I wanted to try something a little different for this post. I’m doing an assessment of what went wrong with Alfresco for a Canadian university. They purchased Alfresco back in 2008/09, initially to handle some of their web content needs. Things haven’t gone so well. Below is a quick wrap up email I sent to the project sponsor after the first few days of stakeholder (patient?) interviews …
I just wanted to give you a quick recap of the last few days:
- Of the people I spoke to, no one advocated for getting rid of Alfresco
- Unless something to the contrary comes up in the next few weeks, there is no reason to believe that Alfresco is the problem
- Alfresco was likely the wrong choice back in 2008/09, but the product and company have since matured to the point where it’s no longer the case
- There is a general feeling that Alfresco is/was underfunded, under-resourced, and lacking in executive buy-in / mandate
- It appears that there is no executive support or commitment to mandating Information Management practices using Alfresco as a standard tool set to implement
- There was/is an element of Alfresco (or any ECM platform) being a magic bullet, rather than a platform on which to build solutions
- It seems that all the Alfresco initiatives over the years have been done as individual projects, rather than under a program of managing information
- The consulting services engaged focused on the mechanical & “how to” aspects of Alfresco and related tools, without any of the advisory & “what should we do, why we should do it” services
At this point it’s my opinion that the problems are cultural and environmental. If the culture and environment change Alfresco will succeed, providing the right resources are engaged in the right way. If the culture and environment don’t change Alfresco will fail, as will any other platform brought in.
On September 18 the Information Governance Initiative hosted a twitter chat to discuss their 1st annual report. At some point in the chat I referred to myself as using Guerilla tactics to apply Information Governance practices in client projects.
Question 3 of the chat was “Do you have any active InfoGov projects under way at your organization?” Now, I’m a consultant so for me the question’s really about my clients’ organizations. My answer to the question was “No. My client has biz projects that are being framed by good #infoGov practices.” Followed by my comment “I am turning into an IG Guerrilla Tactician.”
Just because your client doesn’t have IG budget, programs, or projects, doesn’t mean that good IG practices can’t be infused into the projects that are happening.
I have yet to work on an Information Governance project for a client – they just don’t want to hear about it. That doesn’t mean that I execute projects while ignoring IG practices. For example: I am currently working on a couple of SharePoint projects for a client. One project is to develop a site for their regulatory team to build and submit applications to a regulator. The second project is to create and publish field reference manuals. Both of these projects have concrete business objectives; neither has any sort of IG or IM as part of the mandate. In fact, until I got involved no one was even thinking about applying any sort of overarching IG/IM policies or procedures into any of the projects, much less on an organization wide basis.
The client’s environment is rife with poor information governance and management practices:
- Content duplication;
- Emailing attachments instead of links;
- Information silos;
- Keep everything forever;
- No centralized accountability for information;
- Won’t mention the fustercluck that is their SharePoint environment;
- No metadata standards or taxonomy;
- Severely limited search capability;
- No use of automation for capture, tagging, sharing, or routing of information;
- A rudimentary file plan and retention schedule that is largely ignored;
The funny thing is that many people at the client know that much of what they’re doing is wrong, even if they don’t know why it’s wrong. What they don’t know is how to eliminate the bad practices and replace them with good practices (forget “best practices” they really only exist in theory). They also don’t know, in all cases, what a good practice is.
We start with Principles of Holistic Information Governance (PHIGs). The clients like them because they’re common sense and written in English; they’re also loose enough so they can be adjusted for the business being supported / addressed. We also use an iterative approach to designing and building the solution (it’s very agile-like) that involves all the major business and technical stakeholders (the pure tech stuff takes place off-line). Our focus in these projects, beyond solving the problem, is really on two things: 1) eliminating waste (effort and info); 2) delivering a solid user experience. We also impose a lot of rules around how information is created, managed, and delivered. To illustrate:
- Thou shalt send links, not attachments (client VPN is an obstacle that’s being dealt with in a separate project);
- Thou shalt use versioning rather than sending more copies with “v2_0_3_d_SOMEGUY_Edits” in the file name (change mgt and training required);
- Thou shalt label thy contributions appropriately (we’ll help by implementing some workflows and forms);
- Thou shalt not make copies when thou needst them not (metadata and user roles will help users find what they need, proper backup & restore will be implemented);
- Thou shalt not keep thy stuff indefinitely (ah, retention and disposition policies will finally be enforced);
- Thou shalt not facilitate unauthorized access to information in thy care and keeping (keep it in the repository, where it can be secured);
- Thy content is not thine, it’s thy employer’s.
As we’re working on things like metadata models, user roles & groups, user interfaces, and other stuff, we’re doing so with the view that we’ll be creating a set of practices that the organization can adopt for all projects going forward. We’ve even got a couple of really hot SharePoint people on the project that are helping us to define repeatable SP practices. There’s only one tiny problem with our approach …
At a recent Steering Committee meeting, our venerable Project Manager invited two guest speakers: 1) Jason – to talk about SP standards and best practices; 2) me – to talk about PHIGs and IM best practices. Jason and I said the same things, albeit focusing on our particular areas of expertise. All was well until the VP of IT realised that while we were doing some really good things on the project, these things were totally under the radar. Much to her credit, instead of demanding that we revert to the client’s methodologies (which were in part responsible for the current situation), she began asking what needed to be done to leverage the good things we’re doing on this project and apply them across the organization.
