IBM Connections Folders #1: Community Folders

Last week CR4 for IBM Connections 4.5 came out. An intermediate update that had a few new options for file management in IBM Connections. One of which was the ability to add Communities folders. Until now the standard option to get a folder in a community Files section was to create one in your personal files and share that with the community. Control and ownership would however remain with the user, not the community. This has now been extended with the option to create a folder specifically in a Community itself. It does however pose some questions as now there are two (or three – depending on if your organization has implemented CCM) types of folders a user can use within a community. And all have their own specific features and quirks so time to do a little comparison!

Ok, first of all… Folders in a social environment like IBM Connections don’t necessarily work the same as folders we are used to in for instance a file system. I’m not comparing them to that and I think neither should you. However…. as they are called folders and look like folders and in many ways act like those folders in an ordinary file system, users will think they are…  So it is important to understand what these folders in IBM Connections do exactly and how they function and to explain that to the user. It could make a big difference in keeping vital information safe and secure.

Folders in Communities

What type of folders do we have in IBM Connections Communities?

1). Shared Folders: In the personal files section of IBM Connections users have always had the option to create (Shared) folders. These can be used to organize files and can also be shared with either everyone (public) or with selective people/communities. If shared with a community the folder will show up in the folders tab of the Files section for that community. Files placed in the folder are visible to all users in the community as well as any other user or community that folder was shared with. Depending on the access given to the community by the original folder owner community members can also edit and even delete files in that folder.

2). CCM is a add-on feature that can be installed with IBM Connections to allow for (limited) document management features within Communities – including folders. The big difference to Shared & Community folders is that folders within CCM allow for nesting (subfolders, e.g. folders within folders) and for selectively limiting access to files for community members within folders and even the sub folder levels. In contrast: Community & Shared folders only have one access level which applies to the whole community they are shared with. Meaning that all community members are either reader, contributor or owner whereas a CCM Folder allows you to specify that for instance only a subset of community members can edit files in that folder and all others can only read. There is one restriction: Community members can never be denied access to a CCM folder. They will always have at least Reader access.

3). Community folders is the new kid on the block. This feature came out with version 4.5 CR4 and allows users to create folders directly in the Community Files. Why is this important? Well because ownership of that folder now solely lies with the community. A community folder can never be shared outside the community and someone who leaves the community (if it is a restricted community) will no longer have access to the folder or community files in it. Community folders also allow you to selectively “Follow” a folder. A great option if you want to be informed of updates to a specific folder but not to other community events.

Example of a folders section in the community files showing both a community as well as shared folder:
 shared and community folders
Example of a CCM folder containing both several files as well as a subfolder:
CCM folder

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So… Now we know what we have it is time to look at some important things to keep in mind while using folders. In the next few days I will go into this in a few follow up blogs. First up is how Ownership is arranged in the different types of folders, so keep tuned

 

Shared folders – potential security issue

IBM Connections allows users to share personal folders with groups, communities and users. An ideal option to share sets of documents/files with multiple target audiences at the same time. There are however some caveats. Especially in situations where Shared Folders are used to share potentially sensitive information with Restricted (secured) communities. If your organization uses Shared Folders I would strongly advise looking at the below example to get an idea of the potential risks so you can assess if this is something that could cause problems in your organization:

An example:

User A creates a Shared Folder in his personal IBM Connections Files and places some files in it.

Folder_1

He then shares this folder with a community called “Demo Community” of which he is a member and which has restricted access. The folder is now visible and accessible in the Demo community to all community members:

folder_2

Both User A as well as the community members can see the folder is shared with the community in the “Sharing” tab of the folder itself:

Folder_3

The Community admin then decides that User A should no longer be allowed access to the information in the community and revokes his access. User A cannot longer open the community.

As the Test folder was a personal folder that he shared with the Demo community though, User A is still able to access the folder from his personal Files&Folders section. If he looks at the  “Sharing” tab of the folder there is no mention of the Demo Community anymore, it looks as if it is a private folder:

Folder_5

In reality though, the folder is still shared with the Demo Community and both visible and accessible to the members of that community. If they look at the “Sharing” tab of the Test Folder, “Demo Community” ís shown:

Folder_10Effectively this means that they can still access, edit, delete and add files in the folder from within the community:

Folder_9

When they do, User A can see and access these newly added files in his folder but it must be very confusing for him to see users that are not listed in his Sharing settings perform actions on files in his folder:

Folder_8

So what’s the problem?

a). User A doesn’t see the name of the “Demo Community” as an entity with which this folder is shared after he was taken out of the community, so he has no way of knowing it is still accessible to the community members.

b). Because he can’t see that it is still shared with the restricted community, he can’t remove the sharing option either. Effectively this means he has no control over the folder access anymore apart from deleting the whole folder.

c). Even though he is no longer part of the Demo Community, his folder is. Users in that community (which is restricted) would have a reasonable expectation that the  information they share within that community is limited only to members of that community. In reality though any files they place in this folder will be visible to User A (no longer a member of the community) and any other communities, groups or users he chooses to share the folder with.

