Thursday Feb 07, 2013

Planning for a blizzard of information

If you are watching the news this week, you know that there is a major snowstorm coming towards those of us here in the Northeast.  Here in Boston, some of us will get two feet or more of snow in the next 48 hours, so you can imagine the flurry (pun intended) of activity that is going on before the arrival of the impending storm. People are filling their gas tanks, crowding the supermarkets to stock up on supplies and getting ready to be stuck at home for a few days.

When I was at the store, standing in the extra long line at checkout, I was thinking about all this preparation going on.  Everyone in Boston is aware that there is a storm coming and doing their utmost to be ready. There is literally no excuse for anyone not to be fully prepared.  But when it comes to content management and dealing with the ever-growing onslaught of documents, images, videos, forms and every other type of content imaginable, do we prepare properly within our businesses?

Often the answer is no.  The tendency is to avoid dealing with any information management issues until they really become a problem.  Just imagine if we dealt with impending snowstorms that way!  "Hey, I don't see any snow right now, so there is obviously not a problem. I will just wait until I really see it coming down hard before I start preparing."  Not a great plan, I am sure you would agree.

Every year, reports tell us that the amount of information being produced by businesses and our customers is growing exponentially with no sign of stopping. What are we doing to properly prepare and be ahead of the game?  Is your "plan" to keep buying hard drives and servers until you run out of room?  Or are you proactively putting a plan together to define retention policies, disposition policies and business rules that keep things safe and securely under control?

Hopefully you are one of those doing the latter, but if you have been delayed in getting a better handle on the avalanche of information coming your way, it's not too late to start thinking strategically about how you address content management and how you can obtain more value from that content by integrating it within the fabric of your essential business processes so that everything is right at your users' fingertips.  We've produced a short whitepaper on the subject that I hope you can read when you get the chance.  It's called "From Unstructured to Strategic: How Content Management Is Driving Strategic Initiatives" and you can quickly register to download it by clicking this URL.

For those of you here in the northeast of the United States, stay warm and safe!

Tuesday Feb 05, 2013

The Refrigerator of Knowledge

Quite a few years ago, perhaps more than I care to remember, a colleague described how she thought that a content management repository was like a refrigerator.  At first, I did not follow where she was taking this analogy but I soon got it and it has stuck with me to this day.  Since we are discussing content management and how to get the most from your information under management, I thought it worth sharing today...

If we think of the food we buy at home as being like the content and documents we create at work, we would probably all agree that they both have a value and that they both require an appropriate level of care.  There are extremes in both cases.  Skittles, for example, have almost no value (and can scarcely be considered food) but they also require almost no care.  You could leave a package on the floor for 20 years and they would be unchanged when you got back.  On the other extreme, a food of much more value, say Bluefin Tuna, needs extra care and protection in order for its value to be maintained.  In the same way, we have different types of information in our work environment.  The contract documents being negotiated require extreme care and safety controls to be in place, while the document announcing the upcoming ice cream party next Friday requires no care and can safely be discarded Friday night.  To take proper care of the high-value information, access must be controlled, version tracking and auditing must be in place and information governance regulations must be adhered to in most industries.

But the real value in your content is not just in the creation, it's in how well you utilize it.  It's the same with food.  You can go to the gourmet store, spend quite a bit of money to get the freshest ingredients but if you do not put them to good use, it is a complete waste of time and effort.  Same with your business content in all its forms.  Scanned documents and forms that come in from customers, collateral developed by marketing, documentation on your new product, partner contracts, sales quotes, the list of potentially valuable information in your company is endless.  But how well is that information put to use?  Securing it in a safe place is not enough, it's how you integrate it within critical business processes and make it readily available to the right people at the right time that defines what value you realize.  It's the same with the food that you spent all that money on.  If you simply secure it in your fridge and never open the fridge again because security is of overriding importance, the food will rot, age and go to waste.  Information not properly used is not worth gathering or creating in the first place. 

One last thought related to this analogy.  Have you ever been to a friends house and opened up their fridge to find a complete mess of mysterious food packages, plastic bags of leftovers - all just crammed in there to be gone through later?  Besides being disgusting, you will never find what you are looking for.  In fact you are likely to give up and drive to the store to buy something new before you will spend the time searching through unlabeled wads of aluminum foil that contain only who-knows-what.  On the other hand, when you open up a clean, well-organized refrigerator, you can find what you are looking for right away and have additional confidence that the leftovers you retrieve have not been lurking in there since the Nixon administration. Information management is similar in that when it is well-organized and easily accessible, users can get just what they need, when they need it and know that is the freshest, most up-to-date information.

