Content at Rest or Content in Motion? Which is Better?

I really wish I’d thought of this concept but I didn’t.  It’s such a simple idea when you think about it … that there are two fundamental types of content … enterprise content at rest and enterprise content in motion.

Content at Rest = Cost / Risk

Enterprise content at rest is sitting around just taking up space.  At rest implies not being accessed … not being used … not doing anything of value.  (Hhhmm … this sounds a lot like my Uncle Leo around the holidays.  I have this mental image of him asleep on my couch one Thanksgiving surrounded by several beer cans.  Sorry for sharing.)  Anyway … when at rest, this content usually includes duplicates and near-duplicates making the problem worse.  Content at rest drives significant and unnecessary costs in the form of storage, power, system administration and more. Worse yet, all this unnecessary content is ruining our search experiences.  We can’t find anything because of all this useless content just hanging around gumming up our search results.  Boy this sounds dumb.  Maybe we should start disposing of some of this stuff?

Content in Motion = Value / Reward

On the other hand, enterprise content in motion is highly valuable and rewarding.  Content that is part of business process or case management enabling better decisions and outcomes … or content that is community and social oriented driving better collaborative experiences and outcomes … or content that is being analyzed to unlock business insight across large amounts of unstructured data.  Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?  Let’s put all that content to work for us! (Reminds me of my Aunt Marge … who never stops cleaning, cooking, running errands taking care of the familiy critical stuff.  How Leo and Marge have stayed married all these years is beyond me).

What To Do

If we’re agreed that’s far more valuable to activate content, then how do we go about it? … and more importantly how do we pay for it?

Today, over 80% of most IT budgets are already allocated to managing existing “stuff” … programs, systems, storage including all that costly content at rest.  With information expected to grow 44 times by 2020,  This is a failure scenario.  IT budgets are flat or declining in most organizations so at current course and speed we’ll increasingly be spending 83%, 88%, 95% and eventually all of our IT budget on managing existing “stuff”.  This leaves very little or no money to invest in new ECM initiatives that drive value … like those that activate content and put content in motion.

And those who say … “but storage is always getting cheaper, so no big deal” should probably stop reading here because you won’t like what is coming next.  Storage may indeed be getting cheaper but the people, power, maintenance, physical space that it requires to work is not.  It’s was a dumb argument yesterday, a ridiculous one today and an untenable one going forward.  Most IT budgets already spend 17% on storage (yikes), which ought to be plenty.

Action Plan to Activate Content and Drive Value

Let’s just stop the madness and put much more focus, energy and budget on delivering value through content in motion!  Here are some basic steps you can take right now:

1. Think and act differently … it’s really about the communities, the processes and the insight related to your content.  Use and value comes from activity, not stagnance.

2. Defensibly dispose of everything you can, including retiring old content centric apps, abandoned SharePoint sites, unused file shares as soon as you can … except what you are obligated to keep for business, regulatory or legal purposes.  Big hint: This will free up loads of resources and budget that can be reallocated to new projects, like activating content.

3. Work with your line-of-business execs in three areas to activate content:

Case Management:  Automate and improve those workflows and processes that are case centric where people, process and content are essential to the outcome.  The more ad-hoc and exception oriented processes drive maximum content value … think claims processing, dispute resolution, customer inquiry, investigation, onboarding and more.

Responsible Social Content:  Enable a true social content experience for knowledge works where projects, activities, instant collaboration, tasks and ECM services are the norm.  Think Facebook + ECM for the enterprise … combine ECM, social software and a more responsible approach to content collaboration.

Content Analysis:  Leverage and exploit your content by understanding the trends, patterns, anomalies and deviations of your business that are currently trapped in your content. Think Business Intelligence for content and detect fraud, predict outcomes, find new opportunities, hear the voice-of-the-customer and more.

I think it’s obvious by now which is better … or in other words, we should all be more like my Aunt Marge and not  my Uncle Leo (he snores when he naps, too). 

Toby Bell (Gartner ECM analyst) made the “content at rest” and “content in motion” remarks which got me thinking along these lines.  I’ve taken Toby’s idea and added my own perspective.  I also discussed this concept at this weeks Managing Electronic Records Conference in Chicago and received positive feedback from the audience and a few individuals afterwards.

As always … leave me your thoughts and ideas here. I’ll be discussing this topic and other ECM topics at the upcoming Boston and Toronto UserNet events. Hope to see you there.

