Friday, March 31, 2006

Warehouses & RM

I couldn't help but take a moment out after reading an odd piece in the trade press. Dan Ryan the COO of Stellant said "Ten years ago, records management meant warehouses".

Well it still does, and will do for generations to come - so not sure quite what his point was? I am sure there was more to this comment and that maybe it has been taken out of context, but RM will always mean warehouses. It also means content repositories and databases and electronic storage, but to imagine that paper or physical object RM is going away or frankly even diminishing is to misunderstand RM altogether.

Whilst at Ovum I published a few papers on this very topic, and in truth it is something that disturbs me deeply. Should ECM vendors be getting involved with RM? By definition they must as they manage lots of content, but how deeply?

Dan Carmel of Interwoven (formerly iManage) Harald Collet at Oracle and David Gillespie of 80-20, 'get' records management and thoroughly understand the meaning of things like 'context'. But they are exceptions. Many ECM product and marketing execs still live under the impression that paper volumes are decreasing, and that the introduction of things like digital signatures means the end of manually signed documents.....

ECM vendors are at the end of the day software developers, and that is the way I have always seen it. In other words that they build impressive tookits for businesses to utilize. One of the more positive things about the move to lite ECM is that the vendors resume their rightful place, as providers of tools and functionality. Rather than trying to tell us how to run our business.

But RM despite the current high in interest is still probably the least understood of the areas that ECM has tried to embrace.

For buyers I always try to impress upon them that ECM vendors have their roots somewhere, and that is usually where they are strong. ECM is ultimately a bundling of different packages and toolsets. As new vendors enter the market this will start to change, but for now the likes of Documentum and FileNet have their roots and their strengths in document management, Interwoven and Vignette in Web Content Management etc. No amount of acquistions or technology bundling will change that. Most disturbing of all, none of the key players have their roots in RM.

Apologies to Dan, (though I suspect he has contrary view to me on the value of working with offshore resources) and on the occasions I have met him he seems like a great guy. But this article really got my back up and suspect it will do the same to anyone with roots in RM.

Link to offending article here:

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pragmatic RM

Yesterday was a busy day on this blog - due in large part to Jesse Wilkins at Imerge Consulting posting a link and flattering endorsement to the blog on
Out from that flurry of activity
two messages I quote from below - firstly a message from David in Australia who said....

"what the newly awakened world of compliance needs is pragmatic RM which is only loosley associated with RM as we know it!"

Then an amazingly interesting message from my old friend George Parapadakis (one of the true ECM guru's - remember Document Avenue anyone?) who told me about somebody he knows in Europe who has....

managed to instigate a formal RM environment while dispersing completely with any formal hierarchical structures such as FilePlan. All categorisation is done through metadata, and predefined search templates.

As you know, we've been talking about this concept for a while in DM. If your documents are correctly indexed through metadata, you can effectively "simulate" any hierarchical structure you need, through searching and reporting. But this is the first time I have come across an example where the technique is being used in practice, in a real business environment. In my view, it changes the whole RM vs.DM debate since the only differentiation between formal records and any other document, is the retention period, security and classification.

On my next European trip I very much hope to meet with this guy and see for myself what he is doing. For the danger of blogs like this is that people like me point out the problems, but don't always offer solutions. I very much want to offer solutions, and my colleagues and I, along with many in the broader ECM community are trying hard to come up with simpler and more effective ways of working.

At Wipro we are working on some fascinating projects in ECM/RM and WCM and helping some major clients and vendors to move to what we believe is the next generation of information management. Unfortunatly much of this work (in fact most) is under strict non-disclosure, for understandable reasons and cannot be shared here.

However, my thoughts are my own, and I hope that this blog may become something of a forum for those of us who want to move away, from technology heavy, and overly prescriptive methods of managing content. Toward a more pragmatic approach (pragmatic seems to be the word that resonates).

With this in mind - I am set to deliver a track keynote at the AIIM Conference in Philadelphia next May. The topic is ECM in 10 years time - I would invite all of you to send your thoughts to me on this, either to the blog or my email. Ideally I would like that presentation to be something a sharing of group thoughts on the topic, and a talk that helps set the agenda.

And of course the most important news today is that - England beat India in the 3rd Test!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Situationist Politics and IT ?

In my turbulent and misspent youth I was on occasion very involved in politics and at some point came across the Situationist Movement. It appealed to me as it was radical, difficult to understand, highly intellectual, but at core fairly practical (if fundamentaly misguided). So for somebody like me it was an obvious fit - ie: a person with a big ego and grandious ideas (as an old friend, pretty much described me the other day).

However that was many years ago - and two children and many moves later I came across the Situationists again on the web - and below quote one of the most famous situationist utterings:-

Automation is thus possessed of two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding something personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress, while at the same time sparing human energies now massively liberated from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it, and which release new human energies at a superior level.

It's translated from French hence the slightly stilted prose - but this so accurately sums up the world of the enterprise and techology we see today. The last sentence is really worth making note of "...The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it...".

And yet we all know that this often is simply not the case, the projects do not transcend the tools of automation - technology is brought in to simply replace people, not to release them from their "reproductive and uncreative activities" and to empower them to add value at a superior level.

In some ways it could be argued that this is the biggest failure of IT. We still seem to live in a world that somehow continues to convince itself that new technology will solve old problems, or worse that the technology will be a solution in itself.

