Sharing documents and the Open Document Format

What’s The Open Document Format about?

If you ever send or receive computerised documents by email, this is important for you.

Have you ever you received a document that you did not have the right program to read (Word, Office, Adobe, docx, pdf etc), or the contents were rearranged? And isn’t it frustrating to have to upgrade software you are used to just because others do?

The Open Document Format helps.

What is a document format?

When a computer saves something you have typed on the screen, it puts it in a thing called a file. The file is what you attach when you email it to someone, and the format is the way that your program writes the file.

Now, various computer programs write their files in different formats. It’s as if one saves your document in language A and one saves it in language B. The person the other end can only read your document as you wrote it if their program also reads that file format or ‘language’. If you have the same program, about the same age, then you will be ok.

Why don’t documents get saved in the same universal format?

There is a technical argument that some formats cannot cope with new, clever things that software companies invent for us to use. So formats need to change every few years.

There is a commercial fact that if you get enough people on the same software, everyone else has to buy it in order to share information. Equally, if you tweak your format every few years then everyone has to buy an upgrade in order to keep in step, so as a software supplier you sell a new program to write letters even when the old one still works fine.

What is the Open Document Standard?

Adopting the Open Document format is the UK government’s attempt to decide which of the file formats is comprehensive enough to cover most needs, and suggest that is used for all communication. My opinion of the reasons for this are:

  1. in order to make their documents available to everyone, the govt would need to issue documents in every format that was around, and that takes time and cost
  2. it costs UK businesses a huge amount of money each year upgrading when many do not need the functions provided by the ‘latest upgrades’
  3. being tied to one software supplier just to read documents is not a competitive market
  4. most importantly, some software suppliers do not publish details about how their format works. So if that software company goes out of business or stops supporting its ‘outdated’ formats, both you and the govt lose the ability to open and read older old documents!

Why should I use the Open Document Format?

  1. To eliminate the familiar problem of someone asking you to resend in a different format, download a new program or upgrade
  2. to give you the choice which word processor you use
  3. to give you the chance to invest in new software when you need to, not when incompatibility forces you to
  4. so that you will still be able to read your own documents in years to come

How can I use the Open Document Format?

Most software packages now allow you to change the ‘default’ format when you save a file. It will be in your user settings and you will also be asked when you install new software. You certainly do not have to spend any money to start using this standard. There may be a few minutes needed in training, but it is very simple. You only need to alter the default once.

Libreoffice and google docs have automatically used this standard for years. Libreoffice is used by millions and can be downloaded for free, so give it a try whatever you already use – it will look very familiar and does most things well in my view (I’ve used it for ten years now).

Further reading

More details from the UK government here.

Guardian comment here.

An article about how some software suppliers worried about how they might lose the ability to keep you tied in with them here.

Barclays Bank Computer theft

This is one post what I am going to revise as the story unfolds, so keep an eye on it. The interesting part to me is how do you track people on your sites and places of work? BBC article here

Monitoring People on Site

It is so common to visit a workplace (other than as a customer) and follow someone through a pass-protected door, or sign in yet leave by another entrance and drive away with a visitors pass still in your pocket. So although security is a specialism in its own right I though I would jot down a few questions we all need to consider, then act on if we suspect that our answers are weak.

Visitor Security self-assessment

  • in an emergency am I sure that anyone could know who was left in the building?
  • what help can neighbouring businesses be to each other?
  • how important do people really think visitor books and passes are?
  • can all your colleagues challenge a visitor about their identity confidently and politely? How well would they be supported if their challenge was not well-received?
  • what impression does a visitor get from all the areas they might visit?
  • how well do visitors have to be known before scrutiny is relaxed?
  • if my insurance company tested the system with a visit, how would they rate us as a risk?
  • do you use technology effectively and unobtrusively?

Next Actions

I made this post to gather my thoughts and perhaps help a few people with some searching questions. To me, the points above tell me about your approach to business or project planning, safety, theft, sabotage, intellectual property, branding, leadership and employee relations.

If you want someone who can pose those questions in confidence then help you improve your answers, call me.

Capacity Building for the Environmental Volunteering Sector

Information from Funding Central Website
Status:
Open to applications
Application Deadline:
15 March 2013

Contact me to discuss the subject of applying for grant funding in General

Description

One-off grant available for the development and delivery of volunteer management training to boost environmental volunteering.


Details

Maximum Value:
£ 200,000

Value Notes

Defra intend to award a single grant and the maximum funding available is £200,000 split into £100,000 per year over a two year period from April 2013 to March 2015.


Extended Description

The scheme is focused on enabling environmental volunteering organisations to build capacity to create more volunteering opportunities and also to support local community volunteering for environmental action.

The overarching aims of the grant are:

  • To build the capacity of the environmental volunteering sector in England in order to increase the volunteering opportunities the sector is able to provide and thereby ultimately increase the numbers of people volunteering for the benefit of the environment.
  • That this work should benefit the environmental volunteering sector in England as widely as possible (ie rather than just the organisation awarded the funding), in terms of the outputs being widely accessible and used, the contribution to building the sector’s capacity to increase volunteering and providing a positive and tangible legacy.
  • That this work should also support local community volunteering, tapping into the potential power of people wanting to look after and improve their own local environment. The work should therefore contribute to helping enable and empower communities to get involved, take responsibility and make a real difference to local people and wildlife.

