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Information Coalition: Resources For Your Enterprise Information Success.

Debate Over “Content Services vs. ECM” Misses the PointTemplate for Event

"ECM is dead." "Content Services are the next generation." "I've got a brand-new pair of roller skates."

If you think that last quote is a non sequitur, you're right! But so, I'd argue, are the other two, because neither speaks directly to what both really are all about:

Improving the "care and feeding" of your business-critical information.

You know what else? I bet a large majority of organizations wrestling with information management issues today haven't even heard of content services – and most of these probably aren't familiar with ECM either.

This is not a criticism; if anything, it's a compliment because they're probably wrapped up in their day-to-day and don't have time to be distracted by such things.

It is a caution of sorts, though, for some in the professional market-watching game – and their devoted followers – who think what things are called, and how things are grouped and counted, is more important than how to use those things to solve business problems.

To be fair, these items probably are more important to folks like that because categorizing and quantifying market segments is what they do for a living. But for customers, the point is and must be something quite different, namely to bring order and discipline to the way their information is protected and used.

This is why the debate over content services vs. ECM misses the point. Both should be part of the discussion since both can be significant pieces in the overall puzzle, the latter most properly as a business practice and the former as an enabling technology set. But neither is The Answer unto itself, so it's not an either/or proposition.

So sayeth me. What sayeth you?

______________
Steve Weissman,
The Info Gov Guy™| 617-383-4655 • steve@infogovguy.com
Principal Consultant, Holly Group • Co-Founder, Information Coalition
Member, AIIM Company of Fellows


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Information Management: It’s Safe to Go in the Water

"Overwhelming"

"Complicated"

"Scary"

Quotes from a movie poster? A book jacket? A Congressional hearing? No, merely a summary of my latest People's Take* on the state of information management today.

From one: "All I want to do is scan stuff into my system, but they keep shoving content management at me. Except now it's not that, but 'content services.' What the heck is THAT?"

From another: "I'm just trying to shorten my billing cycle, but every conference I go to is full of sessions about the cloud and analytics. Do I need to care about these?"

From a third: "Information governance, big data, business intelligence … it all sounds so impressive. But I'm not sure how they relate to me. And what happens if I pick the wrong one?"

First of all, there isn't a "wrong one" per se since each of these disciplines involve essentially the same best-practices when it comes to the "care and feeding" of your business-critical information. There are differences in the details, but you'll be find if you do your homework properly.

Second, you need to care about them all, but the lens through which you view them has to be the business problem you're trying to solve. You'll find much of the confusion and obfuscation disappears when you ask your questions in the context of your specific need. So don't worry about what the technology is called; concentrate instead on what it can do.

Third, don't wait to figure it all out before taking steps to improve your situation. There's a cost to continuing to do things the way you do now, and there's always something new coming over the horizon. Delaying until you know everything about everything will only push your action off for months more.

  • You can begin categorizing your paper documents today to prepare to scan and store them.
  • You can map your billing process today to identify choke-points and quantify throughput goals.
  • You can start articulating your information-related pain-points today to identify which specific discipline(s) / technology(ies) you should investigate.

Dale Carnegie said, "If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." I say, be like Dale, and dive right in!


*My "People's Take" is a regular bit of informal research conducted to gauge customers' thinking regarding the "latest and greatest" concepts and technologies. Turns out they're usually more in tune with their thoughts than anyone else!


_____
Steve Weissman, The Info Gov Guy™|617-383-4655steve@infogovguy.com|Principal Consultant, Holly Group•Co-Founder, Information Coalition|Member, AIIM Company of Fellows

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Information Quality: One Goal, Two Meanings

England and America are two countries separated by the same language – George Bernard Shaw

In the same way, businesspeople and ITers often are separated by a single phrase: "information quality."

Both cite it as a prime information governance objective, but when you get right down to it, they don't always use it to mean the same thing.

For the business set, "quality" is typically defined in terms of accuracy – as in, is the data before me factually correct?

For the technology-minded, "quality" is generally defined in terms of integrity – as in, is the data I'm working with secure and unaltered?

The distinction here may seem subtle, but it's actually quite critical because it's entirely possible – and often extant – to have well-protected information that is just flat-out wrong.

