Every so often, an idea comes along that stops you in your tracks.
Innovation is happening at the speed of light all around us but most of of the time it consists only of incremental, evolutionary thinking, which takes us a little bit further in the same direction we were going all along. We have become fairly blazé about innovation.
And then you spot something that makes you sit up, pay attention, change direction, and re-think everything. I had one of these moments a few weeks back.
The name “EpyDoc” will probably mean nothing to most of you. Even looking at their existing website I would have dismissed it as a second or third-rate Document Management wannabe. Yet, EpyDoc is launching a new concept in April, that potentially re-defines the whole Data / Content / Information / Process Management industry, as we know it today. You know what happens when you mix comets and dinosaurs? It is that revolutionary.
I have lost track of the number of times over the years that I’ve moaned about the constraints that our current infrastructure is imposing on us:
- The arbitrary segregation of structured and unstructured information [here]
- The inherent synergy of Content and Process management [here]
- The content granularity that stops at the file level [here]
- The security models that protect the container rather than the information [here]
- The lack of governance and lifecycle management of all information, not just records [here]
- The impossibility of defining and predicting information value [here]
…etc. The list goes on. EpyDoc’s “Information Operating System” (a grand, but totally appropriate title), seeks to remove all of these barriers by re-thinking the way we manage information today. Not in small incremental steps, but in a giant leap.
Their approach is so fundamentally different, that I would not do it credit by trying to summarise it here. And if I’m honest, I am still discovering more details behind it. But if you are interested in having a taste on what the future of information management might look like in 5-10 years, I would urge you to read this 10-segment blog set which sets the scene, and let me know your thoughts.
And if, while you are reading through, you are, like me, sceptical about the applicability or commercial viability of this approach, I will leave you with a quote that I saw this morning on the tube:
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”
(President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903)
P.S. Before my pedant friends start correcting me: I know that dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic… 😉
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but I thought it would be best to wait for the deluge of 2014 New Year predictions to settle down, before I try and look a little bit further in the horizon.
The six predictions I discuss here are personal, do not have a specific timescale, and are certainly not based on any scientific method. What they are based on, is a strong gut feel and thirty years of observing change in the Information Management industry.
Some of these predictions are more fundamental than others. Some will have immediate impact (1-3 years), some will have longer term repercussions (10+ years). In the past, I have been very good at predicting what is going to happen, but really bad at estimating when it’s going to happen. I tend to overestimate the speed at which our market moves. So here goes…
Behaviour is the new currency
Forget what you’ve heard about “information being the new currency”, that is old hat. We have been trading in information, in its raw form, for years. Extracting meaningful value however from this information has always been hard, repetitive, expensive and most often a hit-or-miss operation. I predict that with the advance of analytics capabilities (see Watson Cognitive), raw information will have little trading value. Information will be traded already analysed, and nowhere more so than in the area of customer behaviour. Understanding of lifestyle-models, spending-patterns and decision-making behaviour, will become the new currency exchanged between suppliers. Not the basic high-level, over-simplified, demographic segmentation that we use today, but a deep behavioural understanding of individual consumers that will allow real-time, predictive and personal targeting. Most of the information is already being captured today, so it’s a question of refining the psychological, sociological and commercial models around it. Think of it this way: How come Google and Amazon know (instantly!) more about my on-line interactions with a particular retailer, than the retailer’s own customer service call centre? Does the frequency of logging into online banking indicate that I am very diligent in managing my finances, or that I am in financial trouble? Does my facebook status reflect my frustration with my job, or my euphoric pride in my daughter’s achievement? How will that determine if I decide to buy that other lens I have been looking at for my camera, or not? Scary as the prospect may be, from a personal privacy perspective, most of that information is in the public domain already. What is the digested form of that information, worth to a retailer?
Security models will turn inside out
Today most security systems, algorithms and analysis, are focused on the device and its environments. Be it the network, the laptop, the smartphone or the ECM system, security models are there to protect the container, not the content. This has not only become a cat-and-mouse game between fraudsters and security vendors, but it is also becoming virtually impossible to enforce at enterprise IT level. With BYOD, a proliferation of passwords and authentication systems, cloud file-sharing, and social media, users are opening up security holes faster than the IT department can close. Information leakage is an inevitable consequence. I can foresee the whole information security model turning on its head: If the appropriate security becomes deeply embedded inside the information (down to the file, paragraph or even individual word level), we will start seeing self-describing and self-protecting granular information that will only be accessible to an authenticated individual, regardless if that information is in a repository, on a file-system, on the cloud, at rest or in transit. Security protection will become device-agnostic and infrastructure-agnostic. It will become a negotiating handshake between the information itself and the individual accessing that information, at a particular point in time.
Oh, and while we are assigning security at this granular self-contained level, we might as well transfer retention and classification to the same level as well.
