Remain Calm You’re Still a CIP

Picture Gildna Radner’s SNL character Emily Litella starting a monologue about wanting to bring an end to AIIM’s “see, I pee” promotion. Picture her rambling on until someone points out that “it’s CIP, as in Certified Information Professional.” Picture her offering up her classic: “never mind” and the skit would end.

As much as it would be comforting, I can’t hide behind a misunderstanding. When I wrote my previous post “Ding Dong the CIP,” I knew what I was doing. I was trying to come to the aid of an association that I have great respect for, and to show support for a decision that I was party to making.

I am writing this today, to acknowledge that the CIP is not dead. We don’t have the witch’s broom in our possession and we’re not going back to Kansas. The scarecrow can keep his brain, the tin man his heart, and the cowardly lion need not cower in the shadows of the forest, because, well, we’ve caused enough confusion, and besides, Christmas is only a week away.

Seriously, I’d love to explore all things CIP in this post but, being mindful of the rapidly approaching holidays, I’ll do my best to be brief, and I’ll try to stick to the facts.

Fact – The CIP is back. Again, you can read John Mancini’s explanation of why the Association made this decision. I will summarize this from the point of view of someone who was in the room when the mistake was made:

We misjudged the importance of the CIP within the industry. We heard, loud and clear, from passionate members of our community that the CIP has value and we decided to work to fix the CIP instead of getting rid of it.

I have no problem announcing this mea culpa because, I’d rather take the position of having been wrong than be accused of being obstinate after having been wrong.

Fact – AIIM is working to meet the demands of a community of professionals that is rapidly growing beyond the ranks or ECM and ERM folk. The things I wrote about in my earlier post are also true. More and more people are dealing with more and more issues around managing information, and many of them don’t identify with Information Management as a profession. AIIM will now work to adapt the CIP to fit a broader and growing body of knowledge. Fact – no organization is more capable of meeting that challenge.

Fact – AIIM is a viable and vitally important source for information about information. To the pundits that suggested that AIIM has had nothing to offer without the CIP, I would say “you couldn’t be more wrong.” The CIP is important, apparently more important than we realized. However, the CIP is far from the only good thing AIIM has to offer to the community of information professionals.

Hopefully, the CIP can grow as the body of knowledge that it is designed to certify one in, grows. Hopefully, AIIM, the AIIM community and the industry that AIIM serves can help focus attention on the CIP going forward. Hopefully, this will cause more people to see the value in holding that certification, and hopefully those people will realize that AIIM remains the preeminent source of research, standards, education and communication around that growing body of knowledge.

It’s a lot to hope for, but my history with AIIM tells me that it can all happen. I received, and accordingly I still hold a CIP. I have an ECMm and an ERMm. I still value the later designations more than the certification. The important thing is that when I needed to learn about handling information that doesn’t respond to a SQL query, I turned to AIIM and AIIM delivered. As that information grew in importance in my workplace, I continued to turn to AIIM for insight and guidance and AIIM continued to deliver. As that information worked its way onto multiple platforms, into the Cloud and onto my phone, I didn’t even have to turn to AIIM. People in the AIIM community had already prepared me for those changes. I heard them at Chapter meetings, at the AIIM Conference and, by proxy, through AIIM’s research, whitepapers and webinars.

Whatever your feelings about the CIP, don’t confuse the certification with the Association. Don’t look upon the CIP as an end point that, once achieved lets you walk away from the community. AIIM has much to offer me, you and the entire community of information professionals and the industries that serve those professionals.

Once good thing came from this mistake, the AIIM community showed that they can still get excited. More than ever, I am looking forward to the AIIM Conference in New Orleans and I hope to see you there.

All Part of Information Services

clip_image002In 2013, Peggy Winton introduced me for my presentation at the AIIM Conference by saying “Dan once said that he didn’t like the department name Information Services but recently he has come to embrace it.” I’ve shared that comment a number of times, mainly because it’s true.

