Going – Going –

clip_image002They’re not gone yet, but by the middle of 2013, our network shared folders become read-only. That was the message delivered a few days ago to a group representing every functioning department that hasn’t already moved their content onto SharePoint. Tough love? No, reality. Let me be clear about my motives, I am not advocating SharePoint, I’m advocating the value of information. Shared network folders have been considered to be among the best things I ever suggested since I first mapped a directory on our NetWare server to K: in 1988. However, not only are they less capable than SharePoint, shared folders have become dysfunctional. They are hard to navigate unless particularly well organized (most are not). Also, because searching and sorting are done on the client, they are pathetically slow for remote workers. So I find myself having to put an end to the era I started 25 years ago.

Sometimes, in order to move forward, you have to make it impossible to move backward or even to stay in the same place. I didn’t invent this concept, I read about others doing it, and I held it in reserve hoping that education and cooperation would suffice. They won’t. I realize that something I wrote about a long time ago, something I learned as an undergraduate in chemistry (of all things) is at work – activation energy. Chemical reactions have an activation energy which if not established, will not proceed. Information management has the same requirement. As long as people have the ability to keep tossing stuff onto the K: drive, they will continue to do just that. The incentives and promises of easy access, findability, sharing, remote and / or mobile connections will only inspire a limited few people to embrace ECM. For the people who create more content than they consume, manage the content others create, or primarily consume the content stored in their own silo, ECM offers little benefit. For them, ECM is “the stuff I have to do to make someone else’s job easier” and oftentimes, the “someone else” is a future employee. Once again, I find myself facing the unenviable task of changing behavior.

I wrote about that task very early on this blog, and I mentioned that my boss had advised me that changing behavior wasn’t like driving a speedboat; it was more like driving an aircraft carrier. He told me to get comfortable with only being able to turn one or two degrees at a time. That was great advice, but when it comes to changing the way people work with content, sometimes I feel like I’m driving Africa, like I am moving at the speed of the tectonic plates. The problem that I face is that if I don’t start making 2-3° changes soon and 5-7° changes in the not too distant future, some of the ships in my carrier task group are going to run aground. Still, there are two important nuances contained in the opening sentence above. One is the fact that we are targeting mid-year. The second fact is that we are not eliminating the K: drive.

Mid-year is an important target both for my team and the people we support. From my team’s point of view, we know that if it doesn’t happen by the end of June, it won’t happen. We will be delayed by vacations and then we will roll into the 4th quarter “busy season” and it will be year-end and 2014 and then we will be starting over. For the people in those operating departments, mid-year means that they have 4-5 months to figure out what they are going to do. During that time, we can help them define the sites and libraries that they need, establish basic metadata and get the process underway.

Making the K: drive read-only has numerous benefits. Nothing will be lost, nothing has to be moved right now and we don’t have to solve every problem before the end of June. Before the end of June, we have to have a place for all the stuff we are likely to create in July and August. We have to have a plan for moving the most important files from the K: drive into SharePoint, and we have to convince people that some of the files on the K: drive are garbage. That’s why we aren’t simply moving the entire contents of K: into SharePoint! Read-only means if they need a file, they can get it, but if they need to edit it, they have to figure out where it belongs and they have to set the basic metadata. If nothing else, everything we create after 6/30/2013 will be easier to work with. That sounds like a workable plan that offers enough benefit for now. Stay tuned, I’ll report on our progress.

Activation Energy

At one point, I was pursuing a career chemistry. Although I have the degree in chemistry a lot of people thought I was better at computer science. Still, chemistry was all about problem solving; computer science and content management benefit greatly from problem solving techniques so my chemistry training has served me well. Today, I am drawn to chemical term: Activation Energy. Activation energy is the energy required to start a chemical reaction; now we know where this is heading.

After my guest post on John Mancini’s blog (Digital Landfill), I had a conversation with Marc Hirschfeld, President, Precision Legal Services. Marc and I exchanged several emails talking about how vendors don’t understand small business and about the ways he tries to help his clients, and I help the company I work for, afford and adopt content management. One of the underlying issues we discussed became the basis for this series of blog posts – “how do we get people to want ECM?

The reason I draw the parallel to activation energy is that ECM, like desirable chemical reactions, is a process that provides benefit. But, like those reactions, the process can’t start by itself. Wikipedia uses a photo of a striker lighting a Bunsen burner to illustrate activation energy – I love that photo. I chose the sparkplug, without which, gasoline engines wouldn’t function because I think it more closely matches ECM. The gas flow in the Bunsen burner starts with a spark but sustains itself – the heat from the flame keeps the reaction going. The sparkplug ignites the fuel in the cylinder but the reaction runs its course and must begin again on the next cycle. That’s how ECM works at a detail level. We have to add energy in the form of classifying documents, adding metadata, converting to searchable text, etc. to each document in order for it to have value. Activation energy is required for ECM at the macro level too. We have to urge people to agree to change their behavior, up front, to ever hope to see the benefit ECM promises.

Marc’s practice focuses on e-Discovery so he has a little bit of fear to provide activation energy. He works with clients who have seen problems or who can understand the problems he has seen. Fear is a strong motivator. Most of us are stuck with the classic chemical equation – the reaction (process) in question has value greater than the activation energy required – so the entire process is useful. Unfortunately, the typical methods of applying activation energy, heat and or radiation, aren’t available in the work place. We have to convince people to bring their own energy to the process. To do that, we, the ECM practitioners, have to prove to them that the value will be there as a result.

What do you use to provide activation energy?