It’s Knowledge Management, Jim, but not as you know it

March 19, 2015 1 comment

LibraryA recent conversation with a colleague sent me searching back to my archives for a conference presentation I did nearly 16 years ago. The subject of the conference was on the impact of Document Management as an enabler for Knowledge sharing in the enterprise.

Driven by three different technology sectors at the time, Document Management, Search and Portals, Knowledge Management was all the rage back then. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and after several massive project failures and even more non-starter projects, Knowledge Management lost its shine and became a dirty phrase that no self-respecting consultant wanted to be associated with.

Why did Knowledge Management fail in the ‘90s?

They say 20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing… Reading again through my slides and my notes, made me realise how different this market has become since the late ‘90s. There were a number of factors at the time that made sure that Knowledge Management never took off as a viable approach but, in my view, two were the most dominant:

The first one was the much used phrase of “Knowledge is power”. Leaving aside the fact that knowledge in and by itself very rarely has intrinsic value – it’s the application of knowledge that creates the power – the phrase was quickly misconstrued by the users to mean: “I have knowledge, therefore I have power”. Guess what? Who wants to dilute their power by selflessly sharing out knowledge? Not many users felt altruistic enough to share their prized knowledge possessions, their crown jewels, for the greater good of the organisation. “As long as I hold onto the knowledge, I hold on to the power and therefore I am important, valuable and irreplaceable”. Nobody said so, of course, but everyone was thinking it.

The second one was the incessant focus on the information itself as the knowledge asset. Technology was focused almost exclusively on extracting tacit knowledge from individuals, encapsulating it in explicit documents, categorising it, classifying it, archiving it and making it available to anyone who could possibly need it. There were two problems with this approach: The moment tacit information became explicit, it lost its owner and curator; it also started aging and becoming obsolete. Quite often, it also lost its context too, making it not only irrelevant but often dangerous.

Why are we talking again about Knowledge Management in 2015?

The last decade has brought a silent cultural revolution on knowledge sharing. We have all learned to actively share! Not only did we become a lot less paranoid about sharing our “crown jewels”, but we are all actively enjoying doing so, inside and outside the work environment: Wikipedia, blogs, Twitter, self-publishing, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Open-source, crowdsourcing, etc., all technologies that the millennium (and the millennials) have brought to the fore. All these technologies are platforms for sharing information and knowledge. The stigma and the paranoia of “Knowledge is Power” has actually transformed into “Sharing is Power”. The more we share the more are valued by our networks, and the bigger the network grows the more power we yield as individuals. And, surprise-surprise, it’s reciprocal! The bigger the network we create the bigger the pool of knowledge we can draw upon.

What couldn’t have been envisioned in the late ‘90s, or early ‘00s, is that by 2015 the knowledge power would be contained in the relationships and the connections, not in the information assets. Not just connections between knowledge gurus inside an enterprise, but amongst individuals in a social environment, between companies and consumers and amongst professional organisations.

Social Media and Collaboration environments have proven to us that the value of sharing knowledge is significantly higher than the value of holding on to it. We may or may not see the term “Knowledge Management” resurrected as an IT concept, but the reality is that knowledge sharing has now become an integral part of our daily life, professional and personal, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.

Are you a Manager or a Leader?

What makes a true leader?

I read a lot of articles on leadership and I find the use of the word “Leader” to be so vague and inconsistent that it often loses its meaning altogether. It’s most often used interchangeably with the word “manager”, when a manger leads a team of people.

I believe that Leadership is a special quality, rather than a skill. It can be nourished and honed, but I am not sure if it can be taught. Most people would instinctively recognise a true leader, so what are the key characteristics that distinguish them from an otherwise excellent manager?

