Monday, 4 March 2013

Marching to the beat

It's amazing how many parallels can be drawn from an IT project to reflect many situations in life. Let me start by giving you my definition of a project as it may help to highlight the point I'll be trying to make here. 

A project is a group of individuals working together to achieve a beneficial outcome

Quite a simple a high level description but I personally feel it succinctly describes what it projects are all about. Like any machine you can care to think of, it's a sum of specialised parts brought together to perform specific tasks, each component has a responsibility to the whole otherwise the machine will work inefficiently or in the worst case, break down.

Now I'm not going to have some cliched or kitsch analogy (for once) about certain roles being separate parts of the machine as I think that's been done to death but I do want to talk about the importance of the single most important aspect of any project and that is the outcome, the goal.

Now I know that projects fail for a variety of reasons which are many and varied (and well documented) but, in my opinion, one of the most important and avoidable reasons is making sure that everyone involved in the project from the executive sponsor, right down to the developer realise that they are part of the whole.

I'm sitting in front of my TV at home right now watching a military documentary and they currently have a number of soldiers marching in ranks, each soldier is marching in-step with his colleagues, everyone going at the same speed, in the same direction and all heading to the same place. I thought about some of the projects I've worked on in my career and as I expand the the thought I imagined what some of them would have looked like in this setting. Try and picture it yourselves,

  • A bunch of soldiers running off in front of the group, 
  • A few individuals meandering off in a completely different direction
  • Some people standing still looking bemused and finally my favourite
  • The group of individuals trying to rein in the group all shouting conflicting instructions

A project team can only operate successfully  if everyone is working for each other, all going in the same direction, all making sure that everyone understands where they are going, what their role is. It's not a complicated or impossible task but it is surely one of the most important things you need to get right from the start and something that can be easily overlooked as the project picks up pace.

This concept also scales out from the team and can be applied to programs and even large enterprises. It's certainly something to consider when you are looking at starting a project and thinking you can save time by cutting short the kick off and planning stages.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

You Can Lead a Horse to Water but it takes a Good Change Management Process to Make it Drink

Looking around the room where I am writing this gave me the perfect inspiration for the beginning of a Blog I've been wanting to write for a while but never had a way to structure it in own irreverent style. 

I'm currently neck deep in reviewing, amending and updating documents: statements of work, proposals, designs etc... (It's a busy day) and to do this I print them all out and go through them with a pencil and make my changes on this treeware I have created. I have M*******t Word, I have the ability to turn on track changes and that would be a much greener and efficient way of doing the task I am embroiled in, but for some reason this is the way I do it and it would take a metaphorical team of horses to make me change my behaviour. I'm the proverbial tradesman with a bag of tools but I will use the hammer in all circumstances.

Now this is a small trivial example but to those of you have released new systems into businesses you'll see how this problem, and others like it, scale out to be much a much bigger issue for enterprises. 

In my and Cloud career I have spent most of my time scoping, designing and creating systems that encourage a collaborative and joined up way of working for businesses, the 360 degree view that Salesforce claim is not just a clever marketing message, it's an achievable target that you can hit with the right planning and vision, but building and deploying the system is only half the battle.

Now to go back to my original point, everyone has their own ways, their own little systems and processes that they go through in their day to day job and if you manage a team, trust me when I say the next line. 

You don't know how your team are doing what they are doing day to day!

I'll ask you a simple question to quantify that statement, how many of you reading this get critical information that they need to run their business from a spreadsheet that "someone threw together a while ago" as a temporary workaround? How many of you know where the data comes from that goes into that spreadsheet?

Now for the sake of variety I am actually going to loop my blog round to my original point in the beginning and actually finish on the topic I started with ;)

Imagine the scene, you've just paid out for licenses, your implementation partner has come in and configured, customised and set up your org so that its now doing what you need it to do and three weeks after the launch you still receive the spreadsheet on Monday Morning with the sales figures for the previous week, what went wrong?

Change Management is a vital piece of the puzzle when implementing new technology, an old axiom springs to mind when I write this "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". While this is true I'm hoping my audience doesn't consist of horse trainers or my next statement won't make much sense. You are not working with horses! You are working with intelligent people who want to do their job well. You are however trying to change their world and this is where we go back to my metaphorical team of horses being needed to make people change. But it doesn't have to be that way! change Management is not a hammer, it's not a stick you use to beat people into compliance, it's collaborative, it's informative, it's a way of educating people to see the benefits of doing things the "new way" . It's a vital component of any project where people are being asked to modify the way they work.