The File is dead
In a way, this prediction follows on from the previous one and it’s also a prerequisite for it. It is also a topic I have discussed before [Is it a record, who cares?]. Information Management, and in particular Content Management, has long been constrained by the notion of the digital file. The file has always been the singular granular entity, at which security, classification, version control, transportation, retention and all other governance stops. Even relational databases ultimately live in files, because that’s what Operating Systems have to manage. However, information granularity does not stop at the file level. There is structure within files, and a lot of information that lives outside the realm of files (particularly in social media and streams). If Information Management is a living organism (and I believe it is), then files are its organs. But each organ has cells, each cell has molecules, and there are atoms within those molecules. I believe that innovation in Information Management will grow exponentially the moment that we stop looking at managing files and start looking at elementary information entities or segments at a much more granular level. That will allow security to be embedded at a logical information level; value to grow exponentially through intelligent re-use; storage costs to be reduced dramatically through entity-level de-duplication; and analytics to explode through much faster and more intelligent classification. File is an arbitrary container that creates bottlenecks, unnecessary restrictions and a very coarse level of granularity. Death to the file!
BYOD is just a temporary aberration
BYOD is just a transitional phase we’re going through today. The notion of bringing ANY device to work is already becoming outdated. “Bring Work to Your Device” would have been a more appropriate phrase, but then BWYD is a really terrible acronym. Today, I can access most of the information I need for my work, through mobile apps and web browsers. That means I can potentially use smart phones, tablets, the browser on my smart television, or the Wii console at home, or my son’s PSP game device to access work information. As soon as I buy a new camera with Android on it, I will also be able to access work on my camera. Or my car’s GPS screen. Or my fridge. Are IT organisations going to provide BYOD policies for all these devices where I will have to commit, for example, that “if I am using that device for work I shall not allow any other person, including family members, to access that device”? I don’t think so. The notion of BYOD is already becoming irrelevant. It is time to accept that work is no longer tied to ANY device and that work could potentially be accessed on EVERY device. And that is another reason, why information security and governance should be applied to the information, not to the device. The form of the device is irrelevant, and there will never be a 1:1 relationship between work and devices again.
It’s not your cloud, it’s everyone’s cloud
Cloud storage is a reality, but sharing cloud-level resources is yet to come. All we have achieved is to move the information storage outside the data centre. Think of this very simple example: Let’s say I subscribe to Gartner, or AIIM and I have just downloaded a new report or white paper to read. I find it interesting and I share it with some colleagues, and (if I have the right to) with some customers through email. There is every probability that I have created a dozen instances of that report, most of which will end up being stored or backed up in a cloud service somewhere. Quite likely on the same infrastructure where I downloaded the original paper from. And so will do many others that have downloaded the same paper. This is madness! Yes, it’s true that I should have been sending out the link to that paper to everyone else, but frankly that would force everyone to have to create accounts, etc. etc. and it’s so much easier to attach it to an email, and I’m too busy. Now, turn this scenario on its head: What if the cloud infrastructure itself could recognise that the original of that white paper is already available on the cloud, and transparently maintain the referential integrity, security, and audit trail, of a link to the original? This is effectively cloud-level, internet-wide de-duplication. Resource sharing. Combine this with the information granularity mentioned above, and you have massive storage reduction, cloud capacity increase, simpler big-data analytics and an enormous amount of statistical audit-trail material available, to analyse user behaviour and information value.
The IT organisation becomes irrelevant
The IT organisation as we know it today, is arguably the most critical function and the single largest investment drain in most organisations. You don’t have to go far to see examples of the criticality of the IT function and the dependency of an organisation to IT service levels. Just look at the recent impact that simple IT malfunctions have had to banking operations in the UK [Lloyds Group apologies for IT glitch]. My prediction however, is that this mega-critical organisation called IT, will collapse in the next few years. A large IT group – as a function, whether it’s oursourced or not – is becoming an irrelevant anachronism, and here’s why: 1) IT no longer controls the end-user infrastructure, that battle is already lost to BYOD. The procurement, deployment and disposition of user assets is no longer an IT function, it has moved to the individual users who have become a lot more tech-savy and self-reliant than they were 10 or 20 years ago. 2) IT no longer controls the server infrastructure: With the move to cloud and SaaS (or its many variants: IaaS, PaaS, etc.), keeping the lights on, the servers cool, the backups running and the cables networked will soon cease to be a function of the IT organisation too. 3) IT no longer controls the application infrastructure: Business functions are buying capabilities directly at the solution level, often as apps, and these departments are maintaining their own relationships with IT vendors. CMOs, CHROs, CSOs, etc. are the new IT buyers. So, what’s left for the traditional IT organisation to do? Very little else. I can foresee that IT will become an ancillary coordinating function and a governance body. Its role will be to advise the business and define policy, and maybe manage some of the vendor relationships. Very much like the role that the Compliance department, or Procurement has today, and certainly not wielding the power and the budget that it currently holds. That, is actually good news for Information Management! Not because IT is an inhibitor today, but because the responsibility for Information Management will finally move to the business, where it always belonged. That move, in turn, will fuel new IT innovation that is driven directly by business need, without the interim “filter” that IT groups inevitably create today. It will also have a significant impact to the operational side of the business, since groups will have a more immediate and agile access to new IT capabilities that will enable them to service new business models much faster than they can today.
