Friday, August 31, 2007

Back from Malaysia

Well one thing is for sure, Malaysia is a long way from Boston - my journey was 6 hours from Boston to LA, 13 hours to Taiwan, and another 4 1/2 from there to Kuala Lumpur - add in the stop over time and door to door about 34 hours each way...

Was it worth it? Well yes I think so - I learned a lot in a short time about the state of ECM in Malaysia in particular and Asia in general. I enjoyed listening to some outstanding speakers, some of whom I would love to get to events here in the West, ran a pretty intensive day long workshop - and discovered to my surprise that CMS Watch is quite well known in the region!

Highlights? A series of outstanding presentations from day one are worth noting. I can genuinely say that all the speakers were top notch, and all added genuine new thought and insight to the topic of ECM - you can't say that about many conference tracks.

I thought I would just list a few things that left me thinking over a couple of different blog posts.......First up was the presentation by Professor Eric Tsui, Professor of Knowledge Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University:-

  • He stated the challenge for is to only manage critical knowledge/information
  • Pushed the value of the knowledge/content audit (and seemed to have devised a solid methodology for doing so called STOCKS)
  • Emphasised the need to understand that there exist two kinds of Taxonomy (descriptive vs nagivational)
  • Gave me/us tips to both Yahoo Pipes (which I confess to having been ignorant of before) and
  • Recommended that when building filing structures you have a "To be classified" folder - which is better than sticking the content just anywhere and its volume/contents represents a good bellweather as to the validity/success of your taxonomy
Just a bunch of bullet points really ( and some that simply echo my own thinking!) but each worthwhile as tips I think.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

ECM in Malaysia and the next report

Next week the blog will be quiet again - as I am off to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday for an ECM conference and workshop that will run next week on the tuesday and wednesday. I have been reading through the pre conference questionnaires today to get a feel for those who will be attending my workshop next week. What first struck me was the commonality with issues that people are facing there with those of us in the US and Europe - but also the distinct differences.
I plan to blog on this when I get back - as I may be wrong about a couple of things and want to confirm first before presuming too much. Still it looks like a smart bunch planning to attend so I shall have to make sure I am on form :-)

On my return it will be back into the thick of it on V2 of the ECM Suites Report (yes time does fly) - V1 has been a success for sure, and I want to take this next version even further. I will be taking on some of the feedback I have received to date, and looking at some new vendors - as well as some big upgrades to the existing players. always your thoughts much appreciated, such reports are always a group effort, and as we work only for buyers and users of technology, your input is vital. Yes I make my living this way (lucky me) but I hope that our reports and the work/thoughts we publish on the website are a true service and add value.

Areas I would love to get some thoughts around (things I have been noodling for a while) are around Governance for ECM - and how ECM plays in a true SOA environment. Both issues can seem a bit like fighting with fog - so I am trying to formulate better and more concise questions and areas to probe to get to some kind of concusion regarding the individual offerings out there....if you have ideas please share them!

Also having built the new BPM training course for AIIM - I want to think more around the relationship here with ECM. Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a topic I am very interested in - but its a truly messy one. Both sets of vendors just don't want to see the others perspective - but I wonder if (as in so many other areas) BPM and ECM may get slammed together by the MOI (Microsoft, IBM and Oracle) regardless? What differentiates true Enterprise ECM or BPM players from the rest - again I have my thoughts but would love to hear yours also.

My iPod is loaded, laptop charged and sunglasses at the ready - Air Malaysia here I come....

Where does ECM go from here...

An odd week or two - separate questions asked of me by three or four unrelated (but all highly respected industry figures) that I thought worth sharing (whilst still respecting confidentiality)

Response to generic question one:

Should ECM be bundled together with Storage?

There is a relationship between ECM and Storage but it is not as close as EMC or IBM (for example) would like to imagine. ECM is about managing/controlling active content - who sees it, who doesn't, its security, its location, its attendant processes. Storage is a part of that, but only a small part. The relationship between Records Management and Storage is closer - cos here we are dealing with the long term future of particular items of business value.

The fundamental issues at a vendor level are that ECM is all about only managing the minimum you need - no redundancy/waste or duplication - this flies in the face of storage salesman's goals - sell more storage. It also conflicts as storage deals are huge in comparison to ECM deals (which in themselves are not cheap) - so the storage vendors see ECM as a feed to storage. ECM vendors see storage technology as simply another piece of infrastructure that they require - same as databases and application servers.

Answer to generic second question:

Should we continue to have a separate ECM practice within our SI firm? Or should it just be a subset of the Information Management Practice?

You should continue to separate the practices for the time being - as the worlds of structured and unstructured data remain way apart - however in time you will find the overlap's increasing and you may want to revisit that situation in a few years time.

The key drivers are now the infrastructure players IBM, Oracle and Microsoft (all big in Information Management) and arguably also EMC. If you take out EMC from the equation then you can argue that the market is being driven by the 'database' vendors. Hence they see this as repository management and content control. In larger enterprises ECM will become the repository layer in an Enterprise Architecture. But if you agree that this is likely, then by default you end up with ECM and Enterprise 2.0 or SOA (whatever we will call it then) and as such you can take your pick of BPM layer providers and Security etc etc

So I think ECM will become part of a broader information management sector, and I think that's where it belongs. In the process it becomes a little more narrow in definition terms (good case for dropping DAM, WCM, eMail Management etc) but may also take on board some new areas in the process - for example Archiving and maybe just maybe BPM (currently BPM in ECM is application specific in the main - not BPM for the enterprise).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Measuring the success of ECM

When it comes to measurements, industry is full of them - but IT is not. Or rather it is at a very technical level, but not at the business level.