I’m not sure when “IT” took over the terminology, but for the longest time, I wanted to be part of the IT-hype. Keep in mind; I’ve been doing this long enough to remember my department being called Data Processing. Information Services seemed so bland, so boring, as if it were on the edge of the technology. I came very close to asking my boss to change our department’s name before I realized that – it isn’t about the technology.

This past week, I chaired a meeting of our newly formed Communications Working Group. We were talking about curating content in advance of a somewhat formal launch of our long neglected Facebook page and a subsequent re-launch of our long-standing but tired website. Yeah, I didn’t provide the links for a reason.

We don’t drive income from either of those digital venues. They are both information only kind of sites. Still, they are important. The people who visit those sites appreciate the content that they find there, well at least the website. Revamping them will take time. It will take work. We’re going to spend a little money. We are going to make them better so that they better serve the people who visit them. As I was explaining our plans to my boss, he quipped: “It’s all part of Information Services.” He’s right of course and I’m glad I never asked to change that name.

Technology has changed since I began my career over 35 years ago, but technology has never really been the main attraction. All the time I sat there, concerned that I was missing out on the glory, I was missing the main event playing out right under my nose. Technology has changed – information has expanded.

When I began this journey, information was gleaned from assemblages of data. People were hardly telling us anything, it was the numbers that did the talking. Today, we are using technology to tame the volume and velocity of information streaming in from myriad sources. Over the years, information gained color, dimension, sound and action. Information used to arrive in our physical inbox (I still have one) and if we weren’t proximate to that inbox, we didn’t have the information. I can remember people calling me (because I am often one of the first people in the office) to ask me to find some file or binder and retrieve a salient bit of information for them. Information Services indeed.

On Monday, we will begin our curating process. We will use a library on SharePoint to store bits of information, links to information and ideas about the types of information we might share. The people in that Communications Working Group will check various boxes indicating their support or concern for sharing those artifacts to different constituents. The audiences range from small groups of key players whom we will target via email, to broad segments of the unidentified public at the end of a Twitter timeline. It’s all information.

The fact that we will be using SharePoint to support the categorization effort is a non-story, a back-story – it’s the technology story and it’s unimportant. A library, a few metadata columns, a series of alerts and maybe a few minutes of my admin’s time to make the library email-enabled and we’re done.

I can look back in this blog and find entries where that was the story that I was proud to tell. Technology is like that, it has the shiny-new-toy appeal that information never has had. But the shine wears off or a newer toy arrives or the toy breaks or you find that you can’t play with it everywhere you go. The notion that information surrounds us is truer today than at any time during my life. I manage information services within our small organization and I am proud of that.

Happiness is…

imageRealizing that the thing you need your coworkers to do in order for your SharePoint solution to work, is something they already like doing.

Yeah, that was too long for a title, but that’s how I feel right now. It’s as if my doctor had told me that “in order to remain healthy, you need to eat more Heath Bar Klondikes.” In addition, my new found happiness reveals one of SharePoint’s often overlooked strengths. Yes, if you want to, go get a Klondike before reading; it’s ok.

The project that I’ll be working on while my coworker and friends are in Vegas is one where we hope to link several aspects of our engineering process. To do this, we needed to refine an identifying number that has been in use forever. To really achieve that value we are looking for, we need a way to make it seem like this new way is the way we’ve always done things. The really cool thing is that SharePoint can make this all possible.

I’ve talked about bits and pieces of the neighborhood in which I’m working before, loss control inspection reports, recommendations and composite views of data. We have a solution that lets us track and support the development of a loss control inspection report. Ultimately, that process ends with the final report being stored as a PDF, in a records library – locked away forever. However, the process leaves the Word document that created the PDF, behind for review. Keep that in mind.

We also have a solution that tracks the recommendations our engineers make in those reports. These ‘recs’ have a long and complicated life. They get written. They get reviewed. Customers comment on them, engineering peers comment on them and once or twice a year, they get ranked:

  • How important are they?
  • How are they being addressed?
  • Where are they in that life-cycle?

