Disrupt … or Be Disrupted

“Established companies are being disrupted faster than ever before according to the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship. The academy also believes that 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.

That is a mind-blowing statistic.

Small businesses are not immune to this potential disruption either. When you consider that there are approximately 30 million small businesses in the US today and they employ almost half of the US workforce this warrants a further look.

What the heck is going on?

In case you hadn’t heard, we are entering a new era of technology innovation. Some claim we are at the precipice of another industrial revolution. History shows that this has happened only three times. The first industrial revolution (beginning ~1784) was typified by mechanical production, steam power, the railroads and telegraph. The second industrial revolution came in the next century (beginning ~1870) with electrical power, mass production, radio, tabulating systems and the advent of the assembly line. The third industrial revolution came in the next century (beginning ~1960) with automated production, programmable computers, electronics, video recorders and eventually the Internet.

At every industrial revolution

  • New industries were created and rapid growth ensued
  • Fortunes were made and fortunes were lost
  • New jobs were created and outmoded jobs eliminated

This fourth industrial revolution is being called the “Age of Intelligence”.  Data is exploding and flows from every device in unprecedented volumes, variety, and complexity. Traditional analytics and other decision support approaches are unable to fully exploit its value … driving a need for new innovation in many areas. New business models, a growing digital economy, aging workforce and global skills shortages are all driving this same need for smarter systems in all facets of life.

We have never seen so many disruptive technologies come along at the same time. It’s an overused cliché but this is a perfect storm of technology-based innovation. Artificial Intelligence (AI or Cognitive Computing) is leading the way. AI is a game changer. When combined with cloud, mobile, social, the Internet of things (sensors), nanotechnology, robotics, drones, 3D printing, new business models and more … it’s a lot to get your head around. It’s nearly impossible to fully understand the impact of this revolution right now … but’s let’s look at few areas …

If you’ve worked as a video rental clerk, travel agent, assembly-line worker, 411 operator, ticketing agent, stock-broker, department store or telephone book advertising salesperson you already know what I mean.

According to a recent McKinsey report … we can expect artificial intelligence technologies to play an increasingly great role in everyday life.  Their potential effect on the workplace has, unsurprisingly, become a major focus of research and public concern. The report also explores which job roles will or won’t be replaced by machines. It can be accessed here.

As for me … I believe the adoption of AI (and other disruptive technologies) will indeed impact our lives in a big way. It will take some time … and will create new roles/jobs and eliminate the need for others.

I am not old enough to remember when “Computer” was job title and not a machine. I do know that role consisted of people who manually computed and/or counted things and the primary tool was the slide rule. Before that, it was the abacus.

Today, those same people who became “Computers” in the 1950s and 60s are more likely to be Accountants, Financial Planners, Controllers even Programmers today … which by comparison are certainly higher value and higher paid roles.

The Information Age (or 3rd revolution) birthed an entire industry (Information Technology).  It impacted corporate structures/strategies/governance and brought us household names like Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo and too many small businesses to count. It seduced us into wondering what is REALLY possible. At present, Evans Data estimates there are 18.2 million software developers worldwide, a number that is due to rise to 26.4 million by 2019 (a 45% increase). On the whole, that’s a huge amount of positive change and human advancement.

There will always be doom and gloomers who worry that robots will take their jobs. Sure, some statistics show that a large percentage of all employment roles will be impacted by machines within the next two decades. This impact will be good for some and bad for others.

It seems to me that history will repeat itself, and the same outcomes will occur again, in both large and small businesses:

  • Some roles will be eliminated.
  • Some roles will evolve forward and upward.
  • Many new roles will be created.

My point is … now is the time to take action and get ahead of this. The McKinsey report does a good job of detailing the roles and workloads that are most likely to be impacted. I think the more important issue is what are you going to do to make sure your job or company is benefitting from this. You don’t want to be the person left wondering “what happened?”

IBM brought this into the mainstream when cognitive system Watson … beat the best human competitors at Jeopardy! in 2011. That was the starting gun … and the race is on.

