Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Desktop Search Tools

One of the fascinating new tools that have come to the fore over the past several years is an array of tools to assist you to retrieve the work you have already done - the work that is currently sitting in what could loosely be termed your knowledge library (if you're not well-organised).

These tools include things such as Google Desktop Search (which is just out of beta), the MSN Search Toolbar, Yahoo Desktop Search, X1, and the Copernic Desktop Search. I have done a lot of research since this tool was mentioned at the IT Management Day (I chaired the day in Brisbane, at least partly because I chair the COE - oh, and I happen to live in Brisbane, so that may have helped) by Rob Roe of KAZ Technologies, and from the reviews I have read on the internet and my own experience, I think Copernic is a winner.

X1 costs - and since I am an accountant (there is a time-delay lock on my wallet), and the other tools are free and of great quality, it was never going to get a look in.

The MSN Search toolbar - well, apparently it doesn't play nice with Mozilla Firefox (my preferred browser). It's also from Microsoft (I like a lot of Microsoft products - they often just work without ten years geek experience), but the tendency I have seen is to bloatware and security issues. I was unable to confirm this, however, because the real killer for this product is it needs Windows XP to run, and like 40% or so of the business world, I still run Windows 2000 on my laptop.

The Yahoo search bar remains way too close to the beta program for me, so I didn't really look at it too much. From reviews I've read, it seems to be a bit of a resource hog when indexing (even when you're working).

Normally, Google would have been my tool of choice (what can I say - I already have one new verb "to Google", meaning to thrash about and find stuff), but although it had a nice and simple interface, and the results were available in a browser, the Google tool is pretty much brain-dead in indexing just my local hard drive. There is a plug-in (too close to the old word, "hack", for me) to search network drives, but it's primogeniture is a little hard to determine and it comes with now arranties. Besides, this tool is only just out of beta.

Feeling a bit frantic, I downloaded and installed the Copernic deskbar, and it works for me. Although it doesn't work with Groupwise (our email system of choice), that's probably not a problem since neither do any of the other tools . Copernic works with network drives out of the box, it has a nice taskbar search tool, and the background indexing is nice and unobtrusive. I don't understand why these other tools work only on the local hard drive - beyond the few script kiddies out there and consultants that work alone, it isn't good practice to have valuable documents sitting on C:.

Some problems I did have with Copernic were when I tried to run it with Groupwise (I have Outlooked installed, so it tried to index Groupwise with somewhat disastrous results - the indexing essentially kept freezing my computer). It isn't rated for Groupwise, so that's probably not a surprise.

Also, I found that when I had the preview pane on, a couple of spreadsheets (I think with macros in them perhaps) caused a lovely blue screen of death - so I turned that off. I do suspect that may be a Novell incompatibility.

Finally, because the taskbar takes up some acreage, I decided to turn that off. Which I did. When I went to turn it back on - no luck. I racked my brains about it for 20 minutes how to resolve it and then decided the simple approach was best - I uninstalled the thing and re-installed, and then allowed it to reindex it. It took about half an hour of my life - and I won't try turning off the taskbar again. The reindexing was unobtrusive (and continues to be) and I have 12,775 documents indexed fairly quickly, I thought, while I zapped out for a coffee.

So in summary, I am using Copernic on my laptop, and I have been very impressed so far (speed is excellent!). A side benefit is that if you show results by date, you can quickly see those files you have been working on recently (presuming, of course, the documents you have indexed are your documents - this will depend on how you work with a team). A tool like this raises issues for IT Governance, desktop stability, and IT installation policies, but that's a topic for a different post.

Special Edition of the Australian Accounting Review: Information Systems Research

One of the exciting things on the Information Technology & Management Centre of Excellence's work plans for this year is a special edition of the Australian Accounting Review. If you don't know of the AAR (and if you studied an Honours degree in business over the past twenty-five years, you probably should know about it), it is the pre-eminent Australian research journal for accounting and business.

Speaking for myself, I do occasionally get a little twitch in my eye when I think back to all those research papers I had to critique out of the AAR, but I'm getting over that. Honest.

At any rate, a call for papers has been issued, and the response has been very enthusiastic - much better perhaps than we had anticipated, and the editorial committee (Dr John Campbell, Shauna Kelly, and myself) are now finalising the papers that will be included in the special edition.

I will probably will document (OK, definitely will) the launch of the special edition. This is a project I am particularly proud that the COE has been able to bring to fruition, and the quality of the papers that have been submitted - from some of Australia's foremost researchers - indicates a future need for such a journal. However, at this time, it is a one-off and the COE will review the project to see whether we do this more often - at the moment, I am thinking biannually, but perhaps it's an annual thing (or if it's a complete bomb, we'll call it a success and not repeat the experience).

