Technology Doesn’t Guarantee Success


spamont1There’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.

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

You’re out of Your Mind


crazy faceYou’re out of your mind if you think blocking access to file sharing services is filling a security gap. You’re out of your mind if you think making people jump through hoops like Citrix and VPNs to get at content is secure. You’re out of your mind if you think putting stuff in the cloud is dangerous.

When I mentioned to a client of mine that some of their users were using consumer file sharing services there were noddings of heads, murmurs of assent, and an “OMG how does he know?” Less than five hours after I mentioned it in a meeting, an exec from one of the stakeholder groups got a call from security stating that her team was violating policy by using Dropbox. This client had deployed an Enterprise Content Management platform. One of the key drivers for the platform is sharing of content among collaborators. One of the key inhibitors is Citrix. So, what do the users do? They email documents to each other. They store stuff on local drives. They get laptops with intellectual property and personal information stolen, and can’t wipe the laptops or recover the content. They use cloud services to store sensitive information. And security struts around proudly thinking they’ve done something. They have; they’ve created a security hole bigger than the one they tried to plug. Hell, even the frickin’ President was storing company confidential documents in his personal Dropbox account.

So I mention to the client that they may want to use an Enterprise File Syncing and Sharing (EFSS – I really don’t like this term) service like, I dunno, BOX! (Yeah, I like Box. So what?) Their Director of IT Infrastructure tells me that the execs are scared of any service that stores data in the U.S. because of the PATRIOT act. Really? Do they not know that Canada has an equally odious piece of legislation? Do they not realize that if the U.S. government wants to get at stuff in Canadian data centres they will? And dig this … Box is working on something that would let the customer (that’s you, btw) maintain control of, and access to, encryption keys. No more sneak attacks by those pesky gubbmint people. Hey, they can still come to you and ask, but at least you’ll know, no?  Can you imagine!?!

Every time I have these types of conversations with people I usually end up wanting to lay a choke hold on someone. Whether it’s for spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) or for believing it … I’m not sure which irritates me more.

Blocking access to file sharing services doesn’t work. People will find other ways to connect (e.g.: phones make great wi-fi access points) or email documents around. Instead of blocking access to consumer services, IT and security ought to: 1) find out why staff is using the services in the first place; 2) identify and provision SECURE enterprise grade services; 3) develop appropriate policies for using EFSS services, including remedial action for violating the policies. If staff are using consumer services to share business content it’s a pretty safe bet something is wrong with the corporately provided tools. Fix them.

Part of the fix may actually be to provision EFSS to staff. Think about it before you have a freakin’ hissy fit. EFSS providers make money by providing a secure way for people to share content and collaborate. How do you make money? What’s your core strength? Hell, you can’t even stop your staff from sharing content unsecurely (is that even a word?).

YOU are the problem


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.

Help Wanted – Testing a Survey


I am putting together a survey for an upcoming project and I need your help. I am testing two things: 1) whether or not PollDaddy is a reasonable tool to use, and; B) the survey. You can send feedback via the survey (last question), via this blog post, or directly to me via email (walkerchrisp@gmail.com). Please feel free to pass this on. Depending on the responses received, I may use the results to come up with a clever hypothesis, or not.

The project, as originally defined by the client, is to develop a records management strategy. However, between the client and I we’ve redefined the project to encompass all information and support corporate objectives (I’ve actually read and understood their corp strategy docs). The current phase is to document the current state of records and information management, come up with a target state, and develop an implementation roadmap to get from here to there.

The intended audience for the survey is the entire organization (they’re not really that huge). Survey completion will be mandatory for all directors and above, for everyone else it is optional. My point with doing this survey is to have information that is directly applicable to the client, rather than relying on industry or generic information.

The survey http://christianpwalker.polldaddy.com/s/records-information-management-what-you-know-what-you-think

 

Random Graph

Gamification – Dumbest made-up word ever?


WARNING: This post contains swear words. They’re there ‘cause of my mood when I wrote this in reaction to a gamification discussion. I’m all better now, thanks. 

This was originally posted on AIIM

Of all the buzzwords & acronyms being bandied about out there, “gamification” pisses me off above all others (maybe it deserves a shiny badge). I cringe whenever I hear it or read it. It cheapens what I and others have worked our asses off to achieve in our careers. It reminds me of the fat kid in grade 6 that got a ribbon because he managed an astonishing 7 situps in 1 minute (for the record, it wasn’t me). As a professional, equating my work with games, however obliquely, insults me. Games are what I play with my friends and family.

I was raised to work hard, though I didn’t always do so as a student. At school you worked to get the grades and not spend more than one year per grade. If you were the smartest kid in school you may have gotten an exemption from finals, a scholarship, or beat up.  Professionally, you worked hard (and smart, I hope) to get your stuff done and get ahead. If you didn’t get your stuff done you were rewarded with time off ‘cause they fired your ass for being deadwood, and you deserved it. Rewarding / recognizing people for doing just enough to get from grade 3 to 4 or to keep their jobs (reward enough, I say) is sheer lunacy.

