Mythical Beasties


It seems I’m not the only one that doesn’t believe in the myth of unstructured content. Like Sasquatch, Santa Claus, and Ogopogo (CRTC mandated Canadian content), we’ve all heard about it, but have we really seen it? I mean really seen it? Not like some mirage or something. (You’ll notice I made no reference to peyote induced visions.)

The one type of unstructured content that comes most readily to mind is the document that contains text – uh, word processing documents. Even before we had word processors I’d still argue that text based documents had some structure; whether they were produced by a typewriter or written by hand makes no difference. Even that letter you write to Santa Claus every year has structure. Dates, salutations, body text, closing, … they are all structural elements of a document.

Remember those three-part memo forms the nice lady with the pointy brassiere used to fill out for the boss? The one that said “MEMORANDUM” at the top. Uhm, “MEMORANDUM” is a metadata value. And if metadata does not provide structure, what does?

 

“What about pictures, Uncle Chris? They don’t have structure.”

Yes, Julie, they do.

Digital photograph files are loaded with metadata, probably more than is really useful for most organizations or people. Even the old fashioned photos that had to be developed manually had metadata associated to them. The major difference was that the metadata was usually in the photographer’s or subject’s head. Think about those notes that many people wrote on the backs of their pictures. Think about the photography geeks talking about f-stops, exposure settings, zoom lens size, … Okay, I’m officially bored now (no offense to photography buffs intended).

Music, paintings, sculpture, even the human body; they all have structure (the lady next to me on the plane has really nice structure). My point is that everything can be described and categorized. Like much of what has changed, nothing has really changed except our ability/need to do things faster. For the most part we are doing the same things, just better. The big thing is that today we’re able to, relatively easily, capture metadata and store it in order to make better use of it. It has always been there, though.

Like most myths, the myth of unstructured content is likely born out of some factual occurrence, but distorted over time and telling. Whether the distortion is wilful or innocent is anyone’s guess.

Another smart person’s take on the subject.

ECM for Unstructured Content Only? No Way


Someone, somewhere once said that ECM is about managing unstructured content. That may have been true once upon a long time ago; not anymore. I’m also not even sure that ECM really exists other than as some ephemeral (in the grand scheme of things) concept and marketing bumpf.

What I am sure about, brothers and sisters, is that organizations are sitting on butt-loads of information in various forms, formats, states of structuredness, and states of currency. They need to manage/control/contain/leverage this information in order to achieve real business objectives or solve real business problems. I have yet to come across an organization that wants to manage content for the sake of managing content (if I did I wouldn’t work with them).

I am currently working on a fictitious project for a made up client in a city that doesn’t exist. The objectives of the project are to catch up to and pass the competition in n years. The client will do this by providing their customers with a kick-ass user experience, delivered through a new web portal.

User experience will be achieved by presenting customers information that is relevant to them and by providing them with an holistic view of their relationship with the client. It also involves allowing customers to conduct business when, where, and how the customer wants. Catching up to and surpassing the competition will be achieved by getting more customers (a better user experience will help) via Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization (big fancy words for metadata / keywords / blah, blah, blah).

They’re going to make all this happen by using information; all sorts of information. Not just the unstructured stuff. (The actual existence of truly unstructured content is a debate for another day.) They’re going to pull stuff from a wide assortment of systems (see the really cool diagram) and present it in a fashion that is relevant to the user. This, folks, takes management. This takes management of information across the enterprise. This may lead to an Enterprise Information Management way of doing business (I really hope so). However, if the client does not propagate this way of working with information to other business areas, they don’t get to use the Enterprise label.

As far as the structured – unstructured thing is concerned; the majority of information that is in scope is highly structured. I’d be surprised if any of the rest of the information was truly unstructured.

The House that Jack Built


It starts out really simple; build us a thing that allows some people (all with common objectives / properties) to do some business with us. Easy, right? It is so far. Then things get interesting.

As other business units hear about what’s going on they want in on the action. As the original business unit finds out what is possible they want to extend functionality and include additional stakeholder groups. As executives realize the possibilities they decide they’re going to hang the entire organization’s “social strategy” on this thing that really started as something truly simple.

In some cases projects morph into programs because they become victims of their own success. Normally this is not an issue for either the vendor/SI or the client. However, when the mindset going in is really that of a project, changing the mindset to one of a program is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Typically what happens is that you end up with a bunch of projects being executed, somewhat in parallel, with little real coordination, and a high risk level of failure for all the projects.

