Last week I wrote that I’m starting to focus on a new market for my services; for a number of reasons I’ve decided to have a go at landing clients from the craft beer industry in Western Canada. Something I didn’t mention in last week’s post is that the craft beer scene in Alberta is booming. Recent rule changes and “incentives” have combined to make it easier and more feasible to start a small brewery, so plenty of small breweries are getting started. This has me excited for a few reasons:
- more breweries = more craft beers to try;
- more Alberta breweries = more Alberta jobs;
- a booming craft beer industry = better chances of me succeeding.
In fact, I’m so excited I started a semi-serious, but mostly not, beer related blog.
Anyways, on to the point of this post …
All brewers, regardless of size, pretty much have to comply with the same governmental regulations, do the same types of activities and quality checks, maintain equipment, clean equipment, be safe, etc. What really changes are the ability and will of the brewers to invest in IT tools and services to make these things happen in an efficient, cost effective manner. Many of the brewers I’ve spoken to are using spreadsheets, whiteboards, and loose-leaf paper to get stuff done. Even those that are using some combination of brewery management and accounting software are struggling to stay ahead of things. So I’m thinking that they’d be all over this content / information / records management thing (I didn’t really think that). It turns out that those who are interested are interested in solving business problems. Go figure.
Like Every. Other. Client. I. Have. Spoken. To. they don’t care what something is called or what tool is used as long as problems are getting solved, issues are being addressed, and opportunities aren’t wasted. And like every other industry sector I’ve worked with, the size of the organization doesn’t dictate what the requirements are.
Late the week before last week I met with the CEO and the Controller of a craft brewery. We chatted a bit about beer, the beer industry, what their goals / vision are, what I could do for them, and what their challenges are. Surprisingly, they didn’t say “we have challenges managing content.” It turns out that their most pressing priority is having the information they need to make the decisions they need to make to achieve their vision. Sound familiar?
I’m willing to bet that as I talk to more and more brewers I’ll be hearing the same things I’ve been hearing for the majority of my career. Regardless of industry or geography, for-profit businesses have challenges with making decisions, being efficient, being competitive, and being profitable. Good information and effective automation can a go a long way to help companies meet these challenges, regardless of size, industry, or geography. Information is a strategic corporate asset and must be treated accordingly. In today’s environment, automation does not necessarily mean capital investments in infrastructure, expensive software licences, and spinning up a large IT department. We’re in a time and place, thanks to cloud technologies, where smaller organizations can have the type of functionality that used to only be available to large enterprises.
A few weeks ago I was approached about working with an organization to help them put together a new SharePoint 2013 site to replace the one they currently have (SP2010). The business unit that approached me is responsible for engaging with stakeholders when the company wants to build infrastructure in their operating region; let’s call the unit EE (external engagement) for the sake of discussion.
Now, before I get all ranty and critical, you should know that EE wasn’t getting much love and attention from IT; this post is not about assigning blame to EE or their Business Analyst, with whom I’ll be working pretty closely. The fact is that there are problems in how IT engages with the business that are way beyond the scope of this post. As you read this post, keep in mind that a business case has been prepared and approved by IT (a VP) and EE (a Director and an SVP).
“To enable [EE] to capture the benefits of SharePoint in our department, we need to revisit our existing 2010 [EE] Team site.” That quote is the first sentence of the main body of the approved business case for the project. The case goes on, in excruciating detail, to describe in non-quantifiable terms how implementing various features and functions available in SharePoint 2013 will benefit the department. What the case doesn’t contain is any sort of goal or objective from the business indicating why the project is necessary and what the measurable business outcomes ought to be. Nor does the case contain any criteria upon which project success will be based.
If I were to summarize the business case as it’s currently written, it would be something like “There’s a bunch of cool SP2013 stuff that isn’t being used and we think we can use it to make our site look pretty and show people what we’re doing and we’ve started a Proof of Concept (PoC) that we’re going to finish soon to show you just how pretty those SP2013 things will look on our site and we’re going to do whatever we want whether it’s standard or not even if it’s stuff that other projects and departments are really responsible for. Okay?”
