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.

What – No SharePoint?

imageEarlier this week a group of volunteers gathered in Woburn, MA to chart the educational course of the AIIM New England Chapter. We’ve been working for several years to “put the program on rails” but we decided to derail a couple of old standards. One of those appears to be the notion that we should have one event every year dedicated to SharePoint.

This used to be a slam-dunk event for the Chapter; in its heyday, tossing the word “SharePoint” after anything was an immediate win.

Join the parishioners of the Triple Rock Baptist Church for a day of preaching and music, followed by a bake sale, potluck dinner and some SharePoint – Jake; get wise, you get to church

We always tried to give our SharePoint events an AIIM-ish twist. We explored ‘Usability’ in SharePoint. We explored ‘Governance’ in SharePoint. We teamed up with the folks over at ARMA Boston to explore ‘Records Management’ in SharePoint and we tried to figure out what people are really doing with SharePoint. We had some success, but two things seem clear. OK, one thing seems clear and one seems a little fuzzy. Clearly, interest in SharePoint as a subject is waning among our members. Fuzzily, (oh my goodness, that is a word), the direction in which SharePoint is moving, or trying to move, is getting hard to predict. I’m not suggesting a doom and gloom scenario, but if we try to build an event around a product, we need to have a clear picture of the road ahead.

So, rather that market a “message for SharePoint” that has benefit to the broader masses of Information Professionals, we are going to offer a series of messages for that broader group that we hope will attract people from the SharePoint community, too.

Now that I’ve let AIIM NE’s agenda co-opt my blog space for a few hundred words, I think I’ll give you a break and bring this to a quick end. I would ask for a little help though. As many of you know, I am the Program Director for AIIM New England. We are trying to chart a different course this year, partly because, like many professional associations, we are struggling to find the right mix of topics that you (information professionals) will find interesting.

If you have a few minutes, would you please fill out this survey? I promise you that it will only take a few minutes of your time and the results are very important to us. We, by the way, are a small group of like-minded information professionals (well, maybe not entirely like-minded) who volunteer our time to spread the word and provide meaningful educational events at a ridiculously low price to the broad community of (say it with me now) information professionals.

Note: if you have problems with that survey link, for example, if WuFoo asks you to open an account, paste the URL below into your browser. We don’t care if you become a WuFoo customer (although we like them) but we really do want your input – https://aiimne.wufoo.com/forms/aiim-ne-2014-program-survey/

ECM is an Activity not a Product

imageLast week the AIM New England Chapter held an event with the goal of trying to figure out how people are using SharePoint. You can read about the event, the discussion and the wisdom the expert speakers shared in the Event Experience Report, but I want to talk about a note found on page 6:

One person described a decision to move a customer facing solution out of SharePoint because the customers were not interested in the features SharePoint has to offer. The solution has evolved into a ‘content publishing’ solution and management feels that there are better platforms than SharePoint on which to build such a solution.”

I’ll confess to being that person. Are we giving up on SharePoint? No. Is our content management program changing? Yes.

When we first began using SharePoint in 2006, we liked what we saw. While we were struggling to figure out how to best use the product in-house, someone asked if we could use SharePoint to exchange documents, information and perhaps collaborate with some of our customers and business partners. As you might expect, good little techies that we were / are, we jumped at the chance to add a second farm and build an Internet-facing SharePoint server.

We developed solutions. We formed pilot groups. We tested, tweaked, added and perfected features and we held training events. We met with our customers and we spoke with our coworkers and what we heard was that our customers don’t need SharePoint. Our customers want to share files, and share is 90% retrieve and 10% submit. Do the math, there’s nothing left for “collaborate on” or “construct a process around” or any of the other things we have been trying to get people interested in. That’s OK! We understand serving customers, and we don’t want to make customer service harder than it needs to be.

But wait a minute. If we already have SharePoint, why abandon it? SharePoint can certainly be used to share files with people over the Internet.