Case in point: a machine shop fabricates 2-inch pipes per a carefully-managed internal work order, but the construction crew later discovers the original contractor-created design called for 2-inch tubes (the difference being inside vs. outside diameter). At that point, the difference between "accuracy" and "integrity" becomes stark indeed as the parts simply won't fit and the crew has to stand around, awaiting instructions.

So the question is: what does "information quality" mean to you, and does it mean the same thing to anyone else in your organization?

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Fax & InfoGov: An Older Medium at Large

I went back to the Major National Bank yesterday to complete some parents'-estate-related account-opening tasks, and couldn't believe the gal helping me was told by some back-office document people to send a specifically-worded note to them – not by email but by fax.

The surprise wasn't that the bank still relies on this older medium from time to time – I've been writing about this for quite a long while (see this post from 2012, and this one from earlier this year). Rather, I was stunned to learn that the bank requires fax for some of its internal communications.

You would think that email would be the preferred medium to use in such a case given the end-to-end control the bank has over its infrastructure and the protection thereof. OK, maybe the faxing takes place over an internal VoIP connection and is similarly well secured. Why then give up the down-the-road process efficiencies associated with a "born digital" document?

I don't have a good answer for this, and the people yesterday were neither the right people to ask about it nor paying clients, so I simply went along. And in the end, the process worked, and I got done what I needed to do.

But I can't help but think this accomplishment was achieved in spite of some of the information governance decisions the bank made, not because of them.

What say you?

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Rock, Paper, Scissors – IG Style

In the world of information governance:

  • People … defeat Policies
  • Policies … defeat Litigation
  • Litigation … defeats People

And you can quote me on that!

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Understanding The Information Strategist

Understanding The Information Strategist
The world of associations and groups that serve the enterprise information sector currently looks something like this:

Each association and group has a body of knowledge and a specific profession, that leverages enterprise information, and focuses on that specific profession (e.g. Records Managers are served by ARMA, ECM is served by AIIM, Privacy Professionals by IAPP, etc.). The Information Coalition serves a gap in this structure that isn't quite visible in our typical understanding of associations and groups, let me show it to you...

You can find the gap with me by asking some very simple questions:

  • Which group sets organizational policy?
  • Which group is "in charge" of information?
  • Who coordinates between the various roles?


Who is it that does that cross functional work that aligns enterprise information policy and structure across disciplines? In some companies it's the CIO, in others it's the CTO, in many others (I daresay most), it's no one at all. There's the huge gap. We call the people that fill that gap, whatever their official title, an information strategist.

It's the information strategist, and the people that are de facto Information Strategists, that the Information Coalition serves, and we believe that the real picture of where things are going is something akin to this:

We believe that the information strategist's role is incredibly challenging and incredibly important, whatever their official title may be (CIO, CTO, CIGO, Information Manager, Records Manager, Privacy Director, etc.).

The deep knowledge of the associations and groups that cover our broad sector should be cherished and honored; but let's be clear - we aren't that. The information strategist needs to have knowledge across disciplines, a bit of everything. The information strategist needs to have knowledge about how to align the various disciplines. This is where we serve and it shows in how we operate.

What many don't know is that we invite as many of the groups you see above to speak, present, and display at The Information Governance Conference. A few have taken us up on that offer (ARMA has in the past, the ICRM board has joined us, and IAPP and the PDF Association will be joining us this year).

Unfortunately, some have decided to not take us up on our offer, viewing us instead as competition. We'd like to clear the air and help everyone better understand our positioning, so that we can all move forward, together, and help our various professions advance, together. Consider this an open and public call to any and all of the aforementioned groups (and any we might have missed) to come and join us this year. We are paying for the costs of their registration and their tables (which we are charged for by the convention center) ourselves, that's how deep our commitment to this cross-functional work is.

As for the Information Coalition, we're continuing to gain momentum and are growing at a breakneck pace, not because we are fighting against the disciplinary focused associations. We're growing because we are enhancing their offerings, providing guidance on how to move from the tactical roles of a specific discipline into the broad role of an information strategist. If you're seeing your role shift towards the role of an "information strategist", join us, our basic membership is free (and we're committed to your success) and ALSO join the association that serves your specific domain of knowledge, we all have a role to play in the future of our professions.