Everyone on the planet worth listening to regarding ECM has said that ECM is not a project; it’s a state of being (maybe not everyone said that). The point is that ECM is not a thing; it is a concept of how to work with information in all its glorious forms. When you start implementing ECM you need to approach it as a cumulative exercise, the value of which increases over time and scope (not by throwing more bodies at it).

Start with something small and simple. For example; replace that $80K photo copier / collator / hole puncher behemoth with a document management solution that lets you distribute stuff electronically. Sure you’ll raise the ire of those two old biddies whose entire public sector career for the last umpteen years has been to be the gatekeepers of that big-ass machine. So what? Work with them and turn them into your first user adoption success story. But don’t stop.

Each additional piece of effort needs to build on the success of preceding wins. It doesn’t matter if you’re building upon deployed solutions, lessons learned, change management, …., it only matters that you keep building and moving towards your eventual end goal. Hint: the goal line keeps moving.

One other thing that REALLY matters is to have a plan. Your plan will change. New stuff will come in, some stuff will get thrown out, and priorities will change. This-is-o-kay. It does not mean you develop a plan and then toss it. No, no, no. It means you develop an initial plan and adjust it as situations dictate. It also means that you better have a damn good change management plan in place.

If you do not have a plan and a program mindset, and you’re lucky enough to have a resounding success with your first ECM dalliance, and “they” want more, … if you are very, very lucky the worst that will happen is that you will end up breathless (like I get when I read The House that Jack Built to my daughter) and stressed. However, in all likelihood you will end up holding the bag for an unmitigated disaster. And you will deserve it for not having a plan.

Have a plan.

Have the right mindset.

Build on success.

Be flexible.

Social: Bugger All New to See Here


In the context of business, social content does not exist. Social describes the nature of the forums in which the content is generated; social does not describe the actual content. To be honest I don’t even like using the word “social” to describe the forums in which the content is generated. This “new social business” thing is really nothing more than an extension of the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) models.

Business has been taking place socially since time began. Get over it; we aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before. What we’re doing is using new tools to do it faster, capture more stuff, and do it better (we hope). We’re also creating a whacking great amount of new buzzwords and revenue opportunities for vendors, SI’s, analysts, and fly-by-nighters based on not much more than new and improved products without the new and the improved part is suspect in some cases.

Truly social content is that stuff we see on Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other channels (that are shared with business activities) about how much you drank, what you had for dinner, who’s doing bouncy-bouncy with whom, etc. It’s not that the content isn’t valuable to some (nice take on it here by Cheryl McKinnon), it’s just not business related content so from a business point of view we really don’t care (and do not confuse business value with historical or archival value).

Bduhon asked this yesterday: “The phrase “social content;” is there any there there or is it a BS concept-content is content is content?” Wanna take a shot at what my opinion is?

Communication Breakdown


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZNkLyQSZVg

Let’s pretend you’re working on a major project that has multiple stakeholder groups, each with agendas, priorities, philosophies, etc. Now let’s also pretend that the project (it’s actually a program) has been envisioned by the CEO or some such all powerful being. Let’s agree that all the stakeholder groups, in order to keep their jobs, have bought into the CEO’s vision of the future. Why, then, is it that no two groups can actually agree on how to move forward? Why, in some cases, does one group actually try to diminish the value of another (it’s not a .net vs Java thing)? It’s because they don’t communicate effectively.

Communication is not about the loudest voice winning. Communication is about articulating your points in a manner that can be understood by your audience. Communication is also about LISTENING. The communication issues on this entirely fictitious project are really due to nothing more than a bunch of alpha dogs peeing on the same spot to mark their turf.

The reality is that they are going to have to find a way to communicate effectively; because this project is not going to be scrapped (someone would lose face – another communications gaffe). Coming in hard with an iron fist in a velvet glove isn’t going to work because there would be a massive backlash from the user community, resulting in really bad things happening to a lot of people.

One of my roles as a consultant is to facilitate communication between stakeholder groups. It’s my job to take everything in and send it back out in a way that offends no one (or offends everyone equally). The toughest thing to accomplish is to convince everyone that all the good ideas are theirs (fosters buy-in and ownership).

My point is this: if your project is being hit by internecine warfare, you need to do something about it. It’s all well and good to have a communication plan that includes posters, coffee mugs, cult-like rallies and all that blather, but if the people that have to define and build the solution can’t come to some sort of agreement the whole thing’s a waste of time.

If you don’t have the resources internally to fill the facilitation and liaison roles, engage a consultant.

The totally fictitious project is an ECM project, but poor communication will kill any type of project.

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