Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's the gap?

At the office, we're working on a strategy around how we maintain and publish various types of technical information and instructions.  For instance, there's been a big emphasis around transition of system maintenance and support responsibility from project/implementation teams to support teams.  What kind of documentation is required?  Where should that documentation be stored?  What format?  Who should create it?  etc.

One of the big cultural battles has been a solution of MS Office documents and MS SharePoint versus MediaWiki.  It'll be obvious, but just to lay it out up front, I stand firmly on the MediaWiki side of this discussion. 

On the Office/Sharepoint side, you have an argument that "everyone knows how to use MS Office applications; cut and paste of screenshots is easy; you don't have to know how to program the wiki."

On the MediaWiki side, you have an argument that "Sharepoint organization doesn't make any sense; searching across different sites is awkward; you always have open a separate document in a separate application to see what you really want to see; and it just doesn't feel webby enough."

This argument from the SharePoint side that you have to program the wiki is the one their leadership is most adamant about.  "Our analysts aren't programmers," they say.  We're using a wysiwyg editor!  Is a little wikitext markup really programming?  I think the ability to pickup on a little wikitext is just like the ability to learn how to use formulas in MS Excel... and if you can't write a simple SUM() or =A1+B1 is MS Excel, then you don't have any business being in an IS job... or really any business support job for that matter.

Perhaps that's a strong statement, but I think that any IS person should feel comfortable picking up a little HTML or wikitext markup.  I often hold up my wife, an English major / office worker / writer, as an example of "if she can do it, then an IS person should be able to do it!"  But perhaps I'm looking at the wrong set of characteristics. 

Maybe the gap is a generational/cultural one rather than an educational/cultural one.  There's probably a more articulate way to describe that, but what I'm getting at is that my wife is also comfortable with blogging, Facebook, and the online / social community in general.  I wonder what percentage of people in the SharePoint camp are regular contributors to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks?

What is the gap between someone who thinks the business world is a collection of MS Word documents and someone who things the world is a more directly accessible, public, and transparent collection of content?  And how do we get people across that gap?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,
    Autodesk has another way of collaborative workflow. They created a product called autodesk vault, which allows multiple users to work on one particular file. Then since 1 file can contain numerous "drawings" (typically built in layouts much as the sheet tabs work in excel, they created a publish command, which is a smart system that allows you to do just that, publish the drawing set whether to digital or paper media, in a much more efficient manner than say printing each. Basically rocking the Word type publishing World! (BTW I see Word has stolen "format painter" as they call it from AutoCAD. The command in CAD which was around forever was called Match or simply type ma to match properties of items in your drawing I won't complain though, I wanted just such feature in a wordproessor for a long time!)

    Beyond just collaborating on a file, the ability to collaborate across about any real/physical border such as an ocean, state line, etc. to create a design and now even take that design and implement it into machine controlled equipment, survey devices that have been docked by field crews, and similar, has essentially allowed my firm to seem or act like a much larger company than it actually is! As for ease of use though, I'm glad it's more difficult than say communicating on facebook. Afterall, if everyone could do what my company does, why would they need me!?

    I don't think the gap is generational or related to one's education. I think it's brought about due to technological overload and as you noted above the "culture" that a user adapts to and prefers. The market is flooded with so many options, few of which all behave the same, yet do much of the same things. Take social networking, there was my space, facebook, twitter, now Buzz, all of which behave slightly different. Who has the time to learn how all of them work (I could say the same in my work, you've got Terramodel, Paydirt, Autodesk, Arcview, Bentley, AgTek, Carlson, SoftPoint, and I'm sure many others all vying for some form of computer aided design status). Essentially you end up with communites who believe their way (culture) is the best, the easiest and the only way to go! Remember back when we were in Junior High and High School, we had the exact same conflict, that between Mac or PC and each of us thought our way was the best or the easiest. Clearly there was no generational or educational difference, we're the same age, and went to the same schools. It became the technolog we selected that created a gap in each of our ability to perform the task the other guy's way. Just as I would not be able to produce a drawing set in Bentley since I'm an Autodesk guy without taking the time to learn Bentley. As such you can usually count on getting the design you ask for from me, in an Autodesk format and methodolgy. You hit it right on the head when you called it "a cultural battle". You've got sharepoint culture vs. mediawiki culture at your firm. A culture war brought about by technology selection, not generation or education.