In addition to containing a shopping list of SP2013 features to be deployed, the business case also makes assumptions about the way in which many of the features will be deployed. Now, having some insight into the organization, I can tell you unequivocally that many of those assumptions are incorrect because they don’t comply with standards and guidelines that the organization has adopted. To be fair, had IT paid more attention, these deviations would have been caught and much time and money would have been saved.
I, and others, have advocated for trying to get the most out of the technology organizations have on hand. However, that doesn’t mean that organizations should invent requirements that provide no discernable business benefits simply to make use of some feature that’s currently sitting on a shelf. What it means is that, once real business needs and benefits have been identified, organizations should look at the tools they have on hand before going out to acquire something else. Of course, this should all be bound by an organization’s standards and guidelines.
Fortunately, the business case has been approved only to get the business requirements done. The organization uses a pure waterfall, gated SDLC so I’m going to use that to our advantage and try to get things back on the right track. I’m also going to try and get the PoC descoped or killed altogether. Things aren’t so far down the path that they can’t be corrected, but it will take a fair bit of cajoling and coaching of the BA. We’ll also have to get IT more engaged but I have a pretty decent PM to help with that bit.
Things to take away from this story:
- Only deploy technology based on identified and accepted business needs;
- Have measurable outcomes defined so you can actually determine whether or not you’re succeeding;
- Business and IT are partners and must work together;
- If your BA isn’t that strong, make sure they are properly coached and supported;
- Don’t sign off on a business case that doesn’t contain business objectives, business drivers, or success criteria;
- If you’re not going to comply with corporate standards and guidelines, cool, but have solid justification for not complying;
- If the first sentence in your business case is something like “To enable [EE] to capture the benefits of SharePoint in our department, we need to revisit our existing 2010 [EE] Team site.”, you don’t actually have one;
- Shiny Object Disease is both preventable and curable.
 Many years ago I had a contract gig with a major airline. My sole responsibility was to evaluate non-standard IT requests to determine whether or not the provided justification was sufficient enough to warrant approving the request. I.e.: Standards and guidelines can occasionally be broken if there is valid justification.
There’s an old saying in car racing that goes something like “you can’t win the race in the first corner, but you can lose it.” There is a similar truth when talking about software. The right software will not fix your problems, but the wrong software will surely exacerbate them. This, then, is a little story about choosing the wrong software.
Just prior to Christmas 2015 I took on a small project in Vermont. It was a bit of a weird situation in that the project was a mashup of two projects I’d done the previous year; the client was in the same business as another client, and the project was the same as a different client. No matter.
The client wanted to find out why their staff wasn’t in love with the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution they’d deployed a few years earlier and why things were failing. With a few exceptions this could have been a copy of an assessment I did for a university (detailed in this post & case study). The key differences were the technology chosen and the business the two organizations are in. In the case of the university, at least they chose the right type of technology for their needs. The folks in Vermont kinda, sorta, almost made the right choice, but not quite.
Back in 2008/09 their legal folks decided that they needed something to manage all their documents, so they went out and sourced a document management product targeted to professional services organizations. At the time no one was thinking holistically about what the organization needed. Whatever, it’ll all work out. Uhm, no.
As they were researching what to buy, they determined that their compliance and procurement departments had similar document management needs, so decided to deploy whatever they bought to those groups as well. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more bang for your buck, assuming that the fit is right. Right?
My client went out and selected a product and got it implemented. Now, the implementation did not go smoothly, but that was nothing to do with the product and everything to do with selecting a less than stellar implementation partner. However, that’s not what this story is about, though you really need to be careful about selecting an implementation partner.
Once they got the implementation under way, they decided that the product they chose would be their ECM standard. There was a tiny problem; the product they selected was not an ECM product. As stated on their website [name withheld] “is the global leader in professional work product management”. The vendor’s target market is primarily law firms. Over the course of the project I spoke to the vendor and a couple of peers that work for organizations that use the vendor’s tools. They all agree that the product is not suitable as an ECM platform. The two peers I spoke to said that the product is very good if you use it for what it’s designed to do, but you’d be mad to try and use it as an ECM platform. To get back to my race car analogy; it’d be like trying to compete in the Dakar with a Formula One car.
