Best practices for RSuite workflow

Posted by Lisa Bos on Jan 27, 2014 8:37:00 AM

Best practices for RSuite workflowRSI began as a consulting company for publishers. In that role, we were often asked by our customers to document their as-is workflows and recommend new ones that would drive electronic product development and efficiency. We spent a lot of time creating massive diagrams. A lot of time. These projects were sometimes useful, and sometimes not. They were useful when we and our customer stopped analysis and documentation before the point of diminishing returns and turned our focus instead to implementing real change and on breaking down barriers to it. They were not useful when our customer was more focused on the perfection of the workflow documentation than on what they could learn from it. (Like, “Whoa, do we really need three different people to perform the same review cycle?” or “Does the author really need a print-perfect PDF proof?”)

As we transitioned to becoming a software solutions provider, workflow analysis was one of the more interesting and challenging areas because we had to actually make those new workflows work in the real world. The timing of this shift for us was accompanied by a shift in perspective by many publishers. Most of our business sponsors no longer have patience (or budget!) for extended analysis projects. They want change, and they are willing to take on some risk to make it happen. Fortunately, what our customers want and what we’ve found really works align nicely. 

Bottom line: Most teams come to us already knowing what they want to change about their business processes (at a high level), can list their most obvious inefficiencies, and have no way of knowing about the other ones that lurk until they move to an environment where they can measure them. Sometimes this is because another consultancy has helped them plan, but usually it’s because they are smart people and they know their own processes because they live with them every day. (Sometimes teams don’t know these things, but that points to management and staffing problems and that’s a post for another day…)

Because most of the teams we work with already know, roughly speaking, what they need and want to do, our job is to guide them towards a workflow implementation that reflects their big goals for change (usually being digitally-driven rather than print-driven), works for every day users, is flexible, and provides enough reporting to inform ongoing improvement. And to get it in their hands quickly. 

Even though we and our customers are smarter than we were ten years ago, there are still plenty of pitfalls in implementing workflow. This is especially true of a system that enables automation of content transformation, product delivery, and other common publishing tasks. Everyone is looking for the Easy Button.

Here are the best practices we follow when implementing RSuite workflow.

    1. Keep it simple, keep it loose. Our customers today are mostly willing to forego months of analysis, but they often still want to reflect hundreds of discrete steps in their CMS workflow. Unless you have a legal compliancy concern, this is a waste of effort and will make your team nuts. System workflows with a small number of milestone steps give human beings flexibility in working out the daily details of their jobs and avoid the feeling of a police state. Few publishing processes really follow the documented 500 steps, and often that is for good reason. Don’t hem in your staff with a rigid implementation.
    2. Automate, but avoid automation dependencies for your workflows. A business process often has several predictable points at which automation is needed (e.g., conversion of a manuscript from Word to XML, generation of author proofs, delivery). It’s tempting to want to plug those steps tightly into your workflow. In the past few years we’ve taken a different approach. We give users tools to run or rerun automations whenever they need to, but don’t have the workflow engine itself initiate the conversion, delivery, and so on. This simplifies (read, cheaper, shorter) workflow implementation and also gives the publisher the opportunity to change a workflow on a one-off basis or permanently with minimal or no configuration changes. 
    3. Don’t forget reporting! During a project it’s easy to get caught up in workflow process implementation and not spend enough time creating truly useful reports. Which leads to…
    4. Remember that change isn’t a switch you flip. Rolling out your new CMS and workflows is the beginning of change, not the end. Expect that over time you will want to adjust not only the offline details of how you’re working, but also the workflow itself. Create a habit of reviewing reports and looking for bottlenecks and points of frustrations. Make sure you have a staffing plan that enables you to make small changes quickly. This best practice also means you have permission NOT to rationalize all your business processes on day one of CMS launch. Management often has the goal of getting rid of all the unnecessary inconsistencies among teams, and this is a worthy goal. But sometimes it makes sense to step into that level of change incrementally.

We’ve found that following these guidelines results in a system that enables immediate change but with the option for more change when you need it. Not following them can lead to user revolt and management disappointment. 

What do you think? What has and hasn’t worked for you when implementing business process changes?


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Topics: RSI Content Solutions, best practices, Best practices for RSuite workflow

RSI Content Solutions Named to Philadelphia Future 50 For Third Year in a Row

Posted by Sarah Silveri on Jan 21, 2014 8:09:00 AM

RSI Named to Philadelphia Future 50

RSI Content Solutions, a leading content management software provider, was recognized by Philadelphia SmartCEO magazine as a winner of the 2014 Philadelphia  Future 50 Award. The Future 50 Awards program recognizes 50 of the area’s fastest-growing companies based on employee and revenue growth over the past 3 years. The 2014 Future 50 winners collectively generate $3.2 billion in annual revenue and employ 10,412 individuals in the Greater Philadelphia area.

The Future 50 Awards program, now in its 4th year of celebration in Philadelphia, kicked off with an application process in September 2013. More than 700 local business executives and guests attended a gala on January 16th, 2014 at the Drexelbrook to celebrate the winners and their achievements.

Read the full press release here

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Topics: RSI Content Solutions, Winner, Future 50 Award, Future 50, SmartCEO

David Saracco, Vice President at RSI Content Solutions, to Speak at The Challenges of Digital Online Publishing Management Seminar

Posted by Sarah Silveri on Jan 13, 2014 8:28:00 AM

David Saracco, Vice President at RSI Content Solutions, to Speak at The Challenges of Digital Online Publishing Management SeminarDavid Saracco, VP of Business Development at RSI Content Solutions, will be speaking at The Challenges of Digital Online Publishing Management Seminar on January 15 from 11 AM to 12:30 PM E.D.T. The seminar will take place at the SUNY Global Center for Graduate and Executive Education, located at 116 East 55th Street in New York.