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I understand that the above situation is extreme and not likely to happen very often but it is important to be aware of this.  There are other options that can be used instead of Shared Folders like CCM folders and the new Community folders (released in CR4 of IBM Connections 4.5). These are not owned by a user but by the community and would therefore not impose the same security flaw. I will be publishing another blog on the differences between Shared, Community and CCM folders over the next few days for those interested.

IBM Connections 4.5 and Connections Content Manager available

As announced the IBM Connections 4.5 release and the Connections Content Manager add-on were made available for download today through the appropriate channels. The following sites give information on features, links to relevant content and pricing:

Enjoy!

IBM Connections 4.5 and Connections Content Manager release dates announced

IBMCNXLogoIBM outdid itself this time by announcing the release of IBM Connections 4.5 and the new Connections Content Manager for March 29th 2013. Only 2 months after first presenting it at IBM Connect.

On top of the great new features IBM Connections 4.5 offers, Connections Content Manager will additionally offer document management functionality like checkin-checkout, nested folders, versioning & draft control as well as integrated access security to organize and control content within the IBM Connections communities. A great addition to an already great platform! To see why this could be important to you check out a blog about the new functionalities I did a few weeks back based on the announcements at IBM Connect. It should give you an indication of what to expect.

For those interested in seeing what all this will entail there will be a webcast about IBM’s social business platform hosted by IBM tomorrow (March 13th) where both IBM Notes Social 9 Edition as well as IBM Connections 4.5 & Connections Content Manager will take center stage. Don’t wait too long and register now, this is one you don’t want to miss!

  • Announcements letter for IBM Connections & Connections Content Manager (available March 29th): link
  • Announcement letter for IBM Notes 9 Social Edition (available March 21st): link

harmon.ie – bringing SharePoint into IBM Notes

hormonie1As Silverside has recently become a partner for harmon.ie I've been testing their harmon.ie plugin for IBM Notes. A plugin that allows organizations running SharePoint as well as IBM Notes to have access to their SharePoint content from within their mail environment. I must say I’m enthusiastic!

Originally developed to allow access from within Outlook it was also adapted to run in IBM Notes. Making it possible to seamlessly use most of the SharePoint features without having to leave the collaboration/mail environment.

“…More than a file navigator…”

What harmon.ie does is to show you your SharePoint sites and site contents in the widget bar of your IBM Notes environment. Allowing you access to your sites, files and profiles and giving you the option of easily ‘dragging & dropping’ files, emails or individual attachments to or from your SharePoint site. A great way to collaborate with your colleagues and share information if SharePoint is your chosen platform for team work or document storage.

Dragging & dropping files between your mail and SharePoint environment enables your users to collaborate by sending either links (internal users) or the actual files (for external recipients) by simply selecting the [ALT] button on the keyboard.

Harmon.ie is however much more than just a ‘file navigator’ for SharePoint. It also allows you to surface and edit your SharePoint team calendars in your IBM Notes agenda, browse and access profile information from the SharePoint MySites and integrates with Sametime instant messaging.

“…Bringing together both worlds…”

harmonie2Seeing as more and more IBM Notes organizations have SharePoint running too, bringing together the two worlds really makes for a better and more connected way of working. Leveraging both the power of SharePoint as well as the capabilities of the IBM Notes environment. And as it supports both Outlook as well as IBM Notes it offers benefits to mixed environments as well.

  • Gives you access to one or more SharePoint sites from within your IBM Notes environment
  • Allows you to ‘drag & drop’ files from your mail to SharePoint & vice versa
  • Brings content types, meta-data, version history, workflow and check-in/check-out from SharePoint into your IBM Notes environment
  • Allows the attachment of links to files in SharePoint or actual files themselves
  • Leverages Sametime awareness and IM
  • Allows incorporation of SharePoint team calendars in your IBM Notes agenda
  • Enables access to MySite profiles for searching, updating and interaction
  • Shows recent SharePoint activity for profiles and files

But the reason I think I like it most is that harmon.ie offers organizations and users a practical way to use the platforms their organization requires and prefers without being forced into a vendor lock-in or costly migrations. Bridging the gap and at the same time expanding the way users can work with their SharePoint data. So if your organization is using SharePoint then check out this video for a more detailed overview and download a trial version. It's definitely worth trying out.

