Then I went into each of the four cells in the top row and right clicked on them and set them to 25% width.   This ensures that changes within the cells don't muck things up.

Finally, I went into the Second Row, Second  Column cell and merged right.



From there is was just a matter of creating the pictures.

I decided upon a set size for each icon (about 400 x 400) and used a font icon set to create the white icons.  I also wrote on them using the same font and size.  I included a white border in my picture because I didn't want to have to rely on connections to do my spacing for me.  

The middle tile is double-width so it's 800 x 400.

When I added the pictures, I made sure that they were 100% of the cell size (you can do that by right clicking on the image and setting the options).

From there, you just link the images to the places you need them to go.

Other Places to Look

If you're stuck for ideas on how to make your online community look more appealing, go to Google image search and type in "Intranet Designs" and browse through the many different screens.

As you look at them, ask yourself, which bits could be done in a table?

This will give you an idea of how to approach the sites to build them.

Start on paper and roughly draw out what you want on your page -- then try to draw lines around your objects on paper to determine how many rows and columns you need and which ones need to be merged.

You'll find that there's a lot more flexibility than you'd expect. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Uploading Files to Connections using the Desktop Plug-ins

The new IBM Connections Desktop Plug-ins are out today... and there seem to be quite a few changes.

I decided to have a play and to document the experience for our users.  The result is another presentation. 

As usual, sorry for all the blurring but I have to provide some protection.  :-)

This particular tutorial simply shows how to get a file from Microsoft Excel 2013 up to a Connections.Cloud community using the File, Save As menu option.

There are other ways but I didn't want to confuse people with them... not yet anyway. 


BTW: If the controls on the slides aren't working, you might want to head over to Slideshare.


How to upload a file to an IBM Connections.Cloud Community using the Plugins in Microsoft Office 2013 from Gavin Bollard

A Word on Updates

The last slide in this series tells you where to get the plug-ins. They seem to update very regularly (monthly) and each update brings great new features. Of course, it's a bit much to expect your users to;

  1. Know where to look and how to check for an Update
  2. Have an IBM Greenhouse Account (which you need to be able to download)
  3. Know how to extract a ZIP file (okay, some people know that).
It was suggested that we should store the updates locally (perhaps in a community) so that our users can access them without all the extra hassle.  This is a very good idea. 

In our case, since our systems are "locked down" and users can't install anything without the administrator, that's mostly a moot point -- but we do still have a dedicated area where we store the current versions so that any future installs will use up-to-date installs which have been tested by the IT Department.  

In any case, your users may want to install these plug-ins on their home or other devices; depending upon your internal network policies. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

How to Share a File for Guests using IBM Connections.Cloud (a Slideshare tutorial)

IBM Connections provides some amazing dropbox-style facilities. If you're finding that you can't email a file because it's too big, or because it's prevented by mail gateways (something that is very common with EXE files), you might want to give IBM Connections a go. 

Note that in order to share a file, you need to have already accepted the person as one of your contacts. This procedure is explained in my previous Slideshare tutorial about How to add Guest Users to IBM Connections

This tutorial explains in simple terms, how to share a file with users. Everyone, even guest users, can share files (though guests clearly have lower limits than fully registered users).

If you do find yourself running out of room, consider creating a community to share your files in. Communities don't have file limits and aren't counted against a user's personal storage quota.

Feel free to use this presentation in your own organisation if it's relevant;



How to Add Guest Users to IBM Connections (a tutorial)

One of the strengths of IBM Connections is the ability to add guest users.  Unfortunately, for the moment, the process isn't as straightforward as it should be. 

Here's some documentation I created for our internal users which, you may find useful in your own networks. I've blurred anything here that could  be identifiable.




Coming Soon.....  I also have a presentation on how to share files in connections.  I'll make this available too as soon as I've done the blurring.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How to Create a Good Email Signature and Use it in IBM Verse

The Simplest Email Signatures are often the Best

These days, email is arguably the most common form of “first contact” with a potential customer, client or colleague. People spend quite a bit of time refining the content of these communications, pushing them through both public relations and legal departments and checkpoints but very few people bother to check beyond the content, specifically ... their signatures. 