My kids don’t get rewarded for just doing stuff that’s expected of them (e.g.: cleaning their rooms, picking up after pets, doing well in school). They get rewarded for exceptional behaviour & performance; the rest is just life. I don’t get rewarded for just showing up and doing my job in an ordinary, expected way. I get rewarded when I perform above expectations. If I or my kids don’t meet expectations in our respective roles bad things happen. Such is life.

The key, my fellow planetarians, is to set the expectations early and define what one need do to earn the rewards / recognition. Apparently, doing the dishes does not automatically entitle me to “get some”, but if I don’t do them it’s automatic that I won’t? WTF is that about? Anyways …

I have no objection to reward & recognition schemes. In fact, I’ve received and doled out plenty of recognition (the positive kind) over the years. Rewards / recognition have been tangible (e.g.: bonus $, raise, promotion, time off, gift cards) and intangible (peer/client/manager figurative pats on the back). Most people, me included, are happy to receive them. But we’ve generally received them because we’ve performed exceptionally or taken on additional responsibilities. I can’t recall one instance in my career where I’ve given or received a reward for simply doing my job. It’s just not something that makes any sense to me.

Like I said, rewarding / recognizing people for exceptional performance or taking on additional responsibilities is fine. In fact, it’s a freakin’ critical thing to do because it helps to motivate people and keep them interested in their work. It can also help motivate the unexceptional to become exceptional. I truly believe that it’s a necessary thing to do and that it benefits all involved.

One of the areas that [the word I hate] is being linked to is social collaboration (which also sucks ass as a term because how the hell are you gonna collaborate if you’re not being social), especially as related to identifying experts. It works like this:

  1. Say something not completely stupid.
  2. Someone, who may or may not be stupid, rates your stuff (or gives you a badge or a cookie or a pin, who cares?).
  3. Someone else sees the rating, and being equally as stupid, or not, bugs your ass for your opinion or for help.

Uh, WTF? I do good work and get “rewarded” by more people bugging me? What kind of psycho place is this?

Identifying experts is good. It helps those seeking advice by providing resources to tap. It helps those providing advice by making them think a bit more and pushing them to be better (and the ego stroking likely doesn’t hurt). But calling it [the word I hate] does everyone a disservice. Experts have worked extremely hard to get where they are, and many truly enjoy what they do and helping others. The folks looking for advice are likely stuck on something that may or may not be hugely important. I’m not certain that anyone involved wants their situation or efforts equated to playing games.

When I write a post I don’t write it to garner likes, +1’s, follower, or increase my Klout score (Klout is Krap, IMO). I write because I have something to say that I think and hope will benefit someone, or at least make them think. If someone provides positive feedback I appreciate it. If someone provides negative feedback I appreciate that too and try to be better the next time (unless they’re just being a dick). If someone reaches out and asks for advice, an opinion, or help, I provide it gladly with no expectation of getting a badge or biscuit. I do it because I am social just like every one of you reading this. Sometimes I write because I get pissed off and need to get something off my chest. On those occasions feel free to ignore me, just like my wife and kids do when I go all bat-shit crazy over something.

As a consumer, I love [the word I hate], but prefer to call it loyalty rewards or some such. I like going out and spending money on stuff, getting points, and using the points to get more stuff for FREEEEEE!!! I also like discounts, upgrades, and complimentary in-flight hookers (not available on domestic flights). But when it comes to me spending money that I’ve worked hard to earn, don’t equate it to playing games.

I’ll give [the word I hate] a little slack on social media & social networks. Earning “stuff” on Facebook (was thoroughly disillusioned to learn that “poking” wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d imagined) games, Foursquare, Klout, …, doesn’t bug me, mainly because I don’t take them all that seriously (like I do my work & my family).

[Added 2012-06-20 …

On the corporate side, there’s a few areas where I think [the word I hate] is apt:

  1. Projects requiring participation of people that have “real” jobs;
  2. Organizational change management;
  3. User adoption.

When you pull staff onto a project they’re still typically expected to do their day jobs. They’re also generally not used to working on projects; there’s a huge change in dynamics from doing an operational role (e.g.: claims processing) to being the subject matter expert in JAD (Joint Application Design) sessions for a new claims system. Doing something as seemingly insignificant as awarding a prize for the best project name can reap huge dividends.

Organizational change management and user adoption are other areas where it pays to “play”. Adapting to new tools and methods is not easy for most people. Even if people hate the tools and methods they’ve been using, they’re used to them and some really are resistant to change. Providing people with goals, tools to reach them, and incentives for reaching them is a good thing. [The word I hate] won’t make the transition any easier, but it ought to serve to get the participants more involved and also provide them with a way to measure their progress.

…]

Give me a raise or a bonus, give me a pat on the back, ask me for my “expert” opinion / advice; I’m cool with all those things if I’ve earned them. Just don’t equate what I do professionally to playing games. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old bastard. If so, I’m perfectly fine with that. It’s not the application of game theory I hate; it’s the label we’ve given it. When applied to so many aspects of our lives I find it diminishes us, our efforts, and our accomplishments.

Note: none of this applies to people who actually play games for a living. E.g.: Bowling, darts, pool. I don’t care what channel they’re televised on, they are not sports.

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