Governance Sucks but Doesn’t Have To


Governance is the Super Ego to the Id of collaboration.

If you’re an information consumer or producer, governance sucks. Think about it; all you really want to do is get the info you need or pass stuff on to stakeholders. Maybe what you need is to be able to work on something as a group. You try, but you’re info-blocked at every turn. The amount of crap one must put up with in order to create or consume relevant information, or to collaborate, is enough to drive one to drink (but in a responsible manner & you take a cab home).

Let’s start with something simple … You want to create a document & share it with stakeholders. Easy, right? Not! It used to be that the biggest challenge was making sure the content was appropriate to the purpose. Now you also have to worry about whether or not the stakeholders have the rights to see the content, how long the content will be relevant for, how many copies there are (or will be), whether or not the content could be relevant in legal proceedings, and where the hell to classify it (what is this “classify” thing, anyways?”).

Governance is all the rules, regulations, legislation, standards, and policies with which we need to comply when we create, share, and use information. Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not the results or purposes of governance that annoy me, it’s how governance is applied. The in-your-face, gavel banging, fanaticism driven approach of many of the legal, risk, and compliance crowd is the issue.

Many of these folks are trying to manage electronic content the same way that paper has been managed; that’s like trying to perform “brain surgery too, mama, with a monkey wrench” (props to those who identify the song, band, and album without using any search engines).

The Good:

  • Facilitates finding what you need when you need it;
  • Reduces legal risk;
  • Preserves history and corporate memory;
  • Secures information from inappropriate exposure;
  • Facilitates good decision making.

The Bad:

  • Increases complexity;
  • Introduces bottlenecks;
  • Prioritizes compliance obligations over getting work done;

The Ugly:

  • Turns users into Records Managers;
  • Users circumvent the rules;
  • Perception is we’re making progress, reality is we’re not.

Why There’s Hope

If everybody would just chill for five minutes, we could get this under control in a manner that makes sense and provides the benefits that governance ought to provide. Even though the same rules apply, electronic content cannot be managed the same way as physical content.

  • Users aren’t Records Managers, nor do they want to be.
  • Policies aren’t the problem, procedures are.
  • Pretending social media doesn’t exist won’t have any effect on your obligations.
  • Some governance is better than no governance.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just need to make a reasonable effort.

Most credible EIM providers (ECM for you dinosaurs) have the tools to implement effective governance in their arsenals. But don’t go to them and ask them to implement governance until you’ve actually sorted out what it is in your organization. It’s your task to develop the policies, it’s our task to advise you on how best to develop and implement the procedures.

When you and I sit down and talk about governance, if the only team you bring to the table is Legal/Risk/Compliance, I am going to shut the conversation down in about two minutes. The only way that I can help you implement governance that doesn’t suck is to deal directly with all the affected stakeholders (groups, not individuals). One of the toughest collaboration challenges an organization faces may be trying to define a truly effective governance framework that serves the needs of all affected stakeholders. If those stakeholders don’t have a voice, it’s not gonna happen.

If you’re running a real EIM solution and your users have to think about where to file content, you’ve mucked up your deployment. It doesn’t matter if you go big bucket or not, a good deployment uses auto-classification, profiles, workflow, etc. to take the governance burden off the users and put it squarely on the system. If you think classifications and retention schedules are the same thing, there’s not an EIM solution on the planet that’s gonna help you and you’re not an Information Professional.

You’ve done governance right when:

  • Users focus on their jobs, nothing else;
  • You get defensible disposition and it’s implemented;
  • People find the information they need, when they need it;
  • Information leaks are down to an acceptable level (face it, it’s not going to get to zero);
  • Your corporate counsel can focus on attacking instead of defending;
  • Social media doesn’t scare you;
  • The only people thinking about governance are those who are paid to.

Records Matter, Declaration Doesn’t – Revisited


This is a response to comments that Jürg Meier made recently on something I posted a while ago. Jürg is a very smart and personable guy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person at ARMA Switzerland’s inaugural event on November 29, 2011. I urge you to check him out on twitter and here, where he works.

I was going to simply reply to Jürg’s comments on my blog, but I figured that the points he brought up are pretty substantial and would be of interest to a broader audience. I asked Jürg if I could paste his comments into a post and respond to them. You’re reading this so either: a) Jürg agreed; or 2) I’m in deep doo-doo.