My experience with AI/Cognitive Computing (so far) has taught me the following:

  • Information is exploding at such a rate that it is impossible to read, assimilate and apply except in small volumes. Technologies to assist us with decision-making are now mandatory.
  • There is so much new information being generated that it is also impossible for doctors, lawyers or any information based professional to keep up with their professional learning obligations. Do you want a Doctor who is up-to-date on the most recent medical information to treat you or one who hasn’t kept up on the medical literature?
  • Too much information is creating numerous bottlenecks to decision-making and process execution.  Many information based processes are actually getting slower. Resulting delays can cause more errors.
  • Any situation where a human has to read, research, explore, find and or learn new information (before making a decision) is ripe to benefit from artificial intelligence or other new decision support tools.
  • This is particularly the case when unstructured text or documents are involved. This form of data is typically “dark” and not easily locatable. It also takes longer to learn from text-based information.
  • There can often be so much information (hundreds of pages, many documents) that the required time to read and assimilate further bottlenecks decisions from being made … exacerbating the problem.
  • If video or audio  is involved, one can spend countless hours looking/listening for snippets of relevant content. The time invested to reward equation is so poor that most people just skip video/audio altogether when looking for information.
  • Net-net … any situation where human expertise/knowledge is being applied (regardless of information type) could probably benefit from a system that makes cognitive (AI) assistance available. These systems observe, reason, apply, recommend and learn from outcomes … eventually optimizing those same outcomes as guided by humans. They don’t get tired, go on vacation, have a bad day or introduce personal bias and emotion … typically things that subvert optimal decisions and outcomes.

The era of Cognitive Computing (or Artificial Intelligence if you prefer) is here NOW. Like disruptions of the past, there will be winners and losers. Robots and artificial intelligence based tools will certainly transform the nature of work.  I personally think for the better.

But what are you doing about it?

Heed this call to action – whether you are involved with a big business or a small business!

I will be delivering a keynote address and exploring this topic in much more detail at the upcoming Loudoun Small Business Conference on May 15, 2017. This event is the brainchild of the folks who run The George Mason Enterprise Center in Loudoun County, Virginia. Event details can be found here. If you are local, I hope to see you there.

As always, leave me your comments below and check out the following resources and organizations who will be at the event:


How To Quickly Tell If You Have An Innovation Problem

At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked if there was a quick way to tell if an organization has an innovation problem.  The organization in question has a long and proud innovation track record … and has been meeting its revenue and cost objectives. On the surface, all seemed to be in order … but that was not the case.

As I pondered the question my brain quickly rifled through various best practices for analyzing product lines and portfolios including the Boston Consulting Group Growth Share Matrix first published in 1970 by BCG founder Bruce Henderson.  The matrix is based on the clever use of question marks, cash cows, dogs and stars as way to stratify a given portfolio … and to help allocate resources based on two factors (company competitiveness and market attractiveness).  While over 40, the model and methodology remain viable and are still widely used.

There are other approaches such as the Deloitte Consulting Growth Framework … but my preference is the McKinsey 3 Horizons of Growth.

The McKinsey model has also stood the test of time and is more intuitive (at least to me). It addresses a fuller spectrum of portfolio analysis issues and breaks down as follows:

  • Horizon 1 – Extend and defend core businesses.
  • Horizon 2 – Build emerging businesses.
  • Horizon 3 – Create viable options.

It is based on the traditional “S” curve adoption and growth principle but asserts that at a key point on the adoption curve, new innovation (and investment) is needed to enable future horizons of growth as indicated above.  Each horizon ensures future waves of new revenue growth and continued innovation.  In all, 3 horizons are needed.  Each horizon requires a different approach, people, skills and management method.  As you might suspect, each horizon level is also increasingly intrapreneurial. Most importantly, you need to manage all three horizons concurrently … even though based on different principles:

  • Horizon 1 – This is typically a fully capable or mature offering / platform that is being managed by “business maintainers” using traditional performance, operational and profit metrics such as return on invested capital (ROIC).
  • Horizon 2 – This is typically new capabilities that are being built-out or acquired in emerging business scenarios by “business builders” based on growth aspirations using metrics such as net present value (NPV).  This stage is well past the experimentation phase, has early adopters and expected to show scalable grow in the near future … followed by profit soon thereafter.  The Crossing The Chasm model by Geoffrey Moore comes to mind for me.
  • Horizon 3 – This is the experimentation phase where requirements may be unclear.  It needs to be led by “evangelists or visionaries” and governed by validation or iteration metrics such as number of interviews, feedback sessions, number of iterations or other early stage progress metrics. It is typified by prototypes, market validation, agile development and directional pivots.  The Lean Startup concept by Eric Ries comes to mind.

Upon some investigation, the balance of investment (for the company in question) was far too heavy on near-term (or proven) revenue performance offerings (Horizon 1) and not enough on longer-term growth options (Horizons 2 and 3).  In light of conservative spending by most companies coming out of the recession, this was not an unexpected finding.  The tendency in business for the past few years has been to focus on short-term initiatives … sometimes at the expense of ensuring future growth options.

A simple mapping of your own portfolio of offerings to the three horizons may be just as revealing as it was in this case.