The aim of this post is to,

  • Prompt you to do some basic checks. 
  • Give you some ideas on how you can improve your signature
  • Document how to create a Signature in IBM Verse.

Ask yourself… 


  • When was the last time you sent a work-email to your Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo account to see how the signature looks and to find out what your signature looks like with any legalese added by your corporate gateway? 


  • When was the last time you checked out how your signature renders from a mobile device. 


  • Have you recently checked all phone, mobile and fax numbers and email addresses for accuracy?  If for example, your company changed their main switch number a few years ago, how confident are you (without checking) that your signature contains the right number now?

Once you've done these checks, consider scheduling an annual task in your calendar to check your email signature.

Critical Information for your Signature

There’s essentially three pieces of information which are absolutely critical for your email signature;


  • Your Name
  • Your Position Title 
  • Your Company Name
  • Your Contact Number(s)
  • Your Email Address


Redundant Information

Technically you don’t need to include your company name if your company already includes it as part of their standard legal footer. You also don’t need to include your email address because if a person hits reply (or hovers their mouse over the To: field in your email), they will get it.

Personally though, I prefer to include these two bits of information with the rest of the signature. That way, if the email gets forwarded or fragmented, your sections will be clearly identified. 

The trick of course, is to limit yourself to three lines of information.  If you can't fit it in three lines, then it's too much.

Non-Critical Information

The following items are non-critical and should generally not appear on your personal signature;

  • Company Switchboard Numbers
  • Company Addresses
  • Company Website 
  • Legalese 
  • Redirects (if you are out of the office)
  • Social Networking Pages
  • Skype or Hangouts Contacts
  • Favourite Quotes or trite phrases.
  • Personal Profiles (life stories)
  • Pictures (particularly Company Logos)
  • Advertising

All company information including switch and fax numbers, the website and Legalese should appear in a separate company footer.

If you don’t have a company footer, then you should at least allow enough spacing between your personal signature and the company signature that it is perceived as separate.

Pictures of any sort are to be discouraged but if a company logo is used, it’s part of the company signature, not part of yours.  Keep logos with the company footer.

The only picture that could be attached to your personal signature might be a mugshot of you.  If your business requires a lot of face-to-face contact, then this may be okay but otherwise, it’s a bit excessive.

Permanent redirects such as "if you can't reach me please contact my secretary on ...." should also be avoided. If your phone is unattended, calls should go to either a monitored messagebank or to a designated backup person.  Don’t make your customers do your communications routing for you.

Unless you’re in the habit of doing business over facebook and linkedin, these social networks do not need to be part of your signature.

Choosing Sensible Formatting

Things that work very reliably on the internet include boldface, italics and coloured lettering.  Things that don’t work so well include spacing, the use of multiple typefaces and the use of multiple sizes of typeface. The other thing to remember is that some typefaces, like Comic Sans, never convey a business-like feel.

With that in mind, a good signature will emphasise important words with boldface, highlight key areas in colour and depreciate less critical data in lighter shades.

Here’s a couple of examples.

Luke Skywalker
X-Wing Pilot | The Rebel Alliance
t: 61 7 0806 0546
m: 0447 879 216
e: masterluke@rebels.com


Master Yoda | Jedi Master and Friend | The Galactic Republic
t: 75 0889 4647 | f: 61 2 0549 0897 | e: yodanotfar@dagobah.com

You might notice that the colours also match their business branding… Luke’s is red, like the Rebel Alliance colours while Yoda has green.


How to Set a Signature in IBM Verse 

To set your signature in Verse, click on your person icon in the top right hand corner and then select Mail Signature. You’ll be given a dialog box in which to create your signature. Don’t forget to use the colours and the link tool to create links. (if you need to).

Signature1.jpg

If you tried (and failed) setting a signature in Verse any time prior to about April 2016, give it another shot. The signature functionality was still under development then.  It should be stable now.

Signature Generators

Of course, if you really, desperately have to have a complicated signature with all the bells and whistles, you can do that.  Simply hop on to one of the many online signature generators. To find them, simply google email signature generators.

One that I found is called htmlsig (https://htmlsig.com/)

The catch with these programs is usually that they want to charge you to store an image. The good thing however is that they often generate html which you can easily edit.