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For ECM Solutions it’s Configuration versus Customization

For years I've been in discussions where the conversation bounced between "build" versus "buy: decisions for a ECM (Enterprise Content Management). Before 2000, managing any large collection of documents, either to a specific business case or all documents, meant building your own document management system or buying an existing document management system. Over the years, the conversation has moved away from the generic managing a large collection of documents to managing specific types of document collections; accounting, compliance, legal, personnel, etc. Some vendors still want to talk about build versus buy.

I think we can all agree that building an ECM platform from scratch, with all the proprietary and open-source solutions out there, is a wasted effort. Solving content problems has become about the "last mile." It's not "Build versus Buy" but "Configuration versus Customization."

ECM Is a Platform

So let's start by looking at two definitions from Gartner:

A solution is an implementation of people, processes, information and technologies in a distinct system to support a set of business or technical capabilities that solve one or more business problems.Enterprise content management (ECM) is used to create, store, distribute, discover, archive and manage unstructured content (such as scanned documents, email, reports, medical images and office documents), and ultimately analyze usage to enable organizations to deliver relevant content to users where and when they need it.

For years, I have seen end customers looking to manage specific business documents. It was IT that recognized they needed to solve these separate business problems with a single platform. This created the IT goal for a single ECM a platform. Without visibility of existing business solutions, IT usually won the decision. Today, business solutions and their capabilities are becoming more visible.

Now let's look at how far we get after spending $100,000 on an ECM platform or a business solution to solve a specific business problem.

Customization (The ECM Platform Story)

Suppose you've spent your $100k on an ECM platform. Now it's time to get started building your solution. The versatility of most platforms means that the options are endless. You can manage large complex problems like managing new drug submissions to managing employees' personnel documents.

Without a preconfigured solution, the discovery is up to the deployment team. The solution needs to have roles created, document type defined, document keyword identified, and workflows need to be created. Ahead are weeks to months of discovery to define your solution.

The Software to Services ratio or Services vs. Solutions ratio comes to play. This ratio states that for every $1 a customer spends on software they will spend an exponential value of dollars to get the solution they need. In the early days of ECM/ EDMS, this ratio was roughly $6 to $8 in services for every $1. Today, vendors are trying to get to $1 to $1. In reality, most deployments are between $4 and $2 in services for every $1 in software.

Even this number gets skewed if the focus is on rate cards rather than skill sets. Cheaper rates aren't always better. The service dollars used in the comparison needs to look at the team's experience in both the platform being used and the solution being developed. Finding someone that understands both the technology and the business problem is worth the potentially higher hourly rates.

Configuration (The Business Solution Story)

Now suppose you've spent your $100k on a business solution. Now it's time to configure your solution. The solution is already focused on the specific business platforms. The most common roles, document type, keyword, and workflows have already been identified and created based on best practices from several other customers. Your specific deployment may need some configuration but most of these solutions are ready for this.

These configurable or low-code solutions get much closer to a $1 to $1 services vs. solutions ratio. The services team already understands not only the technology but the business problem as well. The consultant joins your configuration workshops not only understanding what the different configurations are but often what those changes will mean to the business.

The real challenge here is making sure that the configurable solution is really configurable. That a solution already exists and that's it's not just a collection of "best practices from prior engagements." An early stage strawman proof of concept should be an easy effort with a configurable solution.

The New Content Solution Reality

With a little digging, customers looking to manage business problems can find solutions that are already to meet those business challenges. A few of these options come from ECM platform vendors themselves. Some others come from the ECM vendor's partners. Many more solutions come from the business user ecosystems. For instance, here's what I found in Legal Contract Management. The decisions to solving content challenges can include less custom code and more configuration.

In the long run, I believe that the business solutions vendors and ECM platforms will come together through partnerships and mergers. Just look at Records Management and Imaging Solutions which were once separate solutions and are now part of the ECM platform. Or look at Oracle, which offers both a relational database to solve any data problem and specific business solutions like E Business Suite or PeopleSoft.

----------------------

Marko Sillanpaa
www.BigMenOnContent.com

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3 Truths to Work With (or Against) When You Have to Change Minds

If you've been paying any attention to my posts, columns, and presentations, then you know just how important I believe – nay, I know – managing change is to the success of any information venture. So it won't surprise you to learn that I resonated like a tuning fork to a few of the concepts published yesterday in Fast Company that had nothing overtly to do with information governance.

1. "Many people form their opinions, at least in part, based on whether they think others share those opinions."