  • Vision – A true leader is able to look beyond the current obstacles and issues and understand the longer term objectives. Create a strategy that works to achieve long-term goals and harnessing creativity and innovation to succeed.
  • Courage – A leader is prepared to take risks. Decisions that challenge the status-quo and can often be controversial. A true leader knows that failure, is a key part of the learning process and not only tolerates it, but actively embraces it.
  • Communication – A leader listens and shares. True leaders are compulsive communicators and educators. They bring people on board by being open and communicating effectively and continuously. The only way to effectively lead change is to make people buy into the same vision that you are working towards. And the only way to achieve this is if you are prepared to actively listen and consider your team’s views and honestly share your thinking.
  • Empathy – True leaders lead from within not from the front. One of the most fundamental differences between a typical manager and a true leader is that a leader considers himself, or herself, to be part of the team not managing a And more importantly, the team have to see them that way too. A true leader invests time in understanding the individuals in the team and has a personal relationship with them. A leader sees the team as a collection of skilled individuals, where everyone contributes their own unique qualities and skills. The better the leader understands the strengths and issues of each team member, the more valuable that member becomes to the team.
  • Inspiration – True leaders inspire the people that work for them. A true leader enjoys respect and trust from his team. Nothing brings more cohesion in a team than having a common vision that everyone believes in and a leader who they trust and look up to.
  • Passion – A true leader is never on a two-year career rotation plan. A true leader has passion for the goals they try to achieve, the product they are launching or the project they are driving. They build a loyalty and a commitment to that end-goal, defend it passionately from any detractors and consider it their own personal target. A leader is not able to walk away from a job until the goal is achieved.

I have met many managers in my life, but very few true leaders. I have even been on “Leadership” courses where the emphasis was on reporting structures, defining metrics, resolving conflict and performing peer assessments, but nothing on how to be an effective leader.

Organisations – particularly large complex organisations – need to take a hard look at their management structures and executive careers: Do they have mechanisms for identifying, encouraging and rewarding true leaders? Do they promote young people with leadership qualities or are they left festering in minor projects? Do they appoint pivotal positions based on leadership skills or just seniority?

And let’s all start using the term “Leadership” more accurately, not as a euphemism for management.

CMaaS – Content Management as a Service

I haven’t written much about cloud because, frankly, I don’t think its as revolutionary as people think and because the demand for it has been largely vendor induced. Whatever you think about cloud however, it is here, it is a driving force, and it will continue to be a conversation topic for a while.

I wrote on a previous article (Cloud and SaaS for dummies), that cloud is like a train: Someone else has to maintain it and make sure it it there on time, all you have to do is buy a single ticket and hop on it when you need it. At least that’s the oversimplified theory… For Content Management however, the reality is a bit different: When you get on the train, you don’t carry your bookcase, your briefcase and your children’s photo albums with you, and you certainly don’t leave them there expecting them to be available and in tact next time you hop on the train. You take the train to go from A to B, and you keep your personal belongings with you.

The train analogy works well for Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud models, but not for Content.

The financial argument of SaaS is compelling: Buying software capabilities on demand moves the financial needle from CapEx to OpEx; the total cost of ownership reduces, as support costs & administration skills burden the provider; technology refresh secures ubiquitous access; and economies of scale dramatically reduce infrastructure costs.

Microsoft, Google, Apple, Box, Dropbox and every other ECM and Collaboration vendor, are offering content storage in the cloud – often free – to entice you to move your content off your premises, or off your personal laptop, to a happier, more abundant and more resilient place, which is all good and worthwhile. What isn’t good, is the assumption that providing storage in the cloud (or as I’ve seen it incorrectly mentioned recently “CaaS – Content as a Service”), is the same as providing Content Management in the cloud. It is not!

We (the ECM industry) have fought for years to establish the idea that managing content goes a lot further than just storing documents in a file system. It requires control: Security, versions, asynchronous editing, metadata, taxonomies, retention, integration, immutable flags, workflow, etc. etc. Unfortunately the new fad of EFSS (Enterprise File Synching and Sharing) systems, is turning the clock back: Standalone EFSS environments, are just another way for users to bypass IT and Security controls (Chris Walker articulates this very well in his article You’re out of your mind).

Now, before you jump on my throat and tell me that EFSS came about exactly because of the straitjacket that compliance, governance and ECM have put organisations in, let me say, “I know!”. I’ve lived and breathed this industry since it was born, so I understand the issues. However, we (ECM and IG practitioners) risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater:  Ignoring EFSS and all other file external sharing mechanisms is dangerous, at best. Blocking them is impractical and unenforceable. Institutionalizing them (as Chris suggests) adds a layer of governance over them, but it does not solve the conflict with the need for secure internal repositories and regulatory control.

