Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Theme of the week so far...

This week is a whistle stop tour of the US, a city a day, and meetings with CIO's and ECM Project Managers galore. The theme of the week so far is.....reality.

More on this in a more considered post, but as discussed at an earlier date, everyone wants to consolidate their ECM activity (this is good), nobody wants to rip and replace (also good). The discussions we currently have range around the topic of how one consolidates...is this by a single (if federated virtual) repository, or by a common taxonomy, or by the use of ECI tools across multiple disparate repositories, or via workflows...is it a bit of all things?

What is clear is that the big ECM vendors particulary Documentum & FileNET are resurgent in the marketplace, but that others are really rapidbly falling into a trailing position. Many large enterprises want an enterprise scale suite of ECM tools, they also (rightly) want to consolidate their server and database layers, and in the best cases also want to loop this into a hierachical storage exercise. But all recognise that some things are going to cause more trouble than they are worth to change, and leave well alone.

Such a pragmatic, but nonetheless bold vision of an ECM future is very heartening :-)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

From Compliancy to Retention

In Sept 05 80:20 Software launched their free download 'Compliance Server' for Sharepoint environments (see attached link), and for an RM related product garnered a lot of press attention. Since the launch the company claims to have had great success, much success we can't know for sure. But, anything endorsed by Microsoft and running on top of the incredibly successful Sharepoint platform probably hasn't done too badly.

What for me is particularly significant in this new release is.....the name change. It has gone from being a 'Compliancy Server' to a 'Retention Server'. On one hand this is little more than marketing babble, but I suspect it is a reflection of a much greater market shift that many of us seem to be observing. Namely, that many buyers just can't get their head around compliancy as a business or technical issue, it is simply too nebulous a term to fully grasp. Tthe term record management clearly sends people to sleep, but that 'Retention' is easily understood and embraced by many.

Retention rightly suggests, wrapping some lifecycle protocols around various chunks of content, detailing what should be kept, for how long, and when to dispose and destroy. All activities that underpin basic data governance and good management processes.

Retention is also arguably a more accurate description for many of the so-called 'Compliancy' software offerings currently available. For in fact 'compliancy' tools typically just provide pre-defined retention schedules against specific sets of data. They can be a component of Record Management activities, and can be a support to adhering to regulations, but they are not tools that can actually may you ‘compliant’. To do that would require a culture of compliancy, a deep understanding of your obligations to relevant regulations, and clear and clearly followed procedures.

So I continue to watch this particular movement (free CM related software with interest), this particular launch hasn't had as much fanfare as the Alfresco launch, but all this along with Oracle & Microsofts determined drives into the sector, all suggests we are starting to see a major shift in the sector. We are starting to see buyers and users shape the market by their demands, ‘Retention’ over complex ‘Record Management’, simple DM for everyone, rather than over engineered ECM on the desktop etc. Large Enterprises will continue to commit wholesale to the likes of Documentum & FileNet, but the market is changing, and it will likely be unrecognizable in five to ten years time.

Frankly I hope it is unrecognizable, and that we see CM, ECM & RM truly cross the chasm and become embedded in all and any content related activities.

I intend to work this and some of the other thoughts in recent posts into a more substantial (and hopefully more coherent!) article for CMS Watch over the next week or so. I will post a link when its published.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Google & Privacy

This blog thread seems to be turning into an extended tirade against Google but I spotted this today on The Register - that research by the Ponemon Institute has found that 77% of Google users are unaware that the company stores personal data on them.

Link here - Google 77%

To repeat (yet again) this place is not about data privacy issues as such, but more to caution against the use of content in any form that is managed out of context. And there is a great deal of information sitting at Google with little or no context around it, the consequences of such profile building are open to discussion - but I think they should at least be discussed.

I drive past Google's offices in Mountain View every couple of weeks, and gaze on with wonder at the incredible growth (physically) going on there - but as an information management professional, such vast quantities of data make me think about consequences.

For the record I really have nothing against Google (honest!) I use blogger and Google search daily. My concern is simply that managing information is much more than technology and building bigger and bigger data mountains to mine. Its also about people, about understanding their needs and limitations. My concern with a firm such as Google is that it could gather so much information in such a methodical and potentially invasive manner without public oversight. One cannot knock them for doing it, but society should be asking some serious questions about the ethical issues that are being raised here.

Definitions - again....