Most organizations should strive for roughly 70% investment on Horizon 1 offerings, 20% investment on Horizon 2 and potentially as much as 10% on Horizon 3 offerings.  These percentages may vary from company to company … and industry to industry … but represent a reasonable breakdown for any organization to evaluate itself.

When was the last time you evaluated your offerings using some method like this? If you don’t know the answer, or if it has been longer then 12 months, then invest the time do this.  Your future could literally depend on it.

I feel good that I was able to steer them in the right direction using such a proven method to manage innovation.  My innovation initiatives are progressing.  The Intrapreneurship: Tackling The Challenges of Bringing New Innovation to Market AIPMM webinar replay is available in case you missed the live event and The First Annual Intrapreneurship Benchmark Survey on Commercializing Innovation survey remains open through June 30, 2014.  I plan to compile, analyze and publish the survey findings in Q3.

As always, leave me your thoughts and opinions here.

What Is An Intrapreneur Anyway?

The word entrepreneur is more than 150 years old, having come into English from French in 1828. But it was not until comparatively recently that its intra-corporate counterpart, intrapreneur, was introduced to the business lexicon.

“a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.”

The term is usually credited to Gifford Pinchot (the grandson of the first Chief of The US Forest Service, also the 28th Governor of Pennsylvania, with the same name). According to Mr. Pinchot’s website, in a 1982 The Economist magazine article, Norman Macrae gave credit to Gifford Pinchot as the inventor of the word intrapreneur. Mr. Pinchot went on to publish his book “Intrapreneuring” in 1985. In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary added Intrapreneur … giving new legitimacy to the term.

There are obvious derivations of the word … Intrapreneurship, Intrapreneurial, Intrapreneuring and even Intrapreneurist (the name of this blog – but I’ll save that explanation for another blog – it’s sort of a John Wayne thing).

In a September 30, 1985 Newsweek magazine interview, Steve Jobs used the term to describe his team, “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship, a group of people going in essence back to the garage, but in a large company”).

Wikipedia has embraced and references the original American Heritage Dictionary definition cited above. This definition is by far the best. I give this definition an “A”.  I will make a small tweak or two in my version below but it’s a solid “A” nonetheless. There are strong decision-making and collaboration components in support of the risk taking aspect … and navigating corporate politics make collaboration essential, which is something entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about. Also implied in the definition, is the fact that the role requires strategy, execution and delivery of results.

My tweaked version is: “a person within a large organization who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea (or innovation) into a profitable finished offering through assertive risk-taking and effective stakeholder collaboration.”

Here are some other popular definitions:

Dictionary.com (which is based on the 2014 Random House Dictionary)an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols.

My rating is a “C-“. This definition is a little loosy goosy … intrapreneurs may get some latitude but freedom is a stretch. Saying they do not have to follow protocols is also a stretch.

Dictionary.com II (which is based on the 2009 Collins English Dictionary)a person who while remaining within a larger organization uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a new product or line of business as a subsidiary of the organization.

My rating is a “B-“. This definition is tighter. Saying that an intrapreneur develops a new product as a subsidiary does not make sense organizationally though.

Merriam Webster Dictionary: a corporate executive who develops new enterprises within the corporation.

My rating is a “D-“. This definition is too short and limiting. You don’t have to be an executive, and intrapreneurs don’t develop just new enterprises or work in only corporations. Pretty poor for such a prestigious brand. I suppose being too narrow is not as bad as being wrong though.

Speaking of wrong … the usually reliable Investopedia has a rather bizarre definition: An inside entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur within a large firm, who uses entrepreneurial skills without incurring the risks associated with those activities. Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned a special idea or project, and are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal. The intrapreneur’s main job is to turn that special idea or project into a profitable venture for the company.

My rating is an “F” (can I rate it lower?). This definition is laughable. Being assigned an idea and instructed to be an entrepreneur is a hilarious notion. It sort of misses the point doesn’t it? … and takes all the initiative out of it. Having all the resources and capabilities at one’s disposal is also an amusing thought.

When I started writing this blog, I did not expect to find such a large disparity of definitions. I was disappointed to find so many uninformed (aka lame) “name brand” definitional sources.

What is your definition?

As always, leave me your thoughts and ideas here.

Why My Beloved iPhone Now Makes Me Sick To My Stomach

I didn’t know it at the time but my love affair with Apple began on November 22, 1983 … the day I bought my first business.   I was 22.  That fateful decision changed my life in many ways …  and also unexpectedly started a 30-year infatuation with Apple.  My business partner and I purchased a well established, and well known, family owned photo and computer business in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.  The business had a retail component but the real growth (and opportunity) was coming from the commercial division who was just starting to sell personal computers.  Our strength was selling to educational systems.  We eventually sold the business but that’s another story.

