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EchoSign 3.0 Released – the Complexity Dilemma

Echosign, the leading Web-based document e-signature / distribution / management provider has just released version 3.0, with major updates.

The UI got significantly revamped, there are new subscription levels to manage up to thousands of documents, new forms were introduced, but the most important change per CEO Jason Lemkin is the introduction of complex workflows – a definite need for large corporations:

Hundreds of new workflow options have been added to EchoSign. The first group has been automatically added to the Account tab for Team and Enterprise customers. Want to sign ‘packs’ of documents? No problem. Routed signed copies of every contract in your company to a global e-mail address? Just tell us where. Collect title, company name? Whatever you want. Select who can — and cannot — sign in your company? Done, with one click.

And for the most complex workflows, EchoSign now offers a novel “Signature Workflow Language” where Enterprise customers can craft their own custom document worfklows. Want (A) your customer to fax sign your contract, (B) auto cc your sales rep, (C) autoroute to legal for electronic counter-signing, (D) but only by certain authorized signers, and then (E) have signed copies automatically sent back to the (F) customer, (G) legal, (H) sales ops, (I) accounting and (J) the sales rep? Now, no problem. Contact your account manager for access here and configuring workflow options beyond those you can set yourself on the Account tab.”

Let’s stop for a minute here: complexity is typically the last thing a software CEO would point out in his announcement, but Jason handles it with class and humor, for good reason. The illustration he picked (how did he find this gem?) shows a decidedly simple “process” made awfully complex by introducing far too many steps and “technology” prone to failure. EchoSign, on the other hand has earned a reputation of simplifying processes originally made complex by people, rules and lack of technology. I trust Jason and team – they will likely manage to reduce complexity, even while embracing it.

By the way, EchoSign is not only for large corporations, it’s for businesses of any size. I’m a one-person shop, and used it a few times. Even now as I type this post in Zoho Writer, I could just click on DigiSign (see highlight below) and have it routed to Jason to sign off. Not that I need to, after all, that would be …complexity. smile_eyeroll

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Read/Write Intranet 2007

Rod Boothby is running a Read/Write Intranet Idol – it’s a poll I invite you to participate in, so I am attaching it at the bottom. But first, it gives me a chance to share some of my (wiki)-thoughts.

The list is a mix of industry behemoths (Microsoft, IBM Lotus), emerging but established brands (Atlassian‘s Confluence, Socialtext, WordPress), relatively known startups and quite a few obscure names. The latter probably not by pure chance: both Rod and I are on the Selection Committee for the next Under the Radar Conference on Office 2.0, and scouting for candidates we have made quite a few new discoveries, including some of these “obscure” names, that likely won’t remain obscure for long.

Perhaps the biggest “discovery” for me was Brainkeeper, a user-friendly enterprise wiki startup that officially launches today. Totally out of left field, they aim to be like market-leader Confluence in functionality yet have a friendly UI like Wetpaint. Oh, and add niceties like Workflow (Itensil?) and an API. Like I said before sometimes it pays to *not* be first on the market …

It was really interesting to watch the poll dynamics change yesterday and this morning. First, with only a handful votes cast unknown little Brainkeeper was leading the chart. Another leader was Koral, a content collaboration startup I’ve been planning to write about way too long now (until I pull my act together, see two reviews by Ismael and John Wilson). What’s content collaboration? It’s content management without the pain of “management”. As much as I am a fan of wikis, not all companies will embrace them: Koral helps those who mostly work with desktop documents (MS Office) share, update, collaborate painlessly.

Back to the poll: as more voters came in, predictably the “brand names” strengthened their position and the “obscure” ones fell somewhat behind. Still with 117 votes cast, I believe it’s mostly InnovationCreators’s primary reader-base, where Microsoft Sharepoint or Lotus Notes Blogsphere are not exactly popular. Like it or not those products will make a killing on the corporate market. So “brand name” here means the likes of Confluence by Atlassian, Socialtext, WordPress, Movable Type…etc.