I'd like to finish this with a final analogy (last one I promise) and  a question that I hope will emphasise the importance of change management. A person who has been digging ditches for 3 years with a spade is suddenly presented on Friday afternoon with a JCB digger, no warning, no training, no consultation. Ask yourself this question, what do you think you'll find them doing on Monday morning?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Integration, the old enemy

Blogs are very much like buses, you spend ages waiting for the topic worthy of sharing your perspective on and then you get a couple in a short period of time. Today's topic I wanted to discuss was the wide ranging topic of integration with a particular slant towards the Cloud.

Lots of people will be willing to wax lyrical on this topic for seemly hours on end but there is no need for this to be a scary or daunting thing for people to take on. There are a lot of complex issues wrapped up in the subject matter but like all problems, once you know what you want to do, it can be broken down into a series of smaller activities which are fundamentally much more straight-forward and at the risk of jinxing myself, actually quite simple.

If you take the simple and a-typical integration cloud scenario of linking to an SAP system you first need to make your decision as to what integration is necessary:

  1. Does the integration need to be two way?
  2. Do you need a special integration platform such as Informatica, an ESB, MQ Broker, etc...
  3. Do you need "real-time" integration, interval (delta every x minutes) based integration or regularly scheduled batch integration.
  4. Technology, Web Services(Synchronous or Asynchronous, RESTful APIs, Flat File, RMI, etc...)
  5. What messages / data / objects will be passed between the systems

So to go through this (admittedly oversimplified) checklist we can answer the above scenario:

  1. For the purposes of this scenario I'll say the integration needs to be two way, e.g. the product catalog and price list needs to be taken from SAP and the orders need to be sent to SAP for fulfillment
  2. The business has indicated that in future, additional systems such as a finance system will need to be integrated into the solution so we'll say yes, an integration layer will be a much more future proof solution. (I personally would always recommend an integration layer in most cases)
  3. The timings are interesting as the product catalog and pricing can be loaded into Salesforce on a batch process, the reason being that this information would not typically be changed ad-hoc and therefore would not be changed regularly. Salesforce will need to send the orders through "real-time" so this integration will be different
  4. Again, the implementation strategy can drive this, for SAP to SFDC we can use Flat Files or API calls to Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) the data. For SFDC to SAP (assuming we have chosen Informatica as our integration platform) we simply have a connector for SFDC and a connector for SAP and that is the way we'll integrate.
  5. Now we have the answers to the first 3 questions we can now start to map this out.

As you can already see, by breaking down the problem into it's consituent parts, the problem becomes much more easy to manage. Now the devil here is in the detail of the interfaces but again this can be broken down into baby steps:

  1. Who is the master of which data components
  2. What are the process maps (this can be as simple as a visio flow chart showing the process)
  3. What data needs to move from System A to System B
  4. What interfaces will be needed to support the transfer
  5. And last but certainly not least, What do we do when something goes wrong?

Again I have oversimplied this process and left out some of the steps you would take on an integration project / design but I don't want this to become a weighty read, just get across the point that Integration is not just a big bag of snakes waiting to bite you. Like most things in IT, it's a process, a series of steps and checkpoints you go through to get to the desired final state.

So next time you look at your next integration project keep in mind it's not one huge problem of nightmarish proportions, just a problem that needs breaking down and solving in a methodical, process driven approach.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Everything Is For A Reason (or you're never too old to learn something new)

Being in the role of a Sales Engineer I tend to spend most days either in a car or on a train travelling to meetings to meet new customers, catch up with existing ones and mostly support the sales guys by listening out for new requirements and thinking on the fly high level approaches to solving them. It was on the way home from such a meeting I was sat on the train typing up my notes, for once I hadn't got my headphones on to drown out the background noise, and I tuned into a very animated conversation happening between some fellow commuters.

The conversation was essentially a person trying to explain some issues they were having with a collegue at work and attempting to explain these issues to their fellow traveller. The conversation had become so animated owing to the fierce competition that had sprung up between them to dominate the discussion. Whilst the first person was trying to articulate the issues they were experiencing, the second was firing solutions into the mix faster than a machine gun and the frustration was mounting from both parties.