In 1983, the computer business was very different world.  Personal computers were just starting to catch on.  This was long before the Macintosh took the world by storm in the mid-80s.  There were a number of players, operating systems and technical approaches vying for viability but markets were beginning to settle around the following segments: personal computers for hobbyists (Commodore 64 and others), personal computers for business (IBM PC and compatibles), and personal computers for education (Apple II series).  Commodore and others faded as Apple and IBM (based on the Microsoft DOS operating system) were the two surviving approaches.  This was long before Windows and is still true today.  The winners from the early 80s are still the winners today.  Even though IBM smartly exited the PC business in 2005, the battle is still fought today between Apple and Microsoft powered personal computers.

Back to 1983 … there were no cell phones, no Internet, no e-commerce, no Apple stores and computers were manufactured in the USA … not in China.  Both Apple and IBM used resellers (or dealers) as their sales channels to market.  Apple even had a unique “black” version of the Apple II that was only sold to schools.  This is where we came in.  We used to sell Apple IIs by the truckload (literally).  We also customized and serviced them from the ground up.

Through all this, I developed an insider’s perspective and a fondness for Apple.  My respect and admiration for Apple has grown over the years.  I’ve stayed connected and involved with Apple in one way or another at key stages of my career.  I applauded the major successes (Macintosh, iPhone, iPad) and chuckled at the failures (Newton, Lisa, MobileMe).  I’ve never had a reason to think poorly of the company.  Until now.

It’s no secret I work for IBM today (see the personal opinion disclaimer).  IBM and Apple haven’t competed with each another for years.  One is corporate … the other is consumer.  I point this out because I have no agenda driving me to write this other then my conscious.

Today, Apple is the most successful consumer technology company by just about any measure.  Skyrocketing stock price, top 10 brand recognition and tons of cash  (~$97 billion).   Apple also stunned everyone with their recent earnings announcement.  During the last quarter of 2011, they made ~$13 billion in profit.   That’s more than twice as much for the same period in 2010, and more than any company has ever earned during a single financial quarter … except one.   Exxon Mobil made over $14 billion in a single quarter (thanks to high oil prices) in 2008.

Are you kidding me?!?!  Congratulations!  They deserve all the spoils and accolades.  Their products work better and are craved by the masses.  Their customer loyalty and devotion is like nothing we’ve ever seen in business before … myself included.  I have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air and love them all.  Within the last six months, I stopped using Windows and Blackberry completely.  I outwardly promote how great my experience with the company has been.  Even the AppleCare tech support is great … at a time when most companies call centers are a joke or non-existent.

But wait a minute, something doesn’t add up for me.

It’s the China worker thing.  Over recent years … as Apple’s bank account has increased … so have the charges about labor conditions in iPhone factories in China.  The New York Times, The Huffington Post and others are zeroing in on this at the moment.  My Mom used to say, “Where there is smoke, there is fire”.   We all know the media can be unreliable on these topics but they can be a pretty good watchdog too … just ask Rupert Murdoch and his staff.

In my mind, there are too many outrageous claims to ignore this any longer!

“Working excessive overtime without days off ” …. “Living together in crowded dorms” … “exposure to dangerous chemicals” … “Two explosions ‘due to aluminum dust’ killed four workers” … “Almost 140 injured after using toxin in factory,” … “Nets on buildings to prevent or deter stress related suicide attempts” … “falsification of records” … “worker suicides” … “beaten and interrogated by superiors over lost prototype”.

I want to know what is really going on.  Are workers really beaten or killing themselves so I can have an iPhone … or so Apple can have even more cash?  Neither is acceptable and both make me sick to my stomach.  This can’t be true, can it?  The more you read the harder you gulp.  It’s making me reach for the Pepto-Bismol.

Apple is certainly not a bad company.  They did donate $50 million to charity in 2011.  But considering how much is sitting in the corporate coffers at Apple it seems light to me.  I mean … they ARE loaded.  Apple donations represent a paltry .1% of their holdings and are a far cry from what others are doing.  Kroeger donates  almost 11% of profits to charity.  Even the allegedly “greedy” financial services firms are more charitable then Apple.  These firms seemed to get blamed for everything but you have to give them credit on this issue (no pun intended).  Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America are all among the top corporate givers.

But money is not my issue.  Taking responsibility for your actions is.

