It’s Back to the Future, Not Crossing the Chasm When it Comes to AIIM’s “Systems of Record” and “Systems of Engagement”

Pardon the interruption from the recent Information Lifecycle Governance theme of my postings but I felt the need to comment on this topic.  I even had to break out my flux capacitor for this posting to remind me as I was certain I had seen this before.

Recently at the ARMA Conference and currently in the AIIM Community at large, there is a flood of panels, webinars, blog postings and tweets on a “new” idea from Geoffrey Moore (noted author and futurist) differentiating “Systems of Record” from “Systems of Engagement.” This idea results from a project at AIIM where Geoffrey Moore was hired as a consultant to give the ECM industry a new identity among other things. One of the drivers of the project has been the emergence and impact of social media on ECM. The new viewpoint being advocated is that there is a new and revolutionary wave of spending emerging on “Systems of Engagement” – a wave focused directly on knowledge worker effectiveness and productivity.

Let me start by saying that I am in full agreement with the premise behind the idea that there are separate “Systems of Record” and “Systems of Engagement.” I am also a big fan of Geoffrey Moore. I’ve read most of his books and have drank the Chasm, Bowling Alley, Tornado and Gorilla flavors of his Kool-Aid. In fact, Crossing the Chasm is mandatory reading on my staff.

Most of the work from the AIIM project involving Moore has been forward thinking, logical and on target. However, this particular outcome does not sit well with me. My issue isn’t whether Moore and AIIM are right or wrong (they are right). My issue is that this concept isn’t a new idea. At best, Geoffrey has come up with a clever new label. The concept of “System of Record” is nothing new and a “System of Engagement” is a catchy way of referring to those social media systems that make it easier to create, use, and interact with content.

Here is where AIIM and Moore are missing the point. Social Media is just the most recent, not the first “System of Engagement.” Like those before it, these previous engagement systems were not capable of also being “Systems of Record” … so we need both … we’ve always needed both. It’s been this way for years. Apparently though, we needed a new label as everyone seems to have jumped on the bandwagon except me.

Let me point out some of the other “Systems of Engagement” over the years. For years, we’ve all been using something called Lotus Notes and/or Microsoft Exchange as a primary system to engage with our inner and outer worlds. This engagement format is called email … you may have heard of it. Kidding aside, we use email socially and always have. We use email to engage with others. We use email as a substitute for content management. Ever send an email confirming a lunch date? Ever communicate project details in the body of an email? Ever keep your documents in your email system as attachments so you know where they are? You get the idea. Email is not exactly a newfangled idea and no one can claim these same email systems also serve any legitimate record keeping purpose. There is enough case law and standards to fill a warehouse on that point (pardon the paper pun). More recently, instant messaging has even supplanted email for some of those same purposes especially as a way to quickly engage and collaborate to resolve issues. No one is confused about the purpose of instant messaging systems. It can even be argued that certain structured business systems like SAP are used in the same model when coupled with ECM to manage key business processes such as accounts payable. The point being, you engage in one place and keep records or content in another place. Use the tool best suited to the purpose.

Using technology like email and instant messaging to engage with, collaborate and communicate on content related topics with people is not a new idea. Social media is just the next thing in the same model. On one hand, giving social media and collaboration systems a proper label is a good thing. On the other hand, give me a break … any Records Manager doing electronic records embraced the concept of “record making applications” and “record keeping systems” a long time ago. It’s a long standing proven model for managing information. Let’s call it what it is.

I applaud AIIM and Moore for putting this idea out there but I also think they have both missed the mark. “Systems of Engagement” is a bigger, different and proven idea than how both currently talking about it. Maybe I am Luddite, but this seems to me like this simply a proven idea that got a fresh coat of paint.

As AIIM and Moore use words like “revolution” and “profound implications” in their promotional materials I think I’ll break out my Back to the Future DVD and stay a little more grounded.  Like a beloved old movie, I am still a fan of both Moore and AIIM.  However, I recommend you see this particular movie for yourself and try to separate the hype from the idea itself.  If you do, let me know whether you agree … is this an original idea or a simply a movie sequel?

19 thoughts on “It’s Back to the Future, Not Crossing the Chasm When it Comes to AIIM’s “Systems of Record” and “Systems of Engagement”

  1. I completely agree with your assessment.

    Over 10 years ago I was working with CXO’s of multi-national companies on developing KM strategies that were focused on identifying knowledge experts and connecting workers.