But really, how bad could it be? Well, prior to implementing the product, everyone in the company knew where to find stuff, even though it was a pain. While they weren’t thrilled about using file shares, FTP, and email to store and share content, they knew how to work with the tools they had, regardless of how prehistoric they were. Now that they have the new platform, most people in the company are more than a little fed up:
- They file stuff and can’t find it again;
- They’re supposed to send links to colleagues, but have to rely on email because security is borked;
- Where previously there were standards, now many have their own way of doing things;
- Irritation with previous tools has been replaced, in many cases, with hostility;
- This list is not complete.
It’s gotten so bad that my client is seriously considering ripping out the solution they implemented and going back to using file shares. I wish I were kidding.
As my university client found out, choosing the right technology is no guarantee of success. However, as my Vermont client found out, choosing the wrong technology is a guarantee of failure. Choose wisely and do all those other things that come before selecting and implementing technology. After all, a solution / system is a combination of people, processes, and technology.
As some of you may already know, I will be speaking about the Principles of Holistic Information Governance at the AIIM Conference in Orlando (my session is at 2pm on April 3). Here’s a brief preview of what I’ll be talking about.
This is a little story about how the Principles of Holistic Information Governance (the PHIGs) were leveraged to turn a pure Records Management project into something the entire organization, and its stakeholders, could benefit from.
I was approached by a partner to help them out on a project they are working on for a public transportation company. Their project is to put together a new web communication and presence strategy, and to implement it. Where they asked me to help out is on developing a Records Management strategy. The two projects were to be separate from each other since the RM project was really to fill in some gaps in the client being compliant with legislation and in helping them to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. There was no thought given to integrating the two projects or to looking at how an holistic approach could benefit the entire organization and its stakeholders.
As all good analysts and consultants do, I started gathering as much information about the organization and the projects as I could. The two critical documents that I had access to were the Web Communication project strategy (summary and detailed) and the organization’s 20 year strategic plan and roadmap.
There were obvious tie-ins to linking the RM project and the Web project, but selling them to the organization wasn’t easy as they just didn’t care all that much. They were happy to go forward with identifying what was a record, and subject to FOI, then just firing that content into their RM tool (which they don’t have yet). The real clincher to getting the organization to accept a PHIGged approach was the long term strategic plan. In the plan were articulated six values and five major objectives.
- Customer Service
All six of the values can be directly supported by information, provided it’s properly governed and managed, from cradle to grave.
- Develop Financial Sustainability
- Support and Shape Livable Communities
- Change the Perception of Transit
- Deliver Operational Excellence
- Strengthen our People and Partnerships
Like the values, the objectives will benefit from taking an holistic view of how information lives in the organization.
One of the other things that I did was to review the RM strategy document I was provided and link those objectives to the objectives in the Web Communication strategy and the long term strategy. It’s both funny and sad that folks get so focused on their own view of the world that they don’t see the bigger picture. The RM strategy probably had 85% of what was needed for an organization wide (I’m trying not to use the word “enterprise” too much) information management strategy.
From a technology point of view there will be many different tools used to provide the solutions that the organization will, over time, implement. But, they’ll be underpinned by the PHIGs. The PHIGs are there to help organizations take a look at how and why information exists and affects all relevant stakeholders. The PHIGs aren’t about technology; they’re about business and doing it better by understanding what you need from information.
By reordering and rewording some of the RM strategy objectives, and adding a couple of new ones, we were able to change the focus from an RM project that would provide very limited benefits, to an organization-wide information management program that will benefit all stakeholders. Of course it’ll take longer to get to the end, but at least the client has taken the first step and realized the importance of information to the proper running of the business.
Below is the presentation from my session at the AIIM 2014 conference …