That’s true, but we’re not in 2006 any longer. SharePoint can be made to be a simple repository of shared documents and SharePoint can certainly handle segregating and protecting private documents while also providing access to public documents, but so can lots of other products. It is one thing to put some effort into SharePoint to create a solution that looks, feels and acts like a more expensive product. It’s quite another thing to put some effort into SharePoint to make it look, feel and act like a less expensive product. Sometimes, SharePoint just isn’t the right answer.

One of the problems with technology and the notion of businesses adopting technology, is that technology changes. One of the most important responsibilities of an IT group is to make and to keep other people aware of what those changes are and what those changes mean to the already adopted solutions. A critical element of that understanding is the fact that installed solutions are not free. We cannot look at something that was developed in and deployed on SharePoint and say “that’s done, let’s move on to something else” – systems, including the things we build in SharePoint, are never done.

SharePoint was the right platform in 2006 because it was just about the only affordable solution we had for securely sharing content over the Internet. We tried to take advantage of the platform, to offer more features and to entice people into turning file sharing into collaboration, but the demand isn’t there. I understand that, the underlying task isn’t a collaborative effort. The underlying task is a mature business process that doesn’t need to be “improved” by SharePoint or anything else. Now that there are simpler, less expensive solutions for securely sharing files over the Internet, it’s time to consider them. Guess what, they work and they work better than SharePoint.

They work better, and they are cheaper, because they are less capable and because they have been perfected toward a narrower goal. The solutions that we are looking at were born in the cloud; they don’t have to be migrated into the cloud. The solutions were born into a mobile world so they come with desktop apps and apps for every mobile operating system – good looking native apps! The people who built these solutions know what they are doing and they know what we need to do, so integration with Outlook is baked in, drag & drop integration with Windows is baked in, permissions, controls, auditing and reporting are all baked in. Yes, these are file-sharing only solutions, but when that’s all you need, that’s all you need.

We are still a SharePoint shop and this is still a SharePoint blog, but my focus has always been Enterprise Content Management. The title of this post is from a comment I made recently on a friend’s blog: ECM is not dead, but ECM is an activity, not a product. The ‘M’ in ECM is also a responsibility and it’s one that I take seriously.

For the Children

imageLast Tuesday, in a post on my AIIM blog, I described my effort to begin crafting an Information Policy that will apply to one of our most recent SharePoint solutions. Eventually, I hope to have a collection of these policies bundled into a comprehensive information policy for our company. That may not happen in the 5 to 7 years that remain before I retire, but I’ve heard that it’s good to have goals. This first attempt was presented to the department earlier this week and the draft was well received, even after I explained that most of the work that remains will fall to them. We moved onto the other agenda items, but we kept coming back to the information policy, and I began to realize just how important this document is going to be. The point where this became most clear was well into the meeting when one person asked

“…how is this [SharePoint site] really any different than the K: drive?

It’s not the first time we’ve been asked this question in the years that we have been trying to move our content from shared folders to SharePoint, but this was perhaps the easiest it has ever been to answer that question.

“It’s different because we can answer three questions for every document on this site that we can’t usually answer for content on the K: drive:

1) Why did we create this document?

2) Who was involved in its creation and disposition?

3) Why did we keep it?”

The inability to answer those three questions is why most of the content on the K: drive will end up staying there. Once the shared drives become read-only; it will take a lot of effort to explore the content and answer those questions. That task will get even harder when the people who were here as those documents were created retire. The loss of tacit knowledge has already begun to affect our ability to classify older documents, without reading them and without a little guess work, and it’s only going to get worse.