The need to "fit in" is hardwired into the human psyche, no doubt because, millennia ago, being outcast from your tribe likely meant your early demise. Today, the risks usually are much less dire, but the instinct to conform persists nonetheless. (Watch this social experiment for a light-hearted look.)

This reflex reaction can be harnessed to your advantage by gathering together like-minded individuals and utilizing that old sales technique in which you ask questions to which you know the answer will be "yes": "Don't you want to be able to find information faster than you do now? Don't you want access to the information you need regardless of which system it lives in? Don't you want to use a technology that lets you work the way you always have?" Properly orchestrated, people's opinions will become self-reinforcing in the direction you desire, and the first part of the battle will be won.

2. "The more frequently you encounter a piece of information, the more favorably disposed you are toward it."

Long substantiated by professional political panderers, this particular principle maps precisely to my time-honored catchphrase "change management = marketing" because it's all about repeating your message, to all of your intended audiences, as often as you can get away with. (This is the underpinning of the marketing Rule of 7, which posits that people need to see a message at least seven times before they will consider taking action.)

In enterprise information terms, this means constantly and creatively promoting the tangible business benefits of the work you are doing (or wanting to do). It means repeatedly distilling those benefits into definitive answers to users' critical question, "what's in it for me?!" It means not talking about "SharePoint" even if that's what you're using, but referring to something more generic so as not to worry the technophobes in the crowd. And it means staying away from uneducated guesstimates like the one made famous in the 1983 movie Mr. Mom: "Yeah, 220, 221. Whatever it takes."

3. "Thanks to handy 'unfollow' and 'mute' buttons, we get to choose what bits of information to attend to."

This may be the toughest nut to crack because we can't control what information people choose to actively filter out. Someone who really doesn't want to accept your new way of organizing information, engaging in a business process, or participating in some other data-based activity will simply delete your emails, block your social media memos, or ignore you at the water cooler.

The trick is to couch your message of change in terms of some other communication that he or she may very well want to hear. Just as we wrap doggie medicine inside a yummy treat, so we need to embed our new best-practices in something alluring – perhaps an invitation to a company-sponsored special event (a ballgame, a show, a trip) that is open only to those who, say, tag/move/manage some significant percentage of their emails by a certain date.

At the end of the day, what you're after is an organization full of people who are receptive – or at least not openly hostile – to the changes you are trying to make. The good news is that human psychology in this regard is fairly well understood. The bad news is that it can be quite challenging to work with and work around. Hopefully the 3 Truths adapted here will help ease your way.

What other techniques have you used to change minds and behaviors in your organization? What worked? What didn't? Let's talk about it.

==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder,
Information Coalition
- Follow me on Twitter! @steveweissman

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Recent Comments
Julie Hudak
Real change happens most effectively when people see the WIFM benefits and go through the change with someone holding their hands ... Read More
Thursday, 09 June 2016 20:19
Steve Weissman
You are so right, Julie! I'd even go as far as to suggest that focusing on the people aspect of change is not just a huge benefit ... Read More
Friday, 10 June 2016 13:52
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The Human Face of InfoGov

Solution marketeers and alarmist analysts love to flash the red lights of litigation support and audit compliance when making the case for information governance. But the problem with this is that neither of these reasons speak to the one Really Important Motive that lies at the end of the infogov path:

To better serve/enable/empower people, be they customers, prospects, employees, or other interested parties.

Cases in Point

This point was sadly and forcibly driven home to me in recent months as I cared for two terminally-ill family members. I've already touched on a couple of examples (see When Paper Is The Best Technology and Just the Fax, Ma'am), and here a couple more:

  • The funeral home that couldn't find the pre-paid paperwork and, after being provided with my carbon copy, defended itself by saying, "oh, that was done under the old owners." As if that justified the days-long halt they called to making the final arrangements.
  • The same funeral home that couldn't find another client's file folder and sent two staffers on an obvious office search, during which they loudly asked within earshot of everybody present, "has anyone seen the [family name] file?" Privacy? We don't need no stinking privacy.
  • The hospital ICU nurse who missed a critical bit of medical information because it was recorded on a piece of paper "that is a different size and color than I've ever seen before." Apparently reading is not fundamental.
  • The rehab facility whose blood-testing machine returned a result so far from normal that the technician thought the patient must be dying or dead – only to discover that he was exhibiting no symptoms at all. Couldn't be that there was something wrong with the machine, could it? Nah – better to rush the tube-fed, dialysis patient to the emergency room instead.

