Over the last few weeks I attended the AIIM Conference (the theme was Digital Transformation in Action) in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and the IRMS Conference (the theme was Information Superheroes) in Brighton, UK. It was my third time at AIIM, at which I did one of the roundtables, and it was my first time at IRMS, at which I did the opening keynote (a genuine honour to have been selected). Both the AIIM roundtable and the IRMS keynote (slides available here) were innovation themed. This post is not going to be so much a recap of the conferences as much as it will be my take on how innovation, disruption, and transformation fit into the whole Information Governance / Management (IG/M) space, and how AIIM and IRMS and their members (individuals, sponsors, vendors) may be affected.
Since my session at both conferences was about innovation, that’s the filter I am applying, with a twist. In his opening keynote at AIIM, John Mancini mentioned Slack as the type of vendor (new, innovative, disruptive) that’s become more important in our space, but was not present at, arguably, the most important conference in that space. Slack, which I use with some industry peers, is a marvelous tool for collaborating and sharing content. Via integrations with other tools it can be a part of an enterprise information / content management play. Other vendors that are critical players in the IG/M space include companies like Box, Dropbox, Splunk, Egnyte, Microsoft, Facebook (yes), …, the list is huge. The point is that there are hundreds of vendors out there that are producing platforms and apps that people use EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to work with and analyze the information they need to do their jobs. I’m talking about the simplest stuff (creating a document or email) to the most complex data analytics. People are doing these things using everything from supercomputers to mobile phones; in dedicated buildings and on tops of mountains.
For fun, take a look at this page on Box’s site; each of these Box technology partners could and should make up part of an organization’s IG/M technology package. So why were most of them missing from AIIM and IRMS? By asking that question I do not mean to imply that vendors like IBM, HPE, Onbase, Laserfiche, OpenText, etc. don’t innovate. They do. They’re just not overly exciting anymore. They are the legacy, staid, established vendors. Sorry guys, but as good as you are you’re just not cool anymore. I got excited about the Documentum-LEAP thing, but that didn’t last more than 5 or 6 minutes.
Since I kind of do the industry analyst thing on occasion, I do know why some of the cool vendors don’t bother with AIIM, IRMS, and other similar conferences; they don’t get the leads. However, I think they are missing a marvelous opportunity to educate and transform the market, including the associations themselves. I believe that these vendors need to look at two or three years of conference investment before they can reasonably expect to use the conferences as sales opportunities. That said, these vendors, individually, probably have little idea of what they’re really on to. And let’s face it, individually most of them aren’t significant in a IG/M or RIM (Records and Information Management) context. It’s as a whole solution built of the best bits for the job that they shine. And that is a beautiful thing.
I think the whole IG/M space, including the associations, is having a bit of a tough time with its own transformation. It’s not an analog to digital thing; it’s more of what should we be doing and to whom should we be doing it. Both conferences featured sessions about the evolution of the space and those who practice in it, but not enough, in my opinion. The transformation of the space was missing. I.e.: what is IG/M going to look like in the not too distant future? Like it or not, there are some key vendors out there that are going to have a massive influence on what our profession will look like, and they weren’t at either conference.
One of the things I’ve been seeing lately is this concept of “content as a service”. Essentially it’s having a managed repository serving as a platform on which to build actual business solutions. The back-end takes care of all the IG/M stuff like versions, policies, security, etc, while applications that solve actual business problems are built on top of the platform. Why am I mentioning this in this particular post. BECAUSE THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THE WHOLE IG/M or RIM PROFESSION SHOULD BE DOING FOR THE ORGANIZATIONS THEY SUPPORT!!!
Very soon, if you’re only (don’t take this the wrong way) a records manager or archivist your career will be over. The titles may stay the same, but the skill sets and thought processes must evolve. All information, regardless of medium or storage location, must be in scope. I think that with the right mindset, training, and skills, today’s information professional can become tomorrow’s internal management consultant and strategic advisor. I’ve said more than once that information assets must be treated with the same gravity and urgency that financial assets are treated. There is, in my view, a small window of opportunity for those of us currently in the profession, in whatever role, to make that happen. You / we can specialize in certain disciplines that make up IG/M, but we’ve got to have an understanding of the whole.
Everything we information professionals do ought to be done in support of the core business of the organizations we work for. This does not mean we take a subservient approach to doing our jobs. Far from it. How many other professions are as well placed as we are to actually understand what’s happening? How many other professions have as holistic a view into an organization as we do? As professionals we need to look around our organizations and start to ask what problems or challenges we can help with. And it’s not just how to file something, how to prepare for litigation, how to defensibly delete something, or how to save money on storage. We need to be asking questions about how to grow the business, how to better compete, how to better serve citizens, i.e.: ask strategic, forward looking business questions.
We need to be pushing IRMS, AIIM, ARMA, and every other professional organization we belong to to ask those same questions of companies and of vendors. Associations need to be our voices, especially when it comes to defining what our profession will look like in the future. We need to step up and make sure our associations are positioned to attract the right vendors / sponsors, to answer the right questions for end-user organizations, and to provide the thought leadership that we as professionals need in order to learn and grow.
Miscellaneous Closing Thoughts
You’ll notice I’ve stayed away from using the term ECM; that’s because it doesn’t matter anymore, if it ever really did. What matters is solutions. ECM is just background stuff, which is exactly as it should be.
I’m scratching my head a bit over the IRMS offering the Foundation Certificate in Information Governance (FCIG); there seems to be quite a lot of overlap with AIIM’s Certified Information Professional (CIP) thing. Don’t get me wrong, the FCIG is a good thing that covers a little bit that the CIP doesn’t. Is it enough to warrant a separate certificate / certification? Is it a manifestation of the differences between the North American and UK markets? I dunno. I do, however, wish the IRMS and AIIM all the best with their programs.
This being my first IRMS conference, I didn’t know what to expect. What I encountered was a massive attack hug (thanks Emily), a wonderfully warm reception from the entire IRMS executive and the event organizers, and a fantastic experience in Brighton. This was definitely a records management focussed conference, with most (80%+?) participants being from one form of public sector or another. Now, many of you know what I think about pure records management and may assume that I started to itch and twitch, but I didn’t. I think there is an openness to a more holistic approach to managing information that doesn’t seem to be present at other records focussed events I’ve been to. There was also a much more palpable sense of community and intimacy than what I’ve previously experienced.
That one conclusion I alluded to in the title …
This profession of ours is as much in a state of transition as the industries and professions we support. I don’t really know with any certainty what that’s going to look like in the next few years. However, I think those of us practising our profession had better embrace a little uncertainty, tempered with a lot of flexibility and creativity.
Information surpassed people as an organization’s most valuable resource a few years ago. There is no reason to believe that things will ever go back to the way they were. More than likely the value of information will continue to increase as its volume grows. Therefore, those of us who really know how to govern and manage it, how to leverage its value, and how to mitigate its risks … well, there’s no stopping us.
 If you added information governance / management related sessions to Boxworks, it could actually be a better info gov conference than AIIM, in terms of having relevant vendors show up.