Social Business Guiding Principles


Listed below are a bunch of guiding principles that I believe are worthwhile to consider when implementing Social Business in an enterprise. They’re not in any particular order, nor are they grouped in any meaningful way.  The list is certainly not complete. I’ve put these together based on my own blog posts and stuff that I’ve been reading of late.

  1. Social content is subject to the same retention & disposition criteria as other content.
  2. Social content is just another form of digital content.
  3. Before implementing social business tools, have a plan and a purpose.
  4. The purpose of information is to inform and communicate; therefore, whether tangible or not, all communication has an intended outcome.
  5. Collaboration and value are paramount, compliance and control are secondary.
  6. All of us are smarter than one of us.
  7. We will teach each other, we will learn from each other.
  8. Security should only be as tight as it needs to be.
  9. Once it’s out there you can’t take it back.
  10. Unless you own the company, you don’t own the content.
  11. People first. Then process. Then technology.

What I would like to do is to have all of us collaborate to put together a list of principles to be applied to Social Business implementations. To that end, are there any on the above list that don’t belong? Are there any that are missing?

Send me your additions and rationale for deletions via DM’s on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/chris_p_walker) if you follow me, or as comments to this post. Remember to let me know who you are so I can give credit where credit is due. I will compile the list over the next few weeks and then post it for final editing. Anyone who has an opinion is welcome to contribute, especially the client community. If anyone has an idea for a better name than “Social Business Guiding Principles”, that’d be cool too.

 

Records Matter, Declaration Doesn’t


This is a follow up, inspired by Scott’s comment, to my post “Records – Do They Matter?” There are two things to keep in mind when reading this: 1) only electronic records are in scope; 2) ISO 15489.

Formally declaring a piece of electronic content as a record is antiquated, artificial, and unnecessary. Based on the accepted definition of a record, if an invoice is sent we already know that it’s a record by it being proof of a business transaction. When I send an email indicating a course of action I want taken, we already know it’s a record based on the context, content, and sender of the email. The only thing we really need to do is to determine how long we need to keep these items for. Assuming that we’ve implemented our technical infrastructure and business systems correctly, we can even assure the principles of authenticity, reliability, integrity, and to a degree, usability. Formal declaration will have no effect on any of these principles. For the record (pardon the pun), I do include ECM and E2.0 tools in infrastructure and business systems, since they do facilitate the execution of business functions.

From a retention management perspective there are three types of records:

  1. Permanent / Archival;
  2. Long term temporary (=> 1yr < forever);
  3. Transitory (< 1yr).

I’ve chosen the time frames for long term temporary and transitory for the sake of example only. The retention bucket we put the record in depends only on the business context and the business and/or historical value of the record; the origin and format of the record don’t matter.

We can argue that all business content qualifies as a record by virtue of it being business content. If we accept this approach we accomplish two important things: 1) the distinction between record and non-record is removed; 2) life is simpler for the average user (they no longer have to decide if something is a record or not). We can further simplify things by providing the user with a function based classification model.

Users know what business process they’re involved in, and they’re usually involved in only a couple of business processes in an organization. There is no reason to ask an average user to make a determination of how long something should be kept. At most the user should decide whether they’re working on a draft / work-in-process or they’ve finished whatever it is they are working on. That’s it.

I am not implying that users do not have the intelligence to make RIM-type decisions; they don’t have the training, focus, or need to make these decisions. We need to let people focus on the jobs they were hired to do in order to add greater value to their organizations. If they wanted to be RIM professionals they would let us know and we would help the poor buggers on their way (or send them for counselling).

What we need to do is to provide users with the education, tools, and support to do their jobs effectively in the information ecosystem. We don’t need to burden them with responsibilities and accountabilities that distract them from their core competencies without adding value to their goals or to organizational objectives. If we want organizations that perform better and manage information to its full potential, we need to build environments that encourage and reward collaboration, focus on value rather than rules, support knowledge workers with education, use appropriate tools, and work towards achieving organizational and individual objectives.