So what’s next? Well, the client is having me get involved in at least one more of their projects; SharePoint will be the deployment platform and IG will provide a foundation. It’s not a SP or IG project; it’s an HR project that relies on information. Sometime in October Jason and I will be invited to speak to the corporate governance council; Jason will talk about SharePoint and I’ll talk about PHIGs. The whole point of our attendance will be about how to get this heavily regulated client to adopt good practices for managing their information and the technologies they use to access it. Pretty cool, I think (I might even wear a tie).
Sometimes you’ve just got to sneak IG into your clients’ projects the same way that you sneak veggies into a recalcitrant child’s diet.
Back in June (2013) during the ARMA Canada Regional Conference I attended a pretty good session delivered by Emily Gusba (Information Management Lead, GCDOCS Implementation at Natural Resources Canada). Emily was accompanied by Trevor Banks and Julie Colgan (ARMA Int’l President, Julie rocked as a last minute walk-on for Debra Power who is all better now). The session, titled Learning IT-ese, was about IT and RIM (Records & Information Management) having to work better, together. Essentially, the point was that RIM had to learn to speak IT.
Now, I’m all for IT and RIM working better together, but I don’t mean what you think they (see above) think you think they mean. Simply put, we’re not on the same page. Bear with me a bit …
IT and RIM are both service providers within their organizations, n’est pas? They serve the same clients, though they provide different but complementary services. RIM and IT also have a symbiotic (some would say parasitic, but that’s just mean) relationship with each other. The truth is that one’s not much good without the other.
RIM and IT need to join together, not to serve the purposes of RIM, but to serve the interests of the entire organization. Having RIM sit with IT to explain RIM’s wants/needs (in whatever language they choose) is, in a word, crap. IT and RIM need to approach stakeholders with a joint message; “Your stuff needs managing and governing and we’re the team to do it for you.” Yes, children, RIM and IT need to get together and become a formidable team. They need to approach the cheque-writers (notice Canadian spelling, thank you) as one.
When Marketing wants to migrate from one platform to another, RIM/IT needs to be in those meetings TOGETHER. When HR wants to implement a new HRMS, IT/RIM needs to be there to make sure all that information flows correctly throughout its lifecycle.
When I talk about RIM I don’t mean the RIM we knew from the paper days; I mean what RIM can and should be in 2013 and beyond. Drop the Records reference and focus on the Information and the Management, regardless of the medium that information is created or stored in. Join with IT to become IM&T (the M comes before the T because you need the management bits before the tools) and provide your clients the information services and governance that they need. In some organizations there still is, and always will be, the need for the Records part of RIM. However, the Records function really needs to be a subsidiary of the IM&T group.
If IT provides the plumbing, and information is akin to water, then RIM performs as the treatment facility. IM&T not only gets the information to you, they make sure that the information you get is clean and safe. (Sorry about the crappy analogy.)
Yes, RIM and IT need to work together, but not as two different parts of the organization. They need to join and serve the organization as a single unit. I’m not saying that RIM professionals ought to become developers or systems analysts. Nor am I advocating for IT professionals to become Records Managers or Archivists. What I am saying is that the IM&T TEAM needs to incorporate roles that address the Information Management and Governance needs as much as the Information Technology needs. Separating RIM from IT hasn’t really worked all that well after all, has it?
Over the last couple of days I’ve seen/heard some comments that Big Buckets don’t work well in Records Management. Uhm, you’re doing it wrong.
I suspect that a large part of the issue is that classification models are too granular and too tightly coupled to the retention schedule. I’ve been involved in a couple of projects where this was the case. One client understood this, made the necessary adjustments, and achieved success. The other client … held steadfastly to granular, overly complex schedules and models, and is only now (4+ years later) re-examining their original plan.
You wanna make big buckets work? Here’s some simple stuff you need to do:
- Simple, function based classification models;
- Uncouple classification from retention;
- Automate & hide RM tasks from users (they know what they’re working on and don’t give a rat’s ass about RM – I know, hard to believe);
- Classify on capture/creation;
- Check out the cool diagram;
- Review periodically.
Note: During a Google Hangout yesterday (featuring @cawprhyd, @tchernik, @lllivingston, and some others whose twitter id’s I don’t have handy) the subject of disposition reviews for automated disposition came up. My position is pretty simple – you don’t need them. Sort of. If you assume that classification and retention have been agreed prior to implementation, and that content is classified up front, there is no need to review. Of course, this works only on a day forward basis and requires that whatever tools you have in place can do the legal hold and suspend disposition processing / time clock when needed. You really should follow the twitterers that I’ve id’d here – they’re pretty smart.