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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?

2020 and beyond… The mother of all Information Management predictions

January 30, 2014 6 comments

crystal ballI’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!

A clouded view of Records and Auto-Classification

When you see Lawrence Hart (@piewords), Christian Walker (@chris_p_walker) and Cheryl McKinnon (@CherylMcKinnon) involved in a debate on Records Management, you know it’s time to pay attention! 🙂

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.

The Great Big File Box in the sky – help me out here…

October 20, 2011 4 comments

The internet is buzzing with the success stories of Dropbox.com and Box.net. How much they’ve grown, how much they are worth, who’s likely to buy whom, where does iCloud/iPages come into it, etc., etc.

Am I the only one who doesn’t quite get the point here? Yes, I can see how it makes file sharing easier and how it potentially reduces internal IT costs by outsourcing the management of large volumes of information.

How is this ever a good strategy?

We have spent the last 20 years, trying to educate companies on the need to organise their information rather than just dumping in on shared file drives. Classification, version control, metadata, granular security, records management, etc. Anything to convince users to think a little bit further than just “File, Save As” in order to minimise the junk stored on servers, to maximise the chance of finding information when you need it and maintain some sense of auditability in your operations.

So instead of moving forwards, we’re moving backwards! First Sharepoint and now these wonderful cloud services, allow us to shift our junk from our own fileservers to The Great Big File Box in the sky.  With no plan, no structure, no governance, no strategy, no security model, no version control or audit trail.

How is this ever a good idea? I plead ignorance – please help me understand this…

Did anyone go to an “all you can eat” buffet restaurant and not come out feeling bloated??

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