Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blogtronix is the dog’s

Blogtronix Is the Dog's - by Dennis Howlett
Blogtronix Is the Dog's
Posted by Dennis Howlett at http://www.accmanpro.com
Original article permalink: http://www.accmanpro.com/2006/11/21/blogtronix-is-the-dogs/

Attention continues to ramp up this week for Web 2.0 collaboration, communication, knowledge management and corporate social networking platforms. Today an article was published by Dennis Howlett; who writes about innovation for accounting professionals. Dennis has written a very thoughtful and in depth article (with a catchy tongue-in-cheek title) describing the usefulness and benefits of the Blogtronix platform in todays corporate environment, and compares it to other offerings from WordPress, MoveableType, Blogger, wetpaint and Zimbio . The usefulness of the Blogtronix platform is evaluated, especially as it relates to his specific area of interest concerning accounting and financial enterprises.

Dennis is also a member of the Enterprise Irregulars. This is a group of experienced professionals who write about "smart thinking for the smart enterprise".

Blogtronix is the dog’s

I know it’s hip to say that a particular technology ‘rocks’ but it’s an expression that doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Too many tech CEOs think they’re rock stars, when they’re anything but. Can you see Larry Ellison or Henning Kagermann in spangly suits? Didn’t think so. To me, software comes in four easily recognised flavours:

* Crap
* So-so
* Not bad
* Dog’s nuts

I’m equally aware that describing technology as the dog’s nuts is not universally viewed as a great plaudit. It works for me but feel free to apply your own nomenclature. Anyway - Blogtronix fits squarely into the DN category.

Blogtronix has way too much for me to go into a detailed review here but here are the highlights:

The Offering:

The top line description is confusing. How do you categorise or explain something that includes blog, wiki, document management, content management, email campaigns all wrapped up in a single sign on application that can be assembled out of a palette of modules?

I’ve been looking for months to find tools that would serve as the basis for a solid and price competitive practice management system capable of delivery in a single application. At present, there’s nothing out there among the usual players that meets the requirements practitioners expect. There are plenty of tools which do parts of what’s needed but none that has it all. To me, Blogtonix comes the closest. So what does it have that excites me?

Document Management:

You can upload, categorise and share pretty much any kind of document type you want. That allows you to mix up Word, PDF, text files, spreadsheets, whatever in a secure manner - as we’ll see later. You can exclude certain file types if that is appropriate.

Command and Control:

Practitioners are rightly concerned that any sharable system should be capable of open sharing among those that need to share but not operate as a free for all. The current crop of consumery blog, wiki and feed aggregation tools just don’t cut it. In this category I’d include Wordpress, MovableType, Blogger, wetpaint and Zimbio. Let me stress there is nothing wrong with these tools but they don’t have what it takes to satisfy the security or compliance demands of business.

Blogtronix offers industrial strength permissioning at multiple levels. You can permission on both a permanent and temporary basis, depending on need. Think about an M&A project where you need audit, tax, due diligence and strategy staff involved and where you need to share a variety of stored and ad hoc created documents. You can use Blogtronix to create a space where selected staff see increasingly more (or less) information, depending on sensitivity or requirement.

It also means you can model the business on the basis of current organisation and make incremental changes as you gain experience in the tools.

From a compliance perspective, Blogtronix offers finely grained tracking and logging. Content creation, editing and deletion are all recorded. The use of inappropriate words can be managed by blocking or notifying moderators who in turn can take appropriate actions.

Discovery and Authority:

The fear of people of people saying outrageous things, divulging secrets or making a plain nuisance of themselves weighs on the minds of management. Some will argue that if those organisations have something to fear then, they’ve got problems. Not necessarily. Who among us can say they’re innocent of some embarrassing indiscretion?

On the other hand, as we are seeing, position does not necessarily equate to authority. I have for example argued that blogs provide an excellent talent discovery mechanism. I’m constantly falling across incredibly smart people who help shape my thinking. Do you really know where the talent is in your firm? Blogtronix provides statistical tools that allow you to identify patterns of behaviour that reveal where authority lays. This is done through an algorithm that combines page views, comments, ratings and author activity. This is searchable across topic and author and struck me as incredibly powerful and useful for all manner of HR style activities as well as for research purposes.