It's not really the purpose of this blog to provide definitions, but let me take a stab at a couple. For even the most experienced ECM professional mixes them up. In a separate post below I argue that it hardly matters if these things are confused, but what''s the point of a blog if I can't contradict myself? The point is since publishing those posts I have had a few conversations that suggest to me that I might be a wrong, or that more clarity is needed. One suggestion (that I pretty much agree with) is that IT really needs to know the differences, but the end user does not. So here goes:

  • Retention - a defined period of time for holding a piece of information
  • Archive - Long term managed storage of information
  • Compliancy - adherence to regulatory requirements
  • Records Management - The methods and practices of managing records

There are much fuller and more substantial definitions available at the analyst sites , but a soundbite length definition that both the IT professional and the business user can grasp may be of value.

The bottom line here is that they do have overlap, but are quite different activities/definitions and one needs to understand the value and limitations of each to move forward.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Keynoting with Ted Nelson

I received an email friday from Janus Boye, the organiser of the cmf2006 in Denmark informing me that Ted Nelson will also be keynoting at the event. I really wasn't too sure how to reply...

Ted Nelson (for those of you who don't know) is very famous in the world of IT, some (many) might say infamous. He is credited with inventing the hyperlink, which in itself when one thinks about it virtually transformed the internet into what it is today. He is though equally well know for his Project Xanadu.

I am posting links to two sides of the argument here and will stay out of it - but will say it makes for fine reading....

What interests me most is in having the chance to actually meet Ted. And without going into Xanadu at all, I think Ted is fundamentally right about the need for content to be inter-related and be able to inter-relate, rather then the stand alone existence of most pieces of content today. Though on a different slant, my constant rants about context being central to RM and ECM usually falls on deaf ears, but I still believe it to be fundamentally correct. In honesty it does not always fall on deaf ears, occasionaly I find a like mind...but not often.

We talk a lot in this industry about silo's of information, but even when centralised and federated nicely, most content sitting in repositories is in turn siloed. More on this in another more detailed post. For now I encourage you to find out more about Ted, and would recommend you to read his own work, before the Wired article slamming him - just like his central thesis, both together make something of a whole, apart they lack context.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Google - Information on You

Just been reading up on the DOJ's lawsuit to ensure Google provides access to information its has about 'You'...

Article on The Register

Well its hardly a suprise, as the idea of the Web being anonymous and self governing has long been complete baloney. It is not now and certainly will not be at all in the future.

Concerning the DOJ's actions against Google, it is not that I feel strongly either way about this whole topic, other than to say information out of context, can be very dangerous. Simply storing vast quantities of data on a person, set of transactions or virtual activity, does not always provide you with something of value or truth. And 'Truth' is central to all this - what is truthful and accurate? For example though I have a lot of time for Oracle's moves into the world of Information (unstructured particularly) data management, I loathe their use of the term 'Single Source of Truth'.

Truth is a very abstract and human concept that is way beyond the capacity of a computer to comprehend. Likewise, providing unfettered access to vast banks of personal data to the governement or their agents, may not be in itself wrong, but may well have consequences that we are yet to fully expect, or understand.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Records Management 2006 - Part 3

Often we forget that markets and commerce are driven not by vendors but by those who buy their products. Those who produce products have to read as best they can the needs and desires of the market, but all too often even a slight miscalulcation can be very costly. Electronic Records Management (ERM) has been an example of this and a learning curve for all of us in this industy. What seemed like common sense post dot.bomb, Enron and WorldCom now turns out to have been only partially correct. The common sense conclusion at the time was that Records Management was desparately required, and that people would now be rushing out to acquire ERM systems and related professionals to get themselves in order, and protect themselves against regulations such as SOX.

But that only happened in small measure, and a few years on we are all scratching our heads and wondering how we got it wrong, and why.

What we got right:

  • There is a need to manage business records now more than ever before
  • Electronic records are growing out of control
  • Enterprises are facing ever more complex legal threats, yet often remain unable to defend themselves due to poor or non-existant RM practices
  • Regulations are growing ever more fierce in demanding that enteprises manage their records in an orderly and compliant fashion

What we got wrong:

  • The scale of the task ahead is so vast that most prefer to bury their heads in the sand and pretend their is no problem
  • The RM professional sector failed to convince anyone that their skills had kept up to pace with technology and electronic data requirements
  • Most firms don't understand even the most basic RM and Compliancy principals
  • The skills shortage has never been addressed, and trained compliancy and ERM professionals remain thin on the ground

But the biggest thing of all that we failed to predict, was the wholesale rejection of RM as a skillset to resolve many regualtory issues. To the extent that today, vendors and salesforces are now changing product and service names away from RM terminology, toward more generic and IT oriented 'retention & governance' terminology.

