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.

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.

Reaction – Comments – Request

clip_image001Last summer, there was a series of posts that were challenging the foundation and future of the SharePoint community. One of those posts was on this blog and, although I didn’t write it, it raised some serious questions. Last week, Bjorn Furuknap wrote an article that made me realize, if Bjorn is to be trusted, that the SharePoint community is still suffering from growing pains. If Bjorn is right, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, my reaction is “meh”.

From my point of view, the SharePoint community is the hundreds of thousands of people using SharePoint to solve business problems on a daily basis, not the few thousand trolling for work. I am part of that larger community, I’m not sure if I’m part of the community Bjorn wrote about. I’m not here for the money, the prestige or the booth babes (now I know that my wife, who proofreads this blog, will read Bjorn’s blog). SharePoint is the tool I recommended to my employer to satisfy a pressing requirement. OK, I guess I am here for the money after all.

Like most of the people in the community, when I need ‘how to’ answers, I turn to the people that I follow, re-tweet and trust. It may seem like I circle the wagons around the same small group of people, but so what – those people are providing the answers and advice I need. On the other hand, that observation really wouldn’t be accurate. When I get stuck on a SharePoint snipe-hunt, you know, trying to figure out how to do what Microsoft says we can do but which never works, I turn to the SharePoint community. I search my favorite sources first, and then I simply search. I almost always find the answer in someone’s blog or in a comment on someone’s blog. When I like what I read, I bookmark that blog, I start following that person. If I grow to really like what that person has to say, I add them to my “Daily” list in Twitter. Talk about recognition, less than 10% of the people I follow are on that list. I can honestly say that all (both) of the SharePoint consultants I’ve hired were on that list before I hired them.

That list is not becoming, as Bjorn might say, “an unmanageable mass of junk” – I keep it clean and useful. Since I can only read so many tweets in a day, I prune away those without value or with diminishing value. That’s why I don’t worry about the trend that Bjorn mentions. It might be true that some people are taking shortcuts, calling attention to themselves or their close circle of friends, but I think I can see through that. If that’s your approach, you won’t remain on my list very long. I might also point out that SharePoint practitioners make up less than 10% of my daily reading list. I follow woodworkers, scientists, Steeler fans, people whose opinions I value and people that make me laugh. So, if you want recognition but are losing your grasp of SharePoint, try one of those topics.

What about me, why do I bother writing this blog? I rarely have answers to questions about how to do things. In fact, I sometimes ask more questions than I answer, or at least I try to get you to ask questions. As trite as this sounds, I am trying to give something back to the community, but again, not just the SharePoint community. Not only do I consider myself to be part of the larger SharePoint community, I consider myself to be part of the enormous community of information professionals. If someone in that group is thinking about using SharePoint to solve a problem, I’d like to think they might find an answer in this blog. So, do I get recognition, high pay, a booth babe? (Proofreader strikes). Once again, the answer is “meh” – it doesn’t really matter. If you are trying to give something back, trying is enough; at least that’s how I feel. I can say without hesitation, that the highest praise I ever received for this blog was when Marc Anderson said that “it’s a Saturday kind of read” – as someone who tries to be an effective writer, it was gratifying to hear that.

Now, in keeping with one of the comments on Bjorn’s blog, I’ll mention someone else in my clique, AIIM. Oh wait, AIIM isn’t a person, it’s a community. Well, technically it’s an organization of information professionals, but why be technical. If you are looking for an opportunity to give back, I would urge you to consider joining AIIM. I’m not sure if it was in the early days of the SharePoint community, but in 2006 I listened as John Mancini stood on the stage in Philadelphia during his keynote address at the AIIM Conference and referred to SharePoint as “the elephant in the room” of the ECM community. I gave a presentation at that conference in which I briefly mentioned SharePoint, and John urged me to propose a presentation for the 2007 conference that focused entirely on SharePoint. AIIM doesn’t recommend any particular technology, but they work hard to cover all of them. They also provide tons of information of value to everyone involved with information management. If you want to see for yourself, come to the AIIM Conference in San Francisco in March where you can hear John, me, lots of bona-fide, and a few Certified Information Professionals (CIP) talk about the community in which SharePoint thrives. See, Bjorn was right; in the end, it is about me.

One last thing: as the title implies, I do have a request. Can you wonderful members of the SharePoint community who blog about solutions, please start tagging your blog entries with “SP2007”, “SP2010”, “SP2013” and the like? As someone who frequently searches for answers, it would be nice to be able to easily filter on version, particularly since some of the solutions that work in one version don’t end up working in future versions. Thanks!