For ECM implementations in particular, the nearest we usually get to measurements are in dodgy ROI calculations that are appended to even more dubious business cases. There should be much more granular measurements undertaken to justify and to hone ECM technology into the machine for change that it can and should be.

What I mean by this is that to run an ECM system effectively we should be constantly monitoring:
  • The processes that the ECM system drives
  • Systems usage
  • Time taken to search and access
  • Time taken from check out to check in again
  • Who is using the system and when (and in some cases why)
  • Which files are used, and which sit dormant
It's all data that is available within the system, yet few (very few) make use of it - it would be good if ECM vendors could learn from business application vendors - and provide simple dashboards and metrics templates.

Why? Why bother with all this? Because then we have control of the ECM system, and we can measure expected and required usage, against actual. Allowing us to modify and continually improve the system over time. Rather than allowing it to become an expensive online storage system - with mountains of redudancy, duplication and waste that so many become.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Centralized or Distributed?

I was trawling through some old presentations the other day - when I came across a couple that were given at crisis points in major ECM implementations. What struck me about these was the focus on the architecture of the ECM system. In particular whether it should be centralized or distributed (most of my clients have been very large and often global in nature). The pro's and con's of federated ECM - the issues of replication etc are well understood. But what I think is less understood is the impact that this architectural approach has on ECM as a practice.

By default centralizing or conversely distributing the content management impacts the way that the content is managed - for example if we centralize then we see the following common attributes:

  • Centrally controlled and organized
  • Complex and far reaching processes across the organization
  • Sequential activities
  • Explicit and definitive content/records
  • System managed by an expert
  • Performance may be slow
  • Reliance on corporate (HQ) expertise
Whereas when we distribute the content in a federated architecture we see:

  • Control at local level
  • Simple processes optimized for local needs
  • Parallel activities
  • Distributed and fragmented content/records
  • Various levels of expertise
  • Fast performance at local instances
  • Local understanding of local needs
The decision to distribute or centralize ECM though (in my experience) is almost always decided based on two criteria - technical considerations and distrust/trust.

The technical considerations are obvious really - sometimes federating just doesn't work or becomes too costly to support - likewise centralizing can impact performance etc - but the trust/distrust thing is usually dependent simply on the culture of the firm.

In the new BPM course we stress the need to undertake full As Is and model thoroughly the To Be situations. Looking back on many of my past consulting engagements it has been all too obvious that insufficient study of needs and potential solutions was undertaken, and in nearly every case way too little understanding of the current situation was grasped.

My point (if I have one) is that when making major architectural decisions - we should always be cognizant of the business and cultural aspects that these decisions will impact..........

Friday, August 17, 2007

A day without Skype

You don't know what you've got till it's gone - as the song goes. And I for one truly missed Skype this past day or so. At CMS Watch we use Skype a lot - in fact judging by the shakes we all experienced when Skype was down, we have become pretty dependent on it.

Sure you get cheap/free phone calls - and that's nice - but its the IM we use the most.

I resisted IM for a long time - figuring it was a passing fad (show's what I know) but it's our typical way of communicating between our different work locations, and now I use it every day.

I think the appeal of IM though is not just in the ease of use to chat - but in the fact that you can see who is online and their status. Actually I think that is what I missed the most - not feeling a connection between my colleagues and myself. As a homeworker that's important - and frankly I find it comforting just to know people are there and busy - maybe I am terminally insecure, but I do think that IM's success is as much to do with bringing a human touch (I know you are there) to computing.

My little Skype list of friends and colleagues with green status saying they are on line tells me that all is well, and I missed it very much...

I'm back....

It's been a while.....not sure why really - but wasn't really sure of the relevance of the blog anymore - and I have been blogging a lot at the CMS Watch site - but there is so much going on in the industry in general I thought it was time for a return :-)

I have said it so many times its become a mantra - but ECM without BPM is a lame duck. Of course the counter is not I have said it so many times its becoming a mantra - that ECM demands BPM - without it ECMnecessarily the case - BPM can happily exist without ECM - but viewing the process as central to the project is the issue. Sadly few consider the process to be the central concern in an ECM project - result, lots of nice technology running on servers - nobody using it.

So - BPM (always my pet topic) - the training course is nearing completion and is now officially launched. A couple of weeks back I ran a train the trainer session in Washington and it gave me a chance to see the course in it's entirety (seeing the wood from the trees and all that) - I think I can honestly say we have done a great job. The course for those interested is designed for the consultants (internal or external) that will work on business change projects (for example any ECM project) - its highly practical and covers a lot of ground - students are going to have a tough but worthwhile time! The online version is pretty smooth, but if you want the message from the horses mouth then you need to sign up for one of the classroom sessions.

Secondly I am off to Kuala Lumpur to speak and run a workshop at the ECM Event there in a week or so's time. I'm really looking forward to this for a number of reasons:-

1: I always love to find out what ECM means in a new country - how it is interpreted and used there - teaching is as much a learning experience for me in these situations as it is for the attendees. I will be blogging about that at a later point.

2: Running workshops is a great opportunity for me to interact with users and buyers of technology.

3: I have never been to Malaysia before - but love the far east region

If you are in the region take a look at the conference and as always say hello (to repeat I am not as unapproachable as I look.....)

Work is starting soon on V2 of the ECM Suites Report - feedback from V1 most welcome - we got some wonderful testimonials from readers of V1 but there is always room for improvement - what worked for you and what didn't??

Longer - more focused blog entries in the coming week or so - but for now ciao :-)