It’s Autumn. The trees are losing their leaves, the nights are getting longer, it’s getting cold and grey and generally miserable. It’s also the time for the annual lament of the Enterprise Content Management industry and ECM… the name that refuses to die!
At least once a year, ECM industry pundits go all depressed and introspect and predict, once again, that our industry is too wide, too narrow, too complex, too simplified, too diverse or too boring and dying or not dying or dead and buried. Once again this year, Laurence Hart (aka Pie), Marko Sillanpää, Daniel Antion, John Mancini and, undoubtedly, several other esteemed colleagues, with a collective experience of several hundred years of ECM on their backs, will try (and fail) to reconcile and rationalize the semantics of one of the most diverse sectors in the software industry.
You will find many interesting points and universal truths about ECM if you follow the links to these articles above. Some I agree with wholeheartedly, some I would take with a pinch of salt.
But let me assure you, concerned reader, that the ECM industry is not going anywhere, the name will not change and we will again be lamenting its demise, next Autumn!
There is a fundamental reason why this industry is so robust and so perplexing: This is not a single industry, or even a single coherent portfolio of products. It’s a complex amalgamation of technologies that co-exist and complement each other, with the only common denominator being an affinity for managing “stuff” that does not fit in a traditional relational database. And every time one of these technologies grows out of favour, another new discipline joins the fold: Documents and emails and archives and repositories and processes and cases and records and images and retention and search and analytics and ETL and media and social and collaboration and folksonomies and cloud, and, and, and… The list, and its history, is long. The reason this whole hotchpotch will continue to be called Enterprise Content Management, is that we don’t have a better collective noun that even vaguely begins to describe what these functions do for the business. And finally, more and more of the market (you know, the real people out there, not us ECM petrolheads…) are starting to recognise the term, however vague, inappropriate and irrational it may be to the purists among us.
And there is one more reason: Content Management is not a technology, it’s an operational discipline. Organisations will manage content with or without ECM products. It’s just faster, cheaper and more consistent if they use tools.
As I said, if you have an academic interest in this ECM industry, the articles above are definitely worth reading. For my part, I would like to add one more thought into that mix:
The word “Enterprise” in “ECM” has been the source of much debate. And whilst I agree with Laurence that originally some of the vendors attempted to promote the idea of a single centralised ECM repository for the whole enterprise, that idea was quickly abandoned in the early ’00s as generally a bad idea. Anyone who has tried to deploy this approach in a real world environment, can give you a dozen reasons why it’s really, really a very naïve idea.
Nevertheless, Content Management has always been, and will always be “Enterprise”, in the sense that it very rarely works as a simple departmental solution. There is very little value in doing that, especially when you combine it with process management, which adds the most value when crossing inter-departmental boundaries. It is also “Enterprise” in the sense that as a platform it can support both vertical and horizontal applications across most parts of an organisation. Finally, there are certain applications of ECM, that can only be deployed as “Enterprise” tools: It would be madness to design Records Management, eMail archiving, eDiscovery or Social collaboration solutions, on a department by department basis. There is no point!
That’s why, in my opinion at least, the term ECM will live for a long time yet… Long Live ECM!
It’s not often that I describe a refrigerator as a taxonomy, so bear with me here… So, you loaded up the car with your grocery shopping, you brought it all in the kitchen from the car, and you are about to load up the fridge. Do you organise your fridge layout based on the “Use By” date of the products? No, nobody does. You put the vegetables in the vegetable drawer, you put the raw meats on a shelf of their own, the yoghurts and the desert puddings on a separate shelf. The eggs go in the door. You may consider the use-by date as you stack things of the same category, e.g. the fresh chicken will have to be eaten before the sausages which will still last until next week, but that’s incidental, it’s not the primary organisational structure. Your fridge has a taxonomy, a classification scheme, and it is organised functionally, by product class, not by date.