Clearly I am biased and have a particular axe to grind. But I despair at the amount of multi million dollar IT projects, that charge ahead with little or no real business analysis or consultation on the potential impact of the project in advance. In fact it is almost unheard of for firms to undertake an impact analysis prior to launching a search for a software vendor and system integrator to deploy yet another 'business application'. No consideration of how to transcend the process of automation - to really use the freed human capital and creativity to drive the business forward to greater highs. Just cost cutting and job reduction.

And the architects these projects remain baffled as to how and why so many of their projects fall short or fail entirely......

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The future of RM debate

In a previous post I mentioned that my article "ECM is Dead" provoked a lot of discussion. Some of that is still ongoing but basically there were three main threads to the debate:

  • Lite ECM
  • The future of RM
  • Alan's status as a 'pretender and idiot'

As anyone who knows me, the last point really got my back up :-)

I will come back to the lite ECM debate at a later point - and have been asked by another magazine to write a more substantial piece on how to select such products, so will pick that debate up then.

The future of RM as a standalone discipline though is the one on top of my mind. And what follows is in edited form the key themes and thoughts that ran through this debate, not my own thoughts as such. First though its important to say that I was genuinely suprised at how this debate developed. Though some contributors fell into the third camp of 'Alan doesn't know what he is talking about' most took my suggestion that RM needs to look again at how it moves forward in good spirit. Two major elements discussed were:-

  • The professional status of RM professionals
  • Broader classification categories for 'records'

To take the first point up, there seems to be a lot of concern that RM professionals are not taken very seriously in the business, and that maybe more training and certification is required. Although more training is generally always a good thing, I am not sure that this truly addresses the problem. In my own field (fingers crossed) I hope to be employing a number of high quality strategic advisors for our clients - covering the topics of ECM/RM/WCM etc. People who truly understand the business concerns, the technical dimensions and limitations - and can quickly assess a complex situation and advise the client on how to move forward. But where the heck am I to find such people? There is a need for professionals to come through - with an understanding of Information Architecture, Record Management, Document Management and Business Dynamics. But people I interview today are either technologists or just bright generalists who may over time pick up the skills. Can CRM's grow into that role? I don't know...but bottom line is there currently is a major skills gap - and in my opinion we need to start training people who understand the lifecycle of information from creation to destruction. RM is an element of that - and dedicated RM specialists are also an element of that - but that is just not enough. RM needs to get more strategic, have a bigger and more ambitious vision, and is need of a makeover.

The second topic that generated a lot of discussion and more directly referenced my article was on the need to look again at RM methods of record classifications. In particular the need to become less dogmatic and to develop bigger classification buckets for content, that accept that the huge volumesof information now being generated will grow not decrease, and that the 'cubbyhole' mentality to borrow a phrase is no longer practical. The phrase "Pragmatic RM" really seemed to resonate.

I think this debate though is not just about RM, its about managing information and we have few information management specialists. I am one of those who has in past lives built genuine compound/virtual documents. And anyone (and I mean Anyone!) who has done this knows just how quickly one comes to regret such an exercise. The tools (Documentum or whatever) are superb and do a great job of supplying usable functionality to build and maintain such things. But they quickly fall into disuse and the level of fractionality that one can sensibly develop is extremely limited. To take a book analogy, one can manage chapters in a compound document, but even though the functionality is there to take it to paragraph level or less - it simply stops making sense after a while. To look at it from a different perspective most RM departments that manage paper records do so superbly. Things are where they should be and can be found immediately. Converting much of that paper to electronic media is pointless. As the volume of paper - though it may seem large is actually in manageable
proportions. Whereas the volume of electronic documents is so huge as to be virtually impossible to manage in the same way, using the same categories and methods.

I will pick this post up at a later point, but as I will be in Finland on monday and tuesday - London wednesday - Las Vegas thursday & friday I may be doing more sleeping than typing!

In conclusion - RM needs a major rehaul of its current practices. What is being done now is good and I have great respect for RM professionals (it is my own background too - but the RM community has been slow to respond in terms of practical and pragmatic new methodologies to manage todays electronic needs. In parallel the growth of DM and ECM without a concurrent growth in business professionals means we have quite a chasm to cross.

RM - WCM - ECM is about Information Organization, the barriers between each are valid at a technology level to some degree, but in a usage manner are artificial. In short we all need to work together to figure out how to remove some barriers, respect others and to develop a new empowered and professional workforce that can step up to the task.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

RM Update

Just a note to say that I am working (slowly) on a longer piece around RM and Retention as the discussion on the following list has gotten me to thinking....along with some really stimulating discussions with others on the topic recently. In addtion the response to my article on CMS Watch has really thrown me, for it is sparking quite a solid debate and a good and healthy one at that I think.

As anyone who reads this or has read anything I have ever written will know, I am at heart a record manager and that is where I started my career - however I also see the boundaries between ECM and RM as largely artificial and believe strongly that content needs to be managed throughout it's lifecycle from creation to destruction - bringing down those barriers, and enabling true lifecycle management is what I am focused on. But of course it's just not that simple to do :-)

Also....(vendor representatives - you know who you are) 'recordization' is not a word!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

CMS Watch Article

Well my article on ECM is finally published:

ECM is Dead. Long Live ECM!

I am not sure how many words this ended up at but it has been a long a tortous editorial process just to get to this point, and my sympathies and thanks to Tony (Tony Byrne - Editor CMS Watch) for his patience.

The central thesis has been explored to some extent in this blog, that ECM as a term is something of a misnomer, and that few vendors who label themselves with this term actually live up to the promise.

However rather than a simple negative rant (though Tony has illustrated the piece with a gravestone!) the intent is to help clear the air, and focus on what is really important to enterprise when managing content.