Single Stream Information Governance

imageLately there are two information governance conversations going on. One is in the world around me and one is in my head. The one in the world is increasingly hyperbolic with threats of grave danger if we don’t get our collective act together soon. The conversation in my head is much more practical. Those voices are simply saying:

Do NOT bring this up at work – do NOT use the phrase information governance in a conversation with your boss!

The voice in my head is winning. I refuse to say that term in our office. Information governance has joined “records management” “platform” “metadata” and the myriad other terms destined to be met by the rolling eyes of my coworkers. Don’t ask me to champion this cause because doing so just strengthens their opinion that I don’t get it.

I do get it. Those people have a job to do, a business to run and the documents and information artifacts that are consumed and created by those jobs are simply that – artifacts. Artifacts to be curated by someone who cares. Do those artifacts have value? Of course they do, and they are paying my department to bring that value to the table.

During his opening message at the AIIM Executive Leadership Summit on Information Governance, John Mancini mentioned that one of the AIIM Board members had said “Information Governance is like my check engine light.” The comment invoked a mix of facial expressions that made me glad that John hadn’t identified me as being that Board member. I wrote about that comment on my other blog in a post called for the love of black boxes. I’m going to abandon that analogy here. I’m going to make one that the InfoGov folks will like even less. Information governance is like recycling.

Think about it:

When our little town in Connecticut started talking about recycling, it was a “save the planet” mission. There was lots of education, lots of discussion and lots of work for the precious few who tried. Recycling meant warehousing garbage collecting bags and boxes of neatly separated stuff before trucking it to bins behind our Public Works building. Very few people participated in the program. Most of the stuff just got hauled out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Tell me you haven’t seen an analogous situation in the information governance space.

Next, we moved to single-bin mode. We had our own bin, where we put newspapers in a bag, cardboard tied in bundles and cans and bottles loose in the bin. We had to carry the bin to the curb, and lots of stuff was left in the bin because the town only recycled certain plastics.

Then, a few years ago, we went totally single-stream – everything in one big wheeled bin. Oh yeah, I’m recylcin’ now baby.

It has to be this way. We all get it. We all know how important recycling is but if you don’t make it easy, most of us won’t do it or we won’t do it consistently or we won’t do it well enough. Information governance needs to get to the point where we have a big blue bin. This isn’t my area of expertise, but here are a couple of things that we’ve done that actually work:

Templates – We have a few solutions where we have tied templates to content types so that people can create documents in the library where the completed documents belong. The governance stuff is built in and nobody actually has to do much work.

ShareFile – Our decision to start using Citrix ShareFile was actually when this blog started to change its identity. Yes, ShareFile relies on folders and naming conventions to identify things, but I don’t see it as a step backwards. We are using it to share content with people outside of our organization. So, instead of people clandestinely avoiding SharePoint, they are happily embracing ShareFile. Give ‘em what they want! We have one set of documents, they are in our cloud and there are apps for everything. You could use any other cloud-based solution (Box, DropBox, Google Docs, OneDrive or iCloud). The point is, the solution has to meet the user where they work. Find a way to govern that solution and aid the business process instead of impeding it.

Services – These are black boxes of a sort, nobody sees the content, they only see the results, the information that they need. The most recent example of this is a survey we are about to conduct. The people who are interested will see the results, organized the way they want, but that’s it. We’ll take care of the bits of metadata needed to organize the results. We’ll take care of the permissions, the retention, the privacy and security around the ‘personally identifiable data’ and we’ll take care of all that other stuff nobody else cares about.

They won’t know that their information is compliant with regulations and in keeping with the policies our company has established. They won’t know, and I won’t tell them.

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!

Three Themes – One Goal

clip_image002A few days ago, I returned from the AIIM Conference. Having extended my trip with a short vacation, I missed the ‘recap window’, but I can still say that it was a great event, and its success helps me segue into a point I wanted to make about conferences. AIIM’s new focus on Information Management fits so nicely with my job, and my department’s goals that it makes me think of woodworking joints like the ones shown to the right. AIIM has always helped me to reach my goals, but now they complement my work and add strength to my mission. AIIM’s emphasis on people might seem like a hard thing for me to cope with (given my track record) but it really isn’t. I have been waiting for over 35 years for people and technology to be discussed as if they belong together, as opposed to being at odds with each other. My hat’s off to the people at AIIM for deciding to push this notion forward.

Now that the AIIM Conference is over, I have to prepare for another presentation. This time, I will be pairing up again with my User Experience mentor Jill Hart as we talk about Usability at the 2012 SNEC-PMI conference.

A little further down the line, I will be part of a panel at Info360, talking about SharePoint adoption. AIIM and Info360 used to be one great conference, but beginning this year they are two great conferences. I love the fact that I am going to get a chance to be on stage at the Javits Center before someone tears it down and moves NY conferences to Queens. I used to live in Queens, and I don’t think that when people talk about visiting NY, they’re talking about Queens, unless they have relatives there.