Where am I going with this? Records and retention management (where else?). It’s over fours years ago, that I wrote an article called “Is it a record? Who cares!” which created quite a bit of animosity in the RM community, and I quickly had to follow it up with a Part 2 to explain that my original title was quite literal, not sarcastic.
Four years later, I find myself still having very similar conversations with clients and colleagues. The more we move into an era of Information Governance, the more the distinction between records and non-records becomes irrelevant. And the more we move from the world of paper documents to the multi-faceted world of electronic content, the more we need to move away from the “traditional” records management organisational models of retention-based fileplans: The physical management of paper records necessitated their organisation in clusters of documents with similar retention requirements in order to dispose of them, so classification taxonomies (fileplans) were organised around that requirement.
In the digital world, this is no longer a requirement. Retention period, is just another logical attribute (metadata) applied to each individual content piece, not an organisational structure. With the right tools in place, a retention model can be associated with each piece of content individually, and collections of content with the same retention and – more importantly, disposition – periods, can be assembled dynamically as and when required.
For me, there are only two logical questions that drive the classification of digital content: “What is it?” (the type of content, or class) and “What is it for?” (the context under which it has been, or will be used). To use an example: An application form for opening a new account, is a certain type of content which will determine its initial retention period while it’s being processed. If that application is approved or rejected, is context that will further affect its retention period. If the client raises a dispute about his new account, it may further impact that retention period of that application form. This context-driven variance, cannot be supported in a traditional fileplan-based records management system, which permanently fixes the record – fileplan – retention relationship.
The classification (organisation, taxonomy, use any term you like…) of that content, is not even relevant to this fileplan/retention discussion. The application form in the previous example, will need to be associated with the customer, the account type, and the approval process or the dispute process. That is the context under which the organisation will need to organise and find that particular application form. You will not look for it by its retention period, unless you are specifically looking to dispose of it.
To go back to my original fridge metaphor: You will not start cooking dinner by picking up the item in the fridge that will expire first – that’s probably the pudding. You will look in the relevant shelf for the food you are trying to cook: meat or vegetables or eggs. Only after that you may double check the date, to see if it is still valid or expired.
So… I remain convinced that:
(a) there is no point in distinguishing between records and non-records any more, non-records are just records with zero shelf-life
(b) the concept of a “fileplan” as a classification structure is outdated and unnecessary for digital records, and
(c) it’s time we start managing content “in context”, based on its usage history and not as an isolated self-defining entity.
As always, I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this.
P.S. I read some blogs to learn, some for their amusing content, and some because (even if their content sometimes irritates me) force me to re-think. I read Chris Walker’s blog because it generally makes me nod my head in violent agreement . He often expresses very similar views to mine and I find his approach to Information Governance (which he is now consolidating into a book) extremely down to earth. The reason for this shameless plug to his blog, is that as I was writing the thoughts expressed above, I caught up with his article from last week Big Buckets of Stuff, that covers very similar ground… Well worth a read.
This morning, I was reading Lawrence’s blog titled “Does Records Management Give Content Management a Bad Name?”, which picks on one of the points in Cheryl’s article “It’s a Digital-First World: Five Trends Reshaping Records Management As You Know It”, with some very insightful comments added by Christian. I started leaving a comment under Lawrence’s blog (which I will still do, pointing back to this) but there are too many points I wanted to add to the debate and it was becoming too long…
So, here is my take:
First of all, I want to move away from the myth that RM is a single requirement. Organisations look to RM tools as the digital equivalent to a Swiss Army Knife, to address multiple requirements:
- Classification – Often, the RM repository is the only definitive Information Management taxonomy managed by the organisation. Ironically, it mostly reflects the taxonomy needed by retention management, not by the operational side of the business. Trying to design a taxonomy that serves both masters, leads to the huge granularity issues that Lawrence refers to.
- Declaration – A conscious decision to determine what is a business record and what is not. This is where both the workflow integration and the auto-classification have a role to play, and where in an ideal world we should try to remove the onus of that decision from the hands of the end-user. More on that point later…
- Retention management – This is the information governance side of the house. The need to preserve the records for the duration that they must legally be retained, move them to the most cost-effective storage medium based on their business value, and actively dispose of them when there is no regulatory or legal reason to retain them any longer.