The specific objective of the grant is to:

  •  Enable development of a common resource for the sector, comprising development and delivery of training modules on environmental volunteer management designed to enable volunteering organisations to train staff and others (including volunteers) to manage volunteers. This will assist the sector in increasing its capacity to manage and deploy greater numbers of volunteers.
  • Include an element of ‘training the trainer’ to create a cadre of trained individuals within environmental volunteering organisations able to sustain provision of the training beyond the period of this grant.
  • Improve and expand the infrastructure of support from environmental volunteering organisations for local community action.

Latest Information

The application closing date is 12pm on 15 March 2013.


Key Criteria

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be UK based.
  • Be run on a not-for-profit basis.
  • Have expertise in the field of environmental volunteering and the organisation(s) involved must be engaged and influential in this field.

Eligible Expenditure

Costs associated with eligible projects.


Match Funding Restrictions

Up to 100% of the agreed eligible costs for a project may be funded. However, contributions from other organisations and eligible funding sources are encouraged.


Application Procedure

Grant applications will only be accepted via the Bravo, Defra’s e-Application portal. Interested organisations must be registered on Bravo to access this opportunity.

The document ‘Applicant Instructions: How to Register on the Defra e-Application Portal – Open Process’ gives infomration on how to register and apply.

Applicants are required to submit a detailed Project Plan setting out information including the milestones within the project, the timescales for delivery of the project and the spend profile throughout the project period. This Plan will be submitted to the Authority for assessment and will be inserted into any resulting Grant Agreement for signature by the successful applicant and Defra before the project commences.


Addresses and contacts

For further information on how to obtain this funding opportunity locally, please contact the following:

Contact details:
David Morley Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Procurement & Commercial Function – Grants, Room 401,
Foss House,
Kings Pool
1-2 Peasholme Green,
York,
YO1 7PX
Telephone:
01904 45 4516
Email:
Email contact

Are you failing yourself as a boss?

Tomorrow I’m leading a short session for a local group (http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=2040411) under the broad heading of failure. Far from making it a  downbeat session. we will be exploring:

  • how we apply the f-word differently to ourselves than those we may be with (sometimes more critical, sometimes more tolerant)
  • how we can prevent the real failures (e.g. when no lessons get learned)
  • how we can spot things early
  • how we can remember to apply good coaching skills to ourselves

Preparation? Well, between now and tomorrow morning you might like to bear in mind a recent event which looked like a failure but had a very silver lining.

I’ll write up how it went, and also produce a quick handout as well.

Enterprise workshops with University students

Last week I had a great day as an ‘expert’, helping with a two-day student course on enterprise in an event called the Dynamo Challenge 2010. It followed the fairly popular format of setting teams a task to develop a business plan for an idea, then having them present the idea to a panel for feedback and marks. So what was that formula that made this one good?

The ‘Dragon’s Den’ experts

The organisers invited a team of about thirty experts, who cam from a broad range of backgrounds. They included accountants from some large firms, business coaches and consultants, marketing consultants and business owners in fields as varied as product design and logistics. Although we only attended the day, we were well briefed on our roles and very much welcomed into the delivery process. For me, it was so good that with minimal time to get to know each other, the experts were able to work well together to coach the students – the last thing they would have wanted was a bunch of smug or very directive ‘experts’ sounding off about what was right, or points-scoring between each other!

The Graduate Enterprise workshop format

The organisers did a good job selecting a venue ( the Marwell Hotel near Winchester) that had good parking, plenty of breakout rooms and an un-stuffy atmosphere. Here are some of the things that I think really contributed to the success:

  • an icebreaker for the undergraduates to meet the experts, who acted as customers in a free-for-all sales hall
  • keeping the energy very high and the activity times short
  • bringing in enough jargon to represent the real world, but making the emphasis practical more than academic
  • keep the spirit of experiential learning – do, reflect, learn, plan. See David Kolb’s learning cycle, (http://www.ldu.leeds.ac.uk/ldu/sddu_multimedia/kolb/static_version.php et al)
  • having meaningful rewards for the winners
  • including ‘meetings’ with the experts as well as information presentations. This again reflected real life, where a business has to find a business advisor and decide what to take on board

Business Startup Courses for the future

So, what do I take away from the event?

Having both lectured on an enterprise course and delivered business coaching for a number of years, I feel that a practical approach is invaluable in preparing for a thriving business. Because there are few right and wrong answers, success is more likely to come from someone who learns from experience and puts their own mark on a process. There is a strong argument that attitude and approach make an entrepreneur, and it is the business theory and academic side that builds on what the entrepreneur starts.

It reminded me how dry some business startup courses aimed at ‘adults’ can be, and is something I will bear in mind to make sure that the Simply Work for Yourself experiences I will run next year alongside the online course will be upbeat, fun, challenging and memorable.