The purpose of this management seminar is to provide an overview of the rapidly developing technologies and new businesses for digital and online publishing for a delegation of Chinese publishers. It will present a review of recent developments that are taking place and how they will impact the publishing or information industry in the areas of editing entering data, storage and retrieval of information as new forms of the publishing business. The functions of searching, data storage and data mining, bookmarking, tagging, blogs, websites, social networks, and new business models will be presented as an intense management overview.

Click here to read the entire press release.


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Topics: David Saracco, Challenges of Digital Online Publishing Management, SUNY

Behind the scenes: RSuite 4’s Action-based Interface

Posted by Christopher Hill on Jan 9, 2014 9:00:00 AM

In the coming months, I’ll periodically be writing a bit about the design of RSuite 4. It has been very exciting to see the effort and thought we put in to the user experience translating into a much improved experience for our users.  

RSuite 4: Unnaturally Natural By Design

Many of our new customers starting out with RSuite 4 may not be aware of the effort required to put together such a natural design. It’s easy to forget that thousands of hours of thought, design, and refinement by many people are usually behind those interfaces that seem so effortless. Starting now and for several months I will be periodically posting this series of behind-the-scenes discussion of RSuite 4. Along the way you will have the opportunity to get a taste of some of the major challenges and opportunities when designing software user interfaces.

Indirect Action Traps Unsuspecting Users

Traditional content and asset management users might click on an image then scoot up to a toolbar or some menu to conduct an action.  You might find the preview button on the toolbar. Click it and the selected image is previewed for you.

This works fine if users operate with a clear understanding of what item they have selected as well as an action’s area of effect. Accidentally clicking the mouse or forgetting about a change of selection and users may find they've acted on the wrong item. With each mistake an inexperienced user’s confidence is eroded, often snowballing into more errors. Not only are inexperienced users struggling to get their work done, now they have to undo their mistakes. If they can find them...

Look at the RSuite 3 screenshot. The selected item is clearly identified with the orange highlighting. Bump the scroller on your mouse, however, and that orange item can slide out of view. The toolbar, though, remains visible and is still ready to act on the now-unseen item. If you are sure that the now-hidden item you want to act on is still selected then you can click the toolbar. Most users lack this surety and instead have to scroll around until they can double-check that the right item is still selected. 

RSuite 3 - a traditional design

After observing many types of users repeat such behaviors in a wide range of software applications, I suspect that users have become resigned to these error-prone designs. They aren't aware that this checking and double-checking is time consuming and directly impeding their ability to get work done.

Context Menus: A Step In The Right Direction

In the mid-90s mainstream computer software adopted context menus, menus accessed by right-clicking an item and selecting an action to take from a flat list of menu items. Context menus had the advantage of providing users a direct action interface. Right click an item and a list of actions relevant to that item are displayed. It was definitely a step in the right direction. Web applications like RSuite 3 typically offer context menus.

Context menus were great for users who figured out how to right-click something provided the action you wanted to take was present in the menu that appeared. But the flat menu design of context menus generally lacks the density of functionality of buttons on a toolbar. So the compromise of context menus is that some subset of available actions appear in the context menu.

A Context Menu or Scavanger Hunt

Most interfaces ended up with many actions available only in the toolbar or some traditional menu structure. It is common to also find a few actions that are only available in the context menu. There also might be additional menus hiding somewhere with the action we need. Inexperienced users struggle to memorize the interface or become a highly practiced scavenger hunters as they try to get their work done.

A careful UI designer will go to great lengths to design some logic into the interface to explain why some actions are in toolbars, others menus and still other in context menus. Unfortunately understanding the design logic usually requires a solid understanding of the application. So users who could be greatly helped if they could more easily act within the application lack the level of understanding of the software needed to interpret the design logic. 

Extensibility Is A Design Challenge

RSuite’s renowned extensibility usually requires integrators find places to extend the UI in order to interact with the user. Should I put a new button in the toolbar? In the context menu? Add to some existing menu? Or look somewhere else? Or maybe put it everywhere? Instead of focusing on the actual business goals, most traditional UI designs bog integrators down in decision-making, UI coding activities and design tasks that are not productive or efficient uses of their time.

In spite of an integrator’s best intention and effort, traditional integration projects can end up producing customized applications that feel more like trying to land a 1974 jumbo jet for the first time rather than doing my actual job. While it is easy to blame the integration team, sometimes you might find that traditional software design and integration points are complicit in the ineffective result.

747 cockpit

RSuite 4: Consistent, Direct, Logical

RSuite 4 uses a direct action-based interface revealed by left-clicking on an item. Long toolbars filled with inscrutable icons are no longer present. Traditional menus are reserved for a few special cases. If a user wants to know what actions are available on any item in RSuite 4, just click it. Every available action for the item they click on is displayed clearly in an action menu.

RSuite 4 interface example resized 600

Want to act on an image? Click it. A menu with icons and text clearly communicate all of the actions you can take. This simple approach means that no experience is necessary to discover what actions are available. Over time, as your implementation changes, users only have to understand the changes to the business-specific actions available. The UI remans consistent. 

Integrators have a clear, consistent design language for any extensions they care to add to RSuite. The application’s logical design greatly reduces the effort required for most common integration tasks. Adding to or removing from an action menu doesn't require any complex Javascript or other UI coding.

Would You Like To Know More?

With RSuite 4 we have worked hard to remove barriers that are still far too common in business applications. If your interested in seeing more check out our online video tour or visit our website to contact us for a demonstration.

Topics: RSuite 4, software design, behind the scenes

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