I am not an expert on this topic but Apple seems to have a reasonable policy on supplier responsibility.   However, I know from experience that having a good policy is not the same thing as enforcing a policy.  Some of the reports out there are claiming that Apple is not doing enough. In other words, looking the other way and pointing it back to the labor contractors.  Ahhhh … the beauty of outsourcing (if true).

It seems to me; that they hold all the cards and could fix this in about a nanosecond if they really wanted to.  This nonsense has been going on for at least six years and needs to stop.  Are the lower offshore labor costs worth all of this … loss of human life, inhumane conditions and reputation damage?

Apple is truly (and maybe uniquely) in a position to change how the world’s goods are made.  It has the money and the muscle to effect major change.  At the moment, it appears they lack the will, or conscious, to do anything serious about it.  I wonder if too much greed is driving behavior in Cupertino?  The numbers don’t lie.

Tim Cook should seize this opportunity and make this his issue.  Following Steve Jobs as CEO must be an incredibly hard thing to do.  I hope the new guy takes a stand and fixes this, before it is their undoing.  Nike and Wal-Mart both survived offshore labor scandals and so can Apple – but the time for decisive action is now.  Maybe it’s time these jobs come back home to the good ole USA.

I hope Apple grows a conscious soon. With new leadership in place, this should be easier to do.  Good luck Apple, I still love you but I won’t wait forever for you to fix this and I hate the taste of Pepto-Bismol.  Seriously, I wouldn’t normally blog about something like this but I felt the need to do something.

The Chinese government needs to man-up as well.  The economic growth in China is literally being fueled by blood, sweat and tears (not a joke) of their citizens.  I can only hope the conditions are not as extreme as being portrayed.

What about you … does it turn your stomach also?  Are you outraged?  You should be.

Blog update on February 13, 2011Apple issues statement about labor situation in China.  What do you think?  A strong enough response?

IBM Acquires PSS Systems – You Might Be Asking Why?

In case you missed it, IBM announced today the acquisition of PSS Systems.

You might be asking why?  Organizations are striving for rigorous discovery, more effective information retention, and legally-defensible data disposal because of rising eDiscovery pressures and exponential information growth.  According to Information Week, a whopping 17% – and rising – of organizations’ IT budgets is now spent on storage.   A new Compliance, Governance and Oversight Council (CGOC) Benchmark Report on information governance revealed fewer than 25% of organizations are able to dispose of data because they lack rigorous legal hold practices or effective record retention programs.  eDiscovery costs average over $3 million per case yet an estimated 70% of information is often needlessly retained; as with escalating IT costs, the root cause of escalating eDiscovery cost is the inability to dispose of information when it is no longer needed.

Organizations struggle with these issues.  What has been missing up until now are: 1) a way to coordinate policy decisions for legal hold and retention management across stakeholders; and 2) a way to systematically execute those policy decisions on high volumes of information that are often residing in disparate systems.  To effectively determine what is eligible for disposal, organizations must determine and associate the legal obligations for information and its specific business value with information assets.  With multiple stakeholders, litigation intensity and information diversity across the enterprise, it is essential to coordinate and formalize policy decisions in real time as they are made by legal, records and business groups and automate the execution of those policies on information across the enterprise.

These problems are of high importance to legal and IT executives; 57% have established executive committees to drive better legal and lifecycle governance outcomes but less than 1/3 of organizations have achieved the desired cost and risk reduction results.

Organizations lack sufficient internal competency or resources to quantify the cost and risk business case and define the program structures necessary to achieve their defensible disposal goals.  While 98% of organizations cite defensible disposal as the results they are seeking, only 17% believe they have the right people resources at the table1.  The analysts predict that the market for these kinds of governance solutions will experience significant growth through 2014, they also point out that internal cooperation and competencies are barriers today.

Now with the acquisition of PSS Systems, only IBM provides a comprehensive and integrated enterprise solution for legal and information lifecycle governance, along with the business expertise that customers need to reduce legal risk and lower discovery and information and content management costs. The PSS Atlas legal information governance solutions complement and extend IBM’s existing Information Lifecycle Governance strategy and integrated suite of solutions.  This joint olution and approach is unlike others that address only a single silo such as legal, which fail to systematically link legal decisions to corresponding information assets and therefore don’t fully mitigate risk or actually increase the cost of compliance.

Until now, organizations’ choices were limited, and reinforced their problems by failing to systematically link legal obligations and business value to information assets. Often initial selection of tactical eDiscovery applications left organizations with high risk and compliance cost and no path forward to defensible disposal because these tactical applications don’t integrate holistically with records and retention management, email archiving, advanced classification and enterprise content management systems and infrastructure.