- Security & auditability – RM systems are expected to be a “safe pair of hands”. In the old world of paper records management, once you entrusted your important and valuable documents to the records department, you knew that they were safe. They would be preserved and looked after until you ask for them. Digital RM is no different: It needs to provide a safe-haven for important information, guaranteeing its integrity, security, authenticity and availability. Supported by a full audit trail that can withstand legal scrutiny.
Auto-categorisation or auto-classification, relates to both the first and the second of these requirements: Classification (using linguistic, lexical and semantical analysis to identify what type of document it is, and where it should fit into the taxonomy) and Declaration (deciding if this is a business document worthy of declaration as a record). Auto-classification is not new, it’s been available both as a standalone product and integrated within email and records capture systems for several years. But its adoption has been slow, not for technological reasons, but because culturally both compliance and legal departments are reluctant to accept that a machine can be good enough to be allowed to make this type of decisions. And even thought numerous studies have proven that machine-based classification can be far more accurate and consistent than a room full of paralegals reading each document, it will take a while before the cultural barriers are lifted. Ironically, much of the recent resurgence and acceptance of auto-classification is coming from the legal field itself, where the “assisted review” or “predictive coding” (just a form of auto-classification to you and me) wars between eDiscovery vendors, have brought the technology to the fore, with judges finally endorsing its credibility [Magistrate Judge Peck in Moore v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, 287 F.R.D. 182 (S.D.N.Y.2012), approving use of predictive coding in a case involving over 3 million e-mails.].
The point that Christian Walker is making in his comments however is very important: Auto-classification can help but it is not the only, or even the primary, mechanism available for Auto-Declaration. They are not the same thing. To take the records declaration process away from the end-user, requires more than understanding the type of document and its place in a hierarchical taxonomy. It needs the business context around the document, and that comes from the process. A simple example to illustrate this would be a document with a pricing quotation. Auto-classification can identify what it is, but not if it has been sent to a client or formed part of a contract negotiation. It’s that latter contextual fact that makes it a business record. Auto-Declaration from within a line-of-business application, or a process management system is easy: You already know what the document is (whether it has been received externally, or created as part of the process), you know who it relates to (client id, case, process) and you know what stage in its lifecycle it is at (draft, approved, negotiated, signed, etc.). These give enough definitive context to be able to accurately identify and declare a record, without the need to involve the users or resort to auto-classification or any other heuristic decision. That’s assuming, of course, that there is an integration between the LoB/process and the RM system, to allow that declaration to take place automatically.
The next point I want to pick up is the issue of Cloud. I think cloud is a red herring to this conversation. Cloud should be an architecture/infrastructure and procurement/licensing decision, not a functional one. Most large ECM/RM vendors can offer similar functionality hosted on- and off-premises, and offer SaaS payment terms rather than perpetual licensing. The cloud conversation around RM however, comes to its own sticky mess where you start looking at guaranteeing location-specific storage (critical issue for a lot of European data protection and privacy regulation) and when you start looking at the integration between on-premise and off-premise systems (as in the examples of auto-declaration above). I don’t believe that auto-classification is a significant factor in the cloud decision making process.
Finally, I wanted to bring another element to this discussion. There is another RM disruptive trend that is not explicit in Cheryl’s article (but it fits under point #1) and it addresses the third RM requirement above: “In-place” Retention Management. If you extract the retention schedule management from the RM tool and architect it at a higher logical level, then retention and disposition can be orchestrated across multiple RM repositories, applications, collaboration environments and even file systems, without the need to relocate the content into a dedicated traditional RM environment. It’s early days (and probably a step too far, culturally, for most RM practitioners) but the huge volumes of currently unmanaged information are becoming a key driver for this approach. We had some interesting discussions at the IRMS conference this year (triggered partly because of IBM’s recent acquisition of StoredIQ, into their Information Lifecycle Governance portfolio) and James Lappin (@JamesLappin) covered the concept in his recent blog here: The Mechanics on Manage-In-Place Records Management Tools. Well worth a read…
So to summarise my points: RM is a composite requirement; Auto-Categorisation is useful and is starting to become legitimate. But even though it can participate, it should not be confused with Auto-Declaration of records; “Cloud” is not a functional decision, it’s an architectural and commercial one.