We built a series of custom lists to aid in this process. We also built a couple of composite pages, aided by some data view web parts to assist in that review. Still, something is missing.

What’s missing is the link between the reports in which the recs originated and the recs and the rec-review process. My job is to establish those links.

This is where ECM projects often run into trouble. We have hundreds of reports. We have hundreds of recommendations. Most of the recommendations are ‘closed’ but they still have value. A lot of information is coded into those custom lists, but the real value, the mother-load of information, is in the original reports. The trouble is that this isn’t a one-and-done process.

The recs can appear in many reports over time and any single report can refer to multiple recommendations. It takes time to review, reread, search and add metadata to those reports in order to link them to the lists…or does it?

Well, it seems that it will take some time, but not much. It also appears that going forward we can keep the reports and the recs in sync, with little or no effort at all.

The key to my happy day lies in the fact that SharePoint, with the aid of some workflow add-on products, can read those reports. Further, it turns out that the way our engineers like to write those reports, their “style,” the style they’ve been using forever, lends itself to being picked apart by Regular Expressions.

The reports already have metadata that tell us what policy they refer to. The recommendations have an ID number that tell us what facility they refer to. Today, I built another SharePoint custom list that links those facility ID numbers and our policy numbers. Now it looks like I’ll be able to have a workflow read the reports, pick out the recommendations and automatically maintain the activity in the recommendation lists. If this is successful, once an engineer finalizes a report, a SharePoint workflow will create a stub new recommendation or a stub recommendation update item, and then create a “please complete this item” task.

I’m talking in the future because I’ve only completed the proof-of-concept steps. I can read the reports. I can find the recommendations. I can build a new composite identifier and I can stick it in every custom list where it’s required. I usually wait until I have a solution to write about it, but this was so much fun, I needed to share it. When I finish this project, I’ll let you know how it works, in this blog and at AIIM14. If I fail or partially fail, I’ll write about that, too.

My Annual Plug

imageI’ve been writing this blog for almost five years. During that time, I’ve talked about lots of products that we use (in addition to SharePoint of course). I’ve talked about people we have worked with and conferences that I’ve attended. There’s only one organization’s event that I’ve ever really dedicated a post to. That organization is AIIM and this is that post. It’s a good time for this post for two reasons: 1) the conference is coming up soon, and 2) my SharePoint coworker has been on vacation so it’s been a slow news week here in the office.

In about 6 weeks, AIIM 14 will take place in Orlando, FL. Right now, looking out over 4’ mounds of snow in my yard as I watch freezing rain pour down, sunshine and warmth seems like something out of a fairy tale, but they have it in abundance in Orlando. So, if you’re a fan of such stuff, you have reason enough to go. But, that’s not why I’m going. I like winter. I like snow. I’m going to Orlando, to AIIM 14, to learn.image

If you want to know “how” to use SharePoint, there are just under a zillion conferences you can go to. There’s probably a great one on Saturday or at least there will be, on an upcoming Saturday within walking distance of your house. If you want to know what Microsoft plans to do with SharePoint and what they think you should do with SharePoint, there’s something big happening pretty soon in Las Vegas. But, if you want to know “why” you should be using SharePoint (or any ECM/collaboration solution) or how you might use it better, you need to go to AIIM.

Seriously, nobody understands content like the folks at AIIM and the folks that will be speaking at AIIM 14.

OK, disclaimer time. Sheesh, this gets bigger every year. 1) I will be speaking at AIIM 14. 2) I am the Program Director for the AIIM New England Chapter. 3) I am on the Board of Directors of AIIM International.

Do I have a vested interest in wanting you to go to AIIM 14? I guess, kinda-sorta, but it’s not like I make any money from AIIM. It’s not like working with AIIM, AIIM NE, speaking at the conference or (writing this blog for that matter) will ever lead to increased sales. Well, that is assuming that none of you have an uninsured nuclear reactor hanging around. I attend the AIIM Conference to learn. That’s the benefit I bring back to the office. I have been attending the AIIM Conference, every year since 2000 in order to learn and I have never not learned something that has helped me do my job better. Every single conference has been worth the effort, worth the expense, worth the time; this year will not be different – AIIM 14 will be worth the trip.

