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.


Whenever I write a blog entry in advance, it seems that something else pops-up that would be an ideal topic. Two weeks ago, after I had written a draft of Task vs. Email vs. Task, I noticed that one of the blogs I read (The SharePoint Hillbilly) was questioning the value of certifications. At the same time, my Systems Admin was preparing to leave for TechEd, where he was planning to take a certification exam. Still later in the day, someone posted a comment to my blog, suggesting that the problem I had written about could be solved if I attended their certification preparation course.

I’ll start by saying that while we do not require our employees to have certifications, I supported the effort of my Systems Admin to get his, and I was very proud when I heard that he passed his first exam. I believe that there is some value to certifications, especially when the certified skill set matches a job requirement. I do not believe that having a certification, by itself, makes anyone a good candidate for any job (in-house or consulting) that I have to offer. I have been around long enough to see talented non-certified practitioners and certified but talentless ones as well. I have also seen my share of “certifiable” candidates, but that’s an entry for another blog.

I am not likely to pursue any Microsoft certifications, but I do have two certifications that I am proud to have achieved – AIIM’s ECM Master and AIIM’s ERM Master. More than the certifications, I feel strongly that the two fields of study these certifications represent, provide more value to my employer than understanding the various bits of SharePoint. You see, I look at it like this:

I can either figure out how to make SharePoint work, or I can hire someone who can make SharePoint work, but if we have the wrong objective, we are still screwed.

In our most recent project, the stumbling block wasn’t “how do we create a records library?” or “how do we update a task from a SharePoint workflow?” The stumbling block was getting the users to understand what part of their work product represents a company record and convincing them that we need to handle that record appropriately, and then defining what represents appropriate processing! Coincidently, those are the skills I learned through AIIM.

Microsoft has done a great job of building SharePoint and building into SharePoint the features that support Document and Records Management. I can search MSDN for directions, and I can find tons of books, blogs and speaker sessions on how to make all those features work. However, in the past 12 years, the only place I have gotten quality information and advice on the fields of Document and Records management has been AIIM, AIIM Education, Info360 and events hosted by the AIIM New England chapter. Okay, I have also attended a few events hosted by the Boston chapter of ARMA, but you get the point.

You might be saying that this is just my opinion (it is), or that this is another example of me supporting AIIM (it is). You might be saying that this discussion doesn’t even matter, but it does. This discussion is, in many ways, critical to the success of SharePoint. When we stand up a SharePoint solution, it works, people start using it and we think we are done. If people like using it, we tell ourselves that we know what we are doing. If that project is an ECM solution, and it was done wrong, then we may have just set a runaway train in motion. It may take years for people to realize that an ECM project doesn’t meet the requirements they specified, but if that day comes, someone will say “we should have never used SharePoint for this” – (remember: “A poor craftsman blames his tools”).

In a systems development project, developers (or analysts) work to elicit system requirements from users. In almost all of these projects, the users actually understand those requirements. When it comes to ECM projects in SharePoint, often neither the users nor the developers really understand what needs to be done. SharePoint offers us a buffet line of options, but we are free to walk past the stuff we don’t like, don’t understand, and the stuff that looks hard. In fact, we can copy a share drive full of documents into SharePoint and say that we are done! Somebody needs to understand ECM. Somebody needs to understand why we have metadata, governance, and retention periods and why we call some documents “records” in the first place. I know for a fact that the best place to gain that knowledge is AIIM.

Happy (belated) Anniversary!

Somehow, I let the first anniversary of this blog pass by without mention. That’s because I don’t associate the start of the blog with a date, rather I link it to an event – AIIM Expo. People attending a presentation I made at AIIM Expo 2008 suggested I start a blog. I procrastinated a full year, but after being hounded by my daughter, I wrote the first entry the day before AIIM Expo 2009 opened. I have often thought about a “recap” post, but there has always been something better to share – the same is true today. I conducted a training session last week that several people told me was “the best ever training on SharePoint.” What was my secret? Nothing. OK, I did do something for an hour, but I didn’t really conduct any “training”. I didn’t teach anyone how to build a list, add metadata columns, add a Web Part or change the permissions for a site. In fact, all I did was lead a tour, a tour of our SharePoint sites.