HTMLSig creates html output.  You can save this into Notepad and then save as a local HTML File (eg: C:\TEMP\MYSIG.HTML).  

Double-click on the file to open it in your browser of choice -- naturally for me, that's Chrome, then highlight everything and do a copy.  Go to the mail signature in IBM Verse and paste your text in.  It works well. 


Of course, for the best results, you'll want to retain control of your images.  To do that, edit the HTML and look for all the lines that contain IMG SRC="  This will tell you where the images are stored. Go to those URLs and save a copy of each of those files elsewhere online and publicly accessible (your web server or your Google drive can be used for this). 

Change the URLs to point to the new image locations and you're done.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Simplifying an IBM Connections Community for Rollout - Part 2

IBM Connections.Cloud is a very powerful set of software and services but using the default settings will result in a community that isn't very pretty, has low usability and will discourage your users from participating.

Luckily a few tweaks, some promises and a bit of work on engagement can make a huge difference.

The Overall Plan

Obviously you need to plan out what your guests and members will be doing in your community. It’s basic marketing. People don’t visit the site for nothing, they are there because of a basic need. You can’t begin to provide a solution until you've identified those needs.

The needs could be as simple as, the need to obtain information or the need to collaborate with others. These aren't mutually exclusive needs but they do suggest vastly different requirements. Providing information is usually done via files and/or wikis while collaboration is more of a forums thing.  Understanding the needs will help you to build a community which satisfies the needs of your users.

The best question to ask is; What would you want out of the site if you were a user?

Once you've thought it through, you need to consider workflow and story (how the information and sections should be organised).  Whether you’re providing forums or documents, having consistent, logical and relevant headings is very important.   You’ll also need to load your site up with branding and eye-catching graphics. I covered a lot of this in my last post.

Loading the Modules and Graphics

Assuming that you've done your planning, you probably have a good idea of what you need for your site. I'm not planning to go into detail on the initial construction of a community because I covered adding modules back in June last year.

The first module that you need to add is the Wiki. You may not be using this directly in you community but it’s still the best place to store graphics.   At the same time, you should open Notepad because you’ll want to save lots of URLs for easy reference.

Copy the URL for the Wiki and paste it into notepad.  Once you start hiding things on your community, you’ll have trouble getting back to the Wiki if you don’t have the URL.  Of course you can re-add it and then re-hide it again but that’s extra work. 

You'll eventually want to fill your notepad document with labelled links to to your main community page, any specific folders, forums, topics, surveys or other materials you might want to link directly to.

The Wiki

The Wiki will generally start with a welcome page.  If you're not planning to use the Wiki, then you should still add a nice graphic and link it back to the main (outline) page of your community.  Casual (or accidental) visitors to the wiki will see the graphic, click on it and be quickly redirected back to the main areas of your site.


You can add lots of images into the attachments section of the wiki page, This section won't display for users unless they go looking for it, so it makes a good storage area.  As you add graphics, you might want to right-click on them to copy their URLs into notepad for later reuse. 

Setting App Security

Once you start hiding Apps, they will disappear from the App Security screens, so you'll need to edit their security settings first. 

To do this, go to Edit Community and select the App from the list across the top of the page.  You'll be able to change the settings for your App.  


In particular, since you're not using the Wiki except for storing your graphics, you'll probably want to prevent users from being able to modify it. Change their role to reader and save. 

While you're in this space, consider checking though the rights of the other apps. 

Building Your Outline

If you've been using Connections to create communities already, you're probably fairly familiar with the outline control.  You can change the layout of the outline page (decide on a 2 or 3 column layout and move modules around) but as I mentioned in my previous post, there's only a few areas that can really be customised.... the rest simply cannot be changed.


The best way to get your outline layout to work is to insert a table. It helps if you've already done a rough drawing of what you want in your outline. 

You'll probably want to set the table width to be 100%, rather than a specific pixel width. This ensures that it grows and shrinks with the screen.  You can also right click on cells and set the column width to percentages. 

If you right-click on a cell, you can choose to merge it down or across.  Merging cells is a key part of layout.  You can also set individual border and background colours. 

Images

When it comes to inserting images, you can simply add them via the URLs you copied to the clipboard. You can resize images by right-clicking on them and setting their width and height. If you set one of these values, the other will usually change.

