Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The (Hopeful) State of Information Management

To Hope: Look with expectation and desire (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Information management (IM) is at a hopeful state. And just in time. Finally, enterprise document management systems are getting sophisticated enough to support the emergent systems of information classification and information metadata. With that hopeful, emergent development, information management will bring enough structure to unstructured information so that it can be managed.

Information management is a fundamental support to knowledge management. Most organizations find that organized enterprise information is as essential as a library is to a university. In the early days of knowledge management, there was a rush by software companies to proclaim that their e-filing systems could be leveraged into knowledge libraries. Unfortunately, in the early days, most of the software companies and many early knowledge management gurus journeyed into the information jungle without ..... librarians.

Librarians and libraries get no respect. Witness the page ripping from priceless historical documents and the upending of book racks in the movie "Angels and Demons". Bad, bad Robert Langdon. But with names like the Dewey Decimal Classification system, it's no surprise that eyes glaze over when information classification is discussed.

Nor do records managers get respect. There was a time when nobody touched the business and working files of an organization except administrative assistants who were trained in the arcane rules of records management. Staff or managers who had the audacity file their own files were taught through the dreaded "the file the manager put away and never could be found again" experience. But when personal computers arrived on staffs' desktops, administrative assistants were downsized and information chaos arrived unfettered. Every new information sharing technology
(e-mail, instant messaging, websites, blogs and wikis) came without information organizing rules and tools .

To cope, businesses created information duplication, which became mislabeled "information overload". Information storage was cheap. Search engines promised easy retrieval.

Librarians and records managers became Cassandras, warning of apocalyptic melt-down. Pick your poison: system crash, e-Discovery, information security breaches. Only on business critical information (websites, legal documents, executive correspondence and advice to executives) did the organization make any effort to manage the information. But that happened behind the scenes and usually with the bare minimum of staff training.

So, of course, knowledge libraries failed.

And of course, the real message of early knowledge management got lost. There is critical information, how to do work and business intelligence, that all in the organization needs to be able post, find and discuss. Today, we expect to find this information on the business' intranet portal.

The hopeful state is the emergence of generic and now practical metadata standards. Metadata is data about data. Much of this experience is coming from the web content management systems. Metadata is necessary in web content management because content owners (authors) need to be reminded when their articles becomes stale and need revision or removal. Metadata is needed for the publishing process (and it can help in findability, mashups and value adding information).

Information classification systems for corporate business processes are now reaching the generic state. My last project before leaving the Government of Alberta was to look at an information classification system for corporate processes. The revelation, slowly being digested particularly by the records management community, is that if you want staff to take ownership of their information, you have to approach it from their perspective of corporate and business processes.

In "functional classification" taxonomy, the word "function" is (nearly) a synonym for "business process". With that revelation, the reasons for a enterprise content management system start to make sense. There are business processes. Map the business process; define where information comes into and out of the business process; build the information classification system and the enterprise content management software to support the business process. So focusing on corporate support services processes (human resources, finance, IT, IM and yes, knowledge management) has led the Government of Alberta to a generic information classification system. It's about 80% of the way there.

In the words of Gerard Vaillancourt, Acting Director for Information Management, Alberta Agriculture, "This is found knowledge. We can take this as tablets of stone and not reinvent the wheel". So the hard work of Teresa Richey, Director of Information Management, Alberta Employment and Immigration, the training and promotional skills of Karina Guy, g2 Management Consulting and the Service Alberta IM crew have gotten information management to the hopeful state.

Of course, you could take this as a promotion for the ARMA National conference next week (May 31 to June 3) in Edmonton. You will find some of the historical issues of information management on the agenda but you also find a hands-on session process mapping. See the detailed program.

Finally after a decade, the promise that led Tom Davenport to collaborate with Larry Prusak on "Working Knowledge" is within sight. Davenport's field is business process management. The alignment of information management software and information architecture to support business processes is getting near. It will finally make knowledge libraries and the corporate intranet provide the support for
business intelligence and how to do work that Davenport anticipated.

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