Certified?

Whenever I write a blog entry in advance, it seems that something else pops-up that would be an ideal topic. Two weeks ago, after I had written a draft of Task vs. Email vs. Task, I noticed that one of the blogs I read (The SharePoint Hillbilly) was questioning the value of certifications. At the same time, my Systems Admin was preparing to leave for TechEd, where he was planning to take a certification exam. Still later in the day, someone posted a comment to my blog, suggesting that the problem I had written about could be solved if I attended their certification preparation course.

I’ll start by saying that while we do not require our employees to have certifications, I supported the effort of my Systems Admin to get his, and I was very proud when I heard that he passed his first exam. I believe that there is some value to certifications, especially when the certified skill set matches a job requirement. I do not believe that having a certification, by itself, makes anyone a good candidate for any job (in-house or consulting) that I have to offer. I have been around long enough to see talented non-certified practitioners and certified but talentless ones as well. I have also seen my share of “certifiable” candidates, but that’s an entry for another blog.

I am not likely to pursue any Microsoft certifications, but I do have two certifications that I am proud to have achieved – AIIM’s ECM Master and AIIM’s ERM Master. More than the certifications, I feel strongly that the two fields of study these certifications represent, provide more value to my employer than understanding the various bits of SharePoint. You see, I look at it like this:

I can either figure out how to make SharePoint work, or I can hire someone who can make SharePoint work, but if we have the wrong objective, we are still screwed.

In our most recent project, the stumbling block wasn’t “how do we create a records library?” or “how do we update a task from a SharePoint workflow?” The stumbling block was getting the users to understand what part of their work product represents a company record and convincing them that we need to handle that record appropriately, and then defining what represents appropriate processing! Coincidently, those are the skills I learned through AIIM.

Microsoft has done a great job of building SharePoint and building into SharePoint the features that support Document and Records Management. I can search MSDN for directions, and I can find tons of books, blogs and speaker sessions on how to make all those features work. However, in the past 12 years, the only place I have gotten quality information and advice on the fields of Document and Records management has been AIIM, AIIM Education, Info360 and events hosted by the AIIM New England chapter. Okay, I have also attended a few events hosted by the Boston chapter of ARMA, but you get the point.

You might be saying that this is just my opinion (it is), or that this is another example of me supporting AIIM (it is). You might be saying that this discussion doesn’t even matter, but it does. This discussion is, in many ways, critical to the success of SharePoint. When we stand up a SharePoint solution, it works, people start using it and we think we are done. If people like using it, we tell ourselves that we know what we are doing. If that project is an ECM solution, and it was done wrong, then we may have just set a runaway train in motion. It may take years for people to realize that an ECM project doesn’t meet the requirements they specified, but if that day comes, someone will say “we should have never used SharePoint for this” – (remember: “A poor craftsman blames his tools”).

In a systems development project, developers (or analysts) work to elicit system requirements from users. In almost all of these projects, the users actually understand those requirements. When it comes to ECM projects in SharePoint, often neither the users nor the developers really understand what needs to be done. SharePoint offers us a buffet line of options, but we are free to walk past the stuff we don’t like, don’t understand, and the stuff that looks hard. In fact, we can copy a share drive full of documents into SharePoint and say that we are done! Somebody needs to understand ECM. Somebody needs to understand why we have metadata, governance, and retention periods and why we call some documents “records” in the first place. I know for a fact that the best place to gain that knowledge is AIIM.