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Information chaos makes content management business-critical

Information's volume and velocity could eclipse our ability to manage it. AIIM President John Mancini discusses the information management mandate.

Information management is at a crossroads. While it has matured given increasing digitization and automation, the volume and rate at which businesses are generating enterprise content has created new challenges that information managers are struggling to solve. The traditional tasks of finding, storing and destroying documents are no longer sufficient.

Companies are now moving beyond simply capturing and retaining business-related content to using this information for business process efficiency; collaboration among employees, partners and customers; and deriving business insights. Content no longer serves simply "transactional" goals, but can inform business strategy and decision making.

Layered on top of these new business practices are the technology trends that have made capturing, managing and responsibly destroying this data more complex: cloud computing, mobility, and social and collaboration platforms. Companies now have to wrestle with data in multiple locations, many of which they do not control, as well as new forms of data.

John ManciniJohn Mancini

But a judicious blending of human and technical solutions may help solve these problems, says AIIM President John Mancini, who sat down with SearchContentManagement to discuss the new information management and governance mandate, as well as how some of these themes will manifest in his session, "Information management chaos," at the AIIM 2014 conference in Orlando, Fla., which takes place April 1 to April 3.

What is the state of information management right now?

John Mancini: We're in this weird dichotomy right now. On the one hand, people look out and say, 'There is so much opportunity to be tapped from exploring, mining and analyzing all this digital information that we're accumulating.'

At the same time, we hear from people, 'Information is leaking out of my organization in places we didn't anticipate when we put these systems in. All my file shares are out of control.' No one can find anything. The IT people are turning around and saying, 'Will these crazy business people stop implementing things I don't know about?' And the CEO is turning around and saying, 'Why am I spending so much money on stuff?'

There is this tension between incredible opportunity and the risk that it could degenerate into chaos.

John Mancini,
president, AIIM

The label I'm using is information chaos. There is this tension between incredible opportunity and the risk that it could degenerate into chaos, because the volume, velocity and variety of information is threatening to eclipse people's ability to manage it.

I use management, not IT, because it's more strategic than we've gotten in the past. It's the core management challenge of the next five to 10 years: How do you make sure you're on the opportunity rather than the chaos side of the ledger?

How did we get here?

Mancini: So when you think about what's caused all of this, it's three clusters of disruption:

  1. Consumerization and what that means in terms of radically changing people's expectations of how systems are deployed. How monolithic those applications are. All those things that have bubbled over from the consumer side.
  2. The twin steroids of mobile and cloud. Frees everything from a particular device in a particular place and essentially makes location and device a wild card compared to what it once was. The thing that's interesting for me is that it's not just cloud or mobile; it's the way the two reinforce and amplify each other.
  3. Changing patterns of work. Organizations themselves are struggling with questions like, 'How do I become more Agile, flatter, get rid of some of the rigid organizational hierarchies I've had? How do I get value out of the most expensive asset, which is my people? How do I get them better engaged?'

Those three things have combined to change content management and information governance. They interact and overlap with each other.

What are some of the antidotes to this problem?

People are realizing that [the traditional records management view] is a restricted view in terms of the challenge that lies ahead.

John Mancini,
president, AIIM

Mancini: I see this evolves into four clusters of business problems that people are trying to solve. And the challenge is that content management is the key enabling technology that underlies all four of these problems, but often people don't realize that it's a core piece of their enabling infrastructure. They tend to attack these business problems anecdotally and tactically rather than thinking about the infrastructure that needs to be in place. ECM [enterprise content management] is the core that allows you to do any of these things:

  1. Risk. Accumulation of content creates risk for organizations. Some [are] legal, cost, compliance -- a whole cluster of things that center around risk that is driven by ever-increasing volumes of information.
  2. Process transformation. As systems of engagement with customers become more transparent, that exposes the clunkiness of the back end of my business processes. There is a real imperative to automate those processes as never before, and content is in the middle of that. It's the glue.
  3. Engagement. It can take a lot of forms: WCM, Web engagement and using social systems that have content at their core to engage customers. Another facet is the internal problem. People are waking up to the fact that the old ways of interacting with each other for a generation that has had email at the heart are pretty clunky. Do a reply all and hope for the best. People are changing how they view that through internal systems.
  4. Insight. People are increasingly demanding that they use tech to extract insight from information they are accumulating and accumulated in the past. While ECM and records management were viewed as a static enterprise -- where it's basically, where am I going to put this stuff, how do I find it? Now we're looking at it from more of an analytics perspective. What is all this accumulated stuff telling me about my customers, and can I extract business value by using the information?

Is the current landscape of content management up to this task?

Mancini: People don't wake up in the morning, slap themselves on the head and say, 'Damn, I need some content management.' They usually worry about business problems that content management is critical to helping them solve. One of the challenges is that this space tends to talk in acronyms and too much on the technology side and not enough about the business problems.

There are more flavors of solutions than ever before. People need help in trying to sort through what scale and sort of solution is appropriate to the business problem they're trying to solve. In some cases, you're talking about solutions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Others are tens of thousands. Helping them figure out what's right for them is a big part of what AIIM does. If they want a Ford, they don't end up in a Lamborghini.

Who are the right stakeholders to involve when making these decisions? Who do you envision sitting around the table?

Mancini: There's always been this weird schism between business and IT. One speaks one language and the other speaks another. All these conversations we've had for decades about trying to align with the business, but the challenge now is it's more important that these conversations actually happen.

The consumerization of technology has put enterprise-scale tools into the hands of people who can deploy things without having to involve their IT department, so unless those guys can sit down at the table, [ECM purchases will be doomed to failure].

Would you agree that the scope of information management has broadened beyond traditional records management?

Mancini: Records management historically has been built upon a framework that was an extension of how we managed information in the paper world. The focus was, 'OK, I've got this discrete thing.' In the paper world, I needed to figure out, 'Where do I store it in a place that is secure, that I can find it if I need to, and I can prove that I put it there?'

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That was the framework that we carried over into the world of digital information -- a fundamental paradigm that we were dealing with is, 'What do I need to save? How long do I need to save it?' -- essentially a focus on retention and on a narrow class of all the information that was floating around the organization.

Now, people are realizing that is a restricted view in terms of the challenge that lies ahead, being driven by the velocity and volume and variety of information in which it becomes just as important to figure out what you responsibly get rid of as well as what you have to keep.

That's a whole different way of looking at the world than has been characteristic of records management historically. It extends the boundaries of the kind of information we're talking about. We're not just talking about records in the narrow, definitional sense. Not just contracts, but also the information that flows through the business -- something that accompanies a business process, for example -- all of which is accumulating in huge volumes.

Will businesses get left behind without a way to handle this problem?

Mancini: This is the key strategic challenge for the next five years. Businesses are becoming digital; processes are becoming digital. Your digital capability determines whether you succeed or fail. If you don't keep up, challengers can usurp you much more readily than they ever could before. Information management and governance is at the heart of that competitive ability to survive.

For more, check out SearchContentManagement's coverage of the event. You can also follow the information chaos conversation at #AIIM14 and #infochaos.

Lauren Horwitz is executive editor of SearchContentManagement and SearchCRM. Laura Aberle is the site editor of SearchContentManagement.

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