    At one point I’d even designed a system which enabled a system to pro-actively suggest members for communities of practice based on their interactions with ECM repositories (by understanding what you add and view, it’s easy to get a good handle on what you are an expert on).

    All that said, we do know how to do these things better today – so there’s progress at least.

  2. He he, interesting to see us both reacting with similar degree of healthy cynicism to the “new” mantra (see my ). I think however that there is a fundamental shift somewhere, and I do think that it’s worth raising the issue (ignoring the marketing hype behind it). You know how long it’s taken us to educate the market on the need to apply governance control over emails. In today’s hybrid environment these controls are becoming laughable when I can send you a private (business) message on facebook, as a DM on twitter or even on MSN, bypassing any kind of corporate policy & control. So “Systems of Engagement” are not new, but their proliferation is. And perhaps more importantly, so is the blurring of the lines between inter- and intra- networking across the firewall… So I think that we should be inevitably looking towards new governance frameworks that encompass and embrace these systems, way beyond just email, if we are to realistically promote any kind of “information compliance and governance”. G.

  3. Craig,
    Hi. I really liked your post. It seems like the ECM camp and BPM camp are starting to think about tools for knowledge workers in a similar way – though the terminology is different.

    It seem to me that that the ECM “system of engagement” idea is similar to the process management “adaptive case management” (ACM) idea – and have profound implications for the combining of document, collaboration and process technologies.

    Anyone interested can take a look at my presentation on the future of ACM –

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

    1. Thanks Jacob. I agree with your comments here and agree that ACM is another form of the “System of Enagement” model … a process centric engagement model of course but same notion. We ususally refer to it as Advanced Case Mangement at IBM … a strategy that unifies information, processes and people to provide a 360-degree view of the case.

  4. Enjoyed this post immensely, Craig. In general, I think you’re on target. I agree that “systems of engagement” aren’t new, however, like you, I do think Moore and AIIM have done a service with the branding of it. It is a far easier concept for users and management to understand than “knowledge management”, or even wikis. Engagement – yeah, I get that. We’re at the point in the profession that we are looking for ways to reach audiences beyond the choir, and I think this will help.

    And to contrast the concept against “systems of record” is fine too, however like George commented, I think the point isn’t to just identify them as separate and leave it there. The point is to now take what we know about the models we’ve lived through and come up with something new – methodology, technology, strategy – that helps us better connect the two in meaningful ways. (side note: isn’t that what Microsoft was/is trying to do with SharePoint …?)

    I will be watching AIIM’s continued development of the concept and see where they take it. Knowing the person they have installed as Director, Systems of Engagement very well, I have a suspiscion that we’ll see the lines begin to move toward intersection as he has a strong foundation on the “systems of record” side.


  5. I found the use of the phrases “clever new label” and “fresh coat of paint” interesting.

    This seems to be what AIIM has excelled at over the years- go back and look at how they regularly re-brand themselves attempting to gain market significance and leverage themselves into the Records Management environment. It’s also not unlike what SNIA did with ILM, right? =)

    Moore always provides an interesting listen, as do others, but you have to think critically about the message. Simply because there are technologies designed for the capture and management of records and other technologies designed primarily as tools for collaboration and interface doesn’t exclude those from being subject to producing content meeting an organization’s definition of a record requiring capture and management.

    The line is still blurry- wherever content is created/generated a decision has to be made as to it’s value as an asset to the organization (call it a record, information, an object, whatever)to determine the need to manage it and for how long.

  6. Interesting post, Craig, and thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    The key points for me, and why I think the distinction between systems of record and systems of engagement are important are…

