Friday, November 18, 2016

Microsoft - Clear Leaders in the Race for Digital Identity

One of the less obvious trends of the last five years has been the race to own people's "digital identities". It started in earnest with Facebook and Gmail and it soon spread to Apple and LinkedIn.

More recently, we've seen Microsoft and IBM jumping on the bandwagon and I think that's when I started to realise that there was much more to this than simply "targeted advertising".

Quiet Beginnings 

At this point, I'm not sure that all of the founding companies in this revolution fully understand what is going on - and indeed, there are many companies out there today who are still using digital identities simply as a means of easily logging people onto their systems, storing user preferences and targeting advertising.

Certainly that was the original plan on our own systems.

Taking it to the next level 

Digital identity is the cornerstone in any form of electronic ledger system. It's one of the key foundations of commerce.

People don't make significant investments with untrustworthy partners. If you don't personally trust them, then at least your bank trusts their bank.

Take away the banks and you take away the trust - unless you can find another party with trusted connections to both sides in the commercial arrangement.

Having an agreement that a transaction actually took place is important but provided that both sides of the transaction have an "unalterable ledger" it’s not too big a leap.

The real trick, particularly in the identity theft minefield of today’s electronic world, comes in proving that the parties involved were really who they said they were.

The Race is on

So, how do you prove identity on a global scale? Well, the banks certainly have their checklists of Category A and B documents but these only serve to prove your identity to them. Their identity information is not shared and it's certainly not publicly available.

You can’t lean on the bank’s trust and/or authentication for non-banking systems. 

You’d think that a government agency would step in and take ownership of identity but obviously that’s not going to happen on a global scale. What could happen is that governments could agree on a common API to allow the verification of identity. If that’s going to happen, it’s still a long way off.

True, shared global identity is clearly going to come from the private sector.

The real question is, who will become the predominant player in that space? While the global digitial identities will need to be shared, having the lion's share of the identities means that you have unprecedented control over the nature and structure of the APIs, plus of course, any additional services, such as advertising.

At one point, I would have thought that Google was in the best spot but at the moment, seeing how the Windows, XBox, Office 365 and OneDrive logins are all starting to drift towards a single digital identity with biometrics provided by the Cortana AI. My bet is in Microsoft.

... and given that Microsoft is starting to offer blockchain development services via Azure, how long will it be before we can build our blockchains using Microsoft's digital identity as a "Category A" document?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fixing Word 2016 Crashes when Opening Older Documents with Macros on Windows 7

We have a lot of documents and they go back several decades. Many of them  are still relevant today, even if they're only background to current projects. The problem is that Word doesn't like its own file formats.

It won't open documents created with versions of Word earlier than 1997 and it crashes with anything saved as .DOC which contains macros. 

There's some solutions to these problems though;

Opening Older Documents

It's possible to change Word 2016's settings to allow you to open old documents;

  1. Click File, 
  2. Then Options
  3. Then Trust Center
  4. Click on the button marked Trust Center Settings
  5. Click on File Block settings.
  6. UNTick the document types that you want to be able to open and click Ok
Of course, just because you CAN, doesn't mean that you should. Word is less stable with these settings turned on, and it's able to open documents which could be potentially dangerous. 

If you're looking at your company's archives though, it should be fine but you might want to consider installing LibreOffice or using Google Docs (both of which are free) for older documents instead.

Crashes on Macro Enabled Documents

In our case, we were experiencing regular crashes on documents created with specific templates. The templates contained Macros (but those macros only run on document creation, not when they're opened). 

Nevertheless, we were able to demonstrate that simply opening a file resulted in an immediate crash. These documents were okay on Word 2003, 2010 and 2013 but as soon as we upgraded to 2016, the crashes started happening everywhere. 

We turned to Microsoft for help but didn't get much direction there....

Then yesterday, I did an upgrade of a couple of our PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10. 
... and the crashes stopped. 

Clearly there's something different about Windows 10 that makes Word 2016 much happier. 

Embracing Microsoft while keeping Domino

When I first started this blog, my aim was to stay with mainly IBM (Lotus) Notes and Domino, hence the URL of DominoGavin. 