So I’ve changed my stance; records do matter, for without business records we don’t have businesses. However, there is no point in formally declaring content as a business record since if it isn’t a business record it has no reason to exist in the business.

 

It’s Really About Communication


Whether tangible or not, all communication has an intended outcome.

The purpose of information is to inform and communicate. We want to communicate our achievements (financial results), our desires (purchase orders), our directives (policies), and our knowledge (whitepapers & case studies). We want our communication to be actionable (buy something from my company), informative (the news), and educational (achieve and grow).

We communicate in real time (over a coffee, via instant message, over the phone) and asynchronously (email, billboards, Twitter). We communicate with no-tech (talking, non-verbal), low-tech (TV, print), and high-tech (blogs, Facebook). Our communication can be targeted to an individual, to a group, to the world. We receive communication as individuals, as groups, and as organizations.

The information we communicate may be acted upon immediately, in the near-term, in the long-term, or far into the future. Worst of all the information we communicate may never be acted upon, which ought to cause us to evaluate the quality of the information and the effectiveness of our communication.

When we communicate something that has a positive outcome we’re golden. If, however, a negative outcome results from our communication … not so much golden; we are held accountable for our communication. This is as it should be.

Given that what we’re really doing is communicating, something we’ve been doing since the dawn of time, why is it so difficult to build effective accountability into our information and communication management practices?

Update the Policies

Policies that were created in the days when paper ruled need to be updated, not applied as-is to electronic content. In fact, some (most?) of these policies need to be scrapped altogether and completely re-written. Policies need to be crafted in a manner that leverages the intrinsic value of information, not in a way that subjugates information to the fear and paranoia of the risk managers and the legal system. This is not to say that we ought to ignore risk and legal issues, we just can’t continue to let them be the driving force. Unless and until we transform information governance from a risk based model to a model based on value, organisations will never see the true benefits of their information assets and knowledge workers will never reach their full potential.

In order to develop policies that encourage innovation, creativity, and productivity, without exposing organisations to unnecessary risk you first need to identify the reasons you communicate, your target audiences, and your communication channels. Information governance policies need to be tailored to support the purpose of the information and the communication channels employed to disseminate the information.

Use the Tools

As much as there’s been an explosion in the amount of information that we deal with every day, there has also been an explosion in the number and variety of tools available to deal with the information. I’m not referring to tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social tools, which are viewed by some as being part of the problem. I am referring to the variety of information management and security tools that are available today.

There has been an explosion in the number and types of tools available to us to manage information. These tools include email archival tools, content and records management tools, business intelligence tools, newsreaders, collaboration tools, and information rights management tools. The problem we have is not that we’re missing the tools; the problem is that we’re missing an holistic approach to deploying these tools through the organisation in a manner that focuses on value rather than control.

Change Corporate Culture

Much has been written about the lack of general adoption of social business tools in organisations. One factor that is inhibiting adoption is that there are as yet no effective governance models in place for dealing with social business on an enterprise scale. ARMA recently released a research paper that, I suppose, provides some guidance in this area. However, it is my belief that the paper actually exacerbates the problem as it continues to deal with control instead of value. (Cheryl Mckinnon has a pretty good take on the paper.)

Corporate culture needs to change. Organisations need to develop reward and recognition policies that encourage employees to actively participate in social business, as consumers and as contributors.

What If?

What if Information Management policies were more focused on the value of information rather than on controlling information? Is it possible that the 2008 economic meltdown could have been predicted, less severe, or prevented altogether?

Enough Already! We Get It.


RIM practitioners have been banging on about compliance, governance, and risk for ages, to the point where I think audiences have become desensitized to the messages. So what do we do about it?

Change the Tune

Instead of continuing to talk about Records and governance, which only resonates with a small percentage of stakeholders, change the focus to Information. Julie Colgan started things off with her probing piece on the AIIM Community forum. We need to switch from talking about the bad things that happen when you don’t manage records properly, to the good things that happen when you do manage information properly. This is not to say that records don’t need to be managed; my contention is that Records Management is subservient to Information Management and that information governance imposes constraints on users and the organizations they work for.

