Holistic Information Management

  • 17-Mar-2010

Whilst recently working on a change management initiative for one of our multinational clients, I had a bit of an "aha!" moment.  I was in the midst of explaining to the assembled team members how their future information management system would differ, both quantitatively and qualitatively, from the one they use today.

Now, this team understood the technicalities of document and records management just as well as I did. My “aha!” moment came when I suddenly realized that not one of them had ever actually managed information for a living. Not one of them had ever been in the position of an end user, sitting there day in and out trying to manage, or even frequently access business-critical information.  

Fortunately during the same engagement I was able to speak to a wide range of actual end users of the current system, and quickly realized that they they in turn, had no concept at all of such concepts as “check in/check out”, or “a single source of truth.”  But they did know an awful lot about how to manage information; in some cases they knew a lot about how to manage information really badly.

In this project, we were able to actually bring both sides around the same table (figuratively and literally), and facilitated the conversation so that each began to understand the others' frustrations and hopes.  Both sides learned a great deal, and though peace was not brought to this particularly fractious environment, they took some great steps toward avoiding all-out war.  

I say it all too often, but it has never been truer: regardless of whether you buy a full ECM Suite from the likes of EMC or IBM, buy document and records management solutions from HP, Objective, or Laserfiche, or even opt for the SharePoint route, you will fix precisely nothing with the technology itself.  Change comes from understanding and adroitly changing the underlying business requirements and structures, along with both current and future business processes.  

With a little bit of our help this organization did just that, and though various technical and organizational teams contributed, the most important work they did was to attempt to understand their information management problems holistically. 

They took the brave and liberating position that:

  • I can only see the world through my own eyes
  • So, please tell me how you see the world
  • Together we might see something very special indeed

Ultimately they embarked on one of the most successful information management projects I have witnessed in many years. For even though the project is ongoing, the initial changes have achieved more than most projects could dream of.  The only sad part to this tale is that the old document management system they had previously used and had come to despise was never a part of the problem.  The shiny new (and very expensive system) eventually was not really a technical improvement -- it just started getting used properly.

If there are lessons to be learned and shared here they are no more than:

  • Ensure both the business and the technical team are equally engaged in any document management project.
  • Pay special attention to the needs, views and insights of those who will use the system every day -- proxy representatives of the business may not be one and the same
  • If you have an information management problem, start from the assumption that it is due to bad information management practices, not technology
  • If you need a helping hand, think of us here a the Real Story Group ;-)

So in summary, let me remind you of what some very clever Swedes once said...."knowing me, knowing you...aha!"

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