Images courtesy of http://harmon.ie

Connections Content Manager: Social document management in IBM Connections

One of the more exciting announcements at IBM Connect 2013 to me was, without doubt, the announcement of the enhanced CCM (IBM Connections Content Manager) edition. “Exciting?” you ask? Yes exciting but apparently not to all as I was amazed to find it got quite a lukewarm response from a lot of others around me. Ok, yes, I know, Document Management is my main area of interest so of course it would get me excited but I think a lot of people really didn’t grasp what it meant and what impact it can have and I can’t blame them as it is a difficult topic.

To be honest even I am still struggling to get all the details so to clarify it a bit I made a list of the things I got from all the announcements, sessions and discussions I had in the labs. Hopefully this will help others to better grasp why this is exciting and why it’s worth taking a good look at.

CCM, what is it?

  • CCM integrates Libraries with document management capabilities (Filenet) right into IBM Connections Communities by provisioning them directly from IBM Connections itself;
  • Provisioned libraries don’t have to be pre-created in a separate system but are in fact created right from the community itself when the Community manager (not necessarily an admin!) adds a Library widget, making it as simple as adding a wiki or blog to the community;
  • Security on the library is taken from the community (and updated on change!);
  • Community managers can create not just one but multiple libraries per community;
  • Community managers can set a name and document type to be used for that library (either one specific document type or all available) from the settings section within Connections;
  • Community managers can also set a parallel approval cycle on documents and determine whether users can add approvers to individual documents or not and determine if all or only one needs to approve;
  • Options to edit/add documents on the libraries/folders within the libraries can be restricted (community members will however always have at least read access to released documents);
  • There will be a special licensing model for Connections Content Manager edition (exact numbers haven’t been mentioned yet but indications are that pricing would be comparable to the current IBM Connections + Quickr model)

But what does this mean to the users?

  • Created libraries can hold nested folder structures which means we get actual and functional folders (and sub-folders!) with folder security in communities;
  • Meta data on the documents (determined by the document type) is visible and editable through the connections environment;
  • Check-in and Check-out & robust versioning guarantee single point of truth;
  • Better life-cycle management as authors can limit access to draft documents to themselves and any other editors they would like to include while released documents become available to all;
  • Automatic approval cycles on documents with the option of adding more approvers to individual documents on top of the ones set by the community owner;
  • Full social capabilities on the library documents (e.g. Likes, comments, following, download count, etc);
  • Full activity stream integration so updates and approval actions become visible in the streams as well;
  • Full and integrated Text & Meta-data search from within IBM Connections with the option to refine on Document types and meta-data fields across the community.

Ok. Nice… “but what is the difference between this and what was already there with the linked Library option we had for Filenet?

  • The Library components can now be installed right from the Connections Installer (it’s literally an option in the installer app). They can be added to the existing Connections Websphere Cell or to a separate one. Alternatively an existing Filenet environment can be used to provision the new libraries (teamspaces) but in general you don’t need full Filenet knowledge anymore to set it up;
  • Previously used Linked libraries had to be created and set up in Filenet first and required administrative involvement, the new Libraries don’t. Community managers can set them up and manage them independently. the only administration needed is to initially set up the document types to be used;
  • Multiple libraries can now be added to a single community to address different types of documents;
  • Administration of the new library (name, library/folder/document security, approval workflow settings, etc) are all set and managed from a settings configuration within IBM Connections, limiting the administrative load on the library depository side and allowing Community managers to manage their libraries themselves;
  • The documents in the libraries are fully indexed for searching from IBM Connections, including filtering on document types and meta data, making it a seamless integration instead of a separate container;
  • The library documents get the full social components from IBM Connections;
  • Out-of-the-box and seamless activity stream integration is included so reviews and updates appear in the users activity stream.

But what about….

  • IBM Docs, will it work with that? Well they are looking at that;
  • Document types?: You will still have to set them up through the library repository but once you’ve done that you are free to go and reuse those for any community. It’s just a question of really thinking through your file management requirements and setting it up and you’re all set to go;
  • Windows desktop client / browser plug-in / Microsoft Office plugins? Development of these are in a separate track but already underway. No ETA yet on when though;
  • Offline files like the new option for the personal files? ………. (silence there, still waiting for an answer);
  • Quickr? IBM will provide a migration agent to get documents from Quickr into the new libraries, but keep in mind there are some restrictions on this. I’ll try to write another blog on that;
  • Mobile?? Definitely being worked on and expected not too long after the release of IBM Connections 4.5

So all in all I think there is some neat things in there that are going to help a lot of customers who are currently hitting the limitations of file management in IBM Connections and don’t necessarily require full blown and complex workflow and document management. It brings together both the social as well as basic document management requirements a lot of companies have and in that respect is very exciting news.

It will be intriguing to see how additional requirements like complex workflow or specific meta-data requirements will be met in the future. For now those would still require a separate  license and use of for instance Filenet and the Content Navigator interface but as I understand the open social and CMIS standards that are used throughout Filenet and IBM Connections do mean more integration on these areas could be possible too.