I am writing this at 40,000 feet, on a morning flight to Nice, final destination Monte-Carlo, for what promises to be a very busy 4-day event. The European leg of IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit runs from 17-20 June at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, and in a strange twist of fate I am neither a speaker nor an attendee. I am staff!
The whole event is structured around the four commerce pillars of IBM’s Smarter Commerce cycle: Buy, Sell, Market and Service. Each pillar represents a separate logical track at the event, covering the software, services and customer stories.
Enough with the corporate promo already, I hear you say, where does Enterprise Content Management come into this? Surely, SmarterCommerce is all about retail, transactional systems, procurement, supply chain, CRM and marketing campaign tools?
Yes and no. It’s true that in the fast moving, high volume commercial transaction world, these tools share the limelight. But behind every new promotion, there is a marketing campaign review; behind every supplier and distributor channel, there is a contract negotiation; behind every financial transaction there is compliance; behind every customer complaint there is a call centre; and behind every customer loyalty scheme, there is an application form: ECM underpins every aspect of Commerce. From the first approach to a new supplier to the friendly resolution of a loyal customer’s problem, there is a trail of communication and interaction, that needs to be controlled, managed, secured and preserved. Sometimes paper-based, but mostly electronic.
ECM participates in all commerce cycles: Buy (think procurement contracts and supplier purchase orders and correspondence), Sell (invoices, catalogues, receipts, product packaging, etc.), Market (collateral review & approval, promotion compliance, market analysis, etc.).
But the Service cycle is where ECM has the strongest contribution, and its role goes much beyond providing a secure repository for archiving invoices and compliance documents: The quality, speed and efficiency of customer service, relies on understanding your customer. It relies on knowing what communication you have previously had with your customer or supplier (regardless of the channel they chose), it relies on understanding their sentiment about your products, it relies on anticipating and quickly resolving their requests and their problems.
As a long-standing ECM advocate, I have had the privilege of leading the Service track content at this year’s IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Monaco. A roller-coaster two month process, during which we assembled over 250 breakout sessions for the event, covering all topics related to commerce cycles, and in particular for customer service: Advanced Case management for handling complaints and fraud investigations; Content Analytics for sentiment analysis on social media; Mobile interaction monitoring, to optimise the user’s experience; Channel-independent 360 degree view of customer interaction; Digitising patient records to minimise hospital waiting times; Paperless, on-line billing; Collaboration tools to maximise the responsiveness of support staff; and many more.
A global panel of speakers, with a common goal: putting the customer at the very centre of the commercial process and offering the best possible experience with the most efficient tools.
More comments after the event…
I’ve gone AWOL for a while now, on social media. The reason was a combination of workload, family activities, photography and just a general stop-and-take-stock attempt to detox from the day-to-day online-ness of if all. But I’ve been keeping notes on the way, so there are a few things I will be talking about in the near future. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
- The $100 million dollar garage affliction
- I have grabbed you by your Facebook page. Are you listening now?
- Why “Information Economics” is not the same as “Infonomics”. Or is it?
- I buy, sell, market, service… When did ECM become a Monte Carlo celeb?
- BYOD is so last year… BW2YD is coming!
- Oh yeah? You and whose customer experience?
- From “Everything is a record” to “Why do we need records? “ in three days flat
…and other such trivia, with a couple of conference reviews thrown in for good measure. Watch this space!