It's an understandable but worrying trend - on the one hand it leads enterprises to finally start doing something to manage records. But in many cases end's up as a cludge, whereby records do not get managed. They are simply 'retained indefinately'. To repeat, RM is as much about Disposal as it is about Retention. RM is ultimately about managing the lifecycle of content, from creation through to death.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Records Management 2006 - Part 2

Following on from my previous post on RM issues, the discussion has been started as to what one can best recommend to enteprises. Currently there appear to be two camps, the first that assumes that retaining all data and content indefinately is the way to go, the other that traditional RM methods and practices need to be extended across the enteprise.

Both of these approaches appear to be fundamentally flawed, the first (retain everything) is in short illegal, as proper disposal of certain records is as important as the retention of others. And the other approach, (implement Enterprise wide RM) is simply impractical and will likely never get executive sponsorship to become reality.

The solution is likely somewhere in the middle - initially retention of everything, but then the imposition of a small number of blanket retention categories with lifecycles attached to follow, incrementally growing in sophistication over time.

To fully comply with retention and record disposal regulations a full enterprise wide strategy is required, that spans the business departments, addresses technology limitations and draws upon the skills of true RM and Information Management professionals. Typical activities that will need to be undertaken involve the rationalization of repositories, the design and construction of an Information Architecture and Taxonomy, with both those activities informed by (and led to some degree) by retention and content lifecycle experts. In this area, more than any other practicality needs to be at the forefront. The issue with records management activities, even before the explosion of electronic content is that it has historically been poorly supported and funded. The new breed of information management professionals need to embrace RM activities, and be trained in all the disciplines of architecture, taxonomy, folder structures, ILM, storage etc For when we really look at what is going wrong in many enterprises it is not a lack of technology or technical resources, but a lack of the professional skills to make best use of these resources.

Yet despite the rapid growth in ECM and Information Management deployments and strategy work, there are few people in the market place with the skills to manage these new environments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What is Record Management in 2006?

One thing is clear is that when we talk about records management, our clients do not always think of the same things we do. Over the past year I have had many conversations with clients, vendors and practitioners about the confusion that is:

  • Compliancy
  • Records Management
  • Governance
  • Retention/Archiving

Here we have overlapping activities and viewpoints that often serve more to confuse than clarify, and whilst I have no intention of offering my own definitions of these areas, I do intend to offer the following.

Maybe something new is emerging and we just don't realise it!

A recent email exchange with David Gillespie (CTO at 80:20) prompted me to consider this, it is his assertion that a new breed of RM professional emerging. If he is right, and I think he is, then there is a new breed of RM method and practice emerging too.

Records Management professionals as exemplified by ARMA here in the US are an easy target, often depicted as dusty filing clerks, hidden away in the basement. Yet there is a great deal of theory and method that such professionals bring that we are losing.

One of my biggest concerns with contemporary RM practices is that there is a tendency to simply archive/store everything for long periods, based on the theory that storage is cheap.
But that is not what managing the lifecycle of content is about, and is often quite contrary to the rules and regulations surrounding records retention.

There definately appears to be a new activity surrounding the effective rention of electronic business records emerging. Yet it currently has little profile or structure to it, ideally professional organisations such as ARMA or AIIM would be able to support and help codify these practices (and in fairness they are trying). But there also appears to be a determination in the market not to embrace existing records management methodologies, but to view these as outmoded and of little use in a digital world.

And though in my heart I want to thoroughly disagree with this position, I recognise that clearly something is not adding up and that change is required. With the sheer volume of information now being generated, rightly or wrongly people have assumed that RM practices that emerged from paper based activities are no longer effective. At the very least the world of records management is in need of an extreme makeover - as currently vendors and consultants alike are avoiding RM terminology for fear of alienating their clients.