From the original post: “Users know what business process they’re involved in. …”

JM: Chris, not sure here. What about knowledge workers, who “often advance the overall understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design and/or development” (Wikipedia). Are they in a business process? Perhaps, but more often than not in a very large one, like a product development, an IT or marketing project. These people send email, word and powerpoint docs back and forward, take notes. Notes? Karl Alexander Mueller, Nobel price winner in physics 1987, discovered a material for high-temperature supraconductors. He took the decisive note a few years earlier at a congress – on a single page of his pocket notepad.

Moreq2010 comes up with a similar example. In the introduction chapter, they show a hand written shopping list and the resulting cash register receipt. They consider only the latter as a record.

I would say that regardless of what the duration or intended outcome of a process is, it’s still a business process with measurable business objectives. Projects and cases (as in case management) cross multiple business processes and can be of several years duration. Product development takes ages, is complex, involves large numbers of people and huge volumes of content. However, it can still be tied to business processes and the participants (usually) know what they’re doing. In that type of scenario I think I would recommend using a case aggregation for the users to plunk their content into, and apply appropriate retention to the aggregate.

I would assume that Müller knew what he was working towards when he wrote the decisive note in his pocket notepad (how different is the pocket notepad from a tablet these days?). If my assumption is correct then it stands to reason that the note is part of the research documentation, which must be filed and retained. The big question in my mind is related to ownership of the intellectual property; does it belong to Müller, to IBM, or to both?

Another question that I have concerns an outcome that is unintended, but beneficial nonetheless. I’m sure we all remember what Sildenafil was originally intended for, and what its current use is. What, if anything, are the impacts on categorization and retention? Research & knowledge based processes are really tricky to deal with, but I think the key is that you can apply (business) rules & automation to the mundane aspects, use aggregations to capture the content, and let the participants do what they are engaged to do. I would certainly rather have medical / pharma researchers figuring out cures than worrying about where to file something.

The Moreq2010 shopping list / receipt example is analogous to an order / invoice example. Each document provides a part of the complete picture, and therefore is required. I also think that particular example is nonsensical unless for some official reason (e.g.: personal taxes) you need to hold on to the receipt. Frankly, I need to keep the list to prove to my wife that I didn’t bugger something up when she “let” me go shopping for her.

JM: In my experience, it is really a question of who will consume the information. There are the usual suspects:
– business
– legal
– long-term (historical) archive

As you pointed out during your speech at the Swiss ARMA Chapter inaugural meeting, different people have different views on the same information. So, it would be compelling to classify information multiple times by different consumers… and I’m inclined to say: as late as possible. Only if we know about the purpose of the classification, we can do it right. E.g. for legal, they actually only know what they are looking for upon a litigation. By then though, they know very well what they need.

But what’s wrong with classifying as soon as possible, and adding additional classifications as they are identified, if that’s the case. The classification with the longest retention drives how long any content needs to be kept. This only works when classification and retention/disposition are segregated. In litigation situations simply applying a hold / freeze will do the job. There’s no reason to apply additional classification to the content because you create a legal case file aggregation and dump the content into it.

Content that has archival value, but no risk is easy – just keep it. I mean, I know we’ll want to keep all of my blog posts for the next 300 years or so. J It’s tougher when content that has archival value has some potential risk associated to it (privacy issues, legal exposure). I think at that point it’s really a judgement call. Frankly, I’m in favour of preserving because I’d like to think that sometime in the future there are going to be people that are interested in what we’ve been thinking and doing, and that the information they want is available. I’m also hoping that we’re not so stupid that we evaluate everything in terms of whether or not we’re going to get sued.

JM: However, the case of “late classification” does not answer one key question: for how long should we retain? The only reliable basis here is law and the retention schedule. And for that, by nature, we must classify upfront. That isn’t too difficult for “real business processes” (e.g. selling a ticket), but becomes tricky with output from knowledge workers. Here, to some extent, we need their support. Classifying draft/final is a good start, formally assigning it to a project would be very helpful, as well as identifying ownership and the document type.

For the most part I agree with this paragraph. For the knowledge workers, especially those that are involved in a lot of trial and error, I think we can come up with some reasonable classifications and retentions for them to use. Imagine how different things would be if the people that were working on Sildenafil tossed everything away once they realized they weren’t going to achieve what they set out to do.

