I have been working at AvePoint since April of this year, and was very excited to see the power of AvePoint’s DocAve 6 platform that will be released by the end of 2011. As a consultant with a partner of AvePoint’s for the previous 18 months, one thing that always baffled me was why no vendors had really focused on end-to-end service request management on top of the SharePoint platform. During my interviews in February at AvePoint’s global headquarters, I suggested this idea – and I was impressed that AvePoint was not only receptive to the idea, but that a devoted team from its 600+-member research and development team had already been working on it for nearly 18 months. The bit that really got me pumped was that the Product Manager was focused on the business use cases – rather than the technology – after working closely with our 8,000+ customer base to glean the most common service requests in the field today.
A common scenario soon came to the fore after multiple conversations with customers: There were already plenty of these custom systems in place, but customers possessed no overall system to control the requests. Some customers were busy collecting requirements and planning to build a system on their own, but once they heard we were producing a product to meet this specific challenge, they assisted us in the process. The benefit for customers is clear: they no longer need to pay to build, maintain, or support these custom solutions internally, which over time reduces the custom code gap.Enforcing Governance Model
Service Request Types
Now, by leveraging our our extensive research over nearly three years , we have come up with a product that caters to all the use cases that we have collected: Governance Automation. We have prioritized the release of service request types in our product based on the frequency of use cases from our customers. The general availability release of this product will include three core service request types:- Site collection provisioning service request- Transfer user service request- Site collection content life cycle management requestMore service requests will be introduced in iterative updates to the product in targeted three-month cycles, prioritized based on our customer requests while introducing enhancements to existing service requests. Highly Configurable
One of the key drivers for Governance Automation is to make it highly configurable so when our customers state: “We have to implement a special step during a site provisioning”, “When someone changes roles, the replacement employee gets all their tasks and alerts”, or “We always use the same site template – can we hide it on the form?” … we can simply answer, “Yes”. The first business requirement we had to tackle was to ensure we catered to different use cases within different customers regarding service request types. Even within one customer, the governance committee wanted different service request instances for site collection provisioning service request instances. For instance, the committee wanted to offer the Sales team within the organization a site collection with a root site based on a team site template and offer a “Gold” or “Silver” policy. However, the committee wanted the Marketing team to be able to choose between multiple site templates and be forced to use “Silver”. Governance Automation enables this by allowing Administrators to create multiple service request instances based on the service request type, in this instance the site provisioning service request type. Each of these service request type instances has security applied to it to choose who can see these in their dashboard when they log in. In most small organizations, there will be one instance for each service request type, but in large enterprises there may be one per division or even more. Governance Automation purposely has a dynamic web based forms engine that allows all service request type form fields to either be: shown to the end user for input (with optional mandatory input); shown to the end user in read only for reference; or hidden from them to keep the form clean and simple. Our customers’ feedback highlighted that business users often really don’t care, or even know, who the Site Collection Owner is. Typically, our customers find that the owneris the SharePoint administrator within IT…dangerous information to give to business users who will start hounding the poor IT admin!
Leveraging the DocAve Platform
The other key principle of Governance Automation is that we are not building from scratch all these service requests. Most of the functionality already exists in DocAve, AvePoint’s enterprise-class management platform for SharePoint governance, and currently requests come from the IT Administrators that use its interface. It is important to point out that with DocAve 6, organizations can configure the products to enforce governance based on requirements in the governance model.Governance Automation surfaces, via a web dashboard, the ability for business users to request services and ensure the relevant approvers to accept before sending instructions to the DocAve platform to execute the relevant actions.