I could go on, but I won't for fear of offending more sensibilities than just my own. Suffice to say that these infogov-related incidents were painful for the family and disruptive to the institutions involved, which then had to spend time and effort addressing what went wrong.

Oh the Humanity!

I'd like to say that this story has a happy ending, that the funeral home, the hospital, the rehab facility learned their lesson, but they didn't. It's clear to me that the powers-that-be in each of these places – as is the case in so many – are more concerned with being right than with doing the right thing. The shame of it is that they could make some relatively small changes in their information-handling and make life better for both themselves and their constituents. But I'm sure they won't.

And that's a shame, because, to me, THAT is what infogov is really all about.

==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder,
Information Coalition
- Follow me on Twitter! @steveweissman

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When Paper is the Best Technology

Picking up where we last left off

You know that I'm a huge proponent of using electronic technology instead of paper to improve process efficiency and collaboration. But recent experiences with various eldercare institutions have again reminded me that sometimes the best technologies are no technologies at all.

Physician, Heal Thyself

The particular use cases I am talking about involve getting particular pieces of contact and care information to stick in my father's medical chart. Procedures are scheduled but I am not notified; doctors' orders are written but nurses don't know about them. And each time I call to rectify the situation, I am told "I will put it in his chart so this doesn't happen again."

Well, guess what I learned the other day? His chart is electronic. You would think this would make everybody's job easier, but it doesn't. What they really need is a simple yellow sticky note that they can scribble on and tape to the inside of the case folder. But what they have is fancy new technology that makes it well-nigh impossible to add or access such a thing on the screen.

The result is a constant revisiting of the same issues, with different people all promising the same (ineffective) fix.

"Less Paper" Good, "Paperless" Maybe Not So Much

It's hard to tell whether the underlying cause is a lack of training, an absence of awareness, an underpowered system, or a simple dearth of creativity (how about we write things on the whiteboard in his room?). Whatever the case, it's another great reminder that there's plenty of room for paper in our future, and we shouldn't rush to eliminate it just because maybe we can.

==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder, Information Coalition
- Follow me on Twitter! @steveweissman

 

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Information Management and Backwards-Compatibility: Just the Fax, Ma’am

​What does it tell you about the latest information management disciplines that my big success this week was sending a 10-page fax to a doctor's office?

It tells me is that we should never forget that much of the world consists of people who are just trying to get stuff done – and many of these are not equipped with anything resembling the cutting-edge infogov solutions we usually focus on. (There's a much more significant example here.)

The Back Story

About a year ago, I cut the cord to my cable service, sacrificing hundreds of channels I never watched and phone services I hardly used for a high-speed Internet connection. And all was perfectly well until the other day, when I needed to send a document to my elderly father's physician and learned that they are only allowed to communicate via fax.

Lacking a phone line, I knew there was no dial tone to feed to my MFP. I also knew I didn't want to sign up for an online service (too much work considering I probably won't have to fax again for years). So I ended up buying a gadget, subscribing to a free VOIP offering, and faxed happily ever after.

The Moral

I tell this story because I don't want you to hold the same mistaken assumption I did (albeit unwittingly), which is that anyone I need to share information with lives in the same scan/PDF/email world I do. The truth is, there are plenty of technical, philosophical, economic, and legal reasons for them not to, and yet it still somehow surprised me when they surfaced.

I still firmly believe that the latest information disciplines have the power to transform our businesses, and I know they are doing so in a great many cases. But we must always remember that the old ones have a staying power of their own, and we overlook them only at our peril.

==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder, Information Coalition - Follow me on Twitter!
@steveweissman

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Paul Revere & InfoGov: Rebels of Action & Collaboration

Listen My Children and You Shall Hear 
of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"

Paul Revere's Ride,
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Question: what does Paul Revere's ride have to do with information governance? Answer: it illustrates well that regardless of the success of this or that particular effort, what's important is that you do something and work with others to get the job done.

Revere is, well, revered, for alerting the good people of Lexington and Concord to the presence of approaching Redcoats. But did you know that he was captured en route and never actually finished the journey? That honor goes to Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had met up with Revere, managed to escape, and rode on to Concord in Revere's stead.

