Occupy IT: John Mancini Peers Behind the Fire Curtain

By Marc Solomon posted 06-14-2012 08:12


John Mancini is the CEO of AIIM. But I've come to regard him as a one man reality check -- someone who deals in the day-to-day operational slog of a trade group with the big picture capacity to: (1) connect dots and, (2) repackage them into a closing argument. His proposition? Surrender a little "steady state" control for a ton of "future state" payback.

A couple of weeks ago John released his latest polemic. Occupy IT is a no-nonsense view of a lethargic status quo, a restless horizon, and the unvarnished view that between these two extremes, that something's gotta give.

Head in the Cloud

Resistance to change is the only force strong enough to counter the leaps ahead that Mancini foresees. But it's the cloud where this argument goes moot. It's where such intractable problems as governance, relevance, and findability are surrendered to an algorithm (just like on the consumer side). We don't have to reinvent faster, better, cheaper mousetraps. We don't need information professionals to tend to these organizational knowledge gardens. Let the market decide. Let the network sort things out. Based on the diminishing ROIs in our technology portfolios, it's not a core or even peripheral competency. 

Life as a consumer is liberating because there's a market for our curiosity whether we’re browsing or buying. In fact there's an entire checkout counter around it called social and search media. This is no great mystery because free information results in staggering profits for the owners. The burdens of ownership fall away when friendships and word choices become propertied to a third party. Behind the fire curtain of multiple logins, the situation is reversed. It's the costs that keep climbing.

Behind the Fire Curtain

One of the mundane and yet colossal ironies of enterprise content is that the people in charge of safeguarding and maintaining it don't know what it means. They don't really want to be saddled with that responsibility. That's not their job. The problem is that the sense-makers lean on the technologists to render formats, reinforce firewalls, and allow systems to talk with one another.

Mancini refers to these one-way conversations as "the great Systems of Record." There is no more expansion to embrace, just more maintenance to undergo. Revisiting a world of promise and opportunity requires that IT serve as more than virtual facility managers and security guards on router patrols. Mancini calls these "Systems of Engagement." That's the outcome of cheap bandwidth, GPS, and the need for real-time connections without the drain of travel and inertia of passwords to walled-off gardens. To Mancini it's no longer about "monolithic proprietary systems that cost a lot of money." It's a world of corporate applications comfortably situated on personal devices. We have knowledge in our pockets. The winds of change, at our backs.

It's a world freed up from the grip of a centrally managed hierarchy. Line managers no longer wait breathlessly for topdown commands from the brass. It rallies around possibilities and sees the risk-obsessed world of the early 21st century as a reactive and constipated morass of borderless turf battles. Our leaders insist on reducing uncertainties. But are they more intent on scoring points than scaling solutions? What they really prefer is to be cycling through more of the same. The only new twist here is to reap rewards on the same scale for resisting change as our forebears were once for welcoming it.  In these legacy systems we see below the platitudes of mediocre innovation. And we wonder: just how will these Systems of Engagement get us moving again?

Kicking and Screaming

Mancini exhorts corporate technologists to move beyond a sluggish tolerance for a risk-averse status quo as he rifles through the five tenets of his manifesto:

* Commit to the cloud

* Mobilize everything

* Make the business social

* Digitize anything that moves

* Prepare for extreme information management (“IM”)

In every instance there's a market research survey to suggest that the direction of the market is heading for the sky as quickly as IT homebodies are heading for the exits. My favorite IM extremity in the final edict is the tendency for leadership, IT, and information professionals to punt on the question of quality -- specifically, what to keep?

"The reality in most organizations is that traditional approaches to information governance are a joke, and it’s not for lack of effort. It was never realistic to assume that knowledge workers would assist in manually classifying documents according to a complex records retention schedule, and it is equally unrealistic to assume that we will manage the fire hose of data and unstructured ephemeral social content with the same degree of records rigor that we applied to retaining a life insurance policy for the life of the policy holder."

That promises-made-to-promises-kept ratio plays out in the what-do-do-next scenarios. That's where enterprise policies speak to records retention, social media, and information management strategies. And when they're done talking, they are widely adopted and intermittently practiced.

The new savior is big data. Yes, the mother IT ship is sitting on its own internal stockpile. All it takes is the ability to leverage it through analytics and creative problem-solving. This is a radically different problem set than tagging assets and tweaking search results. That's because the queries are not document-based but business-focused with the value proposition flat out there in the pursuit of the outcome:

* Modeling risk and failure prediction

* Analyzing customer churn

* Web recommendations to consumers

* Web and ad targeting (search optimization)

* Point of sale transaction analysis

* Threat analysis

* Regulatory compliance

The new math is not about search results or the intrinsic value of an isolated document or webpage. In a world of systems of engagement, document retrieval is the new dead tree industry. It's about aggregated business results and the drivers that produce them. It's these business intelligence-based search applications that are now clearly aimed at service optimization, asset management, pattern detection and compliance monitoring. The BI equation is nothing new. It's setting analytics loose on the cascading exabytes of unstructured information that's the killer app in the quiver of big data.

Closing Argument

Mancini concludes his manifesto with an organizational pitch to professionalize the ranks of information professionals. Those change agents with enough geek factor to be dangerous and enough analytical chops to channel and harvest these new capacities in  Engagement System scenarios that would otherwise escape IT and the business. Certainly there's an upside for AIIM when it comes to certifying the sense-makers. I'm not a betting man. But from my own self-interested speck in this engulfing galaxy of meta content, I trust the man is right.

#systemsofengagement #training #innovation #Certification #AIIM #corporateIT #InformationGovernance #analytics
1 comment


06-27-2012 08:49

An interesting book. I don't see most in business understanding the changes coming. John does a good job and it's a quick read.
For further evidence of the things going on in the cloud, check out the Zach Nelson of Netsuite's keynote address at their user conference. If we in IT don't offer these capabilities our customers will get them elsewhere.