OMG! ECM is OCD for LOB!
We are obsessed! It dawned on me the other day, when I was trying to write up a requirements questionnaire for a client who is implementing an archiving system.
When I say “we”, I mean the ECM professionals. You need to have a good deal of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to be in the ECM business. Whether we are records managers, archivists, consultants, document managers or process designers.
We love things being neat. We love organising information. We obsess about making sure that everything is captured and has a place to go. We love our folders and hierarchies and fileplans. We put labels on everything: We tag and categorise, and add metadata. And then we make lists, and lists of lists, to be able to find stuff. We need rules to abide by, and ideally we like to make the rules ourselves. And we like things that repeat and work the same way every time. We want to know who is who and we are paranoid about security, in case someone sees something they shouldn’t. We need things to be predictable and under control and we don’t like exceptions.
Doesn’t that sound like OCD to you? Come on, admit it. I dare you to try and convince me otherwise…
Now, is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. The business and to a certain degree the law, needs this kind of rigour and precision. Vast amounts of information would be forever lost at the bottom of the sock drawer, if we didn’t organise things properly. Decisions would take a lot longer and any kind of auditability and transparency would be questionable. The get-on-your-bike-and-see-where-it-takes-you approach does not work in business. Correct? Well, maybe…
ECM is on a collision course. The world of tight controls and neat labels fundamentally contradicts the free Enterprise 2.0 spirit of collaboration and social media. Blogs, wikis, Twitter and Googlewave are there to allow everyone to jump in and do their bit. In real-time. There are very few imposed rules. The blending of personal opinion and work interaction is encouraged. Traditional barriers and organisational structures (from the department to the whole corporation or even across industries) are torn down in favour of exchanging ideas and learning from each other. We don’t have to preserve everything. It’s OK for information to end up in a heap, where analytics can find insights that traditional ECM discipline couldn’t. It’s OK for large communities of common interest – very much like Open Source software – to contribute, correct, expand and share knowledge for the benefit of the common good. It’s OK to have ad-hoc processes that define themselves reactively, based on contextual priorities instead of prescribed recipe.
All of this seemingly anarchic chaos, is revolutionising information management and knowledge sharing. But it has also created a lot of anxiety for most of us OCD types, who still think in terms of folders and hierarchies, and metadata and labels and disposition dates. Will there be a new generation of “free-style” ECM to cater for this? Will we end up with two Information management disciplines – “tightly managed” and “freeflow”? Will the legal and regulatory systems move with the times or shut their eyes pretending the change is not happening? Only time will tell…
But next time you are thinking of architecting an ECM environment, don’t assume that your neat little boxes and clearly labelled compartments will be there forever. They will not!
I am a Software Strategist, Social Media explorer and Photographer. Professionally, I have been involved with Document Management, Process Management and Content Management for the last 20+ years. The views here are my own and not those of my employer.
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