Those days are over !!  If you can’t tell … I am excited about the future of how we plan to help customers tackle these problems in concert with our new colleagues from PSS Systems.

Adding Storage or Enforcing Retention: The Debate is Over

I did a joint webcast this week with InformationWeek on strategies to deal with information overload (which made me feel guilty about my recent lull in blogging).  On the webcast we conducted a quick poll and I was fascinated by the results.  The poll consisted of two questions:

The first question was …

What is your organization’s current, primary strategy for dealing with its information overload?

The choices and audience responses were:

  1. Adding more storage  35.2%
  2. Developing new enterprise retention policies to address information growth  29.6%
  3. Enforcing enterprise retention policies more vigorously  9.3%
  4. Don’t know  25.9%

The second question was the same except asked in a future tense:

What is your organization’s future, primary strategy for dealing with its information overload?

It had the same choices but far different audience responses:

  1. Adding more storage  19.1%
  2. Developing new enterprise retention policies to address information growth  29.8%
  3. Enforcing enterprise retention policies more vigorously  25.5%
  4. Don’t know  25.5%

Holy smokes Batman! … I think we are coming out of the dark ages.  Keep in mind that InformationWeek serves an IT centric audience and generally not the RIM or Legal stakeholders who are already passionate about retention and disposition of records and information.  From this survey data I concluded the following from this IT centric audience:

  • 29.6% already developing retention policies today in addition to those that already have them – this is progress.
  • Adding storage as a primary strategy will decrease from 35.2% to 19.2%this is amazing … and may be the first time “adding storage” wasn’t the automatic answer.
  • Enforcing retention as a primary strategy will increase from 9.3% to 25.5%IT professionals clearly understand that enforcing retention is “the” answer to controlling information growth, see Spring Cleaning for Information and How Long Do I Keep Information?
  • 55.3% will develop or enforce retention policies as a primary strategy in the future – more than 3 times now prefer this to adding storage.
  • Developing and enforcing retention policies is now the clear choice for a primary strategy to address information overload and growth over simply adding storage.

This isn’t the only data that supports this of course.  According to Osterman Research, 70% of organizations share the same concern.  A number of related resources can be found at http://tinyurl.com/2fayjwf including a webinar from Osterman and others.

Here is the replay link to the information overload webinar Content Assessment: The Critical First Steps to Gaining Control that serves as the backdrop for this posting … I hope you check it out.

In any case, rejoice with me … Ding Dong the Witch is Dead !

Developing and enforcing retention policies is now the clear choice and current primary strategy over simply adding storage by all stakeholders … IT, Legal and RIM.  Are you seeing the same change in thought and action in your organization?  Let me know by sharing your thoughts.

How Long Do I Keep Information?

In case you are wondering how the garage cleaning went last weekend (see my last posting)  … I filled several trash bags and boxes worth of items that were donated and several others for the trash.  In order to ensure I was only disposing of unnecessary stuff and not valued items, I secured the approval of my family stakeholders before disposing of anything.  The results we’re fantastic … I cleared several shelves worth of storage space that allowed me to reorganize for better findability.  I now have plenty of room to store more items and everything is properly organized so I can find things in the future, including the lost flashlight, which is no longer lost.  Best of all, it didn’t cost me anything except a little time.

It’s exactly the same with information.  Like the unnecessary stuff I was keeping in my garage, information has a useful lifespan that ultimately requires disposition.  In simple terms, information is created, used, stored and should ultimately be disposed of.  It should be obvious from my previous posting why information disposal is probably the most important step in this “information lifecycle”.

Many people get confused by this notion though.  The confusion comes in when deciding how long (and why) they need to keep things for.  There are two primary schools of thought on this:

  • Keep information based on how often it is used or accessed – the frequency of access model … or …
  • Keep information based on actual value or obligation – the business value (and obligation) model.

The frequency of access paradigm gave us the term “information lifecycle management” or “ILM” a couple of years ago.  This was a vendor driven idea that moved information between storage tiers based on frequency of access.  It never really caught on as it didn’t address the core issues especially the disposal of information.  It’s an interesting concept if your motive is to sell storage.  Moving information around to optimize storage infrastructure is a good idea but only part of the answer.  Business need, relevance and usage combined with regulatory and legal obligations truly determine how long information must be managed, retained and governed.