So how organized is your company refrigerator, um, i mean content management system?  Can your employees, management, business partners find what they need when they need it?  Are you getting the most value by having information readily available within your important business processes?  If not, it's time to rethink how you use information, how you store it and of course, how to properly and securely dispose of the low-value information.  As you think more about the real value of your content and how strategic it is, be sure also to download a copy of our whitepaper on the topic. From Unstructured to Strategic: How Content Management Is Driving Strategic Initiatives

Next time you open up a friends refrigerator, you will now think about content management.  You're welcome. 

Monday Feb 04, 2013

Where do you like to hide your information?

Good morning and welcome to Monday...

Here in the States, this is the day to recover from whatever Super Bowl festivities you might have had last night. While I personally wish my Patriots had been playing the Niners, there is always next year.  But that same approach can get you in trouble when it comes to how your organization stores and provides access to information.  The idea that you will "get to it next year" can end up costing you a lot of time, money and angst this year.

I recently had a little Q&A with Bryant Duhon from AIIM about managing information.  We are planning for the upcoming AIIM show in New Orleans (http://www.aiimconference.com) and Oracle is pleased to be a platinum sponsor of the event.  We hit on a topic that has been written about before but still remains a vexing problem for companies around the world.  Over time, information that has real value, and needs to be reused or accessed by other colleagues is scattered across different locations and different systems - all of which are usually not connected to one another.  These locations are often referred to as "information silos" because of how they isolate information within individual repositories.

Bryant asked me this question, "We've been talking about information silos in this industry for at least two decades; how do we move from talking to doing?"  It's a good question.  Clearly if it was so easy to do, it would not still be coming up as an issue! Personally, I've come to the conclusion that eliminating information silos is a worthwhile but not always achievable goal for most organizations.  In my response, I stated that eliminating information silos has been the ideal scenario for many years. But the reality is that over time, organizations take on new technologies for information management but are unable or unwilling to wean themselves from the earlier, now legacy, technologies. Eventually a company may find itself with several different content management systems, each still used by one or more departments for a vital business function. Software vendors periodically attempt to address this problem with new technologies that often end up adding additional layers of complexity. IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint are popular examples of collaboration and information sharing tools that instead of delivering on the promise of simplified content management, have over time exacerbated the information silo problem for most organizations.  The Cloud and its many variations, now offers a new take on this decades-old information management challenge, but that's a topic for another day.

So what is an information management professional like yourself supposed to do?  Will you just throw up your hands and allow new repositories to keep popping up like so many groundhogs (slightly apropos this week) across the IT landscape?  Well, that is not such a great idea either.  The more disconnected your approach to information management, the more disconnected your vital business systems become, the more fragmented your operations become and the more inefficient your employees and colleagues will be.  If anyone ever needs to find anything, they will first need to know where to start looking.  Good luck with that!  :)

The approach that often succeeds for many businesses is to take a step back, evaluate the information landscape and consider strategic improvements to how information is shared, utilized, archived and controlled.  Then take positive steps to minimizing the number of repositories in use with an eye toward integrating as many business processes as possible around one "primary" information store.

Since content migration is frequently difficult or prohibitively expensive, the best opportunity for making actual progress on this front is for organizations to standardize on one ideal repository moving forward. When this is not possible, the goal should be to minimize and reduce the number of content repositories for all business applications moving forward. Using application integration frameworks and connectors, this new go-forward repository must be leveraged within the context of as many business processes as possible – which means that finding the right information management system that aligns with your overall business strategy should be one of the leading selection criteria.

Stopping the creation of new information silos is job one. Then over time, business processes and applications can be updated to take advantage of this new repository and legacy systems can be put into maintenance mode where older information is still accessible but no new content is being added. This takes time, proper planning, and a firm hand at the wheel that helps minimize distractions created by the latest shiny new technology in order to drive information management costs down over time.  If you can spare 30 minutes or so, I recommend you take a look at a webcast we did here at Oracle about ways to think about consolidation and the rationale (cost savings!!) for doing so.  Click here to register and watch it immediately.

You can read the rest of our conversation on the AIIM blog, here: http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/ECM-One-Repository-and-the-Key-Role-of-Classification. As always, we welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas and feedback here on the WebCenter blog.  If I don't hear from you here, I hope to see you at the AIIM Conference in New Orleans next month!


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Oracle WebCenter is the center of engagement for business—powering exceptional experiences for customers, partners, and employees. It connects people, process, and information with the most complete portfolio of portal, Web experience management, content, imaging and collaboration technologies.

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