This post was originally delivered on April 25, 2013, as an AIIM webinar.
Let’s call the challenge we’re discussing the Fragmentation Problem. It’s primarily the outcome of the explosion of “systems of engagement”. “Systems of engagement” (SOE) is a useful popular term to distinguish the collaborative and social technologies from the older “systems of record” (SOR) that most of us in ECM are familiar with. (And when I say SOR it doesn’t mean that I’m confused about what a records manager’s record is – it’s just a useful term.) The SOEs (and associated trends) include mobile applications, social media, wireless access, “life splicing” (integrating professional and personal life), multiple BYOD devices and platforms, synching all devices by using the cloud, and consumerization.
Such trends are the primary cause of the Fragmentation Problem, which shows itself in uncontrolled diversity, failed enterprise synching (a problem way beyond desktop synching), and other SOE problems – such as content getting stored in multiple locations; multiple and varied content formats; absence of security control, version control, process control, and backup; and failed access. What we want to do is maximize the upside of these new realities while minimizing the downside: increase the benefits, while decreasing the costs and risks.
As a preliminary step, we can divide the Fragmentation Problem into two pieces: General Adequacy and Specific Business Applications:
What should we do to ensure “general adequacy” – to ensure that we have established a baseline of adequacy for our new IT environments? That is, independent of any particular work process or business unit application (like using “Social Collaboration” for marketing or HR), what good housekeeping practices should we adopt? What are the necessary, foundational, minimal conditions for any successful initiatives?
Specific Business Applications
What types of particular initiatives, projects, and applications should we roll out for particular business processes? Should they be focused on “shared services” processes like AP, or on LOB processes, like servicing auto insurance claims? Should they be primarily ECM-based, primarily social collaboration-based, or a mix of the two?
I’m going to answer these questions in four parts. Part 1 addresses how you should pursue General Adequacy to address the Fragmentation Problem. Parts 2 and 3 address the specific Projects and Applications you should roll out. Part 4 addresses how you should tie Parts 1 through 3 together in a Program.
So let’s start with #1, Get to a Baseline of Adequacy.
Part 1: Get to a Baseline of Adequacy
First, do a focused, quick Current State Assessment of your organization’s situation, particularly with respect to ECM and content-intensive Social Business. Address the ECM categories: people, process, technology, and content. There’s a solid methodology for doing this, from AIIM, from Doculabs, and from lots of others. But address and document the important SOE issues. Look for your Social Media policy and provide one if you don’t have one. (If you don’t have one, download a “starter” policy and tweak it.)
Assess and document the important SOE categories and issues, such as: the division of labor between IT and users, the capabilities used, the configurations, the types of devices (e.g. smart phones, Blackberries, iPads), and the types of users and user scenarios.
You’ll see lots of fragmentation: uncontrolled diversity, failed enterprise synching, and lots of system of engagement problems. For basic ECM health, these need to be managed at the enterprise level. You can tackle them while you address the Specific Applications, but these are more important than Specific Applications, because the Fragmentation Problem will destroy you if you ignore it.
Second, implement general baseline principles. Alan Turner of HP recommends that you implement general baseline principles for addressing the Fragmentation Problem across information silos, content formats, devices, business units, and organizations.
Third, address over-retention. This is a huge problem that would have plagued us without the explosion of SOEs and fragmentation, but it’s grown far worse with them. Think of email and Twitter feeds, distributed repositories inside and outside of your firewalls and organizations, and so on. Organizations have been over-retaining electronic information and failing to dispose of it in a legally defensible manner when business and law will allow. It’s an issue you must address if you’re going to be letting folks seriously “engage” with systems of engagement.
Almost all organizations over-retain, but this problem is far worse for bigger organizations. So if you’re a small firm, you may be in pretty good shape. But if you’re big, you may have hundreds of TBs or even PBs of information that is compounding. So you must address it to meet General Adequacy.
Recall that above I divided the Fragmentation Problem and its solution into General Adequacy and Specific Business Applications. Now let’s do another division. The best way to address this monster problem of over-retention is to break it into two more tractable sub-problems: day-forward information disposition and historical information disposition.