One of the tasks that this group has to accomplish is to move a lot of historic content into the site we created for them. This effort will be guided by the information policy, and the experience will help them refine the policy. A good example of how this will work came as we demonstrated Boost Solutions’ Classifier product for them. I’ve written about this product before, but in a nutshell, it lets you quickly tag and process a lot of content that has similar qualities. We stumbled upon two documents that looked like good candidates, a draft contract from a vendor and a list of changes that our staff had proposed. Before we could process these, the head of the department asserted that “we should not keep these, because, in this case we only care about the final contract” which we also had. This led to a short discussion of the kinds of documents where we want to keep drafts and review commentary and the kinds of documents where we don’t. This distinction mapped well to the library structure we had created and there was a placeholder section in the draft information policy for that kind of management decision to be documented.

Other elements of the policy are equally important for helping future employees answer those three questions. For example, there is a section titled Definitions. In the draft of that section, I included the words, library names and metadata elements that need to be clearly defined. Two library names that I included were Internal Communication and External Communication – why do we need to define these? Well, maybe we could live with one definition, but are we talking about external to the company or external to this function? Another definition was a word we have all seen too many times in business, “stakeholders” – when does someone we do business with become a stakeholder? That’s important because it’s a metadata term used in a lot of places, and if stakeholders are involved, the apparent importance of the document increases.

In our board meetings at the New England Chapter of AIIM, we often describe a documentation task as being necessary “for the children.” In other words, we are taking the time to document something that we figured out, but that future board members shouldn’t have to. That’s the difference between managed content and a bunch of files in a shared folder. That’s why you create information policies and that’s why you pay attention to the definitions, guidelines and clear instructions that people include in that very important document. Of course, the policies can change, so when they do, the document should be revised.

CIP – Attained

clip_image002In a recent conversation on LinkedIn, a member raised the question of whether or not a person could have too many certifications. Her concern was that one might start to appear as a “jack-of-all-trades”, and I assume she was hinting at the disparaging follow-on to that phrase “…and master of none.” Well, I can’t be accused of having too many certifications; in fact I just received my very first. AIIM’s Certified Information Professional designation has been on my wish list since I first heard John Mancini mention it at an AIIM New England Chapter event in Concord, MA, but it remained elusive until last week. I took the exam on Monday and I am happy to report that I passed.

Why? – I have never put much stock in Certifications, mainly because I’ve seen so many bad practitioners who hold many, and because I have been privileged to work with some exemplary professionals who hold none. Of course, there are many, many people that fall between those extremes, but I’ve always felt that having the certification was at best an interesting side-note. The other thing that bothers me about most technology certifications is that they are tied to a specific technology. Information management – a.k.a. the stuff I’ve been doing throughout my career – has been merely supported by specific technologies. That’s what I like about the CIP; it’s an affirmation that the holder understands a broad body of knowledge that is agnostic of specific technologies. The CIP feels like the certification that represents the work that I do. I like the idea that there IS an accepted body of knowledge governing this industry and I feel good saying that I understand the fundamentals – in other words – I’m not making this stuff up.

Why now? – I guess there are two ways to answer this question. The cheeky way would be to point out that the CIP is relatively new, and I took the exam as soon as I could. There is some truth to that answer, but the second answer recognizes that it’s important to send the message that you’re never too old to learn, and it’s never too late to improve that which you have been doing “well enough” for years. My goal was actually broader than those answers. I hope that I can use this experience to help others understand that “information management” is not a technology, is not dependent on any one technology and handling information well is everyone’s job regardless of the technology in use.

Why AIIM? – Because that’s where the certification is. Sorry but this reminds me of an episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye was told by a woman that there was a well for water about 2 miles away. He exclaimed “how can you do that?” (Walk 2 miles for water) and she replied: “Because that is where the water is” – Seriously though – why not AIIM? Who better to decide what a represents a broad look at information than the people who do that for a living? I’ve disclosed on numerous occasions that I’m an AIIM Professional Member, a member of the Board of the AIIM New England Chapter and, as of 1/1/13, a member of the Board of AIIM International. You are free to draw lines between me and AIIM and the CIP and this blog post, but make sure you put the arrowheads on the right end of those lines. I have chosen to become more involved with AIIM because I support the mission of the Association and I appreciate the quality of the products and services produced by the highly talented AIIM staff. This isn’t like “I got my MCSE Certification because my employer requires it.” This is “when my employer asked me to take on this responsibility, I turned to AIIM for education. Now, I am proud to be able to say that I meet their standard.” In fact, I’ve been writing this blog for over 4 years, and that sentiment has always been in my profile – go ahead and look, it’s in there.