Cloudy with a Chance of Success


This was originally posted on the AIIM Community on November 18, 2011.

This post was inspired by this article on CMSWire by @billycripe and by the Cloud themed tweet jam hosted by CMSWire on November 17, 2011. As usual this is just my opinion.

CloudsI’m not an expert on cloud computing, I’m just some guy that likes to be able to access the content I need to do my work, from wherever I happen to be, using whatever device I feel like using at the moment. Take this post, for example; it was written on a laptop and a tablet, in a dining room and a swimming pool (not really in the pool since my tablet isn’t waterproof though that would be mega-cool).

I agree with Billy Cripe’s thoughts that Agile can (ought to) be applied in the development of cloud based ECM solutions. However, as Billy correctly states, “Managing content is not the goal of most businesses.” Most businesses exist to make money by providing products and/or services that consumers want. Businesses rely on information in order to get their stuff done, whatever their stuff is. In order to fully exploit information, the tools (i.e.: information stores) that the businesses rely on need to be connected to each other (so do the people – the tools need to facilitate this). Content / information management tools (cloud or not) need to be part of bigger picture business solutions. We need to build solutions that deliver “I need to share this” in the context of why it needs to be shared (answer why you need to share and you’ll likely figure out who and what).

No sane person can argue the value and validity of the cloud. Except me. I’m not daft enough to think that cloud computing doesn’t have value or is not a valid approach to take. However, I do think that we’re not going to realize the full potential of the cloud (and by extension, content) if we simply limit its scope to content management. Yeah, I know that there are other things that are done in the cloud, such as CRM, payroll, and accounting.

Content Wherever I Am

One of the cool things about content in the cloud is that my content is wherever I am. (Okay, so it’s not really my content, it’s my organization’s content.) That’s not the point, though. The point is that I can work with content wherever I happen to be, using whatever device I choose. This does assume that the chosen content repository is able to be synched appropriately. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, that if in addition to being able to work with the content and share it with collaborators (the work variety, not the WWII Nazi variety) the content could also be appropriately tagged, filed, and placed under retention at the point that I plunk it into the repository? I.e.: Cloud repositories need to become extensions of ECM and ERM systems, probably through federation.

Correctly Connecting Corporate Content

Content is spread throughout an organization; cloudification just increases the spread. When I say content, I mean anything that is stored on digital media that serves any legitimate business activity. (For obvious reasons I am excluding physical content.) A key to widespread cloud acceptance is to be able access / leverage content in order to execute a business activity, regardless of where the various pieces of content reside. An agent in a social services organization should not have to know or care that a citizen’s information is spread over a number of repositories that could be on-premises, in a private cloud, and in a public cloud. The agent is there to service the needs of the citizen, not to figure out some (likely) convoluted architecture just to try and find stuff.

CMIS is a step in the right direction, but where CMIS falls short is that it doesn’t address non-CMS (think ECM) repositories. What we need is something that allows connecting everything that we need, when we need it. Device and location should not be factors. In fact, the only thing that a user should worry about is whether or not they have the right content to do the job. Governance, classification, and security ought to be just taken care of.

Speaking of Governance…

Until the governance issues get sorted, I doubt very much that we’ll see widespread adoption of public cloud services. Smaller organizations, organizations with lax regulatory / privacy regulations, and organizations that can bully providers into rock-solid SLA’s may be able to go full public cloud, but I doubt they will. I think the reality is that organizations will end up having hybrid environments of cloud and on-premises.

When I say governance I am not only referring to the poo that legislators, regulators and litigators throw in our way. Governance needs to address issues such as:

  1. what can / should be stored in the cloud
  2. service level agreements
  3. disaster recovery / business continuity
  4. security
  5. classification / categorization
  6. retention & disposition (thanks to @JamesLappin & @AlanPelzSharpe for bringing this up)

Governance of cloud content has to deal with all of the things that we need to deal with for on-premises stored content, with the added complication that we also have to deal with where the damn box is and if some foreign government can get at it whenever they bloody well feel like it. Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act and the United States’ PATRIOT Act are not going to be very helpful in encouraging organizations to move to the cloud in a big way.