In simple terms, we should keep information because it is an asset (business value) and/or because we have an obligation to do so (legal and regulatory).  Debra Logan (Vice President at Gartner) has been publishing excellent research on this topic.  Best practices exist as well.  The new Information Management Reference Model (IMRM), from the same organization that gave us The Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), aligns the key stakeholders (IT, Business and RIM/Legal) with the key issues (asset, value and duty) and the key benefits (efficiency, profit and reduced risk).  There are a number of other approaches as well, notably The Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles (GARP) from ARMA.

Best of all, optimizing systems and storage infrastructure based on business context of usage, not just frequency of access, is much easier to do when things are properly organized (classified) based on actual need/value.

In summary, the business value of information changes over time requiring Information Lifecycle Governance eventually requiring defensible disposition (more on that next time).  I hope you manage and govern your information based on business value and your obligations.  If not, check out some the links above to get started.  I also hope your information spring cleaning is coming along as well as my garage is.  I am so motivated by my results that the attic is next for me.

Spring Cleaning for Information

I find myself wondering (as I plan to clean out the garage today) what time of year we’re supposed to throw out all that unnecessary information we keep around.  Since cleaning out the garage doesn’t qualify as fun in my book, I would sure be easier just to add space to my garage.  That way, I’d never have to throw anything away.  It would cost alot … and make it much harder to find important stuff among all of the clutter but it would be easier.  Maybe I should just call a contractor (5 minutes) rather then actually clean out the garage (at least an hour or more).  Hhhmmm …

It’s funny that when it comes to this aspect of information management we seem to always take the path of least resistance.  I’ve lost count of many times I’ve heard “storage is cheap” or other reasons why organizations don’t properly manage the lifespan of their information.  Most organizations don’t have a responsible program to properly dispose of electronically stored information.  How is this possible when those same organizations usually have good control over and properly dispose of paper based information?

Sure it’s harder to properly organize, retain and dispose of electronically stored information but the keep everything forever model has failed.  Buying more storage is not the answer.  Storage already consumes (on average) 17% of IT budgets and information will continue to explode … eventually gobbling up increasing percentages of IT budgets.  When does it end?  It won’t by itself.  Left unattended, this information explosion will eventually consume all remaining IT budget dollars and cripple or prevent any strategic investments by IT.

If that weren’t sobering enough, valued information is already buried beneath too much unnecessary information.  Much of it is over-retained, irrelevant and duplicated.  This is causing runaway storage and infrastructure costs and exacerbating power, space and budget challenges.  It’s also creating an inability to find and produce critical information, especially under punitive scenarios and deadlines.  How can anyone find and leverage the useful and trustworthy information lost among all the junk?

This sounds exactly like my garage … the power went out the other night and I was desperate to find that really cool flashlight I bought last year in case of a power outage.  Couldn’t find it, which ended up being my motivation to clean out the garage and throw out all of the unneccessary stuff that is piling up.  No garage extension for me!  No offsite storage facility either!  The fact is, I don’t want to spend more money on simply storing random unnecessary stuff.  I have higher value activities to spend my budget on … like golf 🙂

Isn’t it time every organization did their own information spring cleaning?  It would reduce storage/infrastructure costs, improve findability of information, reduce legal risks and increase usefulness and re-use of information.

Maybe you are already planning to clean out your garage of enterprise information.  Leave me your thoughts on the topic or visit us at the upcoming National Conference on Managing Electronic Records in Chicago.  We’ll be doing a special session on Content Assessment and how to use Content Analytics to identify and defensibly decommission and routinely dispose of unnecessary information.

Crystal Ball Gazing … Enterprise Content Management 2020

With a few big ECM related announcements over the past couple of weeks … Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and IBM Advanced Case Management topping the list, I thought I would do a little crystal ball gazing and set my sights on the future.  This is always fun and a bit risky at the same time.  Consider Thomas J. Watson, Sr. who despite very scant evidence is widely credited with saying (in 1943): “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”.   I supppose we’ll never know for sure if Watson said it or not, but despite the risk of being wrong, I share my perspective on what ECM will look like in 10 years.

In today’s ECM … You find the document you need

The Document is King

ECM as we know it today started as a way to control paper and evolved to electronic documents.  From there it grew into something that could support the document sharing and creation processes and then into electronic business process creation, management and optimization.  It has increasingly been enhanced and expanded in a number ways … most notably with better search, process and compliance technologies.  Even today, nearly 30 years after the founding of FileNet (who is largely credited for inventing the industry in the 1980s), the document is the center of the universe with everything else in supporting roles.  It’s become so easy to create and share documents we’ve lost a critical value point along the way … the context.  Endless hours are spent searching for documents without the ability to know which versions are trusted and are an accurate representation of the business context.  We’re at a tipping point of a business realization and content utility – while critical to the success of a business, a document is still only a communication medium useful for the ability to track thinking and provide historical value.  A document is a form of communication, not the end goal of a business.  Workers, in their roles, are what supports the end goal of business today.  Successful businesses and their employees need technology to support their roles and to enable deliverly of savings and new revenue.  Today … these same workers are expected to produce results AND manage / find documents.   This dynamic will change over the next 10 years, driven in part by advances in collaborative, social, case management and other ECM related technologies. 

