Are you T-Shaped?

By Jesse Wilkins posted 11-29-2011 11:58


As I have discussed in previous posts, one of the most common questions I get about the  Information Certification is, "Does the Information Certification compete with [insert  credential here]?" This is especially true for three credentials today: the CompTIA CDIA+  certification, the AIIM Certificate Programs, and the Institute for Certified Records  Managers' Certified Records Manager (CRM) certification. Let me address that in another way. 

Every credential competes with every other in the sense that there is only so much money available to buy them, whether it comes out of an individual's own pocket or is paid for or reimbursed by the organization. But the more important point is that each of the three listed above focuses pretty deeply on a relatively narrow body of knowledge: the CDIA+ on document imaging, the AIIM courses on their particular areas such as BPM or ECM; and the CRM on records management. In the IT world it's often even worse because in most organizations of any size there isn't an "IT" role per se - instead it's the network admin, the database admin, the server admins, and so forth that each specialize in their particular areas. Those certifications in turn are even more narrow and specific. 
The problem for people who complete these programs is that they often end up with a very deep and yet narrow understanding of a particular domain. When you are a CDIA+, everything is filtered through the lens of imaging. When you are a CRM, everything looks like a records problem. This is not always the case with all of the recipients, but is often the case for many of them. And it's not the certification that does it - rather, people who are certifiable in a particular discipline tend to focus on all the details and nuances within that discipline both because it's part of their daily job and because that's what certifications tend to focus on. 
What this means is that many of these deep subject matter experts don't have the breadth to consider the ramifications of their processes and decisions on other processes and departments. Business magazines are replete with stories challenging IT to align with business. The theme of "RM and IT: Bridging the Gap" is addressed at every major RM conference and has been for at least a decade - I've presented the topic myself and AIIM wrote a white paper on it in 2005. 
The Information Certification is different by design. It covers 25 separate domains in the areas of information management, including records management, and imaging, and enterprise search, and many others. It does not go into the depth that the CRM, or the CISSP, or the PMP, or any other credentials do because we recognize that organizations already have those people. Instead, it addresses many information management concepts to allow candidates to demonstrate a broader base of understanding, not just of their area, but of how it fits into the overall information management landscape. 
This means that, rather than considering the Information Certification as competitive to all the other programs out there, individuals and organizations should view it as complementary to them. It helps validate individuals as having what HR professionals refer to as "T-shaped skills" - a deep understanding of one or two areas combined with a broader, comprehensive understanding of that piece in the overall puzzle. People who have these skills are in great demand because there are so few of them. I have the privilege to have known a few of them over my career and they are simply invaluable because they can see a particular problem through a RM filter, an IT filter, a business filter, etc. and come to a good conclusion faster than trying to hammer something through a steering committee of SMEs who don't understand their colleagues' points. 
So while there are many roles that could benefit from the Information Certification, I  think that IT and RM practitioners in particular would be well-served by demonstrating their basic understanding of the other areas of the organization - to abuse a well-worn aphorism in records management, break out of the cardboard box. They will still be required to act in their SME capacities, but the Information Certification will help show their organizations that they also understand the rest of the organization's information-heavy processes and how everything fits together. In other words, show your organization that you are "T-Shaped"! 
For more information on the Information Certification, please visit 
Full disclosure: I have received the CompTIA CDIA+, served as a SME for the 2002 update, and taught preparatory workshops for it; I have the ICRM's CRM; and I have extensive background in the AIIM courses including teaching the ERM, ECM, and Email courses since 2006 and leading the development of the Email Certificate Program, the 2009 update to the ERM Certificate Program, and the Social Media Governance Certificate Program currently in development. I also served as the AIIM lead for the development of the Information Certification. 

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