To Those Who Fall in the Middle

By Marc Solomon posted 09-23-2014 10:33


Depending on where you stand on information systems, the middle is: (a) where the action happens, or (b) where the flab accumulates. It's a rare manager who can tell them apart and an extraordinary one who understands how one scenario bleeds into the next. In ECM deployments the middle typically means the intersection between storing, distributing, and producing useful information, preferably the stuff you cash in on to justify the rationale for running ECMs.

Technology is a restless force of container-resistant disruptions and displacements. And that's before it's even had its breakfast. It only recognizes middles as the unnecessary distance between two direction points -- an invitation for a work-around.

In the case of many an ECM manager those two points represent the "business" and "IT." We're not techie enough to be the short order chefs in coded responses to customization requests. We're not OCD enough to patrol the firewalls without sliding into a coma. Yet we're positively geeky to the ears of the business when they ask us what those ECMs will do for them. Here are three common flash-points that indicate where the deployment roadmap occupies the middle ... or its road kill. 

1) Ambition Fatigue: It's part of that middle group to rally behind these wish lists and piece together the out-of-the-box approach for meeting the business in their corner -- not halfway between an uninformed set of static guidelines and a hyperactive prototype. While going to bat for the business sounds like the sensible and prudent move, it can backfire in the form of over-promising on features and functions while under-estimating the commitment to realize them. This risk runs especially high when IT is ultimately responsible for the on-premises master key; turning one functionality on at the expense of another. I call this ambition fatigue. It sets in when the ECM project lead is five steps ahead of their IT colleagues who are still on hold with the Microsoft help desk, trying to work through persistent development server issues.

2) Consensus Withdrawal: UI Expert Maria Espino poses the following false choice confronted by many a SharePoint PMO ("Project Management Office"): (1) an IT approved system prefaced on the gut checks of a handful of programmers and project leaders, or, (2) an architecture that responds to user needs that might take more inputs and iterations but is well worth the extra dialoging. To those competing approaches I'll add a third scenario for ECM managers -- the tricky business of moving the deployment requirements from whimsical notions ... to whiteboard doodles ... to actual testing. Seth Maislin, an information architect with Earley & Associates captures this well in his call for advance prototyping of intranet test builds (See "Snip, Snip ... The Art of Prototyping").

3) Sense-making Analyst: Perhaps the most potential for executive perceptions of a flabby middle in the deployment ranks comes from the simple fact that most corporate content systems are not transaction-based. They are composed of irregular content models, inconsistent formats, and spotty, at best, tagging practices -- in short we are dealing with the stuff that neither the business nor IT wants to touch unless (and this is a big UNLESS...) us ECMs in the middle are given the green light to structure it. That means getting down in the weeds with taxonomy and search to disambiguate the jargon, pet phrases, and pecking orders that constitute how our users search ... if not how our producers tag their content.

For many of us, including Shelley Norton of Boston Children's Hospital this is where the real action ought to be. But that is not a winning assertion in most organizations. Unlike UI designs, topologies, and navigation schemes, the notion that resources should be dedicated to the sense-making of unstructured data sets is hardly a given. Call it Google conditioning or too many blandly-worded tag clouds. According to a recent AIIM survey, the highest agreement on any single search and findability issue is this: Suboptimal metadata and search design are likelier to inspire the call for automation than for any measured success through a human-mediated approach to ECM-based searches.


ECM managers cannot afford to sit in the passenger seat of their deployment process. We need to be assiduous both in terms of leading the rally for better systems but also quantifying the specific requirements and the benefits of their eventual adoption. We should ally with 3rd party tools designed to relate, describe, and rank the content we're in line to structure. This is not just a blip on the map but an impending priority in a world where 6 in 10 information managers are resigned to content technologies as the principle organizer of intranet searches. Finally ECMs must not only think outside the on-premises box but work there -- both in terms of prototyping user requirements in Open Source solutions as well as cloud-based SaaS models like Google Cloud and Office 365. Only then can the final arbiter be the reality of the mock-up and not the fault of an unsupportable vision.


#Search #governance #TaxonomyandMetadata #SharePoint #deployment #Content Analytics #culture #metrics #EnterpriseContentManagement #successfactors #rolesandresponsibilities