    1. The magnitude of what is occurring in the social space is a fundamental inflection point that is creating discontinuities in the market. 500 million+ Facebook-savvy users take what they experience in the personal computing space and then come into our organizations and wonder why our e-mail centric collaboration are systems are so lame.
    2. Clearly social-centric systems, using Moore terms, are at a very different maturity point than ECM systems. They feel like content and document management did 15-20 years ago.
    3. That doesn’t mean ECM is not a happening place. The place to make money in the Moore world is post chasm in the majority phase. That’s where ECM is. Systems of Records and ECM are largely a post-chasm markets characterized by: 1) lots of money to be made; 2) lots of solution-specific VAR opportunity; 3) dominant buyer is IT; 4) platform-based decision-making; 5) IT decision-maker dominant; 6) ROI key decision criteria.
    4. The world of Systems of Engagement (Social Business Systems) is largely a pre-chasm market characterized by: 1) most of the money is in the future; 2) buyers need for use cases, not ROI; 3) buyer is the business, not IT; 4) buyer seeking to leapfrog competitors, not marginally improve.
    5. The key challenge for the next few years is to define how these worlds connect, specifically defining best practices and use cases relative to utilizing social information in a business context.
    6. I am convinced that the avalanche of content and its increasing informality and the demands of the business will require changes in the way we think about the control/usability continuum. We cannot approach the revolution that is coming solely from the perspective of our old control centric world, or we will be dismissed out of hand.

    Great blog, by the way. I’m a big admirer.

  7. I agree. 🙂

    Seriously, I think most of the points raised are valid. No, SOE isn’t new per se – many of the tools have been around for more than a decade and of course all of them can trace roots back to earlier systems of engagement (viz. email, BBSs, etc.). Where at least part of the difference is for me is in the scale. Most organizations cannot manage email using the same techniques as they use to manage paper records because of the volume involved among other issues. Similarly, the current crop of commercial tools have already become the dominant source of both content and traffic on the Internet today and the rate of growth continues to increase both in the number of users and in the types of content available.

    And of course it’s all discoverable. Larry is correct that SOE may have to be produced and could rise to the level of a record. But John and George are also correct that command and control are exceedingly difficult to apply in the age of well-documented public APIs and smart phones.

    Here’s the thing: users are smart and the tools are simple, making it easier than ever before to “route around” bottlenecks, whether they are technological or process-oriented. Employees will treat rigid compliance mandates and prohibitions with the same skepticism they show with many enterprise software applications – only more of them will do it more frequently.

    So I think the challenge for us is to figure out ways to manage this stuff without beating users over the head with ineffectual policies. I share Julie’s hope that whoever this guy is who just joined AIIM can figure it out – good thing he doesn’t have to do it on his own. 😉

  8. Great posts Julie, Larry, John and Jesse. I love the discussion going here and the different points of view. I find myself wondering (as we engage over content) whether this sort of a discussion could have happened without social media. The answer of course is no.

  9. Good Luck Jesse – this is going to be a fun ride 🙂

    You triggered another thought: As the Systems of Engagement (aka Social Media) market is maturing I can see that the distinction between E2.0 and Web2.0 platforms will shift from “in/out” of the firewall to “have/not have” sufficient governance controls to be used for real business. In other words “Systems of Record for Systems of Engagement” 🙂

  10. Craig,

    Interesting discussion thread. Great contributions from everyone. I’m OK with these two categories whether they are re-hashes of old ideas or not. But it seems to me we need a third category: Systems of Insight.

    I caught Geoffrey Moore’s (vendor sponsored) luncheon presentation at ARMA and a follow up CIO roundtable that he lead for that vendor. In his presentation, he talked about the “Consumerization of Enterprise IT”, the “Consumerization of B2B” and the coming “Revolution” because of the ability to “Scale collaborative capabilities through systems engagement”. Moore had a slide on “Records Management’s transformation to Virtual Experts, Collaborative Management” and how this transformation would enable users to see “eye to eye on critical issues.”

    Moore also had a “Systems of Record (SOR)and Systems of Engagement (SOE)” slide the notion being that SOR is the single source of the truth and SOE implies interaction, insight, ideas and nuances. According to Moore, SOEs are communal by nature. Content is immediate and direct, collaborative and live vs. document authored.

    While he touched on analytics, cloud and mobility, neither SOR nor SOE, as Moore appeared to define them, encompasses these three game changing technologies and trends. I imagine, for instance, that in the near future applications for mobile, untethered or laptop devices will allow business users to easily and quickly access and query huge corpora of content contained in private or public clouds and selectively view meaningful content. This will not necessarily be a collaborative or communal activity. It could likely be a very personal experience. It won’t have to be live or immediate. but could be.

    As developers of Natural Language Processing (NLP) solutions and other analytical and semantic tools continue to push the envelop to make it easier for users to experience self-guided and controlled content analytics and the business cases become clearer, Systems of Insight will be become ubiquitous. They will become a natural extension of what is already largely possible with monolithic analytics systems today.