So I’m excited! I can’t wait to get my hands on this and love that this is not something that is far away on some road map but will be released with the IBM Connections 4.5 code stream end of Q1. I think it will be a definite enrichment to IBM Connections and would encourage any customer with file management issues to take a good look at this.

 

Document management: the one characteristic all standards have in common… they change

So you think you have your document management and data retention all set. You have a plan, a system and a storage procedure to ensure information is there for when it is needed… Or is it?

I got a powerful reminder of how important it is to not just guard the data but the document management process itself as well the other day. It all started with my step dad having a massive heart attack (his 3rd one in 15 years). Luckily he survived because there were people around that knew what to do and had access to a defibrillator right there and then but it was a close call and it will take him a while to fully recover. It also made both my mum and step dad reevaluate some of the procedures in place for when that fatal moment will come…

“…in a worst case situation it would simply be a case of sending over the list…”

april_2009_019Sixteen years the older than my mum and a lot more organized in administrative processes my step dad has taken great care to make sure that when that inevitable moment comes she will be able to handle the administrative tasks that will need to take place. One of them, to inform the extended group of friends and relatives. Diligent as he is my step dad digitized his whole contact registration about 10 years ago so that in a worst case situation it would simply be a case of sending over the list.  He chose a tool to do that specifically aimed at contact management and selected a product that was highly regarded for it. He then proceeded to back up the contact database on an external hard disk and USB drive and regularly updated it over the years.

“…after replacing his laptop a while back he had not been able to reinstall the original software…”

After his hospitalization however and while still awaiting surgery he asked me to see if I could access the database for him. It turned out that after replacing his laptop a while back he had not been able to reinstall the original software and therefore no longer had access to the database or contact list. The software company so highly regarded all those years ago had retracted their product from the consumer market and no longer supported or updated it. The database (which wasn’t a standard database type and had encryption on it) therefore became completely useless.

Luckily the company, although no longer servicing the consumer market, did still sell similar software to corporations and after calling them and explaining the situation they graciously offered to see if they could retrieve the data from the backed up database file. One week later I could reassure my step dad that it was salvaged and send him and my mum an excel extract of 95% of the data.

“…that one week delay in getting access to the data would have made it completely useless…”

What did he do wrong? Well not much really. He choose a respectable product which was regarded as a standard at the time, backed it up and kept it up to date regularly. Still that one week delay in getting access to the data would have made it completely useless for the purpose it was made for if the worst had happened…

Document management is about managing the whole process, not just the content

So how does this relate to business? Well it wasn’t that long ago that WordPerfect was considered the overall standard for Word editing, and Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets. You might even still have some files with an extensions like .wk1, .wk2, .wk3, .wk4, .wp, .wp4, .wp5, .wp6 or .wp7 float about in your document management systems or shared file drive systems. Not much of a problem there probably as there are still viewers and converters available for these that can leverage most if not all of the original document… but for how long? 

More importantly, how many other file types created in long since extinct software formats and so called ‘standard file types’ do you have floating around that might not be accessible with your current hardware/software environment anymore?
Ok, yes. Over time the relevance of these documents often becomes less and retention policies will most likely weed out a lot of them anyway but still… You don’t want to run into a situation where you are caught out having THE file when you absolutely need it, but no way to access it.

So…

  • Be aware of the fact that file formats, even if considered a ‘standard’ now go out of date or get replaced,
  • Keep track of the types of file formats that you store and reevaluate them regularly,
  • Try to keep the number of formats you have to manage down by enforcing certain standards
  • Test and maintain possible viewers and converters and regularly reevaluate them when you buy new software or update your existing packages,
  • Migrate older documents to new standard formats if you find their importance warrants it and other ways of accessing are becoming limited,
  • Maintain a good retention policy so you don’t keep managing file formats that really are no longer relevant
What is considered a standard file format now might be outdated before the retention period on the documents created with it expires. don’t get caught out when the moment is there to produce that information.

Docova 3.5 – no more IE lock-in!

Docova is a web based Document Management system that caters for both basic and complex Document Management from department to enterprise level. It supports customizations and is compliant with most international record management standards. We’ve been working with it for several years now and I love it although it does have, like all software, its little nuisances.

The recently released Docova 3.5 has some great new features (check their blog) that will solve a lot of those. In particular the fact that the web components now supports Firefox and Chrome where previous versions of Docova would only run in MS Internet Explorer or in Firefox with IE-Tab plug-ins installed. A great enhancement as, although still preferred by most IT departments, Internet Explorer certainly isn’t the preferred browser among users any more!

Interested in these new Docova features? Register for their webcast about the new release tomorrow or try it out yourself with a free 30 day trial in the Docova cloud solution (another great new addition with this release!).