As luck would have it, I was able to get off the train at my stop before this exchange descended into the inevitiable argument but the exchange resonated with me as it symbolised to me a problem I myself am prone to suffer from (and those around me have experienced, sorry guys, work in progress) and that problem is to know when you need to be quiet and listen and more importantly when is the correct time to speak. I remember the owner of a previous company offering the following advice to one of my colleagues:

"You have two ears and one mouth, this is because you should spend twice as much time listening as you do talking"

Obviously this wasn't the first time I'd heard this, my parents having quoted this truism to me repeatedly as a child but it was an eye-opener to hear it in a work context for the first time. While this axiom can be taken verbatum, you must also remember that whilst you have two ears and one mouth, you also have a brain! and it's this that should be used to tell you when you should listening or talking. So remember next time you are in a meeting, in a workshop or with friends in the pub, listen to what is being said, think about what is being said and then using what you have learnt from listening and thinking, then decide whether it's time to talk or not

Monday, 21 January 2013

Is it time to move house?

Once upon a time there was a seismic event known as the dotcom boom where all business moved to the internet, ecommerce sites led the way and were the tool of the time to leverage this new powerful new sales channel. As the tools and methodologies matured the solutions became more sophisticated and allowed ever more data to be captured about the customers of these businesses and what products or services they were purchasing right down to their birthdays. For a time, this was then simple, normal, the standard approach. The customer used the internet, came into a high street store or gave them a call on the phone. The systems were integrated to allow the same customer information to be available to telephone operators (Sales, Customer Service etc...), store clerks and the online decision making systems that would offer contextual offers or dynamic discounts based on the customer currently undertaking that journey.

For a while this worked well, Marketing teams got better at analysing the data and segmenting it into manageable information that was actionable. User experiences became more tailored and customised, offers and advertising were more targeted to the user and began to get a better return as the offers were of interest to the users and slowly but surely the picture became as complete as possible for these businesses operating in the internet space. Customer service was considered value add, yes you may lose a single customer if you didn't get it right, but it wasn't like word of mouth extended more than a handful of people.

...Fast Forward 15 years and we are right in the middle of the advent of the social media eruption...

Suddenly Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other tools allowed individual people more power than they have ever had before. The social media space suddenly gives the individual a voice that everyone can hear and is fundamentally changing the face of Customer Service and Brand Management. It blows open old ways of doing business via the internet and highlights massive gaps in the understanding businesses have of their customers. A great example of this was highlighted to me the other day by a colleague working with a massive global Enterprise customer.

One of the tranches of business this customer provides is printers and printing supplies to both businesses and individuals and traditionally their customer service operations were geared towards providing a better level of service to business customers as they traditionally did the large, considered purchases and the business was keen to provide them with exceptional post-sales service. Social Media has seismically rearranged the landscape here! Ever since a part time nanny called Molly Katchpole, businesses can no longer afford to ignore the individual as they now have the power to do massive damage to brands and share prices. Customers now expect the highest level of customer services from their product and service providers.

Now how can businesses do this? How can you now get to know a customer who has access to multiple channels of communication? An individual who can speak to the masses every bit as effectively as your marketing department, and how can you learn all you need to know about this customer to give them the service they require?

Yes, there are tools out there to help you do this. Radian 6, Salesforce, Buddy Media, BlueConic and Eloqua being the first few that sprint to mind but the most key word there is that they are tools!!! I myself am not particularly gifted in the realms of DIY although I have every manner of tool conceivable, I have Hammers, Pliers, Drills, Spanners, tools for tiling, tools for plastering, tools for woodwork, tools for plumbing, tools for brickwork and masonry and a whole separate toolbox for stuff I'm not quite sure what they are for but they look as if they have been used at some point in their life. My point to this reference is that I wouldn't decide one day to build a house based on the fact I have the correct tools for the job. I admit I can Google and watch YouTube videos to tell me how to lay foundations, lay bricks, insulate walls, put in a central heating system but the simple fact of the matter is I would be very quickly swamped with data that I cannot make any sense of and certainly couldn't be able to action as I'd find myself plastering walls before putting in the electrics. The resultant mess would be catastrophic.