Personally, I would like all of these predictions to come true today. I don’t have a magic wand, and therefore they won’t. But I do believe that some, if not all, of these are inevitable and it’s only a question of time and priority before the landscape of Information Management, as we know today, is fundamentally transformed. And I believe that this inevitable transformation will help to accelerate both innovation and value.
I’m curious to know your views on this. Do you think these predictions are reasonable, or not? Or, perhaps they are a lot of wishful thinking. If you agree with me, how soon do you think they can become a reality? What would stop them? And, what other fundamental changes could be triggered, as a result of these?
I’m looking forward to the debate!
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.
I love the technology behind “IBM Watson“. I think it’s been a long time coming and I don’t doubt that in a matter of only a few years, we will see phenomenal applications for it.
Craig Rhinehart explored some of the possibilities of using Watson to analyse social media in his blog “Watson and the future of ECM”. He also set out a great comparison of “Humans vs. Watson”, in the context of a trivia quiz. However, I believe that there is a lot more to it…
Watson is a knowledgeable fool. A 6-year old kid, that can’t tell fact from fiction.
When Watson played Jeopardy!, it ranked its possible answers against each other and the confidence that it understood the questions correctly. Watson did not for a moment question the trustworthiness of its knowledge domain.
Watson is excellent at analysing a finite, trusted knowledge base. But the internet and social media are neither finite, nor trusted.
What if Watson’s knowledge base is not factual?
Primary school children are taught to use Wikipedia for research, but not to trust it, as it’s not always right. They have to cross-reference multiple research sources before they accept the most likely answer. Can Watson detect facts from opinions, hearsay and rumours? Can it detect irony and sarcasm? Can it distinguish factual news from political propaganda and tabloid hype?
If we want to make Watson’s intelligence as “human-like” and reliable as possible, and to use it to drive decisions based on internet or social media content, its “engine” requires at least another dimension: Source reliability ranking. It has to learn when to trust a source and when to discredit it. It has to have a “learning” mechanism that re-evaluates the reliability of its sources as well as its own decision making process, based on the accuracy of its outcome. And since its knowledge base will be constantly growing, it also needs to re-assess previous decisions on new evidence. (i.e. a “belief revision” system).
Today, Watson is a knowledge regurgitating engine (albeit a very fast and sophisticated one). The full potential of Watson, will only be explored when it becomes a learning engine. Only then can we start talking about real decision intelligence.
Colleagues that have known me for a while, have all heard me bemoaning the use of the term “unstructured” to describe text-based content. Without boring you again to tears, my main issue is that the ECM industry has been largely treating content files as amorphous “unstructured” blobs, ignoring the rich value that is locked inside these content objects.
For the last twenty years or so, ECM systems have been providing a cocoon, where documents and media files have been stored, preserved, secured, archived and generally left to their own devices. But we have been focusing in protecting the whole container, the box, based on the label it has outside and only looking inside the box, one box at a time.
There is change afoot! 2010 looks set to be the year of Content Analytics, which promises to finally unlock the value that is locked inside our gigantic festering ECM repositories. And if the early success signs of IBM’s new Content Analytics software is anything to go by, we are starting to witness a fundamental transformation in the way content is leveraged in large organisations.
Much in the same way that Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence transformed the bland data storage provided by databases in the mid-90s, Content Analytics is today bringing natural language processing, trends analysis, contextual discovery and predictive analytics to the “unstructured” world.
Purists will argue that these algorithms are not new and, to a certain extent, that is true. However, this is the first time that we are seeing these technologies applied easily, (i.e. with off-the-shelf products, without the need of a PhD statistician or linguist by your side…) in real commercial applications, to solve real business problems: Car manufacturers avoiding recalls with early fault trends analysis; Pharmaceutical companies recognising equipment failure trends much earlier; large multi-nationals saving millions in litigation fees, etc.
The ECM industry may still be thriving, but in terms of innovation it has reached a plateau that makes most of us uncomfortable (or complacent… depending on your point of view). Basic content management functionality is being commoditised with CMIS, OpenSource and SharePoint leading the charge. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the natural maturity curve for any 20-year technology sector. We’ve created a very big ECM cocoon and we’ve filled it to the brim with content worms. It’s time to innovate again!
Making no apologies for the crass analogy (it is March after all and, allegedly, spring is coming…), Content Analytics are starting to finally poke the cocoon, making the value of content slowly emerge, transformed from archived fodder into real business insight.