The AIIM Conference offers one of the best conference experiences I’ve ever had. It’s big enough to attract some really cool keynote speakers, but it’s small enough to be comfy. You can meet people and actually see them again after you’ve met them. You can meet the speakers, the organizers, the staff members at AIIM, the Board members of AIIM and you will have plenty of opportunities to talk with all those people. It’s also small enough to sell out, so if you want to go, get moving.

My presentation at AIIM 14 is titled “From Hoarders to Pickers and Pawn Starsyou can read about it here, but I think it will be better in person. One of the things people have told me that they like about my presentations is that I talk about things that go wrong, don’t work or cause problems. I also try to point out how we got those things back on track. You’ll hear a lot of real life experience at AIIM 14, told by the end-users, managers, CIO and VP’s who struggled through them and a few who stepped up and hit a home run off the first pitch.

In addition to hearing and talking and taking notes, I’ve made numerous connections at the AIIM Conference that are some of the most important people in my little network.

OK, I hear the “yeah, yeah, we get it, you’re going to AIIM 14 and I should too” comments and I feel the effect of hundreds of shaking heads. There are so many choices today when it comes to ways of acquiring information that I thought I’d share my favorite way with you. Next week, I’ll have another SharePoint Story – maybe about something that worked.

No Fools in Florida

clip_image002Early next April, April 1-3 to be specific, I’ll be attending the AIIM Conference in Florida. I’ll be speaking at that conference, and even though it falls in between two great SharePoint conferences, I think the AIIM Conference has the more important message. SharePoint is the tool; AIIM is all about using the tool (any tool) correctly – for the right purpose – on the right material – for the right reasons. The title of my presentation is “From Hoarders to Pickers and Pawn Stars” and here is a glimpse (reblogged from my AIIM blog) of what I will be talking about.

OK. I admit it. My session title is a cheesy attempt to cash in on the popularity of a few History Channel shows. In my defense, I do feel the title speaks to both the problem with enterprise content management (ECM) today and the solution. Simply put, we aren’t managing content; we are hoarding stuff.

Stuff we think might have value, stuff we think we have to keep, and stuff we simply lost track of so long ago that we no longer know what it is. I have stuff like this in my inbox; you may have some of this stuff too. If you don’t, you don’t have to look very hard to find it. Maybe it’s in a shared drive; maybe it’s on your C: drive; maybe it’s still in a file cabinet; and maybe it’s already made its way into SharePoint.

There is a difference between the hoarder mentality and the picker mentality – and this can affect your organization. Hoarders keep stuff. Pickers ignore junk and seek out that which has value. If you watch the shows, you realize that hoarders don’t want to be pickers, they just want to keep stuff – ALL the stuff. For the most part in business, we aren’t dealing with the kind of hoarder whose stuff is about to bury them. We’re dealing with the people that the pickers find; the people with large warehouses, multiple outbuildings, or a fleet of abandoned school buses and RVs dotting their property. Hoarding doesn’t hurt them; it only hurts the generations that will inherit that stuff. That’s us, that’s business hoarding. We pile document after document, spreadsheet after spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentations from everywhere into all the virtual outbuildings our network has to offer – and they never fill up!

To combat the hoarders, some of us have to become pickers and some of us have to become family. As pickers, we have to ask questions like: “Where did you get this?” “How much do you think this is worth?” But, as family, we have to ask the really hard questions: “Why on Earth would anyone want this?” “What do you expect me (or my coworkers) to do with this?” Not to mention: “Don’t we have 10 or 20 of these? Do we really need this one too?”

As for becoming Pawn Stars, that’s the tricky part. One difference between Pickers and Pawn Stars is that Pawn Stars know how to repurpose stuff by turning it into more valuable stuff. They know that with the right amount of work, something interesting can become something truly remarkable. That’s the real goal. We have to find that content that has value and we have to make the right investment to amplify that value and bring it to the surface.