Devin Krugly published a very interesting blog/article, describing the “The 7 Deadly Sins of Information Governance“. I enjoyed the article, and I can’t find anything to disagree with, but I have to admit that it left me wanting… The 7 sins presented by Devin are well known and very common problems that plague most Enterprise scale projects, as he points out within the article itself. They could equally apply to HR, supply chain, claims processing or any other major IT implementation. Devin has done a great job of projecting these pitfalls to an Information Governance program.
For me, however, what is really missing from the article is a list of “sins” that are unique to Information Governance projects. So let me try and add some specific Information Governance colour to the picture… Here is my list of seven even deadlier sins:
Governance needs a government. Information governance touches the whole of the organisation. It touches every system, every employee and every process. Decisions therefore that govern information, must be taken by a well defined governance body, that accurately represents the business, compliance, legal, audit and IT, at the very least. You cannot solve the Information Governance problem by throwing technology at it. Sure, technology plays a key part as an enabler, a catalyst and as an automation framework. But technology cannot determine policy, priorities, responsibility and accountability. Nor can it decide the organisation’s appetite for risk, or changes in strategic direction. For that, you need a governing body that defines and drives the implementation of governance.
Information does not mean data. I have talked about this in an earlier blog (Data Governance is not about Data). We often see Information Governance projects that focus primarily (or even exclusively) on transactional data, or data warehousing, or records management, or archiving, etc. Information Governance should be unified and consistent. There isn’t a different regulator for data, for documents, for emails or for tweeter messages. ANY information that enters, leaves or stays in the organisation should be subject to a common set of Governance policies and guidelines. The technical implementation a may be different but the governance should be consistent.
It is a marathon not a sprint. You can never run an “Information Governance Project”. That would imply a defined set of deliverables and a completion point at some specific date. As long as your business changes (new products, new suppliers, new customers, new employees, new markets, new regulations, new infrastructure, etc.) your Information Governance needs will also change. Policies will need revising, responsibilities will need adjusting, information sources will need adding and processes re-evaluating. Constantly! If your Information Governance project is “finished”, frankly, so is your business.
Keep it lean and clean. Information governance is the only cure for Content Obesity. Organisations today are plagued by information ROT (information that is Redundant, Outdated or Trivial). A core outcome of any Information Governance initiative should be the regular disposal of redundant information which has to be done consistently, defensibly and with the right level of controls around it. It is a key deliverable and it requires both the tools and the commitment of the governing body.
Remember: Not who or how, but why… Information Governance projects often get tangled up in the details. Tools, formats, systems, volumes, stakeholders, stewards, regulators, litigators, etc., become the focus of the project and, more often the not, people forget the main driver: Businesses need good, clean and accessible information to operate. The primary role of Information Governance is to deliver accurate, timely and reliable information to the business, for making decisions, for creating products and for delivering services. Every other issue must come second in priority.
The ministry of foreign affairs. The same way that a country cannot be governed without due consideration to the relationship with its neighbours, Information Governance does not stop at the company’s firewall. Your organisation continuously trades information with suppliers, customers, partners, competitors and the wider community. Each of these exchanges has value and carries risks. Monitoring and managing the quality, the trustworthiness, the volume and the frequency of the information exchanged, is a core part of Information Governance and should be clearly articulated in the relevant policies and implemented in the relevant systems.
This is not a democracy, it’s a revolution. Implementing Information Governance is not an IT project, it is a business transformation project. Not only because of its scope and the potential benefit and risk that it represents, but also because of the level of commitment and engagement it requires from every part of the organisation. Ultimately, Information Governance has a role in enforcing information quality, regulatory and legal controls, and it is contributing to the organisation’s accountability. The purpose of on Information Governance implementation is not to ensure that everyone is happy and has an equal voice on the table. The purpose is to ensure that the organisation does the right thing and behaves responsibly. And that may require significant cultural change and a few ruffled feathers…
If you don’t already have an Information Governance initiative in your organisation, now is the time to raise the issue to the board. If you do, then you should carefully consider if the common pitfalls presented here are addressed by your program, or if you are in danger of committing one or more of these sins.