Case Study: Managing Information – How and Why


This is the second case study type thing I’m trying. It’ll likely be the last for a while as I have nothing left that I can publish without getting sued. Ah, the joys of being an independent consultant. Anyways …

This case study has to do with the project referenced in the two posts linked below. You may want to read them to get a better overall view of the project :

  1. Don’t Blame SharePoint;
  2. Guerrilla Tactics – IG Whether or not They Want It.

The document I’m sharing is part of a set of four docs that were delivered to the client. The purpose of each document is explained in the case study document.

The client in the case study builds electricity infrastructure; they are heavily regulated. They took the decision a while back to use SharePoint as their ECM pillar (though they don’t really know what ECM is). They also don’t have an Information Management strategy, nor any type of dedicated information governance structure. Though they rely heavily on information, and generate tons of intellectual property, they don’t do much about treating information as an asset. As far as they are concerned, information is IT’s problem and the business is just a client.

I was working as a subcontractor with ARC Business Solutions on this project. One of the key contributors to the project and the document was Chris Riley. You can follow Chris on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HoardingInfo. We knew early on in the project that the client was in ECM trouble and needed help. Though not part of the project mandate we wrote the docs up anyway (No. We didn’t bill the client extra.).

Without further ado … click the link and check it out: Managing Information at client name.

Feedback is appreciated.

The image in this post is my first attempt at visually representing the Principles of Holistic Information Governance. Click on it for the original PHIGs post and a larger version of the image.

Chris Riley, along with Shadrach White, is a co-author of Enterprise Content Management with Microsoft SharePoint.

Adopting ECM – A Case Study in Failure


Head in HandsEarlier this year I completed an assessment of Alfresco for a university client. The university licensed Alfresco several years ago and did not have much success. They hired me to find out why, and what to do about it. The options they wanted to look at were to continue on with Alfresco or switch to SharePoint. An option they weren’t willing to consider was a cloud based option. I gave them one anyways, based on Box. Unfortunately I was asked to remove that option from the final report. Oh well.

While the platform in question was Alfresco, I can’t stress enough that the failure had nothing to do with the platform. Under the circumstance nothing would have succeeded. You can read a bit about it in an earlier post here.

I’m trying something a little different; because of my altruistic nature I am making the final report available as a downloadable PDF. I figure there’s stuff in it that many could use, and perhaps critique that would be helpful.

I want to thank Laurence Hart for his contribution to the report and the overall project. Thanks, Laurence. You can follow Laurence on twitter at https://twitter.com/piewords and check out his blog at http://wordofpie.com/.

Anyways, just follow the link and you ought to get to the report (no fees, no signup, no tracking). Feel free to provide feedback.

University ECM Assessment – I’m using Box to share this content. Please let me know if you have any issues.

Image: “Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue” by Alex E. Proimos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

ECM Isn’t


No ECMI finished reading this article from CMS Wire (I don’t mean I actually read the whole article) and it got me thinking …

Between that article, others I’ve read, and some of the projects I’ve been working on this year, this whole ECM thing is a total crock. The vendors, the consultants, the analysts, and the professional bodies are conspiring against the customers and themselves to prevent success (what defines success on a quarter by quarter basis beggars belief).

“We just bought an ECM and we’re not sure what to do with it.” is something one of my clients said to me earlier this year. Actually, a variant of that statement is something I’ve been hearing ever since I got involved with ECM. So clients don’t really know what they’re doing. Right? Sort of.

Clients have been listening to those of us who make our livings by “doing ECM” for far too long. Vendors sell licenses and get compensated on how things went over a fiscal quarter, plus the annual support and maintenance fees. The fact that less than half of the licenses purchased have actually been deployed means bugger all. Consultants (I’m one, BTW) come in and develop all sorts of strategies to help manage or govern information (they’re not the same thing) without any stake in what goes on after the engagement is over. Analysts, many of whom are paid by vendors and service providers, come up with all sorts of nifty schemes for scoring offerings and invent new sectors. Professional associations put on marvelous conferences where you get to listen to prognostications from vendors, consultants, and analysts that further … the agendas of vendors, consultants, analysts, and professional associations.

I don’t for a minute mean to imply that there is any malice intended in any of this; there likely isn’t. The problem is that we’re in a vicious cycle that we created. We’re all afraid to step back and admit that we ballsed it up, big time. ECM was a good idea at the time. Times have changed, sunshine. ECM is dead (assumes that it was actually alive in the first place) and has been replaced by Information Governance (IG) (which is not a synonym for records management, as a certain professional organization would have you believe). The promise of IG is … I don’t know what the promise is; there’s a bunch of marketing departments out there that will let you know. As far as I can tell IG is ECM with some Big Data, ediscovery, and analytics stuff thrown in (yeah, I’m simplifying); as my dad used to say, “Same shit, different day.”

