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?