Strategic Planning for Human Memory Machines

By Marc Solomon posted 04-21-2011 21:37


One of the things that separate information managers from IT folks is that IMers can't tell their left from their right. We don't write code. We decode. We don't wire offices. We observe how the folks in those settings are wired. We make a clear distinction between the network hardware that bridge our ECMs and the mental wiring of its less technical denizens.

We're not about information. We're about what people do with it. We're constantly looking downstream at how performance and access plays out in terms of assembling proposals, tweaking presentations, and analyzing data sets. Since IT utilization is not even a common goal, let alone an agreed upon metric -- it's up to the information manager to know:

  1. Where the bones are buried
  2. How they're meant to fit together, and
  3. Where to systemically liberate them from the moribund silos where 'dem bones are left to breech
In short -- human memory machines that trick the technology into serving the people it's supposed to help -- not the programmers limited by their programs. In that spirit I returned to a symposium I led around the time of the last financial meltdown -- back before the watchwords of innovation and web 2.0 were replaced by the spook factor of  four letter words like c-o-s-t and r-i-s-k. I'm pleased to report that common sense has a longer shelf-life than SharePoint or Documentum or Interwoven or BEA (in any vintage edition).
This week's breakout session is on ECM systems and implementations unpacked in three agendas: external lessons, barriers to success, and, the critical success factor bare none: information quality. 
1. External lessons: Trapping the best of the public web within our own firewalls
Searching by nature was once for introverts. No more. Conversations between your consulting staff and the databases they converse with are no longer "telepathic" affairs. Consulting firms are now connecting search outcomes to a richer web experience of social networks, web services, and the evaluative merits of blogs and WIKIs? More importantly a huge shake-out looms between the knowledge-seeking habits of your new Google-educated recruits and the how they would engage with the internal resources in your KM system.
Key Questions: 
  • BEYOND GOOGLE: What have we learned from Internet companies and Web 2.0 tools and technologies to make our own information resources more conducive to finding, evaluating, and enhancing?
  • SELF-SERVICE: Can you apply the self-service model of building your own web-based identity to the costly process of standardizing and maintaining staff profiles?
  • TAGGING: Have you considered more organic ways of organizing information such as free-form labeling than a more traditional categorization scheme?
  • SEARCH FACETS: Do you expose your key metadata to your users so they can see the connectedness between search results and related topics or overlapping patterns revealed in your project work and case summaries?
2. Barriers to success: Challenges in design and implementation
Knowledge management efforts are often sandbagged based in part on their initial justification. A long-term mission or strategic commitment is not always a given. Some companies view ECM systems as standalone where only the technology needs to be plugged in -- not the people. KM is not about fusing together past experience with breakthrough thinking. It's a least common denominator approach: everything you need is here ... somewhere. This largely technical assessment is rooted in the belief that the latest KM supplier bells and whistles can bypass the more fundamental need to get the content right prior to deployment.
Key Questions: 
  • ADOPTION HURDLES: Have the implementation basics been oversold by ECM consultants and vendors? What are the technical glitches and often "hidden gotchas" that discourage your consultant staff from contributing to the firm's knowledge base?
  • RATE OF CHANGE: Is it ever justified to bypass the incremental "baby steps" for the "big bang" approach to system building? What can you reasonably expect to automate without cross-unit coordination or user intervention? In terms of "handling the basics" what's the hardest core requirment to master?
  • MISSION CREEP: What are the telltale signs that the system is taking on more complexity than it (and your users) can handle? 
  • PARTICIPATION LEVEL: How does the time and focus of your userbase factor (if at all) into the long-term sustainability of your ECM system?
3. Information quality: Making content useful
Spot on responses to searches ultimately require answers -- not documents. All ECM initiatives must capture and codify the most useful and insightful knowledge and experience. But what about the experience that lives beyond the document level? Every time a client organization's blue print needs redressing a large document count or a high relevance score is not the answer. In the heads of your domain leaders lies the frameworks, time-honored diagnostics, and instant recall of comparable results from former surveys and benchmarks. Can past efforts be KM "activated" without rummaging through piles of slides and proposals? 
Key Questions: 
  • ARCHITECTURE: What is the state of your information architecture? Has search become more intuitive? Are there browsable categories that add context and meaning to your staff's knowledge-seeking aims? What dormant assets are waiting to be exposed by changes to your site architecture?
  • SEARCH: What do your search logs tell you about content quality: (1) Are your users embracing your system? (2) Are they discovering ways to be more selective and discriminating searchers? (3) Are they getting what they want more quicky from the system without needing to review past the first set of search results?
  • METADATA: How do you reinforce your metadata structure in your site architecture? How do you spot check bad or missing metadata tags? How do you isolate and purge redundant and overlapping categories of information?
  • NAVIGATION: What kind of guided navigation do you have in place? Are there best bets? Taxonomies of use? Domain experts who endorse premium content? Searchable topics organized by popularity? Are differing approaches to those subjects considered in addressing the needs of internal groups serviced by the same content pool?

There is no best-in-class scorecard to approximate how you rate compared to your collegial ECMers. Rest assured, your shop is ahead of the curve if these questions are even being raised, let alone addressed. You are pulling your weight towards your users -- thanks to those memorable machine parts.

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