Confluence’s #1 position on the list reflects it’s real-life market position: absolute leader in market share, revenue, functionality. Of course to maintain that position they can’t just sit on their laurels and they know that. At a really productive meeting with the San Francisco team recently we discussed their development plans, most of which I cannot share for now. However, I am happy to share that in the not-so-distant future Confluence will offer a hosted version – something I’ve repeatedly asked for:-).

As for competitor Socialtext, they revamped the product a few months ago: while I was fairly critical of some of the functional misses, the single biggest improvement was the UI: they went from an outright ugly product to a pleasant-looking, clean, friendly one. In fact this, along with other players (JotSpot, Wetpaint, Zoho, Brainkeeper) has turned the table: formerly good-looking Confluence now feels a bit … well, 2005-ish (?) Still the best, but somewhat boring. They are keenly aware of this and improving the UI is one of Atlassian’s key priorities.

JotSpot is in hibernation in the meantime, although TechCrunch speculates it may open up soon. Zoho is a newcomer to the wiki space, but not one to underestimate: they may just leapfrog all other players when they tightly integrate their full Suite (Write, Show, Sheet, Create) thus creating a truly powerful read/write/collaborate platform online.

Last, but not least two smaller wiki-players from the list: Itensil combines workflow with a wiki (now, religious wiki-fans deny the need for any structure or workflow, which is probably OK for a small group, but workflow is the way large corporations work), and System One combines a wiki with relevant enterprise search.

Without further ado (wasn’t this enough?) here’s the poll, please cast your vote:

You can click “view results” after you cast your vote, then “Complete results” to se more stats on the Zoho Polls site. Once there, click the “Rating” header to sort the list in ranking order – right now, with 117 votes cast Confluence is #1 with an average of 3.54, closely followed by Brainkeeper’s 3.50.

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SAP Duet Video

Having seen it at SAPPHIRE 06, I wrote about the importance of Duet for both SAP and Microsoft: “Duet’s importance by far exceeds what the limited number of currently available scenarios might imply: for SAP it means potentially tripling / quadrapling their user base, even if indirectly, and for Microsoft it’s another way to lock users into their Office suite.”

Jason Wood posted an insightful, analytical article on his blog with screenprints and all the bells and whistles.

Now there is an online video showing several scenarios. Use the pull-down menu to select the different tracks available.

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SAP Without SAP – Duet

(Updated)
More than a decade ago as Project Manager implementing SAP solutions I could not understand why the Client’s PM showed absolutely no interest in getting SAP-trained, or even attempting to log on to the SAP system. The only software product he ever touched was email. Years passed, and as I climbed the ladder, I found myself in a similar situation: locked in to Office products most of the time – just like millions of corporate employees whose daily life does not involve actively conducting transactions in their Enterprise system (SAP). They need to occasionally review/approve an item or react to an exception alert though. They are the (often management-level) employees who will not directly use SAP, even though timely access to SAP data is critical to their decision-making process – or to somebody else’s daily job.

Thanks to Duet they can now have the SAP data at their fingerprints without touching SAP itself. The long-awaited (and often promised ) SAP-Microsoft Office integration has finally arrived.

What was announced at last years’s SAPPHIRE in Europe as the Mendocino Project became a product, the second preview of which was released a week before SAPPHIRE 06 under the name Duet. Considering Microsoft’s role, just having a friendly name is a major achievement itself – it could have been something as friendly as Microsoft Office Extension to mySAP ERP 2004, Enterprise Version, Release 1.0. (read Microsoft Uber-Blogger Robert Scoble on product naming…)

I’ve seen a presentation of some of the current features as well as the roadmap for the next year, and also had a chance to sit down with Dennis Moore, GM of Emerging Solutions, who provided the blogger group with additonal insight.

Currently Duet (which is a boxed product) supports MS Office 2003 and mySAP ERP 2004, and there are 4 business scenarios available:

  • Leave Management
  • Time Management
  • Organization Management
  • Budget Monitoring

The final release is due in June 06 and will soon be followed by two value packs.