Despite the changes over the last few years, the stuff I want to see is still the exception; getting value out of information and solving business problems. In a recent client engagement the client told me that they wanted to move HR documents into SharePoint. Why? Because, SP is our ECM pillar. What’ll you do with the docs once they’re in SP? What do you mean?

The above snippet is an example of ECM gone wrong. Move your stuff into a managed repository as a replacement for shared drives. Holy Crap!!! The vendors dig this stuff. The consultants love figuring out a migration strategy. The analysts love another data point. The professional associations love another case study. The client loves … well they love nothing because they’re not getting any real value other than ticking a checkbox.

Who the hell manages information for the sake of managing information? Don’t you want something that leverages information to create value? What if someone just said that there’s a bunch of stuff they need to do that relies on information and that they need to secure that information? What if they could do that without running out and financing some account exec’s BMW or Caribbean vacation?

I’m not suggesting that organizations not buy ECM related software and services. I’m just suggesting that before they do they actually figure out what the end game is and what they’re missing to achieve it. The longer I stay in this game the more I’m certain that achieving ECM-ness is really a matter of processes and will, rather than spending tons on software licenses.

If an organization doesn’t have the processes and will to get their information under control and leverage it, spending butt-loads on software will get them nowhere. If they do have the processes and will, they’ll be able to make stuff happen without the big spend (they’ll likely have to spend some coin, but not what you’d think – integration is wonderful).

Which brings me to …

Cloud. Oh yes! Cloud services are here to stay and we need to figure out how to make them work within all the rules and constraints that apply to us. Jamming our fingers in our ears and ignoring things is not going to work. Going forward, cloud services and mobile devices are part of the mix. We better dump the outdated ECM model and wise up to the fact that the model has changed (for the better, IMO). Cloud services and consumer devices are going to be the norm, but they are not going to be the only thing. There will, for the foreseeable future, also be on premises components. The key is going to be to stop thinking about the enterprise. Really, it is. Any organization is an agglomeration of businesses, each with their own needs in terms of information, governance, processes, tools, etc. Why then go for an enterprise play? Solve stuff one business at a time, one opportunity at a time. Connect the dots as you move along.

Industry research has shown over and over that organizations run multiple content repositories from multiple vendors. They run them for different purposes driven by different factors. What makes any vendor, cloud or otherwise, think that this is going to change? I actually think the vendors secretly agree, but it makes for crappy marketing to say it out loud.

Organizations are hybrids of various businesses. Why can’t this industry understand, then, that managing content requires a hybrid approach? I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.

Claims processing, mortgage approvals, patient diagnoses, learning material production, repair manuals, safety procedures, employee onboarding … tell me how to make these things better, cheaper, easier, and more efficient, without compromising confidentiality and privacy. Tell me how I can execute these things wherever I or my colleagues happen to be. Tell me how your stuff is gonna work with stuff I already have to make this happen. Don’t tell me that I need to buy 3,000 seats of something and you’ll build me something.

Bottom line … make the customer the center of your universe. Focus on what the customer sees as value. The proportion of organizations that operate purely on fear and risk is pretty small compared to organizations that need to focus on value. Focus on selling me something and I won’t sign anything until the last day of the fiscal quarter; I used to work for a couple of vendors, I know how the game works.

Here’s a couple things you ought to read:

  • Joe Shepley wrote this piece in late November; heed his words and you will actually accomplish something.
  • Chris Riley wrote this earlier this week; he’s as fed up as I am. Maybe a little more.

To wrap things up:

  • ECM isn’t
  • Policies, people, and procedure are way more important than tools
  • Offence (value) before defence (risk)
  • Cloud and on-premises are like wine and cheese; better together but don’t always smell so good and sometimes give you a headache
  • Information is like wine; better when shared. But share according to who’s got a palate refined enough to appreciate it.

Guerrilla Tactics – IG Whether or not they want it


Gas Mask VeggiesOn 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;
  • Etc.

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:

  1. Thou shalt send links, not attachments (client VPN is an obstacle that’s being dealt with in a separate project);
  2. 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);
  3. Thou shalt label thy contributions appropriately (we’ll help by implementing some workflows and forms);
  4. 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);
  5. Thou shalt not keep thy stuff indefinitely (ah, retention and disposition policies will finally be enforced);
  6. Thou shalt not facilitate unauthorized access to information in thy care and keeping (keep it in the repository, where it can be secured);
  7. 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 …

can-of-worms

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.

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