Things changed over the years and I've found myself wanting to talk about all manner of technology brands from Symantec to Blackberry, Google, Windows and Linux. (Hence the renaming of the blog to "Real World Computing'. 

Many of my most recent posts were on IBM connections. I've also tried to cover a few business IT concepts.

Things are changing again and we've reached the point where it makes sense to swap out some of our IBM technology solutions for Microsoft ones.

We're not leaving Domino, it's still an important part of our strategy but we are planning to move our mail from Verse to Outlook and our collaboration from Connections to the Microsoft jumble of OneDrive, Yammer, SharePoint and Delve.

All of this while rebranding and moving office in a typical “office-politics” hands-tied scenario. It's going to be a fun ride.

I’ll still be keeping a foot in the IBM camp as we currently have another company still in Verse/Connections and in the Google camp too, as we have a company on the amusingly named G-Suite.

Stay tuned…

In the meantime, I'm off to my first Microsoft event in years (since Steve Ballmer took over - I'm glad I missed that era). Today I'm heading out to a Microsoft developer conference in Sydney to hear Satya Nadella speak.

So long as there are no “monkey dances”, I think I'll be okay.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How to Use Microsoft Outlook with Your IBM Verse (in the cloud) Mail

So, all the newcomers in your company want to use outlook? IBM have put a lot of work into making the Notes client look and feel like outlook and they've given us Verse which is an acquired taste but if you like Google's inbox, it's good. 

Unfortunately, there's just just no pleasing some people. 

If you don't have Notes and Domino apps, then there's nothing at all holding you back. Nobody without Notes/Domino applications (or perhaps a huge investment in IBM Connections) should be using IBM's mail offerings.

On the other hand, if you do have apps for which there's no equivalent in the Microsoft world, here's another option that you might want to try...

Give your users Outlook but point it to their Verse Mail. That way, you can concentrate on either migrating your apps to another environment or webifying them to the extent that there's no reason to use the notes client. 

In this post, I want to discuss how to access Outlook mail - Note, this isn't a migration and you can seamlessly switch between Verse and Outlook whenever you want.

This is Cloud - You Can't Do it Alone

First of all, it's important to remember that since we're dealing with Cloud systems, you can't do anything significant without raising an IBM Support Request. Our mistake was to read the instructions online and assume that we could do the steps - we even added a quick script to add the required extra data to the person records in the address book. 

Unfortunately, you can't do this one by yourself. You have to get the cloud team on it. 

So, logon to the support portal and raise a request for them to add the IBM Mail Support for MS Outlook (IMSMO) entitlement. You'll have to specifically mention the users that you want to give access to. 

When IBM gets back to you and says it's done, you'll need to go into the Admin area on your IBM Connections portal;

  1. Login to IBM Connections
  2. Click on Admin, then Manage Organisation (Top right corner)
  3. Click User Accounts on the left hand side.
  4. Locate your user and open their record.
  5. Click past the first page to your user's subscriptions page.
  6. You'll find a new option called MS Outlook Access. Click it.
  7. Click Next and then finish to make your changes permanent.

...And you'll need to download the IMSMO Client

To do this, go to the IBM Connections portal;

  1. Click on your profile picture (top left corner)
  2. Choose Downloads and Setup.
  3. This takes you to a long and uncomfortably unexplained screen.
  4. The option to look for is called Software Download for IBM Notes Client and Other Entitled On-Premises Software (that wasn't obvious until you eliminated all the other choices - Who writes these titles?).
  5. In the "Find by Search Text" part of the downloads screen, type IMSMO and choose the option that appears.

  6. The one you want is the Client, so choose this and Agree to the licensing and click download.
  7. Then ... if you're like me, do the whole thing again because IBM defaults to the unsupported (I use Chrome) Java-based IBM Download director instead of http ... grrr IBM.
  8. Your download should start.