Most people only ever see a slice of SharePoint, the Sites, Lists and Libraries they use. Some people don’t even know why the Site looks and functions the way it does, they simply know how to use it. I described SharePoint in six functional terms:

  • Full service web site
  • Mixed-use sites
  • Record keeping
  • Working repositories
  • Project support sites
  • Meeting preparation and support sites

I, along with some of my coworkers, assembled 23 PowerPoint slides describing sites that fell into one or more of these categories. We described the sites in terms of “What was the goal” or “What problems were we trying to solve?” Next, we talked about what we did to achieve the goal and how well that is working. But, before showing any of those slides, I did the thing people attending a presentation ALWAYS want you to do – I shut PowerPoint off! I explained that the handout of those 23 slides that they were holding, was theirs to use for taking notes. Then, I entered the browser. By the way, if you ever wondered if there is a practical limit to the number of tabs you can open in IE-8, it must be higher than 25. For each topic, I had selected and pre-loaded an example site from either our internal SharePoint farm or our Internet facing customer farm. It turns out that sitting there, seeing what your coworkers are doing today, is a powerful training tool.

The tour illustrated so many important things about SharePoint that I can’t possibly mention them all, and keep this blog to my self-imposed 800 word limit. The most significant points are the concepts I had tried to “teach” in previous sessions but never managed to describe well enough:

SharePoint is Malleable – I know this, you know this, but it is hard to teach someone how flexible SharePoint really is. But, if you show six Team Sites that don’t resemble each other in almost any way, people begin to understand the concept.

SharePoint Sites Don’t Have to be Permanent – Since people assume that it is hard to build a SharePoint site or solution, they sometimes shy away from asking for sites they might only need for a few weeks. We demonstrated sites that we have built for projects as short as one week and as long as four years.

SharePoint Supports the Way You Work – We visited sites designed with metadata columns that allow us to look at large volumes of documents in many small clusters. We showed what you can do in SharePoint that you can’t possibly do with documents stored in folders. We showed how Workflows can support, track and sometimes eliminate manual document processing. Most important, we showed how these features are built around individual requirements.

SharePoint Works – SharePoint works for collaboration and SharePoint works for ECM, more important, when designed properly, collaboration and ECM support each other. Wait, that’s this year’s presentation at AIIM, I’m going to hold off on that.

SharePoint does work. It works today and it’s going to work even better in a few short weeks when SharePoint 2010 is officially released. In a few short days, I am going to join many other people telling that story at AIIM Expo 2010. AIIM Expo is way more than stories though, it is an opportunity to learn how to apply best practices to SharePoint or any other Collaboration, ECM, BPM, ERM, etc. solution you might have. If you don’t have a solution, someone on the show floor will be happy to show you one you can buy.

Coming to Fruition

Since implementing SharePoint, our goal has remained consistently broad and seemingly unattainable. We want to use SharePoint for all the things Microsoft says it can do. Of course part of that goal is Enterprise Content Management (ECM); SharePoint was brought in to replace an in-house developed document management system. Our other major goal is to support collaboration. We figure that if people like using SharePoint for collaboration, they will learn how to use SharePoint for ECM. Not a bad plan, but there were flaws.

The first flaw was the fact that we were not ready to begin ECM in something as capable as SharePoint. Our in-house system was a very simple secure repository for clearly identified company records – the stuff nobody would argue about. We had covered the basics, but not the broad spectrum of content related issues. If ECM was a map, we were a tight view of a downtown area. SharePoint, on the other hand was a regional map of the United States. SharePoint offered many options that we had not considered, but we instantly recognized their importance. We altered the ECM rollout to focus on the simpler types of content and then went to school; literally, I went to AIIM’s ECM and ERM master classes, but more about that in a minute.

While we were learning about and planning for ECM, we turned our attention more to collaboration, this revealed the second flaw in our plan. People wanted collaborative workspaces, but they didn’t want to build them. That was acceptable, we are small enough that our tiny IT staff can build all the sites, libraries and lists necessary. The plan was still working; sooner or later SharePoint would be second nature to most people. We realized it wasn’t going to be sooner, and we realized that later was much later than we thought, but it has begun! What was once a grudging acceptance of SharePoint has slowly started turning into curiosity, influence, participation, and a few instances of downright ownership.

The remarkable thing we are realizing is that human nature is helping to avoid exposure of a third flaw in our plan. As more and more people started asking to have things built in SharePoint, and changes to the things already in SharePoint and enhancements to SharePoint, etc., we were worried that we would be overwhelmed in IT. What we are seeing instead is that, as people depend more on SharePoint, they want to know more about it. Now they are willing to learn; we have always been willing to teach, so the lines are coming together. A wonderful example happened last week.

One of my coworkers noticed that some content was missing from a site we had recently built out. I explained that we had not uploaded the content, because the customer wanted changes. Without going into the details, we needed a new Document Library with several metadata columns to support this customer’s needs. We liked the idea and wanted to build this as a model for similar sites. My coworker offered to help. We spent about an hour discussing the required changes, and I taught her how to make those changes. I gave her design privileges, and now the changes have been made, the content has been uploaded, the metadata is set and the site looks fantastic! That is just one story out of several during past few months. It appears we are beginning to see the kind of participation we have been waiting for. Fortunately, we have also been planning for it.