Just for fun I cruised through the table of contents of 17 issues of Information Management published by ARMA between July 2007 and January 2011. My goal was to find feature articles that were focused on the value of information and not on the governance of information; I found very few. Even articles (there were two, if I recall correctly) that were E2.0 (or social  networking or Web2.0 or …) specific focused more on how to govern organizations’ use of E2.0 than on the value and benefits to be gained. In the November/December 2009 issue, in an article titled “Equipping Your Organization For The Social Networking Game” the authors (Nancy Dupre Barnes, Ph.D. & Frederick R. Barnes, J.D.) provide 10 “Recommendations for Internally Designed Sites”. The blurb preceding the recommendations states “These recommendations apply, in a general sense, to social networking sites designed internally for an organization’s business use. As such, it is important for the organization to seek and obtain approval from appropriate legal advisors prior to go-live.” The recommendations are:

  1. “Pay attention to policy pertaining to logo, (trademark or service mark) usage.”
  2. “Use disclaimers.”
  3. “Discourage or do not allow anonymity on the site.”
  4. “Use a single sign-on directory infrastructure for employees’ site access.”
  5. “For publicly traded companies, become familiar with SEC regulations regarding the disclosure of financial data.” (I won’t take umbrage with the uniquely U.S. view that ignores us Canadians)
  6. “Post terms and conditions for the use of the site.”
  7. “Observe intellectual property and copyright laws.”
  8. “Respect user privacy.”
  9. “Create a guide that incorporates all aspects of use of the site.”
  10. “Create training materials and offer opportunities for individuals to educate themselves on appropriate use of the site.”

All of these recommendations are perfectly valid, but none of them are unique to E2.0 and most of them ought to be contained in an organization’s information management policies. However, the biggest fault of these recommendations is that they will likely be met with a resounding “who cares?” when presented to the folks that actually have to use the E2.0 tools to do their work. There is also one critical governance recommendation missing: Anything you write / publish as part of your job belongs to the organization, not to you.

Let’s face it; if we unleash E2.0 on the workforce and expect them to use it productively (however the organization defines productively) we better give them recommendations that they can use to do their jobs. Here is a list of recommendations that may be better received:

  1. Have your work reviewed before you publish it.
  2. Make your content relevant.
  3. All of you are smarter than one of you.
  4. Learn from each other, teach each other.
  5. Understand your audience and engage them.

My point is that by changing the message we will get better buy in. Focus the message on the value and nature of the information and rely on the common sense and good intentions of the majority of the users to do the right things.

Change the Audience

We need to stop talking primarily to the executives and start talking more to the users. We need to develop new communication strategies with appropriate messaging for the various target audiences. We need to look at the advertising and marketing industry for inspiration and guidance. After all, we are selling Information Management to a broad spectrum of consumers from varying demographic groups.

Change the Messenger

Vendors, consultants, risk managers, legal counsel, “the man”, … we all have been delivering the messages for what seems like forever. It’s true that we know what needs to be done and we think we know how to get it done. However, in many cases it’s not getting done the way it ought to be done, nor with the enthusiasm we thought would be there. How many times have we looked into the eyes of the users and thought they’re thinking “This is just more bullsh*t from management.”? The users are wrong, but I understand where they’re coming from.

If we really want information management to be accepted and succeed we need the users to deliver the message to their peers. If we can make this happen it will work; I know because I’ve seen it happen. The challenge for us is how to make it happen.

Last month I was talking to a counsellor at my son’s junior high school about educating kids about life online (my earlier post on the subject). She’s doing it the right way; she is identifying a core group of student champions, providing them with the right messages, tools, and guidance, and letting them educate & motivate their peers.