Let me give you a short example: We have an engineering department that performs loss control inspections of the facilities we insure. We keep those inspection reports, all of them, forever. We have them on paper, on microfilm, on microfiche, in Word Perfect files, Word files and PDFs. Up until a couple of years ago, nobody could access those reports without a guide and a Sherpa. Today, we have several years’ worth of those reports in SharePoint, easily accessible by facility, by insurerd, by engineer. Recently, we added a workflow so engineers, who are researching older reports, can quickly add them to SharePoint and expand the library of “managed” reports. We still have to work on throwing away the other media, but I’m happy that we are extracting value from the pile.

I’ll see you in Orlando.

It’s AIIM by a Mile

clip_image002It’s likely that I won’t be attending a SharePoint Conference in 2013. For those of you that like to get right to the point, it’s because I came to the AIIM Conference instead. If you care about the complex reasoning behind that, please keep reading. I have a limited amount of money in my training budget, my travel budget and I have a limited number of days that I can be away from the office. I have to be very selective when it comes to choosing which events I will attend.

In the interest of transparency, I feel I should point out that I recently joined the Board of Directors of AIIM. Why is that relevant? Well, there are four Board meetings that I have to attend, and even though those meetings are scheduled to accommodate parachuting in, staying overnight and scooting home, they still hit the budget. When I asked my boss if I could serve on the AIIM Board, I agreed that I would try to offset the days away from the office by eliminating other travel. Given all the moving parts in this equation, I was left with choosing between attending one of several SharePoint specific conferences or attending the AIIM Conference. Here’s a look at my analysis:

Which contributes more to me as a person? – This is a tough question to answer. I have participated in both SharePoint conferences and AIIM as an attendee and as a speaker, and both have been rewarding. I have made friends at both, and both give me the opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones…hmm, this looks like a tie. Wait, there is a tie breaker, if I have to draw a line between ECM and SharePoint geekery, I would be standing on the ECM side. The how-to and wow-factor nature of presentations I’ve attended at SharePoint events appeals to me, but the geeky side of me. Sorry, I have to tip this ever-so-slightly to AIIM.

Which contributes more to my career? – I am in charge of Information Services in our company. AIIM is a Community of Information Professionals; is it that simple? Yes, it really is that simple. SharePoint is a tool that I use, that I endorse, that I selected and it’s a tool that I promote within our organization, but it’s one of many such tools. All the tools in my toolbox act upon our company’s information, so the better I understand information, the better I understand the myriad tools available and the better I understand what the future means to our information, the better I will be able to do my job. The better I do my job, the better my career will be – my employer is funny like that. When I look at the opportunity to listen to and learn from Seth Godin, David Weinberger, David Pogue, Michael Chul, Cheryl McKinnon, Thornton May, Laurence Hart and John Mancini (to name a few), I have to say “I don’t want to miss that!

Which is best for my employer? – That’s a fair question; after all they are picking up the tab. I think ANI is better served by my being exposed to a broad array of information management ideas, even though we currently use SharePoint. This is a point that some people have suggested that I’ve got wrong. Their argument is: “since you are using SharePoint, the best use of ANI’s money would be for you to learn how to use SharePoint better.” I say “maybe the best use of their money would be for me to question whether or not we should continue using SharePoint at all.” That might be a little cheeky, but we can’t assume that just because we made a decision, that it continues to be the best decision we can make. Maybe there is something that I’m missing simply because SharePoint doesn’t do it. Besides, it’s not always either/or, I can add tools alongside SharePoint.

Which contributes more to the success of our SharePoint implementation? – AIIM is the clear winner here, because the important thing that I need to master isn’t so much how to do things in SharePoint. The important thing is to do the things that I happen to be doing in SharePoint, better. Let me give you a couple quick examples:

It’s more important to know how to properly design metadata than it is to know how to configure a metadata column in SharePoint.