I suspect the whole "complete bomb" thing is not an option, just on the basis of my reading of the papers I have seen so far. Australian research is a strong thing, and information systems is no less strong than any other area of Australian inventiveness, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. I am looking forward to the final fruition of something we first talked about at least three years ago (when Tony Hayes was the Chair), and if this was the only thing we could achieve, I would have been a happy man. The fact that we're almost done with our current work program is testament to the dedication and assistance of the people on the COE, on our policy and research advisor Jan Barned, and more particularly on the ability of CPA Australia to attract and foster the abilities of very talented people.

Who do I mean? Well, perhaps you'll have to beg, borrow or steal a copy of the Special Edition of the Australian Accounting Review: Information Systems Research. I'm sure it'll be a best-seller.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Organising Your Work

Somewhere along the way we may, just perhaps, have lost focus on the purpose of computers and personal information systems. This presentation (it's a little tongue-in-cheek) provides some good tips on organising yourself and some handy hints.

I should note that this presentation was developed by Microlaw in the United States.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Posting on the Internet - a User Story

Just in case you have ever thought about it (or never have), in cyberspace everyone sees what you type, eventually. The other day I quickly subscribed to a newsgroup about Mercedes Benz classic cars (I was doing some car research - even IT people can like cars - but I suspect I'll never get to own the car). About a week later, casually typing my name into Yahoo (as you do) suddenly brought up my membership of this group. I do this occasionally because the spelling of "Micheal" is unique and therefore actually returns entires relating just to me, rather than, say, if my name was John Smith - it's good to know who has your details.

In this instance, I had only signed up very quickly to read about the great and wondrous things that can happen with a Mercedes Benz 450SLC (in case you're wondering, they come in two categories: (a) expensive; and (b) marriage-threatening). It took about thirty seconds to "subscribe to our site" and now that site has my details cached in Yahoo and it will probably be there for ages yet. I'm just glad it wasn't a support group for strange and debilitating infectious diseases that you can catch from unsanitary telephones.

But - I should have already learned my lesson, as the same search on Google shows an entry that I'm probably not too happy about! I was on a mailing list some time ago (like, 1996!) and responded to an email (foolishly using my real name). That mailing list diligently archives EVERY email ever sent to it, and accordingly Google has now cached it and it will be there forever now - it's unlikely I can get it taken down.

As an exercise for the reader, see if you can pick up the page I'm not happy about from the link above.

So - a salient lesson in being careful on the internet.

(Postscript: I had forgotten the "findoz" website that is returned by this search - this is NOT the mailing list to which I was subscribed, I have no idea how my professional profile manages to get mixed up with "hard core DVDs" on the findoz website, and I have a feeling there's another salient lesson there somewhere!).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

SME's and e-Business

Dr Kate Andrews suggested I take a look at the online business journal "Ivey Business Journal". This is the online version of a 70-year old journal.

I note that the May/June 2005 edition carries an article "The Strategic Management Process In E-Business". This article provides several case studies from a scientific study of SME's that have adopted e-business, and those strategies that SME's can use to be effective with e-business.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

VOIP Is Maturing

Voice Over IP Solutions seem to be maturing. This article from Technology & Business at ZDNet reviews some handsets providing VOIP capability, and almost gets one thinking about such things. Unless you have a real need, I am not convinced that the technology is mature enough just yet to recommend wholesale adoption by clients, although for clients with specific requirements and expertise it may be a good solution.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

SAP: Just Look at me Now...

I have had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to take a look at what SAP calls its "MySAP All-in-One" solution. All-in-One is essentially the MySAP software combined with the skills, expertise and intellectual property of the business partner/software vendor (disclaimer: my firm, BDO Kendalls, sells, supports and implements the MySAP software, although I don't personally benefit from the thing).

A few years ago I would have told my clients to run screaming in the other direction (or at least think very, very carefully before proceeding with any ERP, including SAP - particularly after the experience of the Queensland government with SAP). In fact, I once had a good hearty laugh when SAP tendered for a software solution I was advising on - the client's budget didn't cover Stage 1.

However, it would seem that the lesson has been learnt, and MySAP's focus is on delivering business solutions in the context of the customisation required. Time was, a salesperson would glibly state, "yes, that's possible, just do the customisation" - and somehow completely omitting the phrase "but I don't know that that's a particularly smart thing to do because it's really expensive and adds bugs and makes upgrades difficult and...".

Of course the difficulties were not always, I think, due to "good" salespeople. Some of my best friends are salespeople. Businesses at one time felt that it was worth the effort to change software to meet their business processes - but neglected to adjust the projected cost by the requisite risk factor.

At any rate, if you are an SME thinking about the possible benefits an ERP can bring, you could do far worse than check out MySAP All-in-One. It's a rapidly shrinking market since Peoplesoft bought JD Edwards and Oracle bought Peoplesoft - but that's the way of the world.