Rise to the Top

Information Management needs to be represented in the C-suite. You may say “It is, look at all the CIO’s out there”. It’s not. Most CIO’s are IT executives whose focus is on how to get the most out of an organization’s technology assets (servers, network infrastructure, applications, databases, etc.). A CIO needs to be focused on an organization’s information assets in the same manner that a CFO is focused on financial assets. The CIO’s focus must be on how to leverage information to the organization’s best advantage.

C-suite appointments need to reflect that technology exists to support business. However, we can never lose sight of the fact that technology also provides capabilities and opportunities that we may not otherwise have.

Paper, paper go away. Not so fast, I’m here to stay.


There has been plenty of chat about going paperless, motivated by a variety of reasons including economics, the environment, efficiency, and convenience. They’re all valid reasons, but I don’t think that we will ever become paperless, whether at home or at work, in our lifetimes. The best, I think, that we can expect is to reduce the amount of paper we consume.

On a recent project we (the client and I) debated the idea of going paperless. The best that we could actually come up with was to transition from a mix of paper and electronic records to electronic records only, over the next n years. Paper will still be used for draft versions and for circulation of the some content.  The client holds monthly meetings where materials numbering in the hundreds of pages are circulated to attendees in 3-inch thick binders. Theoretically the client could transition to a variant of an e-Council model, but that would necessitate acquiring the correct equipment and a very significant change management effort. My gut tells me that this may well happen, but as a result of attrition rather than a conscious effort to actually go paperless. The potentially affected users are in an ageing demographic and of a nature not to be messed with.  Trust me.

I am an annotator; I like to make notes, circle stuff, and highlight things. Sometimes I make notes that question the sanity and intelligence of the author of a document. Yes, I know that there are plenty of tools out there that would allow me to do all of these things electronically, but I won’t use them. I have this thing about reading long-ish documents on a screen, any screen. It’s a comfort thing; I like to lean back and put my feet on my desk when I review long documents. Also, when I do question someone’s sanity or intelligence in a note on a document, I’m not certain that I want it recorded electronically and stored in some repository. [2013-10-10: I now use tools on my tablet for this, coupled with cloud storage.]

I may give ebooks a try in the future, but there is something comforting about having a 900-page plus tome on your lap while you’re reading in bed (I am currently reading Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, if you’re interested). I also like the way a full bookshelf looks. My wife would appreciate me switching to ebooks just so I’ll turn the damn light off and let her sleep. [2013-10-10: Other than during takeoff and landing, e-books on my tablet are my preference now.]

I absolutely agree that invoices, claims, benefits applications, and other form based transactions can be processed more efficiently electronically than they can be on paper. However, there is still an ageing demographic to contend with, as well as the fact that not everyone has access to the required technology. A government department that I worked with several years ago serves senior citizens. Their mandate is to provide benefits such as education and property tax relief, dental benefits, and other benefits that people on fixed incomes require. In addition to many of the beneficiaries having issues with adapting to and using technology, many of these people live in rural or remote areas with less than modern technical infrastructures, some have none.

Economically, going paperless makes tons of sense. If a paperless process is more efficient, it stands to reason that it is less expensive to run. Also, storing paper costs more in real estate costs than storing the same content electronically. We can throw in the costs of running and managing network storage, but it’s there anyways so the incremental cost as compared to what it would cost to store paper is likely negligible.

The environment aspect is the one that I find most fraught with gotchas. Generally, the paper we use is made from recycled materials and then recycled again once we’re done with it. But what about the other tools that we need to deal with the paper? I’m referring to the printers, fax machines, scanners, photo-copiers, and all the consumables they require. I’m not an expert in this area, nor do I ever plan to be one, so I will leave it to someone better qualified than I to comment. One thing that I did read somewhere (I forget where) related to the environmental impact of going paperless. The gist of the issue was the additional environmental impact of replacing paper with the technology and tools required to replace the paper. This struck me as either disingenuous or ill-informed, depending on the author’s intent. We’re already using the technology and there’s more coming every day.

We won’t be paperless, but there will be less paper.

Less paper, not paperless

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