It’s more important to know when to call something a Record vs. Managed Content than it is to know how to create a Records Library in SharePoint.

These are answers I can get from people who may be using Box, or Nuxeo, or Alfresco, or Documentum. I can hear all these answers at AIIM, separate the concept from the product and apply the lessons to my SharePoint farm.

AIIM Conference 2013 was amazing, and I will sign-up for AIIM14 as soon as registration opens!

Wherever – Whenever – Now

imageWednesday morning, I was involved in a business process that, over the course of four hours illustrated one of the points I plan to talk about at the AIIM Conference next month in New Orleans – the way we work and the way we need to work. While we worked through our issue, I was following some comments about an article from Cisco, regarding all the ways they think Microsoft Lync is inferior to their product. Ironically, the Cisco conversation underscores a second point of my presentation. OK, before this gets too hypothetical, let’s get to the story.

One of our engineers contacted the SharePoint designer on my team, asking if she could create a place for him to store some information about the sites we insure. They realized that the best place was on a site that we are building for our Emergency Response group. Our designer looped me into a message exchange and a phone call via Lync, and we all exchanged emails amongst ourselves, the ER group and our Systems Administrator. The interesting thing is that my SharePoint designer was in Florida on vacation, the engineer was working from home and the people in the ER group were traveling. Not only did it not stop us from making progress, I was the only one that realized that I was the only one of us in the office!

We often here about how remote workers need access to company information in order to do their job. In addition, we hear (and talk) about how well SharePoint helps us to meet that important requirement. But providing remote access isn’t the same as supporting remote workers. In order to allow remote workers to work, we have to provide an environment in which they can conduct business, not just read, write and store digital content. Of course, we have email, but email is too slow and lacks the functionality to support remote work. Remote work often requires a fluid conversation, and email can’t deliver that experience. Messaging systems can, and that’s what we use Lync for. Here’s a short list of what we could do via Lync, as we worked on this micro project:

  • Message Traffic – Instant messaging is a conversation exchange of information. It’s fast, easy and the conversation can be opened up to more people as necessary.
  • Voice – When a complicated question came up during our project, my designer simply called me (added voice) to the discussion. We talked for a while and then we dropped back to text messages.
  • Screen Sharing – We frequently run into questions like “how do I give (person) access to read the contents of this library?” The answer is “here, let me show you” followed by a screen-sharing session. Again, this can be between two people or the entire group. In addition, I can share my screen with you, or you can give me control of your screen.
  • Video – While it wouldn’t have been helpful in this exercise, we can also add video to a Lync conversation if it adds value.

In my presentation, I have a slide that speaks to “using technology” as being something Information Professionals have to do in order to further our collective cause. It doesn’t make any sense to own all this stuff and then postpone a meeting until we can all be in the same room. The other point that I make is that you should use “whomever” works. My SharePoint designer was on vacation, but she was available. If she hadn’t been available, I could have snagged my Systems Administrator. Lync lets me know their status by the Presence indicator, which is another powerful feature of unified messaging.

The point that the Cisco Twitter discussion supports has to do with the pace of decision making today. Simply put:

  • We don’t have time to be late adopters – Technology changes too fast to take a wait and see attitude. By the time we are done analyzing the current offerings, something new has been released. We have to be better at defining our actual requirements, and then move toward meeting them.
  • Imperfect solutions aren’t a type of failure – There’s an old saying “perfect is the enemy of good” which has long governed the work that I do. It’s not that I don’t want to deliver quality solutions, but there can be a big difference between a solution that is good enough and one that is perfect. Also, given the pace of change, the bar of perfection is constantly being raised.
  • The cost of doing nothing – While you’re waiting for the perfect solution, you are living without the benefit of the good solution you could have.

We looked at Microsoft Lync, and we looked at Cisco’s solution several years ago (before Lync was called Lync) and we chose Microsoft. Does Cisco do some things better? Who cares, Lync works for us.