This success was a function of both men's commitment to action and to the assembly of a dedicated team. Revere and his associates (who also included one William Dawes) could have worried that "it's too risky, it's not my job, what if we're wrong, blah blah blah" and sat back and done nothing. But they didn't, and the rest – quite literally – is history.

To be sure, good infogov isn't as significant to global affairs as Revere's ride turned out to be. But achieving it requires the same sort of dedication. Getting started necessitates that you do something – do anything – even if you're not sure precisely how it will turn out. And getting finished demands a cooperative effort of like-minded individuals who believe in a good greater than themselves.

So don't just sit there – do something!

==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder, Information Coalition
- Follow me on Twitter! @steveweissman

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Unformation: The Difference is Clear

​Show of hands: who here remembers the old ad campaign for "7-Up: The Uncola"? Of those of you who do, how many can connect it to a critical piece of information management? Stay with me; I'll explain.

A Delicious Lesson From the Past
I'm a big believer in not reinventing the wheel. So as I am wont to do, I turned to the past while helping a client figure out how best to "sell" the concept of infogov to senior executives who love to throw technology at problems. And that led me to one of the most effective bits of marketeering in history.

7-Up's breakthrough program was crafted to breathe life into what was already a 40-year old brand, primarily by differentiating it from the market-dominating colas of the day. Strange though it may first sound, our client is seeking something quite similar: a means to revive the pursuit of information betterment, primarily by differentiating "good" content from "bad."

So …
Where 7-Up gave us the Uncola,
I bring you Unformation.

Information Good, Unformation Bad
Infogov is most powerful when it is used not just to protect and leverage the information that's most needed, but also to scrap what's not. You know: all the document drafts and copies that clutter your inboxes and shared drives, the emails to customers that may promise things your established policies prohibit, the boxes of old paper that block the fire exit in your basement, the old records than serve no purpose but to delight opposing counsel in a discovery process.

All this is what I mean by Unformation: not the "good" content we (think we) can so readily identify, but all the other stuff that needs to be culled, categorized, and either kept or ditched according to your business rules.

A Taste of Something New
And isn't that really the point? Not just to use technology to care for and feed your daily data – something that's getting to be fairly commodity – but to bring discipline to the way you deal with everything else. 7-Up changed people's thinking by embracing its "un"-ness and reframing the conversation. Like my client, you now can do the same, by countering the typical fixation on technology with a refreshing new message of your own.

Just for fun ...


==========================
Steve Weissman | 617-383-4655
- The Info Gov Guy™
- Member, AIIM Company of Fellows
- Co-Founder, Information Coalition
- Follow me on Twitter! @steveweissman

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Technology Doesn't Guarantee Success

There's an old saying in car racing that goes something like "you can't win the race in the first corner, but you can lose it."There is a similar truth when talking about software. The right software will not fix your problems, but the wrong software will surely exacerbate them. This, then, is a little story about choosing the wrong software.

Just prior to Christmas 2015 I took on a small project in Vermont. It was a bit of a weird situation in that the project was a mashup of two projects I'd done the previous year; the client was in the same business as another client, and the project was the same as a different client. No matter.

The client wanted to find out why their staff wasn't in love with the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution they'd deployed a few years earlier and why things were failing. With a few exceptions this could have been a copy of an assessment I did for a university (detailed in this post & case study). The key differences were the technology chosen and the business the two organizations are in. In the case of the university, at least they chose the right type of technology for their needs. The folks in Vermont kinda, sorta, almost made the right choice, but not quite.

Back in 2008/09 their legal folks decided that they needed something to manage all their documents, so they went out and sourced a document management product targeted to professional services organizations. At the time no one was thinking holistically about what the organization needed. Whatever, it'll all work out. Uhm, no.

As they were researching what to buy, they determined that their compliance and procurement departments had similar document management needs, so decided to deploy whatever they bought to those groups as well. There's nothing wrong with trying to get more bang for your buck, assuming that the fit is right. Right?

My client went out and selected a product and got it implemented. Now, the implementation did not go smoothly, but that was nothing to do with the product and everything to do with selecting a less than stellar implementation partner. However, that's not what this story is about, though you really need to be careful about selecting an implementation partner.