To expand my analogy, to get to know your customer in an ever changing environment you need to think how your house needs to be built, who will be living there(Individuals, personas and customer demographics), what sort of style they like (What products or services interest them), what rooms will be necessary (Marketing Segmentations). Only then once you have thought about this you can begin the journey to truly knowing your customer, knowing what makes them tick, knowing what they buy, how they behave, who they interact with, what they are saying about you. The old dotcom houses were great at their time, they were the right size, the walls were all magnolia and the one size fits all approach seemed to be more widespread than you would imagine but these houses are getting old, they are no longer big enough, they no longer do the jobs we need them to do. In short, new houses are needed for modern times.

With the ever increasing amount of data being gathered about customers from Tweets, posts, blogs, cookies, online purchases etc. it would be very easy to take all this and try and pack it on, build an extension if you will pardon one more stretching of the analogy but we the advent of Social Media, I believe it's time to think about moving!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Working with Content in Apex

So, it's been a long while since I last posted here an this one is going to be a short one for the techies amongst us. I recently had some work to do around Content and using a trigger to take the latest version of a template and create a copy linked to a custom object and also share it in a different workspace as a specific piece of documentation. Now, if you haev been around Salesforce long enough, you'll know that when Content first came out it was completely untouchable with Apex and today, I am happy to say, this has now changed. Onto the solution... I first created a custom setting which would hold the Ids of the Workspace(s) I would be using (to get around the hard coding issue and depolyment from sandbox to production) and wrote some very simple code to retreive this:
 public static CPM_Documentation_Settings__c getWorkspaceIds() {
     // Retrieve the custom setting and get the Id of the workspace
     CPM_Documentation_Settings__c documentSettings = [SELECT Document_Template_Workspace_Id__c, Document_Workspace_Id__c FROM CPM_Documentation_Settings__c][0];
     return documentSettings;
Whilst not very robust or defensive it met the immediate need to get the Ids back that I needed. The next job was the meat of the issue, how to pick up the latest version of any templates and create new versions in the documentation workspace and link them to the custom object. The First thing I needed to do was get all the latest versions of the templates:
    // Get the Workspace
        CPM_Documentation_Settings__c settings = ProjectTriggerUtilities.getWorkspaceIds();
     ContentWorkspace templatesWorkspace = [SELECT Id FROM ContentWorkspace WHERE Id = :settings.Document_Template_Workspace_Id__c];
     ContentWorkspace projectWorkspace = [SELECT Id FROM ContentWorkspace WHERE Id = :settings.Document_Workspace_Id__c];
        // Get the list of document templates and their current published version Ids
        List templates = [SELECT ContentDocumentId FROM ContentWorkspaceDoc WHERE ContentWorkspaceId = :templatesWorkspace.Id];
        List templateIds = new List();
        for (ContentWorkspaceDoc doc : templates) {
        List contentDocuments = [SELECT LatestPublishedVersionId FROM ContentDocument WHERE Id in :templateIds];
        List latestVersionTemplateIds = new List();
        for (ContentDocument cs : contentDocuments) {
Now that I had a collection of all the latest versions of templates I simply needed to create the new versions linked to the custom object:
//loop through all the templates and pull back the latest published version of each of them
        List latestVersionOfTemplate = [SELECT c.VersionData, c.Title, c.Supplier_Brand__c, c.Relevant_Sector__c, c.Reference__c, c.PublishStatus, c.Printed_Version_Available__c, 
                                                               c.Printed_Format__c, c.PositiveRatingCount, c.PathOnClient, c.Origin, c.NegativeRatingCount, c.Industry_Sector__c, c.Id, c.FirstPublishLocationId, 
                                                               c.FileType, c.FeaturedContentDate, c.FeaturedContentBoost, c.Description, c.Customer_Facing__c, c.ContentDocumentId, c.Classification__c, 
                    FROM ContentVersion c
                    WHERE ID in :latestVersionTemplateIds];
        for (Project__c p : projects) {                    
         //create the new documents from the templates
         List newProjectDocuments = latestVersionOfTemplate.deepClone();
         for (ContentVersion cv : newProjectDocuments) {
          cv.FirstPublishLocationId = settings.Document_Workspace_Id__c;
          cv.project__c = p.Id;
          cv.ContentDocumentId = null;
          cv.Title = p.Project_Name__c + '_' + cv.Title;
          cv.Description = '';
         insert newProjectDocuments;
And there you have it, we now have the ability to create new content based on existing templates that exist in SFDC content. There is still some fun to be had unit testing and there are still some gotchas in there they are easy to workthough. If you have any questions please let me know by commenting and I'll do my best to steer you in the right direction.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Why get SFDC certified