Time will tell what fully emerges, but there is a need for more professional information management professionals, there is a severe shortage at present - and though more will move to this space over the coming years, the worst scenario is that they learn by trial and error, rather than embrace established methods in not just retention scheduling and records management but also in taxonomy building, information architecture etc, otherwise we will end up with an even bigger mess than we currently have.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The limits of computing

Its something of a shame that Alan Turing is not better remembered in the world of computing - as for many he really is the father of modern computing. He was quite simply a remarkable man, a mathematician, computer scientist and breaker of the Enigma code during World War II. For those unfamiliar with him I would recommend you get to know the man that was Turning better as simply grasping what he was trying to think through in the 30's & 40's is as relevant today as it was then.

Turing though is best known for the 'Turing Test', a theoretical test that would tell us if computers can actually think. (though the pedant may suggest that the original test of this kind was from Descartes in 1668!)
The test is quite simple, and in Turings own words:-

I believe that in about fifty years' time it will be possible to programme computers, with a storage capacity of about 109, to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning. … I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.

In fact as we review this at the beginning of the year 2006 we find out that Turing was quite frankly totally wrong. Computers are not much closer to achieving success in this test than they were 20 years ago. I find this very interesting indeed for Turing was a brilliant man, probably a genius (a much overused word these days) yet he was fundamentally wrong on this. I think the reasons he was so wrong are important for us to consider today, particularly in our world of enterprise IT.

What computers do well, is to:-

A: Compute highly complex data at incredibly high speed
B: Provide the mechanism to move data at very high speed around the World

In both these regards I think Turing would have been amazed at how much progress we have made, but fundamentally computers are no more 'intelligent' now than they were in 1950. Even the field of Artificial Intelligence is at the end of the day, complex math.

Turing himself argued far more fluently and deeply than I ever could on the various objections to his theory - of the arguements he believed against it I personally embrace the Theological Objection - 'that thinking is the function of the non-material'. But for our purposes the objection of, 'The Arguement of Consciousness'or to quote Professor Jefferson:-

No mechanism could feel (and not merely artificially signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.

This is what we as management consultants and analysts in the technology World neglect to our cost. Good work comes from motivated and passionate workers, if technology can support them in their task then it is good technology. But however we look at it a business is nothing more than its workers, be they managers, executives or more junior staff. If they have a shared vision and are motivated to succeed then they likely will, if they are not then no amount of technology will help.

When we consider KM, Workflow, Inforamtion Management etc we are looking at technologies that directly impact the working life of people and this technology has severe limitations. It will never be (I believe) intelligent in it's own right, and will always be there to support the work of people.

We need to consider too the implications of outsourcing processes and tasks in the same light, if we over estimate the value and abilities of technology in the process of considering outsourcing then we will be left unsatisfied with the result.

Turing and his work merits a great deal of thought, discussion and arguement and my thoughts are at best light and frivolous, but I hope that introducing his work, and suggesting it worthy of consideration regarding the limits of computing worthwhile.

For more information on Turning and his work check out:- Alan Turning Homepage

Why Bother?

Why Doing IT Better - and not Doing IT Right or some other variation? Because, basically I am not sure there is a right or wrong way. But there are better ways than we presently typically encounter.

At heart it is simple, software and the underlying computer hardware, ultimately reduces everything to a 0 or a 1, a yes or a no, a right or a wrong. But people (you and me) are seldom so clean cut in our judgement.

When one looks around an airport as I did this morning at Heathrow and Geneva, its easy to see IT in action. The clockwork efficiency of airports (with the exception of baggage claim at Columbus, Ohio and Boston Logan!) would be unthinkable without technology. We can wonder at the marvel everyday - as I reach my hotel room here in Geneva, I can watch TV channels from across Europe, call people around the world and wirelessly connect to the internet. When we look at law enforcement and goverment agencies, retail and manufacturing giants - there can be no room for luddite inclinations, technology in many ways now runs the world.

Yet also around there are examples of where it simply doesn't work well at all - sometimes due to underfunding, but usually due to a set of common issues, the biggest of all - underestimating the scale of work involved, and in parrallel overestimating the ability of technology to do a human task.

Add to this the continued division between those who love technology for its own sake, those who are totally disinterested in technology but love the dynamics of human interaction and business, and those that advise and guide both groups.

To Do IT Better, often requires stipping away redundant technologies, spending more time studying the people doing a task, than the technology you hope will replace them, and ultimately being pragmatic about just how far you want to go. Doing IT Better is about spending only as much as you need to, understanding the value of 'fit for purpose' as opposed to 'over-engineered', recognising that technology has its limits, and that part of your job is to set those limits.