What's not so obvious is that you can set the width to a percentage. At the moment, if you do this in connections, it will muck up the aspect ratio of the image (unless you set the width to a percentage and delete the number in height). 


Using percentages on images is great for rendering on various sized screens however sometimes it doesn't work out so well.  This is particularly a problem when you're using Icon buttons.  In that case, you might want to set the images to a fixed size.

Hiding Apps

You'll find that the more apps you use, the more cluttered your outline page becomes. There's a simple solution to this, hide the app. Hiding an App will retain its data (and indeed leave the app fully usable -- if you have the link).

For the most part, hiding the app removes the app from the outline page and from the drop-down menu.  Unfortunately not everything removes itself from the drop-down. Members, for example will remain even if the members app is hidden.


Before hiding any apps, make sure that you have their URLs copied to notepad.

If you need to unhide an app, you simply choose community actions and add apps.   The hidden apps are in a section of their own and can easily be added back in with the plus button.





Making the Page Engaging

The final part of the community experience is to make the page engaging.  You need to remind your admin users that they need to regularly add and update content in order to capture the audience.  

If you've set a static front page,  you need to find some way to add some more active content.  

In the example community page below, we've removed all of the standard navigation features on the outline and replaced them with our own. As a result, we're able to use the language of the users, for example "Agendas" instead of files.

The agendas link goes to a specific folder for agendas within the files system. We're also able to add more dynamic content, for example the date of the most recent meetings (with links to files for that specific meeting).  The graph links to a full statistical report and could be replaced at regular intervals with either different graphs or perhaps different reports.


The last thing to note is that the main menu content is all on the left hand side while the active content is on the right. This is because in a mobile environment where everything scales down, there's a good chance that some of the extreme right content will be lost. 

The most important part of the site is the overall navigation, hence that's on the left.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Simplifying an IBM Connections Community for Rollout - Part 1

Last Month, I wrote about the many problems with Connections.Cloud. One of the great things about working with IBM (as opposed to Microsoft) is that I've found that IBM are always willing to help. I had three separate contacts from IBM help me through the problem.

It became clear that IBM is aware of the shortcomings with Connections and that they're already well on the way to getting them corrected.  If all goes well, IBM will be in a much better spot than Microsoft by the end of the year. 

We managed to get the problems with our communities down to four things;

  1. Dissatisfaction with the way @Mentions currently work
  2. Lack of Collaborative document editing for guests
  3. Usability Features
  4. General Design Issues (Building without Design)
Of these, we were told that the first two can't be solved now but will be solved soon.  In that case, we had to either switch to another product (and inherit a whole new set of problems) or persevere without those features on the assurance they will be delivered in the near future.

We seriously considered the competition but decided to persevere with IBM.

Improving the Usability of Connections

The third thing, usability features, turned out to be something that we could resolve by configuring the communities better. Our IBM representative came out to our offices and explained how to do this and showed us a few examples. 

Essentially, we replaced most of the connections navigation features with our own and it seems to have made a huge difference. There's still space for some improvements in connections itself but at least now we believe that our guests will be able to use the systems we provide.

I want to go over these changes in detail but I'll do that in my next post. 

Stop Building before you "Design"

The final thing, "general design issues" was actually an internal problem - and one that I've faced many times before in other systems; The idea of building without design. 

In the old days, it used to be IT teams who built systems without design. I think that most of the IT people who were developing in the 80's or 90's can cite an interface (or ten) or an error message that they're not particularly proud of. 

It's something that I feel that the majority of today's IT teams have grown out of.  There's a lot to be said for developing with standards and libraries such as bootstrap. 

Unfortunately, one of the problems with today's systems is that by making them available for configuration by general (non-technical) users, we have once again put interface development into the hands of the untrained. 

Telling a Story, Not Showing off Features

Connections in particular, offers a richness of "applets" which in turn allows you to put "everything" on the screen at once. It's a difficult temptation to resist but if you don't resist it, you'll end up with a bunch of communities which not only all look the same but are also impenetrable to users. 