    1. Gary raises an interesting issue. If “Systems of Record” are considered to be the authoritative source of information truth then they must also preserve the full context of the information usage or have a way to reconstruct it. Take that one step further … where do business analytics fit in? We know people will want to analyze social media behavior within the context of the content. Some are even predicting that social media scoring will change our lives (it’s worth reading). Since the data necessary to drive these types of social analytics would be derived from user engagement behavior, where does this new insight and the associated behavioral data live? Does it live in Systems of Record or Systems of Engagement … or a third catagory as Gary suggests? It’s a tricky issue considering only one of the sources is considered “trusted” under this SoE / SoR model. What do you think?

  11. WARNING: The musings that follow are top of mind, partially thought through (I do have a day job) thoughts.

    There is a distinction between SOR and SOE that I’m still contemplating, something I’ll call the difference in information architecture between the two.

    As I look at them, SORs today are roughly the same as they were when first introduced them a couple of millennia ago (think libraries). We have basically been dumping blobs of data in the form of books, pictures, etc. into a structure (Dewey Decimal, anyone?) and try to add more data around them. Most recently the added data have typically been in the form of relational data bases, but I’ve seen other structures such as spatial data bases (e.g., a geographic information system for state highway transportation office that shows all the bridges, or more recently your basic GPS.) The point of the structures and added data (i.e., indicies) has been to facilitate future retrieval and management. And there are examples of where SORs have been very effective in narrow, well defined uses (again, the GPS). But the focus of the SOR is the blobs of data themselves. And we havent’t gotten very far with that model.

    By my view, and I think others’ as well, very little of what most organizations have for information assets reside in the SORs. Up until recently its still been in paper, but I think we’ve seen emerging SOEs in the form of e-mail, or shared drives (what I like the call the “town dump” of corporate computing), or SharePoint (or Documentum, or what ever) sites. The appeal of the SOE moniker for me is that we begin to use it to recognize the _interaction_ itself as more important than the data blob.

    Business is about interactions. Be they insurance claims, ordering the holiday present, or picking the right mutual fund. An SOR orients itself around the data blobs that result (in this case, the claim form, the sales receipt or the trade confirm). Should SOEs orient themselves (or perhaps orient us?) around the interaction? This is a new way of thinking and navigating. Perhaps the e-mail mess is testimony to the fact that it’s in fact the way business _has_ been thinking and that IT, and our community is only now waking up and smelling the roses.

  12. The genius it’s about making complex things appear easy!
    Where I believe you miss the point is that during 10 years the Information Mgt spectrum has expanded so much that it’s today nearly impossible to describe it easily without enumerating tons of acronyms.
    Where I again disagree is by saying it all was there…components were (collaborative vs. Transactional, social media, records, knowledge vs. Document, RIA’s vs. Terminal,…).
    Since you like Mgt. Bibles, you probably read the “Blue Ocean”. Well, Blue Oceans and innovations can come from the market segmentation. The way you look at things is as important as the thing itself.

    So I guess the iPhone and the smartphone explosion is not about innovation: phones were there since Graham Bell, GPS since 20 years, TFT screen and touch screens since at least 15y.
    What’s important here (following me) is that there is an easy way to look and describe IM/ECM. Both SoE’s and SoR’s are needed and deployed partially BUT the real challenge is about :
    – Defining a strategy integrating these both
    – defining a new governance model for Organisations to deploy, above org-charts!
    Solid approach for cross-silo’ed chasm.
    – then technologies are there to support execution of this strategy…nothing more.

    1. Yannis – I am not sure I follow you completely but do agree with your closing points … that every organization should understand the differences and (1) have a strategy for both, (2) have proper governance for both and (3) execution of strategy and enforcement of governance is key to success. Thanks for your comments.

  13. Regardless of what you call them, system of record, egagement, social media, the recurring problem I encounter is getting the ‘knowledge’ and information from one into the other.

    For example, there is a LOT of useful information being exchanged on this ‘system of engagement’ How do you harvest the relevant portions for later use or to share with others? The pPareto principle indicates 80% of the content will come from 20% of the workers. A) that does not mean the other 80% do not know anything, they are not sharing. b) research actually shows the ratio is MUCH worse. 1-2% produce new material, 10% edit existing knowledge and 90% lurk.
    So there is LOTS of untapped knowledge not being stored, but that 90% is likely engaging.

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