So fourth, address day-forward over-retention. Addressing day-forward over-retention is much easier than addressing historical retention, even though addressing it messes with employees’ day-to-day activities. The key is to initiate information lifecycle (ILM) practices on a day-forward basis first, so any new content created or saved is assigned a disposition period. Then provide employees very clear and explicit guidance for the acceptable use of available tools for dynamic content and their associated retention periods. An example: “Retain non-records for 3 years, and retain official records per the retention schedule.”
Fifth, address historical over-retention by using a defensible disposition methodology. Now that we’ve solved day-forward, let’s start tackling historical content. The good news is that there’s a methodology to follow. It’ll be a long haul, and you may be at it for years, but you can tackle it incrementally and you’ll start getting immediate benefits. I’m only going to outline what I think is the best approach. (I talk about this more elsewhere.
You must satisfy 4 demands: 1) regulatory retention requirements, 2) legal hold retention requirements, 3) business retention requirements, and 4) the cost impact of anything you do. Your two most important activities are sorting and disposing, and you do everything in a reasonable manner, in good faith, in a way that can be defended in court.
You do it by developing and then executing on the following four pieces:
- The Defensible Disposition Policy – the design specification that states very clearly the objectives that your methodology will fulfill
- The Technology Plan – addresses what tools you should use (there are lots of them out there, and you should pick the right ones for your particular needs)
- The Assessment Plan – for sorting
- And The Disposition Plan – for purging or keeping
Part 2: Integrate Your SOEs into Your Solid SORs
Now that we’ve established a solid baseline of adequacy against the Fragmentation Problem, let’s address the kinds of content-intensive applications to roll out. I summarize my recommendation as “Integrate your SOEs into your solid SORs,” and now I’m going to explain what I mean by that.
For our purposes, there are three general kinds of content-using applications: SORs, SOEs, and combinations of the two.
First, you can implement, enhance, or integrate your SORs. Your SORs are either internal administrative applications (for accounting, customer service, HR, records management), or LOB applications (for selling and onboarding new customers, making products, servicing customers, etc.). By “implement, enhance, or integrate your SORs,” I mean something like you can implement imaging and workflow for AP and integrate it with ERP, and then enhance and integrate that with other pieces of ERP and other parts of the Purchase-to-Pay process. We (collectively) have been doing this sort of thing for 10 or 20 years, and we have this nailed.
When organizations fail with SOR, it’s typically in execution – i.e. failing to do what’s known to work well. Atul Gawande describes these kinds of problems in the Checklist Manifesto, as failures of ineptitude rather than failures of ignorance. The knowledge is out there (most of it at aiim.org), and when SOR deployments fail, it’s because the knowledge exists, but it wasn’t applied correctly.
Second, you can implement, enhance, or integrate your SOEs. These may be internal employee team-based collaboration, or internal and external interactive communities, or something else. Some of these we’re (collectively) addressing pretty well. But with a lot of this SOE stuff, we’re all just feeling our way. When organizations fail with SOE, sometimes just execution is the culprit, but overwhelmingly it’s both strategy and execution.
Finally, you can integrate your SOEs into your SORs. These are the most interesting opportunities. We (collectively) can do great here because #3 combines parts of #1 and #2. We therefore have a good chance of success if we focus on enhancing our solid SORs with SOEs where it makes good sense. In addition, this approach, if done well, also typically provides better ROI than #1 or #2. If you do business cases, you’ll see that social-enabled enterprise applications (#3) typically beat employee team-based collaboration and interactive communities (both #2). Here’s a business case and a calculator you can use to model your own situation.
I therefore recommend that as you address the Fragmentation Problem, and are looking for specific applications, you pursue projects that integrate your SOEs into your SORs. Call these “social-enabled ECM applications.”
Part 3: Pick the Right Social-Enabled ECM Applications
So the next question is: Which “social-enabled ECM applications” should you pursue? Great question!
To identify and rank integrated SOE-SOR opportunities (what I’m calling social-enabled ECM applications), I recommend that you segment them into three basic groups or levels. The three groups are:
- Group #1: The easiest. These are Light SOE, integrated with mature administrative and LOB ECM applications.
- Group #2: The more complex and knowledge-worker focused Moderate SOE enterprise social collaboration applications.