When you're putting together a community, you really need to be "telling a story".  You need to be asking;
  • Who exactly will be using my community?
    We're not talking about names here, though that can sometimes help. We're talking about attributes. What kinds of age-ranges will be using the community?  What kind of experience(s) will they be bringing with them? How technical are they (mainly high, mainly low -- or perhaps they'll have a wide range of technical experience levels).
  • What kinds of things will they be wanting to see?  
    You need to establish the language of people.  For example, unless they're very technical, they won't want to see "Files".  They might want to see "Research" or "Minutes and Agendas" or Whitepapers.  They probably won't want to see "Events" but might want to see "Meetings". Knowing what your people want is the key to labelling things correctly in Connections.
  • What do people need to get out of the System?
    Pretend that you're a user of the system. Think about what you'd want to get out of it. Perhaps you might want to visit a forum to discuss some design tips on a product?  If that's the case, don't just give your users a link to forums, create a forum (or at least a question) on design tips or on a specific product.

    In fact, I think it's fair to say that your users should never ever visit an empty forum.  You need to kickstart your forum internally (with proper discussion, not just with single questions) long before the first user enters the system. 
  • What are the top five things that a member of your community will need?
    All of the top things required by your community members should be a single click away from the home page of your community.  Anything that isn't a major outcome for your people probably shouldn't be on the front page -- or if it is, it should be much smaller.
  • How will Announcements be Made?
    Depending upon your community, you may find that you have announcements to make. It's not enough to assume that your users will see a red circle on the bell icon and investigate. We asked our user group, what they'd do if they saw a number there and some of them told us that they'd ignore it because it wasn't part of their system. ... (wow.....)

    So, if you've got a particularly big announcement to make, it follows that you should reserve some space on your front page for it. 

Contracting Artwork

The second thing about building without design is the idea of "contracting out artwork" without having a clear intention. 

In particular, don't contract artwork to simply reproduce buttons with the language of IBM Connections on them. Use the words from the language of your intended users. 

What this means is use words like Minutes or Agendas or Product Details.... not "Files" 

Don't assume that your external artwork providers will know anything about connections.  Be very specific. Tell them exactly what you need, otherwise you'll find they'll try to overwrite the whole connections experience, for example telling you to change the top menu in connections to "Red" for all of your guests.  Of course, it's possible to change that colour in your own internal company but it's not currently possible for guests. 

It's critical that you establish a guest account for the people making decisions about your community. Make sure that they know what the system looks like for guests -- because it's quite different from he "paid subscriber" screen.

Below is a screenshot showing my guest user account and highlighting things we were asked to change (but can't).  The blue bar at the top of the screen, the grey panel on the side, the bell, the words in the menus, the entire left hand menu, even the user's personal profile.

Each time we said "No, we can't change that", we were met with irritation from our business users and the designers. 


Designing FOR Connections

Ultimately, the answer was to work WITH connections, and not against it. Design things that will work in connections and plan the user experience to drive them to the things you want to engage them in.

One of the best ways to do this is to get some paper with the connections banner and grey sidebar drawn in -- and a lot of white space in the middle.   

Have your users draw navigation options in the blank space and tell them that almost anything goes in terms of static pictures and text except for overlapping hotspot circles and layers (eg: Editable text on top of graphics).  

Essentially you'll need to be able to draw a table around most of the content, so it's imperative that everything can be fitted neatly into a box.  While it's not impossible, it does introduce a lot of challenges, particularly as you move between screen resolutions. 

Here's how to explain that requirement to users.... Remember, it's only in terms of hotspots (clickable items), everything else can be a picture -- so long as the loading time isn't too long. 


and here's a blank form that you can use..


A Sample Blank form you can use. The three user-configurable areas are in red.
 
Where possible, print several forms and try to encourage your users to be creative while still considering the story (journey) that they want a user to the site to embark upon. 


A Quick Example

Here's a look at one of our internal IT communities, showing something that (while it might be the right way for overly detailed-orientated IT people like myself to work) is NOT suitable for general use by guests.  In fact, after our recent experience, I think there's some serious redesign about to happen.

What NOT to do

What to Do
Compare this with one of the clean interfaces we considered once we had our heads in the right space for this project.



In my next post, (unless something better turns up in the meantime), I'll walk through the steps to build a "clean" community.