IBM at 100: SAGE, The First National Air Defense Network

This week was a reminder of how technology can aid in our nation’s defense as we struck a major blow against terrorism.  Most people don’t realize IBM contributed to our nation’s defense in the many ways it has.  Here is just one example from 1949.

When the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949, the United States government concluded that it needed a real-time, state-of-the-art air defense system.  It turned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which in turn recruited companies and other organizations to design what would be an online system covering all of North America using many technologies, a number of which did not exist yet.  Could it be done?  It had to be done.  Such a system had to observe, evaluate and communicate incoming threats much the way a modern air traffic control system monitors flights of aircraft.

This marked the beginning of SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), the national air defense system implemented by the United States to warn of and intercept airborne attacks during the Cold War.  The heart of this digital system—the AN/FSQ-7 computer—was developed, built and maintained by IBM.  SAGE was the largest computer project in the world during the 1950s and took IBM squarely into the new world of computing.  Between 1952 and 1955, it generated 80 percent of IBM’s revenues from computers, and by 1958, more than 7000 IBMers were involved in the project.  SAGE spun off a large number of technological innovations that IBM incorporated into other computer products.

IBM’s John McPherson led the early conversations with MIT, and senior management quickly realized that this could be one of the largest data processing opportunities since winning the Social Security bid in the mid-1930s.  Thomas Watson, Jr., then lobbying his father and other senior executives to move into the computer market quickly, recalled in his memoirs that he wanted to “pull out all the stops” to be a central player in the project.  “I worked harder to win that contract than I worked for any other sale in my life.”  So did a lot of other IBMers: engineers designing components, then the computer; sales staff pricing the equipment and negotiating contracts; senior management persuading MIT that IBM was the company to work with; other employees collaborating with scores of companies, academics and military personnel to get the project up and running; and yet others who installed, ran and maintained the IBM systems for SAGE for a quarter century.

The online features of the system demonstrated that a new world of computing was possible—and that, in the 1950s, IBM knew the most about this kind of data processing.  As the ability to develop reliable online systems became a reality, other government agencies and private companies began talking to IBM about possible online systems for them.  Some of those projects transpired in parallel, such as the development of the Semi-Automated Business Research Environment (Sabre), American Airlines’ online reservation system, also built using IBM staff located inPoughkeepsie,New York.

In 1952, MIT selected IBM to build the computer to be the heart of SAGE. MIT’s project leader, Jay W. Forrester, reported later that the company was chosen because “in the IBM organization we observed a much higher degree of purposefulness, integration and “esprit de corps” than in other firms, and “evidence of much closer ties between research, factory and field maintenance at IBM.”  The technical skills to do the job were also there, thanks to prior experience building advanced electronics for the military.

IBM quickly ramped up, assigning about 300 full-time IBMers to the project by the end of 1953. Work was centered in IBM’s Poughkeepsie and Kingston, NY facilities and in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of MIT.  New memory systems were needed; MITRE and the Systems Development Corporation (part of RAND Corporation) wrote software, and other vendors supplied components.  In June 1956, IBM delivered the prototype of the computer to be used in SAGE.  The press release called it an “electronic brain.”  It could automatically calculate the most effective use of missiles and aircraft to fend off attack, while providing the military commander with a view of an air battle. Although this seems routine in today’s world, it was an enormous leap forward in computing.  When fully deployed in 1963, SAGE included 23 centers, each with its own AN/FSQ-7 system, which really consisted of two machines (one for backup), both operating in coordination.  Ultimately, 54 systems were installed, all collaborating with each other. The SAGE system remained in service until January 1984, when it was replaced with a next-generation air defense network.

Its innovative technological contributions to IBM and the IT industry as a whole were significant.  These included magnetic-core memories, which worked faster and held more data than earlier technologies; a real-time operating system (a first); highly disciplined programming methods; overlapping computing and I/O operations; real-time transmission of data over telephone lines; use of CRT terminals and light pens (a first); redundancy and backup methods and components; and the highest reliability of computer systems (uptime) of the day.  It was the first geographically distributed, online, real-time application of digital computers in the world.  Because many of the technological innovations spun off from this project were ported over to new IBM computers in the second half of the 1950s by the same engineers who had worked on SAGE, the company was quickly able to build on lessons learned in how to design, manufacture and maintain complex systems.

Fascinating to be sure … the full article can be accessed at http://www.ibm.com/ibm100/us/en/icons/sage/