Install the IMSMO Client

So, once you've got your executable downloaded, it's simply a matter of running the executable to install it. It's just a standard install, with mostly, "next, next, next" options. The installer will need to pause and install the Visual Studio 2010 Tools for Office Runtime but it's a quick 38MB download and just a matter of clicking install 

Once it's all installed, you can start Microsoft Outlook. 

Configuring Microsoft Outlook

This bit needs to be done on the target person's computer. 

Start Microsoft Outlook. In my case, I'm using Outlook 2016 because we have an Office 365 entitlement. Presumably you can use other options though. 

  1. At the Welcome to Microsoft Outlook dialog box, click Next.
  2. At "Do you want to setup outlook to connect to an email account?", choose Yes and click next.
  3. At the next screen, ignore the detail and choose Manual Setup or Additional Server types and click next.
  4. Choose Other, then IBM Mail Sync (if this option isn't visible, you didn't install the software properly), then click Next.

  5. On the next screen, you need to put in your name and email address.
  6. Then choose the server type of IBM Connections Cloud and click Next.

  7. The IBM Mail/Connections login page will appear in a window. It's not pretty but it works. Type your email and password.
  8. If all goes well, you should see a screen of green buttons.  If these buttons are red, there's probably a problem with the cloud configuration (you get red buttons if you try to use the connector without having set up the entitlement).

And now you upgrade...

For some reason, IBM doesn't provide you with the latest version of IBM Mail Sync, so you'll be prompted to upgrade as soon as you're connected. You need to do this because your users probably won't have a clue ... and they'll keep getting prompted. 

The order of these next steps is important; 

  1. Click Yes on the IBM download prompt (you want it to fetch the software).
  2. In the meantime, outlook will prompt you to restart it and there's a finish button that needs to be clicked there too.
  3. The IBM Message will float above everything else. DON'T CLICK IT - It will fail if you just go clicking because it can't touch outlook while it's open.
  4. Move the IBM message out of the way and switch to Outlook.
  5. Click Close on the What's New Message
  6. Your computer will start to Synch.
  7. Close Microsoft Outlook.
  8. Now Click YES on the IBM Installation - it will walk you through another setup. Luckily again this is a Next, Next, Finish type install and it only takes a minute.
  9. Now you can start outlook again. 


So far, it all seems to work well. I've noticed a couple of things though;

  • It takes slightly longer for mail to reach outlook (or to come from outlook) than it does for Notes (and much longer than Verse).
  • When composing a mail ONLY the local address book is available - other ones cannot be selected from.
  • Only local email addresses and groups will work - It's not just that they don't display. You can't use them.  Of course, there are lots of ways to import existing contacts via CSV etc.  It's simply that if you have a central contacts system, it's not going to work properly in outlook. 

That's it. 
You've now moved over to outlook.... enjoy the "new world" where of course the grass is greener. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Difference Between IBM and Microsoft's Social Systems - An Analogy

We're currently in the process of trying to set up a Microsoft cloud environment. No, we're not giving up on Connections. We're straddling a couple of environments.

The Microsoft experience hasn't been overwhelming so far but that's for another post. Right now, I want to talk about some of the fundamental differences between IBM and Microsoft’s attempts to conquer the social business market.

...and what better way to tell it than an allegorical tale?

Two houses

So let's assume that instead of cloud collaboration platforms, we're talking about “houses”.

Both fulfill the same basic functions; being a "house" for your data and a place where the people that live there (and invited guests) can access that data.

The real difference is in the way that the two companies have gone about preparing their homes.

The Engineer's House

One company, let's call them the engineers, have focused on infrastructure. They've added rooms, strengthened foundations and rewired the building. Sure, not everything works and they're forever fixing things but it's a pretty capable house with lots and lots of rooms.

Unfortunately, while the foundations are excellent, the general look of the house leaves a lot to be desired. It's not comfortable to live in because there's been very little work on the visible parts of the house.

The Designer House

The other house is being built by designers. They've found a nice “square tile” theme to go with and they've been spreading it to every room.

Living in this house is easy and comfortable. Once you get used to the look, it's pretty easy to get around.

Of course, there's not enough bedrooms for everyone and there are plenty of things that look like doors but turn out to be just paintings of doors in places where future rooms might one day be.