 The Context (or worker role) is King

In 2020 … The document you need finds you.  ECM will evolve and minimally exist as we understand it today.  The concept of ECM will have changed because it’s no longer about “content,” rather it’s “worker role” or “context” as the central planning aspect.  ECM as we knew it in 2010, will have become more than content repositories, process, records and searching.  Workers, and their business roles are the central aspect, with all processes and communication flows either inputs our outputs in context to these roles.  Some examples are:

  • Inbound and outbound communication are expanded to include voice and text from any source (unified communications becomes table-stakes).
  • Processes are defined, developed and optimized around supporting role execution.
  • Composite information dashboards are the interface across systems and processes and deliver in-business-context information on demand.
  • Information is organized, trusted, proactively managed and self described.
  • Certain basic ECM problems have been “fixed” and no longer top priority ECM issues (retention, disposition, eDiscovery, search result quality).
  • Institutional knowledge is managed as knowledge, not documents.
  • Content Analytics is the norm where Ontologies describe trusted semantic relationships from both internal and external information sources.
  • Processes and system interactions become truly dynamic and can “learn” from historical execution to recommend streamlining options.
  • On-premise, appliance, cloud and hybrid delivery models all interoperate and are invisible to end-users.

I could go on for pages but if anything remotely like this crystal ball vision comes true … the implications for all ECMers are significant.  Technologies like Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Lotus Quickr, IBM Advanced Case Management, IBM Content Analytics are amomng those that will drive the next generation of ECM usage and adoption within business context of businesses, processes, workers and roles.

Time will tell if I am right or not.  In the mean time, leave me your feedback … what does ECM look like in 2020 in your crystal ball?  I’d love to see what everyone else thinks about the future of ECM (right or wrong) … after all it was the same Thomas Watson who said: “The way to succeed is to double your error rate”.

Creating and Managing Trusted Content

I remember when I was in elementary school (don’t laugh), that my best friend Danny tried to change one of the grades on his quarterly report card.   We used to walk home from school together and on this day we stopped at the corner drug store where he bought some office supplies and went about “altering” his report card.  Ahhh … the things you think you can get away with in 5th grade … so foolish.  It was a great plan for Danny right up until the point his Mom spotted the obvious change.  Needless to say, Danny’s report cards could no longer be trusted as an accurate representation of his school performance.  It completely backfired and his report cards got more scrutiny then he could have ever wanted, all the way through high school.  I think he makes fake passports today (kidding).  He actually works for a large financial institution (not kidding).

This one incident made Danny’s parent’s suspicious of the entire school grade reporting process and they never trusted report cards again.  He ruined it for his younger sister too.  It’s the same with documents.  We need a better process (and technology) to ensure our documents and records can be trusted for business decision making.  The implications in business are far more catastrophic.

Consider the large distributor who has multiple versions of contracts and supplier agreements.  The business fails to reference the correct version of a contract addendum that materially changes key terms and conditions between the parties.  This results in a dispute and has trickle down implications of disrupting shipments which customer complaints and cancelled orders … all because someone used the wrong content.  In short, it’s paramount to have trust in out content.

Here are three strategies you can take to bring trust to your content:

Clean-up the backlog … assess and separate trusted content from suspect content.  Decommission and dispose of what is not necessary to keep.  Preserve and exploit your trusted content from your trusted content repositories (discussed in a previous posting).

Instrument ad-hoc and controlled document creation and approval processes … establish event and process based steps (or KPIs) to measure, trigger, review and monitor the accuracy of content that is designated as trusted.

Enhance meta data and leverage master data … to clean up dirty document meta data and reference trusted data sources within the enterprise.  Ensure an accurate 360-degree view all information assets and meta data.

Obviously there are a number of ways to make content quality better and improve document based decision making.  The trick is … how to do it without burdening the business users.  Manual methods are thought to be easy but always fail as human beings are inconsistent, sometimes inaccurate and can refuse to cooperate.  In some rare cases … humans take matters into their own hands.  Don’t take a “Danny” approach to trusting your content. 

Choose one or more of the above paths and increase the accuracy of content based decisions in your organization.  If you don’t, I may have to send Danny’s Mom out to have a talk with you.