Information Management, Usability, Adoption – three disparate topics, or components of the same stool? I’m going with the stool analogy, and I’m going to say that Information Management is the seat, the goal, the functional element we are trying to achieve. Usability, adoption and technology are the legs. Throughout my career, technology has gotten the lion’s share of my attention. Although I have seen one-legged stools, I’m not sure I want to build one or use one. Now, with the additional focus on those other legs, I get a sense that we are building stronger solutions. I also get the sense that the solutions we are building in SharePoint are going to be easier to market. Simply put, Information Management is an easier sell than Content Management, which is just one of the reasons I like the show name Info360.

Information is truly all around us; our 360° view includes an amazing array of information sources and an equally large number of consumers. This is the nature of business today, but that is a concept that we (information professionals) understand better than our counterparts in other areas of business. Technically, I’m not in the business of selling SharePoint; I’m trying to solve the real-life business problem of connecting the creators and consumers of information. When I consider that as my goal, I start to appreciate the need to attend conferences, follow blogs, to follow people on Twitter and other social media – in other words, the need to join the conversation. In many of the presentations I have given, I have included the following quote (Attributed to Albert Einstein):

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them

We need new ideas, and the chances that we are going to stumble upon a lot of them, let alone the best ones by ourselves are pretty slim. I need help, and the best place to find the people that can help me are at events like this. These events are also a fantastic place to meet the people you already follow in order to match a face with an avatar.

In many of the sessions I attended at the AIIM Conference, people talked about the role that user experience has in driving the adoption of information management technology (see, three legs). I heard researchers tell us how people will ignore or find ways to work around technology that does not offer a good user experience. I heard practitioners talk about and demonstrate the ways that they achieve a good user experience. In addition, I heard prognosticators like John Mancini talk about how fast the trend toward social, mobile, and local solutions is moving. As much as I love SharePoint, selecting it as our information management platform didn’t exactly give us the pole position in the race for a good user experience. SharePoint, if I can extend yet another analogy, is a fantastic race track, but we have to build the winning car. My team (maybe I’ll start referring to them as my pit crew) and I are learning how to do that, but we know that we have to continue to learn and I expect that we will have to pick up the pace. I hope to see you at Info360 in NY, where the learning will continue.

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!

Agents of Change

I got a little carried away last time; today, I’ll try to be a little less evangelical. That’s hard for me because I do see my role to be an evangelist for SharePoint and ECM. Perhaps this is one of those times I should listen to my boss. He tells me I need to be an agent of change – how is that different from evangelist? The main difference is that an evangelist tells you to change, tells you why you need to change and maybe reminds you of the consequences of not changing, but you have to make the change happen. Agents of change are more involved in the process – that’s where we should be when it comes to ECM and SharePoint, in the trenches, making it happen.

I was in Boston last week, attending SPTechCon. While in Boston, I caught Karuana Gatimu on Twitter saying “How to get people to use ECM? Find their most painful business process & improve it” She added “easier Tweeted than done” but I guessed she had recently eliminated some pain in her organization. The process she tackled was a paper-based forms process and the pain was caused by a lack of information as the forms were progressing through the process. Not surprisingly, Karuana will be a guest opinion maker on John Mancini’s Digital Landfill blog beginning Monday, talking about BPM and Workflow. Be sure to check that out.

Karuana tackled a big problem, but small problems can be painful too; think about splinters. One splinter in our shop is SharePoint Surveys. We make very limited but important use of surveys in planning for company events. The people processing the survey results like gathering information electronically but are otherwise unimpressed with the survey features. At SPTechCon, I learned ways to improve these in the future and the people using the surveys were happy to hear that. Right now, however, their pain point was the limited amount of information on the All Responses view. I knew there was a way to address this and a quick visit to EndUserSharePoint.com lead me to an informative article by Paul Grenier. Paul reminds us that even though you don’t have options on the survey settings menu to create new views, you can always edit the Current View from the Edit Page option. This proved to be a small change that generated a big reaction.

When I started writing this post, I asked Karuana for her thoughts on what it means to be an Agent of Change. Two points that she placed high on her list were: “Start small” and “Listen”. My boss echoes the first comment when he points out that “you’re turning an aircraft carrier not a speedboat, you have to settle for one or two degrees at a time”. My recent experience underscores the importance of both concepts. I’ll end today with one of my favorite quotes: Andy Warhol said “They say time changes things but you actually have to change them yourself” – Sounds like I’m getting back on the pulpit but I think my editor will understand.

Virtual Appearance at Digital Landfill Today

John Mancini, President AIIM authors a blog called Digital Landfill and has once again extended the privilege for me to be a guest author on his blog. This is still within his “8 things you should know about…” series.

My post is “8 Things Small Businesses Need to Know about Document Management

Thanks again to John for the opportunity to share my thoughts through his blog!

Activation Energy

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

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

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

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

What do you use to provide activation energy?