Once they got the implementation under way, they decided that the product they chose would be their ECM standard. There was a tiny problem; the product they selected was not an ECM product. As stated on their website [name withheld] "is the global leader in professional work product management". The vendor's target market is primarily law firms. Over the course of the project I spoke to the vendor and a couple of peers that work for organizations that use the vendor's tools. They all agree that the product is not suitable as an ECM platform. The two peers I spoke to said that the product is very good if you use it for what it's designed to do, but you'd be mad to try and use it as an ECM platform. To get back to my race car analogy; it'd be like trying to compete in the Dakar with a Formula One car.

But really, how bad could it be? Well, prior to implementing the product, everyone in the company knew where to find stuff, even though it was a pain. While they weren't thrilled about using file shares, FTP, and email to store and share content, they knew how to work with the tools they had, regardless of how prehistoric they were. Now that they have the new platform, most people in the company are more than a little fed up:

  • They file stuff and can't find it again;
  • They're supposed to send links to colleagues, but have to rely on email because security is borked;
  • Where previously there were standards, now many have their own way of doing things;
  • Irritation with previous tools has been replaced, in many cases, with hostility;
  • This list is not complete.

It's gotten so bad that my client is seriously considering ripping out the solution they implemented and going back to using file shares. I wish I were kidding.

As my university client found out, choosing the right technology is no guarantee of success. However, as my Vermont client found out, choosing the wrong technology is a guarantee of failure. Choose wisely and do all those other things that come before selecting and implementing technology. After all, a solution / system is a combination of people, processes, and technology.

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Using Social Network Analysis to Transform Organizations

I haven't thought this all the way through, and there are a lot of people (Jon Husband, Harold Jarche, and a guy I had beer with on Monday who is the founder of Simplexity Systems and the inspiration for this post, for example) who are way more knowledgeable about Social Network Analysis (SNA) than I am. I'm really just riffing a bit here.

Monday evening I had beer with a couple of people, one of whom I'd just met (thanks for buying, by the way). His official title is something like Manager of Enterprise Architecture, but his real mandate is to shake things up and make some changes for the good of the organization (a client of mine, BTW). Anyways, after a bit of chit chat, and my two companions finishing up with what they were talking about before I got there, the conversation turned to the topic of Social Network Analysis. What the heck is SNA? Well, my very simple understanding of it is something like …

Analytics and algorithms are used to mathematically prove the strength of relationships between nodes (people) in a network. For example; by examining aspects of an email chain between multiple people it is possible to map the relationships between the various participants and to see how strong those relationships are. One thing that's really cool about the whole SNA thing is that it not only measures the numbers of emails flying about and their sources and destinations, it also measures and evaluates elapsed time. What's missing (or we just didn't talk about it) is the sentiment of the relationship, since the analysis is focused on emails going back and forth and not the content and tone of the emails.

Before I forget … you ought to check out Wirearchy for some more in-depth stuff about SNA and how it can be applied …

Anyway, after chatting for a couple of hours, and the conversation being cut short (babysitters, feeding kids, family nonsense) I went into head scratching mode for a bit. I started thinking about other types of connections that could be mapped, using SNA principles. Could we map relationships between people and content, and then make inferences about those relationships? Could we make suggestions about potential relationships? For example, could we make inferences and suggestions about a relationship between two people (content author and content consumer) based on the consumer's relationship (activity) with the author's content, even though the people may not know each other? To what end would we apply these insights?

I also started thinking about what would happen if we added content and semantic analysis to the mix. Could we draw conclusions about the tone of the relationships? Could we figure out if a relationship between individuals was positive or negative? What else could we infer about the relationship?

What if, instead of looking at relationships between individuals, we aggregated the findings to look at relationships between departments in an organization? Could we identify relationships and dependencies where we previously assumed none existed? If we could, could we also then use this information to restructure certain elements and systems in the organization? In effect, could we use the combined results of Social Network Analysis, Content Analytics, and Semantic Analysis to tear down silos and improve information flows, thereby positively impacting the organization? My gut says we can.

As I said, I know very little about SNA though I am convinced that if it were applied in concert with other analytic approaches there's a lot of good stuff we could do. For the moment I'd really like to spend more time with my new drinking buddy, some wine or beer, and a whiteboard to learn more about this whole Social Network Analysis thing.

Cheers!

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