Blog:

The blog tools are more or less on a par with the consumer offerings. Basic design is simple (there are some 30 templates to choose from to get you going). If you have HTML and CSS skills then styling should be no problem. Ordering content on a blog page follows the Drupal method of assigning modules to left, centre or right and then clicking up or down arrows to position modules within those sections.

As with other parts of the system, both community and individual blogs can be administered and managed so that for example blog postings are moderated, approved, rejected or edited. This may sound anathema to free spirit bloggers but what about the creation of strategy documents and the discussions that go around them? How about if a competitive bid is being considered?

From a big firm or consulting perspective, this is the kind of thing that helps ensure compliance - provided it is done in a sensitive manner.

Personal blogs can include profile information. Again, publishing to a wider audience can be managed so that for example, you’re internal staff evaluations could be put out over a secure blog so there is a centralised record but without necessarily invoking privacy concerns. That facility could be used for project personnel assembly. In large firms, this is usually a nightmare because you can never be sure if you’ve got the optimum team. Using a combination of profiles plus discovery tools, you should be able to get a very close approximation.

How does Blogtronix fit?

I’ve barely scratched the surface but for me the above represent the most important points. I see this as the foundation for practice management because the integrated nature of the various modules means that you don’t have to worry about intermediary integrations from disparate systems. The one exception is accounting applications.

Blogtronix uses Microsoft .NET technology as its foundation. In very simple terms therefore, any application that spits out .NET data should be able to integrate directly with Blogtronix. Those that don’t but spit out XML anyway should be OK, with some limited technical assistance. That means you can use Blogtronix as a native repository for accounting information which in turn can be used and re-used for benchmarking, tax planning, M&A and so on. It is this combination of use/re-use, collaboration and security based compliance that makes it a front runner.

So what’s the downside?

* There is no embedded spreadsheet capability of the kind Social Text expects to include when wikiCalc is integrated. That’s a must do because the profession makes a huge deal of using spreadsheets. I suggested taking a look at EditGrid.
* Feed handling for RSS is not as deep as I’d like. I cannot readily aggregate category feeds from many sites into a single viewable page that can be published to the community as whole. I can with iUpload. At least that doesn’t seem possible right now.
* No mention of document scanning and upload though I can’t imagine it’s a problem given you can upload any document type.
* .NET - for the religious, the fact it is tied to Microsoft will be seen as a negative. I thoroughly disagree. Despite the cost issues attached to running Microsoft technology, it is and will be the technology platform of choice for many businesses into the forseeable future. Why work against it when you can work with it? the fact Blogtronix integrates directly to Sharepoint services will be a bonus for many who are looking at that technology as a collaboration platform.
*

Overall take

This may all seem over the top for small firms (<25 people) but in reality there is much to be gained from taking even a limited approach to Blogtronix. If you try and deploy everything at once, I guarantee you’ll come unstuck. But I like you can switch functionality on (and off) to suit your tempo and when you do, it can be configured and administered by business users according to your requirements. IT need not have a great deal of involvement but will provide valuable guidance on security standards and so on. The fact you cannot lose records and documents unless you make a positive choice to do so through deletion is a massive bonus.

This really is a ‘one size fits most’ service that you can operate on a hosted basis, have as an IT appliance or run as an application inside your own firewall. That makes huge sense. It means for example you can go from one to another form of deployment as your needs change. It overcomes the SaaS v on-premise argument that bedevils many discussions about the future of applications. It also means you don’t need to have a lot of additional IT in place or think about running the application through a portal - which has proven to be something of a two-edged sword with complexity in the background but having to be managed across multiple applications.

I won’t discuss pricing as I know there are changes afoot that will make Blogtronix extremely attractive. The company has also said it plans a free multi-user version that will have all the functionality available but limited by numbers of user. That means there is no excuse not to give it a go.

I know that efficient practice management is a big, big issue. I’m sure the Blogtronix toolbox provides a solid starting point. You can arrange a demonstration through this link. If you do then be prepared to spend a good amount of time. I had 3 hours for which I thank George and John. You can also obtain a 30-day trial or have a free limited functionality 25-user version from this link.


Technorati Tags: Blogtronix, integration, Microsoft, wiki, wordpress, workflow

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