Information management industry faces identity crisis

After the recent launch of another professional association, some observers say the enterprise information management industry has reached a point of identity crisis.

While the enterprise information management industry has no dearth of professional associations devoted to EIM,...

there are still voids that practitioners feel palpably.

Education beyond the basics, advanced networking and tools that help make information management projects run more smoothly are missing. These gaps make networking with knowledgeable peers even more important, but it can be difficult to find the right people with whom to connect.

Associations are supposed to help industries fill these voids, but it often seems as though belonging to an industry association is not a necessity. The information profession is trying to define its identity. Professionals are looking for the place to belong and thrive.

Despite the existence of the Information Governance Initiative (IGI), the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) and ARMA International, the Information Coalition (IC) was founded last month, partly in response to these voids. Launched by the creators of InfoGovCon, IC seems to be staking out a broad territory to include people from across the information management industry. When you consider that the IGI has been around for only two years, you have to wonder what is happening.

Considering the long history of AIIM and ARMA in information management and governance, it is clear that the community at large feels its needs are not currently being met by the existing associations. What does the entry of these new players mean?

ARMA, steady as it goes

ARMA doesn't need much discussion here. It has a vital role in the records management industry and a strong chapter program that should be the envy of the other associations. What it doesn't have is a broad vision for the future.

ARMA's leadership knows it must expand into information governance and the broader space, but ARMA seems to consistently hold back. Outside the ARMA membership, the perception is the organization is still out of step with modernity and still too heavily focused on records management. Altering that perception will take some revolutionary work -- work that is not historically associated with ARMA.

AIIM: Disconnected from its members

AIIM was originally an association focused on microfilm and the tasks of document capture. Its very existence today is a testament to its ability to evolve and modernize. If you judge by the organization's conference keynotes, it's emphasizing the forward-looking trends by focusing on digital transformation. It all looks good on paper, but enterprise information management industry observers know there's something missing

Then, in December, AIIM killed its Certified Information Professional certification. A week later, after a wave of protests across social media, the CIP was revived. There is an updated test outline in draft, but it is more narrowly scoped than the original CIP. These changes may reduce the scope of the CIP to an enterprise content management certification, which, in turn, reduces the scope of AIIM's appeal in the industry.

On top of that, last month, John Mancini, longtime leader of AIIM, moved into a new role and stepped down as president. This leaves AIIM casting around for new leadership, while Mancini builds a consulting practice based on improving content marketing. Does this role for AIIM pose direct competition with some of the players in the space? Time will tell, but it has raised eyebrows about AIIM's focus.

[AIIM] remains disconnected from information practitioners and is seemingly unaware of what it can do to help.

The new president of AIIM will have a big job that won't be made easier with the last president hanging around. The CIP fiasco demonstrates that AIIM is out of touch with its membership. The normal avenue for keeping in touch with members, or chapters, is AIIM's weakest component. Most of AIIM's chapters are weak, and none receive much help from headquarters. A recent Washington, D.C., AIIM chapter meeting attracted only 15 people, despite being a city full of information professionals.

Chapters help turn an industry into a community, so it's an area that AIIM's central leadership should think about. AIIM seems to focus primarily on building community at its annual conference, however. If it wants to build a true community, the new president will have to focus on building a stronger membership base that is active at the local level. Then, AIIM might be able to learn what its members want from their association.

AIIM didn't solve its problems when the CIP was restored. The organization remains disconnected from information practitioners and is seemingly unaware of what it can do to help. As an association, it should serve its members. Its failure to do so can be measured in the new associations popping up.

The IGI, the thinkers

Without going into detail on the Information Governance Initiative, it seems focused on information governance, rather than management of enterprise information. It is unclear how broadly IGI plans to expand its scope. The group acts like a think tank, which is admirable until you consider that both AIIM and ARMA do research. Apparently, that research is missing something.

IGI does not appear to want to become the dominant information association for professionals. That is likely why we now have a fourth player emerging in EIM and governance.

The IC, the new show in town

When the Information Coalition launched, I was interested. While it didn't have a lot of content, compared with the others, smart people are in charge. I strongly considered joining. Then, I saw the coalition's pricing.

Joining the IC is not cheap, even if you take advantage of discounts offered. For the price, the IC will have to really deliver. The peer groups, which will review information management real-life scenarios and brainstorm how to fix them, are promising -- and the reason for the steep price tag. Only time will tell if they are effective. The IC shows lots of promise, but it will also have to overcome a lot of challenges.

Now what?

In reality, it comes down to AIIM or the IC. AIIM has brand recognition that extends beyond the community. Everyone who has dabbled in the space knows AIIM. There is a large member population hungry for a complete association that can offer value beyond its first few years in the profession.

AIIM has been part of my career for a long time. I was even the organization's CIO. AIIM can offer resources to information professionals, and I want it to succeed. AIIM's success would be better for my career, and the careers of friends and colleagues. But AIIM just needs to start listening to members, and not just when everyone is angry enough to rise up to protest.

As for the IC, it has a solid goal and a solid direction, but it's new. Can it continue to build on past successes? Will it be worth the price of admission? There is a lot to figure out. Right now, I'm playing a wait-and-see game, while rooting for the coalition. We need it to disrupt the current information association space.

There is a need for an effective association in the enterprise information management industry. In today's tight association world, there will not be enough member support to keep four associations going. There will be some losers here.

We need one of them to lead and represent us, because our industry is simply too chaotic.

The winner will be the one who listens, builds a true sense of community for its members and delivers on their promises.

And if none can deliver, it is the information professional who will lose.

Next Steps

Opinion: An overhaul of the records management role is needed

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What's the state of the EIM industry, in your view?
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The crisis you describe, is visible for some years. And the traditional associations missed the bus as well some years ago. My idea, merge AIIM with ARMA, set new goals, define a new scope, and provide guidance to information professionals and newcomers. We are 100% dependent on the availability, the quality, the correctness, the accessibility of electronic information. Information MANAGEMENT has become a question of survival for our businesses, our society, our culture. There are gigantic tasks ahead and we need more than a "brush over" or new interest groups dividing the strength we all will need. Information Management is essential and we need to teach people about it.
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There actually a LOT more associations than 4 who claim to be the information management professionals association. Some are specific to a type, form, or state of information (records, knowledge, data, content, web, marketing, etc.) while some are focused on supporting topics (security, privacy, accessibility, governance, quality, etc.). Still other associations focus on industry sectors and verticals (healthcare, energy, education, legal, government, etc.). What I would love to see from AIIM is to move even more toward being a "meta" association that will openly partner directly with relevant associations specific to types, topics, and verticals WITHOUT being absorbed by any of them.

Information management is too big an industry for one association. But we definitely need a strong association to be our industries "PMI". I am working from within AIIM as a member at the local and association
level as I can—I believe that is the real way to effect change. I also write, and will continue to share my thoughts in the public discourse.
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