So, what if you could have your cake and eat it too? Instead of accepting EFSS as an externally imposed inevitability, why not embrace EFSS within the ECM environment? Here’s a revolutionary idea: Why not have an ECM environment that incorporates EFSS capabilities, instead of fighting against them? An ECM repository that provides the full ECM control environment we know and love, as well as keeping content synchronised across all your mobile and desktop devices, so that you can work

I try to stay impartial on my blog and refrain from plugging IBM products, but in this case I cannot avoid the inevitable: IBM Content Navigator offers this today (I don’t doubt that other ECM vendors are or will be offering it soon).

What we are starting to see,  is the evolution of proper “Content Management as a Service – CMaaS”:  Not only storing content in a cloud and retrieving it or sharing it, but offering the complete ECM capability, including sync & share, offered as a cloud-based, on-demand, scalable and secure service.

Why should organisations settle for either an on-premise heavy-weight ECM platform, or a light-weight low-compliance cloud-based sharing platform, when they can combine both?

George Parapadakis

Nightmare definitions: What is Information Governance?

Some concepts are extremely difficult to articulate succinctly. Not because we don’t understand them, but because they are just too complex. I believe H.L. Mencken said: “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant and wrong”.

Take the example of Enterprise Content Management. A 25-year old industry and a multi-million software market. Every few months, we will invariably have another debate on what the correct definition should be, what it encompasses, if the name should be changed, how it overlaps with other terms, etc. etc. Yet, most people understand pretty well what it is.

Enter… Information Governance

If you haven’t yet, please read Barclay T. Blair’s ebook: “Making the Case for Information Governance”. It is an excellent summary of some of the reasons why Information Governance (IG) is important to an organisation. The ebook focuses more on the rationale behind its existence, and much less on its structure and scope. The ebook also reviews some of the existing definitions of IG, by The Economist and by AIIM and proceeds to explain their salient points.

More recently however, BTB presented IG Initiative’s attempt to create a simpler definition, validated by a popularity poll and summarized in an attractive infographic:

Information Governance is: The activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.

Information Governance Initiative - Information Governance definition

I have to be honest and say that I don’t like that definition. 99% of people would agree that “Fruit is nutritional, affordable and refreshing, and reduces health risks”. That may be a true statement, but it does not make it a good definition of what a fruit is! Ok, I am being facetious, but my point is: The broader the definition the less accurate it is and the less value it adds. The IG Initiative definition above, is both too wide (e.g. analytics and collaboration are used to maximise information value, but they are not in themselves IG tools), and incomplete (e.g. governance involves the people, not just activities and technologies; compliance is another key driver, alongside cost and risk). In my view, this definition, by itself, falls short.

I have to mention that several other people have attempted definitions of IG, and each one has its merits. The one offered by Wikipedia is not too bad, and there are others by Debra Logan at Gartner, IBM, and many other vendors.

Personally, I would err on the side of a slightly longer but more comprehensive definition, that combines the ones mentioned in the ebook and the new one by IG Initiative. Here is my offer:

 

Information Governance is a framework of people, principles, processes and tools, that defines why, when and how information is managed within an organisation, in order to maximise its value, fulfil obligations, reduce costs and reduce risk.

 

I would be very interested to hear your feedback on this.

Whichever definition you choose to use however, BTB makes a very valid point in his blog: “the definition you use is less important than having a common understanding among your IG team”. And you will probably need a lot more than 145 characters to achieve that!

Stop comparing Information Governance to Records Management – Take 2!

A debate is a blogger’s ultimate reward

Judging by the sheer number of retweets, favorites and comments that I had as a response, I seem to have hit a raw nerve with my last posting on the relationship between Information Governance (IG) and Records Management (RM). Feedback is a great source of knowledge for me. Debate is always good for our industry.