Should you get your CIP? – I can’t answer that, but I will say that I think it is going to be a meaningful certificate. It seems to be gaining traction. The Department of Labor recognizes it, and some employers have started to list it as a qualification. The more important question is “do you understand why there are document management features in SharePoint?” “Do you understand the difference between Content Management and Records Management?” Actually there are plenty of questions like that; 100 will be on the exam. Maybe you should see for yourself if this is a certification you would like to have.

Will This Be On the Exam

clip_image002Earlier this week, I took a CIP Exam Preparation class conducted by Steve Weissman of The Holly Group. At some point, I’ll swing around to the Certified Information Professional and my reason for pursuing this certification, but today I am busy being reminded of something Steve said during our class:

What problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for?

I don’t think this will be a question on the exam, but Steve circled back to this concept about 50 times as he wove Content Management best practices into the exam preparation class. I was reminded of this notion as soon as I returned to work, where I had a SharePoint related request waiting for me. The request was a simple one; I was being asked to create a document tracking site for one of our claims. In the past, this request might have made me sigh a little, but upon reflecting on Steve’s wisdom, I actually smiled.

The reason I might have sighed in the past, is that we have gone to great lengths to make these sites easy to build. The sites are created from a template, and there are a few easy-to-create list entries that also have to be made. Once the lists are updated, time can be charged (this is a site for lawyers), reports can be produced (when you have lawyers, can accountants be far behind?) and events can be scheduled. Once the site is created, documents can be stored in about 13 different libraries. While not self-provisioning, we have long thought that this was a task our claims people could do themselves. On the other hand, as I have pointed out several times on this and other blogs, I have to remember that “they have a day job” and that it isn’t to administer SharePoint.

I’m not sure if Steve meant for his mantra to be used in this manner, but I see it as containing a feedback mechanism. The first part of the question “what problem are you trying to solve?” is modified by the act of answering the second part. In fact, depending on who you identify as the solution-seeking party, the problem can take on a radically different form. In my case, if I were the person I was trying to solve the problem for; the goal would be to make the claim and site creation process more intuitive, more automated and to put it on rails for the end users. However, since the person in that position is one of our attorneys, he just wants the site to be created. The solution to that problem is much easier to provide, assuming that I am the one providing it. Since we work for the same company, the real question is “what is the most efficient way to create a new claim site?” For a variety of reasons, the answer is “…have someone in Information Services create the site.”

One of the other things that Steve emphasized in his class is that “none of this is technology!” This isn’t a SharePoint problem. This is a case management problem, an accounting problem, a scheduling problem and a compliance problem. SharePoint is the underlying technology on which we (information services) decided to build the solution(s) to these problems. SharePoint was a good choice, because it actually is capable of supporting all the collection, storage, management and distribution tasks (finally, something that will be on the exam) required to solve the business problem. Solving the business problem is the goal; we are solving the problem by using SharePoint so life is good. The fact that the SharePoint solution could be different, and that the tasks could be completed by other people is irrelevant – in this case.

If we were creating 10-15 sites a day, and if the availability of information service personnel to create those sites was in short supply, we might need to invest in making the provisioning process easier. If we did that, and 50% of the sites were being created incorrectly, we might need to make the process more exact. On the other hand, if no two claims were ever alike, we might have wasted our time building a template. In fact, since 2006, when we started building these sites, we have created six different templates. It’s not as bad as it sounds; each new template incorporated a simple modification to the site created by the previous template. The moral of the story is: “once you answer your questions, check to see that the answers are still correct.