- Group #3: The complex and usually process worker-focused Heavy SOE integrated with vertical LOB applications.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Group #1: ECM applications that can be enhanced with Light SOE
Consider administrative ECM applications first. These applications for accounting, HR, and customer service are mature in ECM and are usually a good place to start before tackling LOB applications or those requiring heavier redesign and use of social and mobile technologies. Basically the idea here is to add social capabilities, particularly mobile technology, at the endpoints. Participants can then use smartphones and tablets to contribute and access relevant documents and content, and to participate in workflows. So this means applications like using your smart phone to take pictures of your receipts and submit them to Accounting for expense reporting, add mobile capabilities to your HR intranet, and add light mobile capabilities to your customer service processes.
Now consider line-of-business and general (either administrative or LOB) ECM applications that can be enhanced with Light SOE. They are still in Group #1, but typically higher in value, risk, and complexity. The idea here is the same as with administrative applications: add social capabilities, particularly mobile technology, at the endpoints to facilitate good quality participation in the process. So enable your employees or customers to submit documents and information via remote and mobile capture and e-forms. Be careful with the complexity, though.
Group #2: Collaborative ECM applications that can be enhanced with Moderate SOE
This group is more complex than the first group because the applications, involving collaborative ECM and social collaboration, are less mature and require more social design and technology. This group of applications at first seems as if it should be fully SOE (category #2 at the beginning of this post) except for two factors. These applications typically involve collaboration around documents that are expected to be managed in an SOR manner (like proposal development), or they are part of processes that result in documents at certain steps, and these documents are expected to be managed in an SOR manner.
These applications are popular because they are some of the best applications for the new social technologies. We have found that these kinds of applications work well where there’s a start and end to the process, like creating a sales proposal at the end of a well-defined project.
Note that I crossed off collaborative applications like expertise identification and community building. Why? Because they’re pure SOE applications that require no SOR-type management of documents or content.
Group #3: Vertical line-of-business ECM applications that can be enhanced with Heavy SOE
Group #3 is the most complex: vertical LOB applications that depend heavily on advanced social technologies integrated with ECM, which serves as the SOR. These are high-value (and thus high-risk) applications that are developed primarily to be mobile. Unlike Group #2, they are often more process worker-focused. As you read through these, notice that they all depend on trained employees, as opposed to untrained “citizens” (like my kids) to create and capture information, to participate in workflows, to search and access information, and to act on it.
These are the clipboard applications that John Mancini sometimes talks about. When they involve mobile capture, they are what I call complex distributed capture applications. They are much different than simple distributed capture applications and require a lot more planning, design, and attention to execution than, e.g., mobile receipt capture or business card capture. They also have an entirely different business case because the focus often depends on reducing process cycle time, rather than just reducing the costs of moving paper around.
Note that one good strategy is to evolve in phases from Group #1 to Group #3.
Part 4: Make Alignment of SOE and SOR the Focus of Your ECM Program
So let’s recap what we’ve done so far. I said that the explosion of systems of engagement have brought us great opportunities, but also the Fragmentation Problem. Then I said we should reap the upside and control the downside by first breaking the Fragmentation Problem into two pieces, and that it’s necessary to address both. You’ve got to reach and maintain a baseline of general adequacy. And you’ve got to select and roll out the right specific applications. To reach the baseline of general adequacy, you should efficiently assess your ECM and SOE situation, implement general principles of adequacy, and address the over-retention problem. To roll out the right specific applications, you should focus on social-enabled ECM applications (the ones that integrate SOEs and solid SORs). Which social-enabled ECM applications, you ask? I reply that there are three general types, and you should consider starting with what I called Group #1. But if you’re careful and prepared, you can pursue any of them.
Wow. All this leads me to my next point. If you try to do any of this without a program framework to plan and manage, your initiative will probably look like an assortment of expensive random actions, yielding nothing useful.
We recommend that you should roll out any ECM solution with a systematic approach that addresses overall strategy, governance and operations, information architecture, process design and implementation, technology architecture and standards, and communication and training. These six components are best organized in an ECM program framework, but can be scaled down and used to manage any single, focused ECM project.