I’ve talked about the benefit of AIIM training before, but I’m going to mention it again today for two reasons. One, as a result of the AIIM training I took, I am ready with answers now that people are starting to ask questions. The structure I am turning over to them is sound, the procedures I’m asking them to follow, and in some cases create, are appropriate. The business processes we are wrapping in and around SharePoint are based on best practices and years of experience. The second reason I want to talk about AIIM is hanging off to the right side of this screen, AIIM Expo starts in just about two weeks! If you can afford to go to a conference and work with or rely on ECM or SharePoint, go to AIIM Expo. If you can’t afford to go to a conference, go to AIIM Expo just for the exhibits and keynotes (which are free). I started going to AIIM Expo about 10 years ago, and I started going just for the free stuff. After seeing the exhibits and hearing the keynotes, I wanted more. I’ve been attending the conference ever since. I’ve presented at AIIM Expo in the past, and I’m presenting again this year as part of the SharePoint Showcase, and I’m taking a coworker with me. Do yourself a favor, go to AIIM Expo.

Fine Tuning

I wasn’t even finished typing the title when I realized that it’s another age-revealing expression – from the time when analog devices ruled. I’m going to stick with it because that’s what I hope to be doing very soon. Last year, I attended AIIM’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) training with the goal to improve our approach to ECM on SharePoint. That class was amazing and I began applying the lessons from that course before I finished the case study. But, I come from a technical background and where ECM refers to Records Management, some of the concepts and some of our implementation, could use a little fine tuning. Fortunately for me, AIIM has a course for ERM too.

As I write this post, I have just finished AIIM’s Electronic Records Management (ERM) master program (actually, I just completed the online exam, see new designation – yay!). As I mention in a sister blog on Training, I took multiple sets of notes including the ones I needed for the exam and the case study, and the ones I need to act on when I return to work. And, I’m took tons of notes. The class was great, the material was everything you would expect from AIIM, and the instructor brought a wealth of experience to the classroom. He also voiced concern about SharePoint. As he guided us through the intricacies of Records Management he, or one of my classmates would periodically say “and this is where SharePoint scares me…

I reminded myself that I took the class to learn about Records Management, not defend Microsoft so I resisted championing SharePoint for a task I’m not sure it was designed to handle. On the other hand, I know that we are using SharePoint for ERM. I took advantage of the class; I bounced some ideas off the instructor and my colleagues to see if I could at least convince myself that this will work. The issue in most of the discussions stemed from the difference between Content Management and Records Management. Much of the material in the two courses (ECM & ERM) is related, they even have some of the same topics but there’s a much more serious atmosphere around these topics in the ERM world. The instructor talked about: “documents that can’t be deleted” and “documents that have to be preserved for 50 years”, and one of my classmates mentioned a statute in one country that calls for retention “for the life of legal entity plus two years” and I started to worry. I started thinking about how SharePoint might evolve, how Active Directory might evolve and even how our company might change over time. I realize that it isn’t whether SharePoint is up to the task, it’s whether we are up to the task.

Like most companies, we already manage Records. Some might be in file cabinets, some might be in boxes at Iron Mountain and some are in SharePoint but the “management” falls to us, the humans interacting with these repositories. The things that we need to do to address Capture, Storage, Classification, Search and Security, SharePoint can handle. We can map a classification scheme into SharePoint, and we can incorporate Metadata; we’re doing that today. We can manage permissions and Search Scopes and we can use Content Types to provide the metadata inheritance I’m told we need. When it comes to Retention, Preservation, Controls and Disposition, things start to get fuzzy. These are the areas where I find myself planning to pair Workflows with Metadata, and reporting on Audit Trails and integrating company policies with SharePoint administration. I know it can be done but I wonder if we can keep that effort on the rails.

My fear stems from the knowledge that SharePoint isn’t a system; it’s a platform on which you can build system-like behavior. That means that if we’re going to meet these challenges, someone, or some group needs to know SharePoint and Records Management. Today, I’m part of that group, but what about tomorrow and next year and 10 years from now? My notes suggest that I need to get more people involved in this task and that I need to continue our education program. That’s OK, I work with good capable people and where I am passionate about SharePoint, they are passionate about their Records – I think we can make it work.

I’m going to close with a little advertising. If you haven’t sensed this, in addition to being a SharePoint bigot, I’m a huge fan of AIIM. I’ve written many times about the wealth of material AIIM provides through white papers, research, blogs, Information Zen and training. If you administer SharePoint, join AIIM. If you really want to support document management on SharePoint (or any other platform) join AIIM and take advantage of AIIM Education. Remember, I’ve been around long enough to remember when devices include “Fine Tuning” knobs, and the courses I’ve taken through AIIM are among the best courses I’ve ever encountered.