This is a modified cross-post of my AIIM blog, and although I rarely reuse this content, this week is different for two reasons. One, I am extremely busy and Saturday seems to have fallen out of my sleeve this morning. Two I had three separate discussions after publiishing the AIIM post, about new SharePoint solutions that are exciting and, in some ways terrifying. All three solutions involve gathering information into one location while linking in information from other locations and displaying a variety of back-end data related to the documents / topics in the SharePoint site. It sounds like we have begun to turn the corner on adoption (the exciting part), so what is my concern? What happens if the information I am providing turns out to be incorrect?
When we build information management solutions, we worry about a lot of things; we worry about capacity, we worry about bandwidth, we worry about search and findability and, increasingly we worry about usability. Today, I am starting to worry about accuracy. Why the sudden interest in accuracy? Actually, wouldn’t accuracy always have been at the top of the list in information management? I think the answer to the last question is “yes and no”, and I think understanding why it has been that way serves to answer the first question.
Separate and Accurate – When there was a sharp division between structured and unstructured data, accuracy was easy. Structured data is manipulated accurately by algorithms that are well understood and tested. If the algorithms need to change, the tests change and we march forward in lock-step. Unstructured data is what it is. A document’s contents might be accurate or inaccurate, but the document itself is just a container. Two things are happening that are changing this simple dynamic. One, we are working to combine structured and unstructured data. For example, we have a project on the drawing board that will let you see a policy document, the related reports about the insured (customer) that we have, and the premium and other numbers associated with that policy. Two, we are starting to derive structured data from the unstructured content. We have a number of projects where we are counting documents, measuring activity, charting progress; all based on the content and on metadata in a library. In each of these cases, we are relying on things beyond our control remaining accurate. Systems can change, and we could find ourselves hooked-up to the wrong data element. Procedures can change, and we could be counting activity that no longer holds the same meaning. In other words, there is now an additional degree of separation between the underlying data and the information we are presenting – that is always cause for concern.
But It’s On the Portal – There’s a TV commercial for an insurance company that has one character stating that “you can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true” a fact that she heard, on the Internet. Of course we all know that everything on the Internet isn’t true, but we expect the stuff on our company’s intranet to be true and we expect it to be accurate. This expectation, and the solid acceptance that the expected behavior will be delivered is what makes it so important to bridge those degrees of separation to maintain accuracy. We have to remain aware of the links that we establish, and we have to incorporate downstream usage in our change control process. It’s no longer good enough to fix our system, or to update our procedures; we have to know who uses our information and we have to keep them in the loop.
I started having this conversation with the constituents of the three upcoming projects. The good news is that, at least at a conceptual level, they understand the importance of accuracy in categorization, in definition and in calculating and rendering information from metadata. The bad news is that now that they want stuff in SharePoint, they want that stuff to be there now – I am suggesting that the process must be more involved and accordingly will occur at a slower pace. Well, it’s going to occur at a slower pace simply due to the fact that I have a small team, but that’s a different issue. Despite this initial frustration, I think that we are in a very good place. The people who want these projects completed are beginning to understand the fact that they too are information professionals, and they have indicated that they are willing to learn, willing to help and those are clearly good things. Now the challenge for my team is to prioritize multiple requests and keep everything moving at an acceptable pace – if you have to have a problem, that’s a good one to have.