Parting Shots

  1. Hybrid (cloud / on-premises) will be in the majority
  2. Governance (internally & externally imposed) has to be figured out
  3. Integration / interoperability are critical
  4. Privacy concerns and government snooping are major inhibitors (@ron_miller wrote a pretty good piece about this)
  5. If we’re not careful we’ll just move the mess from our hard drives to someone else’s
  6. Some Systems of Record will end up in the cloud, if they’re not already there
  7. Services are where it’s at

Bonus Material

I couldn’t decide which song I wanted to use for this post, so you’re getting three:

  1. CCR – Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
  2. CCR – Who’ll Stop the Rain?
  3. SRV – Couldn’t Stand the Weather

A couple definitions for those that think it should be “on-premise”

  1. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/premise
  2. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/premises

Big Data? Big Whoop.


Big Data? Big Whoop!

Over the past couple of days I’ve been seeing a number of posts and tweets about Biiiiig Dataaaaaaa (ring announcer voice in my head)! What is “Big Data”? Check out the definition in this executive summary; or as I and others like to say, “It’s as big as a piece of string is long”. I certainly understand the idea behind “Big Data”, but do we really need a new term for something that, let’s face it, isn’t new at all?

In a comment to this post I used the phrase “E2.0 meets BI”. To be more accurate I should have said “E2.0 fuels BI”. This whole “Big Data” thing is nothing more than reporting and analytics, but with more data than we had before. Those of us who have a stake in the BI domain have often wished for more raw data on which to base our decisions. Now that we have it, and are getting more of it every second, we’re freaking out and giving one or more major vendors in the space an opportunity to define something new. Two things, and only two things, have really changed:

  1. The available amount of raw data is way beyond what it was only a short time ago;
  2. The Cloud and SaaS jeopardize access to some of the raw data.

If you’ve got the resources (i.e.: $’s) dealing with #1 one is a matter of scaling. Dealing with #2 is tougher, especially if any of your data sources are not entirely under your control (Cloud, SaaS). The challenge, however, is not insurmountable:

  • Rationalize your requirements and identify what is absolutely critical to your business (i.e.: leave the “it’s just cool” stuff out or defer for later);
  • If you rely on hosted data sources negotiate appropriate access and up-time agreements;
  • Find out if your hosted providers can provide some of the ETL for you;
  • Trim your datasets where possible;
  • Identify your true timing requirements (real-time, near-real-time, periodic);
  • If you have retention / disposition policies on your data sources, enforce them; if not, define and enforce them.

The funny thing is, when I made my living in BI projects, 5 of the 6 points noted above where standard things we did. Maybe nothing really has changed all that much, other than my segue into RIM. Oh well.

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

Records – Do They Matter?


I originally posted this on AIIM’s Information Zen site (now defunct), but thought I’d update it a bit and repost it here…

Leaving legal aspects out of the discussion for the moment, does it really matter whether or not content is a record?  If content is not declared a record, is that content less valid or valuable than if it were considered a record?  I am referring to the business value of content.  I am referring to an organization’s ability to leverage the content in order to reduce wasted effort, to increase customer satisfaction, to drive profitability, to reduce expenses, and to keep everyone’s butt out of the slammer.

If I do take legal issues into consideration, does the “recordness” of content make a difference, provided I can back up everything I say about the content’s use, access, authenticity, and provenance?  Personally, I don’t think it should; I know it does, but that’s just because too many people out there haven’t fully caught on to this new invention called the computer yet.

If within the context of discovery, an organization is told to produce certain content, said organization cannot reply “but we never declared it as a record” as a rationale for not including it in the discovery.  So even from a legal point of view, the “recordness” of content is becoming, in my opinion, less critical.  I believe that as we grow more and more comfortable with electronic content, content’s status as a record will become less important.  The fact is, with the proper tools and procedures we can secure, audit, and authenticate non-record (electronic) content every bit as well as if the content were declared a record.  With the proper tools we can manage the lifecycle of any piece of content very effectively.  Let’s face it; the lifecycle of content is not very complicated: get it, use it, dispose of it.

If the “recordness” of content is becoming less important, do we still need Records Managers?  We do, but I think we need to change their titles, job descriptions, and the amount of authority they have in organisations.  There is some interesting discussion about the RIM profession happening on the ARMA Linkedin group and on the AIIM ERM Community site.

 

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