Laurence Hart (@piewords to his friends) was kind enough to specifically comment on my article in his blog. I have a lot respect for Laurence’s opinion and always enjoy reading his views, even if we don’t always agree. As it turns out, in this instance, we agree more than we disagree.

There are a few things on my original article that I’d like to clarify though, just to avoid ambiguity, and in the process address some of the points that Laurence makes:

 

“IG is a discipline, not a tool”, I wrote…

A few people took exception to that. Nobody disputed the fact, but they assumed that I somehow implied that RM is not a discipline, only a tool: something I never said! I take it for granted that everyone, at least everyone reading these discussions, knows that RM is a discipline too. The point I wanted (and obviously failed) to make was very different: The term Information Governance has been hijacked by a large number of vendors (ECM, eDiscovery, Storage, Security, Big Data, etc.) to peddle their wares. I have seen an inordinate amount of marketing atrocities being perpetrated in the name of Information Governance. My point is that the tools will not sort out the IG problem, it requires a different way of thinking. With hindsight, I can see why people misread what I wrote though.

 

Divorce Information Governance from the discussion of how it is going to be done

This seems to be Laurence’s main contention with my views. Interestingly, I don’t think I said that anywhere in my article either, but it must have been implied somehow. Laurence is right: the WHY and the HOW of IG cannot be divorced, of course, otherwise IG will always remain an academic exercise. The point I was making is that IG needs to have a coherent, consistent and complete overview of the principles behind all information management within the organisation. It is the decision making hub. Underneath that hub there are a number of spoke mechanisms that manage different aspects: RM is just one of them; eDiscovery, Classification, Legal Holds, Privacy & Security, Archiving, Application decommissioning, Storage tiering, Location management, etc., are various others. These should all be driven from a single, unified, coherent and authoritative decision making framework, which is what I see as the role of IG.

 

Of governments and armies…

Laurence, inadvertently perhaps, came up with a much better analogy of the distance between IG and RM. I created a metaphor liking them to Government and school governors, but Laurence compared them to Government and the Military. A much better analogy! The Military has a very specific and defined jurisdiction for enforcing Government policy and law. It has ultimate planning and execution responsibility for military personnel, but it cannot enforce law on civilians (at least not in most democracies, anyhow…). The Government has responsibility for every law in the country, regardless if it applies to civilians or military. Just as IG has responsibility for all decision making for Information Management, RM has responsibility for enforcing some of the functions on some of the overall Information estate.

 

“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”

I am not interested in the semantics of where IG definitions overlap with IM or RM, or the delineation between the policies (WHY), the practices (HOW) or the tools (WHAT WITH). My point is that IG and RM are two different, if overlapping, disciplines and that the functions that I defined in my 8 points in the earlier article, must be addressed by a coherent information governance framework which, historically, has not been an area where traditional RM excels. If you prefer to call that evolving business function a “Holistic RM”, “RM Continuum”  or “Super RM” or whatever else, I’m not worried about the nomenclature as long as we agree that it needs doing, and that it needs doing properly.

 

How the other half live…

There was something very paradoxical about the comments on my original article, by the RM community: Inevitably, the experienced, established and professional Records Managers, will object to my simplified definition of RM. They know how much bigger the problem is and most of them have extended their reach and responsibilities to address some of the IG issues within their organisations. Kudos and respect to them. But they see the RM world through rose tinted glasses, because it is the world they have created and influenced.

I, however, am not a Records Manager. I have seen and talked to a lot of organizations where their RM program either does not exist, or is extremely narrow, or very badly implemented, or lives on a folder on a shelf, or a PDF file on the intranet, or manages a spreadsheet fileplan, mapped to a folder structure on a shared drive. Most of these organizations, have an even bigger IG problem: No information disposition program, no unified classification, no automation of anything, no association between security policy and security reality, no mechanisms to address Data Protection, an un-managed email archive that grows exponentially, scores of network drives with debris and “just in case” copies of data, and many many many other issues. These organizations do not have the luxury of a well-established Holistic RM program, or the time to implement one. They have a very real IG itch that needs scratching… And a lot of vendors are quick to exploit that.