As I sat down to take my Sales Cloud Certified Consultant exam, I adjusted my web cam for the 14th time and tried to relax and remember every single aspect of the Sales Cloud and Sales Automation proposition.

I tried to recall Wealth Management, Person Accounts, Lead Management, Roles, Profiles, Territories, Account Hierarchies, Sales Teams, Account Teams, Queues, Sharing groups, queues, Sales Processes, Pipelines, Forecasting, Custom Forcasting, Products, Assets, Opportunity Products, Product Schedules, Validation Rules, Formula Fields, Workflows... The list just seemed to spiral out of control and after a short panic followed by a deep breath, I hit the start button and commenced.

A short while after I had finished I decided to think why, oh why had I just put myself through the tortuous certification process again! I takes up immeasurable amounts of your own time to revise the subject matter, clogs up my Kindle as I download the entrire help PDF onto it for some 'light' bedroom reading and causes me to say apparently strange things to my wife who, until recently, had no idea you couldn't enable Territory Management unless you had also enabled customised Forecasting.

Then, in a moment of clarity I knew why we do it!

Salesforce is quite frankly one of the most powerful and dynamic applications in the world today It has so many strings to it's bow that it is quite frankly difficult to keep on top of them, even if you are a specialist in the technology. Bearing this in mind, it's important to remember that customers will generally tend to buy as a CRM application, let's face it, with a simple enough sales process you can have SFDC up and running for Sales Automation in a matter of hours and fully configured with reports, security and all the bells and whistles in about 10 days. Where it gets tricky however, is when the customer wants to leverage the potential of the platform.

I have often thought one of the major strengths of is often used by people to turn it into a weakness of the plaform. I'm sure you have heard employees, partners and consultants religeously chanting the following mantras:

'80 / 20 rule


and as cliche as it may sound this is more than a mantra, it's actually best practice and combined it gives you the split of how the majority of successful implementations should be done '80% clicks to 20% code'. This however sometimes isn't followed! People starting out on Salesforce are oftern ex-Java or .Net developers and are very comfortable in an IDE such as Eclipse or Visual Studio. They don't like the standard Salesforce layouts, find configuration boring and unchallenging and are keep to jump into writing triggers, classes, components and VisualForce pages. They ignore the rich functionality of Workflows, Formula Fields and Roll-up summary fields. They have no inclination to learn about Divisions, Territories, Wealth Management, Person Accounts (I won't go through the list again :) ). They write hundreds and thousands of lines of code, massively increase the complexity of the implementation and more critically, irreperably impair the flexibilty and dynanism of the platform.

At this point I will now return to the original question posed at the beginning of this blog, I must assure you I haven't actually digressed as far as you would think.

In order for a Salesforce Consultant to be able to deliver the best possible solution for the customer, they must first know platform to an obsessive level. They need to know the latest features in the new release. They need to know what can be done with Workflows, what can be done with formula fields. New skills have to be used to get the best from the framework and this is where the certification comes into it's own.

Customers don't want to know all of this, they have day jobs, they are worried about the day-to-day running of the business and don't want to become Salesforce consultants. They need to know that they are getting real platform experts, people who actually have recognised and standardised qualifications in the subject matter. Now, to put a slight mocker on this, having a certification does not necessarily make you a good consultant and on the converse side not having certifications doesn't make you a bad one either but, having those certifications proves to the customer (and a prospective employer) that you at least know enough about the platform to pass those exams. You have proven that you know how what features are available, what can be done with configuration alone, how you can combine features to build solutions, when you have reached the limits of the platform and need to start thinking about development. At the end of the day it's an insurance policy for owners and stakeholders that you are getting someone who actually knows the platform to a good enough degree to deliver a maintainable, scalable and flexible solution that meets your requirements without costing the Earth.