Likewise is not about copying the competition, as from 17 years of doing this I can tell you from long experience that the kick ass competitor seldom does IT any better than you do. The reason they are the market or process leader is down to them having better people and a clearer vision and effective management style. So when I am asked why this blog is called 'Doing IT Better', that broad and sweeping generalization is the reason.

Postscript: Each day I am sent a report on blog activity that tells me who visited the site and where they are located. I am simply amazed by the popularity of this blog, how it has taken off in such a short period of time and how I now have the responsibility of writing for an ever growing number of regular readers. I have only very recently added a links and guestbook feature, and note with something of a smile how virtually nobody utilizes this (thank you Arpoov!) - and if it were not for this service I would have thought the site to be simply my diary. Yet hundreds visit regularly, from across the world and as my email address is so readily available many of you have started to send me messages. I would like to encourage this more, so that my eclectic and wandering blog posts and rants can improve and that I can also do this better.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My article on CMS Watch

Link to CMS Watch Article

A link here to the article published today on CMS Watch. When I wrote this the purpose was to guide people to take the market watching advice of analysts with a grain of salt. Not sure how well this piece works, but hopefully is of some value.

What analysts can do is analyse the product set and its evolution in great depth, across many vendors - it frustrates me to see so many enterprises undertaking this task from scratch rather than start for an existing platform of research. Its a shame as analysts at Gartner, Burton, Forrester, Ovum etc can provide a huge amount of good information to an enterprise when undertaking a product assessment.

However the market watching element of an analysts role is of much less relevance to most enteprises - that was the thinking behind this piece.

Face to Face vs Phone

It seems to me sometimes that we are losing the ability to meet face to face effectively and this worries me. Many meetings (many organized by me) go ahead without agenda's, go unrecorded and have unspecified outcomes. The basic skills set of agreeing and issuing an agenda, sticking to that agenda throughout the meeting, assigning actions 'only' to those in attendance, and minuting the meeting seem to be hard to find, but that is not really the worst of it.
For I am beginning to wonder if in the deluge of technology options available to us, we are fundamentally losing the ability to actually communicate effectively.

We shift vast amounts of data between ever more remote locations - yet lose by the day the ability to read a person, or measure the political temprature in the room.

For example, I keenly observe body and verbal language cues in meetings. I look to see who is engaged, who is disengaged, who has lost the plot and who is clearly not happy etc. I have always done this and consider it a basic skill of a consultant. I don't always read things correctly, but my intent in attempting to do so is simple, to move the meeting along to a successful and mutually beneficial closure.

It is also much more difficult to lie in a face to face situation - and when doubt, uncertainty or BS creep into the situation, if one is watching for such things, it is noticable long before anyone specifically says something. Conversely an email coversation can go on a long time, before a miscommunication is detected.

There is some truth to the stereotype that Valley Geeks have poor social skills - but social skills can be learned and whether we realize it or not, geek or sophisticate alike communicate much more by non verbal mechanisms than we tend to acknowledge.

So where is this all leading? Well I am (as usual) not sure, other than to caution against the unfettered use of email and teleconferences as a means of business relationship interactions.

Recently I have had that sense of Deja Vu all over again - long and fruitful email discussions leading ultimately nowhere (or at least not to a place I want to be in) and impromtu face to face meetings delivering far more than I ever expected them to.

Management consultants in the tech sector have an important role to play - though often ridiculed in the likes of Dilbert cartoons. Beyond the very specific project related skills sets we bring, we also at least have the chance to ensure human relationships and interactions develop and are nurtured - with creative and new concepts and methods coming out of them. We are catalysts, in that in the bigger scheme of things we are only a tiny part of the equation, but when succesfully employed we bring about major change. By neccessity we all tend to have global practices, and need to spend a great deal of our time on email and phone, but the skill is in knowing when to make the extra effort to sit down in person. And the skill to really 'know' when is being lost.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Regional Differences

Two blog posts from friends caught my attention this past week - and I strongly recommend them to you. The first from my colleague Arpoov talks about issues relating to internationalization of content related technologies in India, and gives much food for thought. The second is from my friend from Ovum days - Duncan on his Analyst Equity blog - examining the specifics of German consulting needs.

Though both of these focus on very particular topics (ECM & Analyst Consulting) they together remind us of just how profoundly different countries are to do business with, and how unreal the 'global village' really is. We may all now be connected electronically but our differences (thankfully) remain.

India Post
German Post