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.

The Market Rocks

clip_image002Last week, I wrote about how we are going to shut down the now-dysfunctional shared folder structure we have had in operation since 1988. Of course, telling you via this blog was actually the easy part; telling the people using those shared folders, well that’s a different story. As soon as I declared the date (June 30) for the lockdown, my team started working on a strategy to ease the pain, and make the transition easier. My Systems Administrator seems to have hit a home run, finding another product from the folks at SharePointBoost. I wrote about these guys back in 2009, right after we installed their Batch Check-in product. Since then, we’ve added their List Transfer product and now we are taking a hard look at Classifier.

Here’s what I like about the product – In addition to forcing encouraging people to move existing content into SharePoint, we are also suggesting requiring that the libraries they establish contain a minimal set of required metadata. We’re not trying to replicate the K: Drive, we’re trying to improve upon it. That means that for the valuable content that we need to preserve, the upload into SharePoint process becomes a challenging exercise. That’s why Classifier is so cool.

Since a person who understands the content can quickly identify documents that share common characteristics, they can select those documents, batch them and very quickly establish the common metadata. SharePointBoost has a wonderful selection of tutorials on their website, but here’s a quick illustration of what I just described.

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I’ve selected five documents from a folder containing documents related to the AIIM New England Chapter. To make life easier, I selected all the minutes that were in the folder.

At this point, I can just check these all in, using the Batch Check-in features. If all the metadata is the same, I can chose to “bulk edit” the properties. In my case, most of the metadata is the same but there’s a description field that is unique, so I’m going to edit the files one-by-one.

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As I edit the properties of the first document, I can instruct Classifier to keep the choices I make on that file and carry them forward to the rest. This means that all I have to do is edit the unique property of each document.

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After I move through all five documents, voila!

Here’s what I like about this company – SharePoint add-on products can be expensive, but SharePointBoost does a great job of containing that cost. I particularly like the way they work with SMBs. Since we don’t have a ton of users, we can save money by buying a limited license as opposed to a Farm license (since we will never hit the limit). In addition, they reward previous customers instead of punishing them. One of the features of Classifier is the ability to check in all the documents that you are working with. We already own their Batch Check-in product, so they offered to discount the license fee for Classifier to reflect that prior ownership. I’m not naming names, but I know other companies that seem to ferret out every possible way that can force you to buy another license. Microsoft wants to charge me based on what I am doing, where I am doing it and what device I am using. Some scientists say we will never be able to invent the Heisenberg Compensator used in Star Trek to enable the Transporter to work around the laws of physics. I say that that technology will be an offshoot of software licensing.

IT likes market-driven solutions – One of the things that often happens after I write about buying an add-on product is that someone will point out way(s) that we could duplicate some or all of these features using out-of-the-box features, sometimes augmented by some code. We think about those solutions, but I like buying add-ons. No, I don’t like spending money, particularly when I think Microsoft should have included the feature in the base product, but I do like saving money. Designing, building, testing and maintain SharePoint solutions takes time, and we pay our employees for the time they spend doing those tasks. It doesn’t take very many hours before a fairly-priced product is cheaper to buy than it would be to build.

The combination in this case is win-win2. I win, because I’ve saved money and I am easing the pain of moving forward. Our employees win because they can save time completing the arduous task I’ve dumped on them. I win again because this lets me move the classification task completely into the user space. Finally, our employees win again because they will have well organized content. I think we need to buy this product.