Essentially, Governance Automation is eliminating the layer existing in many organizations which takes requests from business users and passes them onto the SharePoint Administrators to execute. Oftentimes, this process is extremely ad-hoc and left to Administrators receiving the requests to make decisions on the appropriateness of the request as well as deal with various business owners to get approval before running them. Often it will require the Administrator to do multiple steps, so the service request types bundle these together under the covers. This process also causes bottlenecks on Administrator resources, and can affect the efficiencies of the service to the organization impacting on adoption of the platform.DocAve has two main integration points for Governance Automation, the plans configured by IT Administrators and the DocAve APIs released in version 6 of the product.DocAve 6 Plans
Our existing customer base will already have plans configured based on agreements by the governance committee for:- Granular back up of content to hierarchical storage tiers based on service level agreements (SLAs)- Hierarchical storage management configuration of BLOB content, via our Extender product, to optimize storage across the organization- Archiving settings for content based on SLAs and records management compliance requirements- Auditing settings for content based on compliance and usage monitoring requirementsOther product plans will be introduced into Governance Automation in forthcoming releases. DocAve 6 APIs
The other key integration point is the APIs that are being introduced into each product within DocAve. This has long been a big request among our partners, and allows you to call DocAve via our APIs to execute various actions within the products including creating new plans, running jobs, and editing plans. These can be consumed by .NET managed code or by executing PowerShell cmdlets.Software engineers that configure DocAve do like their “bag of trick” scripts that configure the environments based on a few configurable parameters, rather than repetitive actions in the user interface at each customer. This means the engineers can do more for their customers on engagements and improve their consistency between customer deployments. Our team decided there was no better way to test the API than to be the first to build a product that leveraged it. These are separate teams in our R&D group, and subsequently we have already seen significant improvements in our documentation as well as introduced new functionality directly into the API.The most important takeaway here, when comparing to other products on the market today, is that no other product will have the breadth across governance model requirements as DocAve and Governance Automation will. Our competitors focus on niche areas such as security management, security auditing, or site provisioning when they discuss Governance. Our product includes data protection, storage optimization, administration, compliance, reporting and migration as core suite offerings.Policies
Governance Automation introduces the concept of Policies that allow an IT administrator or governance committee administrators to configure service offerings for divisions within the organization. Many of the customers we speak to have the concept of “Gold”, “Silver” and “Bronze” policies or “Tier 1”, “Tier 2” and “Tier 3” that are offered to divisions of the organization possessing associated internal costs that are charged back to the divisions and used by IT as part of their budget. After talking to many of our customers, charge back models vary widely. Rather than build this directly into the product for general availability, we provide a mechanism to export a report on what site collections there are in the governance system and what services they are consuming.Workflow
For general availability release, there will be predefined workflow definitions. These definitions are still being decided upon based on customer feedback to ensure we are meeting their specific needs, but will include: one-step serial approver, two-step serial approver, one-step parallel approver, and two-step parallel approver. In future releases, developers will be able to build workflows in Visual Studio 2010 using Windows Workflow Foundation 4.0 to use extended workflows for specific service request types.Reporting for Return on Investment & Continuous Improvement
Our extensive research finds that the majority of our customers were requesting ways to measure the success of their governance model from both a return on investment (ROI) and continuous improvement perspective. After all, the stakeholders of the governance model had to convince their upper management that it was a worthwhile expense to go through the process of creating a governance committee, drawing up a governance plan, and then enforcing it. In larger organizations, this will involve external specialist consultants, including AvePoint service integration partners, to help the organization meet their objectives.The Governance Automation product includes a reporting engine that will allow governance committee members who have the appropriate rights to see data such as ‘how many requests are we getting, and from what divisions’, which will allow the committee to measure the adoption rates across the organization . All of the auditing data from the Governance Automation product will be available through the SQL database instance in an open schema for more sophisticated reporting through SQL Reporting Services.Release date
Govenance Automation is scheduled for general availability release in Q2 of 2012. The demonstrations and screen shots that are in our marketing material at the moment are of a prototype our R&D team built to demonstrate to early customers this year. At general availability, Governance Automation will fully leverage the existing DocAve platform and have an HTML presentation layer to business users outside of SharePoint to fully support multi-farm environments for enterprise customers.Resources