Two Different Approaches

These two approaches are both valid in today's software world. After all, nobody can build everything at once.

Modern software operates on the principle of partial deployment followed by constant incremental upgrades (thanks for that Google!!)

It's now considered okay to ship incomplete and/or buggy software and keep patching and upgrading it as you find time to work on it.

The question is, if your software is going to be incomplete, what bits would you prefer to be incomplete (and constantly changing)? The foundations or the user interface?

IT and Shadow IT.

In our house analogy, the IT department are like the surveyors who go into the house and hammer at the walls testing the strength of the house. They also have to test the appliances to determine what works and what doesn't.

Most IT departments are trained to see the big picture, so they'll especially be looking out for stability, versatility, security and recovery. Usability is important too but it's traditionally an area where IT, partly because it's staffed by techies, tends to be less diligent.

Shadow IT are the other departments who want to make IT decisions without involving the proper IT resources.  Shadow IT aren’t qualified and they aren't experienced in these matters. As a result, they are more concerned with appearances and apparent functionality than they are with safety, security and stability.

It's fine to let shadow IT help look for new systems but it's important to make sure that no major business decisions are made without proper qualified IT involvement. The best houses are not always the prettiest ones. 

Friday, September 09, 2016

Making IBM Verse Easier to get to...

One of the most frustrating things about the whole IBM Verse experience is the difficulty in getting to the application. If you go through connections, you have to go through normal mail first. This ruins the experience because it isn't “seamless” to the users.

The obvious answer is to bookmark the verse site but there's a few other things that we can do to really  smarten the experience up.

Making Verse the Default

The first thing to do is to make Verse the default mail view. To do this;

  1. Go into Connections.
  2. On the top Right, click your profile picture
  3. In the drop down menu, choose "Mail and Calendar Settings"

  4. On the next screen, click Mail (on the left) - Actually, it should already be selected.
  5. Tick the box marked - [x] Make IBM Verse my default mail experience.
  6. You should see a highlight telling you that your changes were saved. 

Setting up a Decent Shortcut/Favourite Link

So, you could of course, add a favourite to the bookmark bar or drag it out to the desktop. I tend to do that anyway with all the PCs I set up. 

I recently realised that there's a much better way to do things. 

Since Chrome is my default browser, I'll cover it there; 

In Chrome

  1. Go to the IBM Verse Site
  2. Click on the Hamburger Icon (three bars on the top right)
  3. Click More Tools
  4. Click Add to Desktop

  5.  A dialog box will appear. - You Might want to change it from IBM Verse to IBM Verse Email depending upon how your users recognise verse.
  6. Click Add.

That's it.  You should now see a VERSE icon on your desktop.  This is much better than a dragging a shortcut out of the taskbar because you get a proper icon.

Getting Your Desktop Icons into the Start Menu and Taskbar

So now you should have a nice little Verse icon on your desktop. 
To really improve access though, you need to get it into the start menu and onto the taskbar. 

To do this simply;
  1. Right click on the desktop icon.
  2. Choose Pin to taskbar
  3. Right click on the desktop icon again
  4. Choose Pin to Star Menu. 
Here's a shot showing Verse in both those places.

For IE Users

However dirty it makes me feel, I guess I have to at least acknowledge that some people out there are still using Internet Explorer ... so this tip is for them. 

If you want to bookmark using IE, click on the cog in the top right corner and choose Add Site to Start Menu

You'll be prompted with a dialog box... just click Add. 

Once you've got your icon in the start menu, you can right-click on it and choose to pin it to the taskbar. (or you could copy/paste the icon to the desktop). 

One thing that is interesting is that the Chrome Verse icon looks a whole lot better than the IE one. 

Changing the Default Email Links

In order to really sell the Verse experience, you need to make sure that when your users click email links, they open Verse, not Notes.  I've already covered this in an earlier post  (see: here).

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 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 ( 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 ( 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 (  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. 


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" 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. 


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

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)


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.
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=""}{/param}
{param name="wmode" value="transparent"}{/param}


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.