Value Pack 1 is due in Q3 06, new scenarios will include recruitment and travel management, enhanced analytics and support for mySAP ERP 2005, the current platform which, per Shai Aggassi will stay for years to come.

Value Pack 2 is expected in Q4 06 with some line of business functionality becoming available, e.g. Sales contacts, activity, Purchasing. MS Office 2007 will be supported.

It’s important to clarify that Office will not become the primary user interface of the “transactional worker”, i.e. you will not be creating product masters, running a shop-floor, etc. What Duet is, is a natural fit for a workflow (think of roles, limits ..etc) -based processing of messages and underlying data triggered by events, rules and exceptions.

Duet’s importance by far exceeds what the limited number of currently available scenarios might imply: for SAP it means potentially tripling / quadrapling their user base, even if indirectly, and for Microsoft it’s another way to lock users into their Office suite.
Duet is a step in SAP’s declared strategy of opening up access to their data and processes via a number of user interfaces, including Office, Portal, Mobile devices ..etc. It also fits in the “Sap Simplified” philosophy of owning the Business Processes and letting go of the user experience.

I tend to disagree with AMR’s concern on the large number of prerequisites: mySAP ERP 2004 or 2005, MS Office, Exchange server, and specific applications for some scenarios, e.g. E-Recruiting 6.0 for Recruitment Management, mySAP SRM 5.0 for purchasing management and CRM 4.0 for sales activity management. Yes, these are prerequisites, but the point is that even though Duet is a boxed shrink-wrapped (thanks for the comment!) product (I’ve seen a white box at SAPPHIRE, whether real or mock-up), it is not expected to sell as a standalone product on it’s own merits. It will expand access to additional users within corporate customers already using both SAP and Microsoft products, i.e. likely to already have the prerequisites.

Talk about prerequisites, pricing for Duet, and specifically the underlying SAP access will be an interesting challenge, since SAP’s model is typically charging $$$$ a smaller user base, while MS relies on $ from a large number of users – there has to be a model in between.

Not everyone in Microsoft welcomes Duet: the folks at MS Dynamics are clearly unhappy. They even produced a so-called White Paper comparing Duet to their own solution, Snap. “So-called”, because it does not even attempt to be unbiased. It praises Dynamics and Snap, while listing the dry facts about Duet, completely forgetting the fact that as Enterprise systems Dynamics and SAP are really apples and oranges… or I should say Ford vs. Rolls Royce.

IBM isn’t sleeping either: IBM to sing in Harmony with SAP to match Duet. IBM’s Harmony, which I haven’t had a chance to see, claims to play a similar role with Lotus Notes. It clearly is a competitive product, as far as Duet (which is jointly owned by MS and SAP) is concerned – but from SAP’s point of view, it’s just one more user interface, exposing more knowledge workers to SAP. The more the merrier.

Related blog posts:

Update (5/23) : Fellow SAPPHIRE blogger and SAP/MSFT investor Jason Wood posted a very detailed, thorough analysis on his blog – with screen prints and all the bells and whistles. Oh, and Jason – here’s my pick for a famous duo whose duet (pun intended) had an impact on the world. Update (5/30): Here’s an entire new blog dedicated to Duet (well, actually discussing Duet while promoting a 3rd-party solution). Thanks, Vinnie for pointing it out.

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SAP’s Vision on the Changing Role of CIO’s

(Updated)
SAP is not a technology company, it’s the world’s leading business process company – says Shai Agassi, President of SAP’s Product and Technology Group.

Niel Robertson, one of the SAPPHIRE bloggers (or the Brotherhood as we’re often referred to) thinks through the consequences in an excellent article, The New Corporate World Order. It’s a very deep, thoughtful post, simply too good to summarize, please just read it. I was trying to find where I heard Shai express similar thoughts, and I realized it wasn’t at SAPPHIRE 2006, but at Software 2006, just a few weeks earlier. Here’s the relevant slide:

The entire presentation, titled Business Process Co-Innovation; “Enterprise 3.0″ is available in PDF format here.

Update (5/23): Niel’s original posts created quite a debate, so he reposted the comments here. Wow, comments take over.. this is the real conversation!