 

In my view, RM will always be a subset of IG. If you understand the bigger scope of IG, and you are already addressing it under an RM moniker, or any other name, then pat yourself on the back. But on the other hand, if you are a CIO looking at IG issues, do not assume that it is RM’s problem to sort out. And if you are a records manager, don’t assume for a minute that your RM world will not go through a radical transformation, if you try to take on the IG requirements, on top of RM.

Stop comparing Information Governance with Records Management!

Information Governance has been all the rage in the ECM world in the last year. Chris Walker, Laurence Hart, James Lappin, John Mancini, Barclay T. Blair and many other writers whose opinions I respect, are all writing about it.

That, in itself, is a good thing: I’ve been an advocate of Information Governance for a while now [Data Governance is not about Data] and it’s good to see it taking a prominent (and permanent) position in IT dialogue.

As with any other IT topic however, the more we talk about it, the more vague it becomes, and the more confusing and overlapping the definitions get. One of the latest symptoms of this, is the recent dialogue (read these posts by James and Laurence) discussing where Information Governance (IG) sits with Records Management (RM).

The points they are making are valid, but I believe that the premise behind these conversation is fundamentally misplaced, and here’s why:

1)      Information Governance is a discipline, not a tool. The purpose of IG is to define all aspects of how information is being managed. The purpose of RM is to do the managing of some of that information.

2)      According to Corporate Governance and Oversight Council, the information kept under RM’s control represents less than 20% of the total information managed by an organisation. IG has responsibility for 100%, including the 20% managed by RM.

3)      RM is typically focused on the lifecycle management and protection of unstructured information, mostly documents. IG creates common policies that apply to both structured and unstructured information.

4)      RM works with a defined and agreed taxonomy and schedule. IG is perpetually juggling with overlapping policies, laws, cases, security, legal holds, costs and business demands.

5)      IG scope includes all information sources: The RM repositories, the other ECM repositories that are not RM platforms, all the SharePoint instances, the live email server(s), the email archive(s), the shared network drives, the personal network drives, the PST files, the data archive system, the notebook C: drives, the cloud drives, the detachable storage drives, those servers that came with the last acquisition and nobody quite knows what is on them, Jim’s old desktop, etc., etc.

6)      RM tends to accumulate all the information it manages in a centralised, controlled environment. IG does not have that luxury: It needs to assume that most information will be managed in its native environment (unless of course it’s information that should explicitly be moved to RM’s control).

7)      RM has a well defined function: store, classify, protect, secure and dispose of business records. IG has the function of telling RM what should and should not be protected, as well as determining security policies, disposition schedules, data protection risks, storage tier management, archive policies, data ownership, etc., for all other enterprise information.

8)      RM stakeholders are mostly records managers and/or compliance managers. IG answers to Compliance, Audit, Security, Legal, IT, Finance and Business Operations – a very different audience with often conflicting interests.

Trying to compare IG and RM is a bit like trying to compare Central Government (or Federal for my US friends) with a local school’s governing body. Both have something to govern, one takes direction from the other and… there the similarity ends. Neither one is a replacement for the other.

And I’ll finish on a separate but related bug bear of mine: Governance is about taking ownership, making decisions and setting rules. Management is about acting on the decisions, executing the policies and enforcing the rules. Therefore, Information Governance and Information Management are not the same thing and the two terms should not be used interchangeably!

Update: Read the follow up article to this, with some more detailed explanations and comments [Part 2]

Cloud and SaaS for dummies…

I had to explain Cloud and SaaS to a (non-IT) friend recently. It had to be quick and simple…

On-premise/Licensed: You buy a car and you drive it to work whenever you want. You pay for Insurance, Service, MOT, tyres and petrol. You can tweak it or add “go faster” stipes if you like. If it breaks down, you pay to have it fixed.

Cloud: The government buys a train and pays for its maintenance. You hop on it when you need it, and pay a ticket. If you are going to use it regularly, you buy an annual pass. If the train breaks down, the company sends another one to pick you up and they refund your ticket.

Hybrid: You drive your own car to the station and then take a train to work.

Simple enough?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 819 other followers

%d bloggers like this: