Information Management in a Web 2.0 world

Information Management

I’ve given a few talks and presentations recently to various groups and departments from the UK public sector on the dichotomy between the traditional and highly structured information management (IM) disciplines and the almost anarchic environment that we refer to as ‘Web 2.0’.  I’m reasonably familiar with both sides of this equation having spent most of my life as an information management professional before turning to the dark side about seven years ago to embrace the world of knowledge management. This in turn led me to discover (and enthusiastically adapt to) the world of social computing and to advocate the wonderful opportunities that Web 2.0 has given us to expand our social networks and share knowledge.

I don’t think I’ve got any special insights on the issue of IM vs. Web 2.0,  but I do see some potential areas of conflict and incompatibility. I’m only surprised by the fact that there seem to be so few others who have recognised that current information management solutions are not capable of meeting the demands of Web 2.0 applications and working practices. In this context, the ‘solutions’ include Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems, Document Management Systems, Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) systems and the policies and standards that underpin the business and operational processes.  I could add ‘Enterprise 2.0’ solutions to this list since some vendors appear to be using this label to infer something new or innovative, but under the hood it is quite often the same old EDRMS technology with perhaps support for tagging.

The few that I have encountered who share these concerns include James Lappin, and though I have never met him, Steve Bailey, who’s book ‘Managing the Crowd‘ puts the key issues across far more eloquently than I can.

I had never meant any of this to turn into a campaign, but the more I speak to the information management fraternity the more concerned I am that attitudes and habits have become so entrenched that there is no recognition that anything needs to change.  Needless to say, the Web 2.0 juggernaut is on its way, and it’s going to create some significant problems for information and records managers unless they begin to understand and address the issues now. Developing policies and standards takes time, and the IM policies and standards currently in use (e.g. BS ISO 15489)  are not fit for purpose for 21st century way of working, and especially for the emerging  Cloud Computing business models.

The presentation slides that I’ve been using are at the end of this post. If you haven’t got the time (or inclination) to look at these then the following abstract may give you a flavour of the session. I might add this these points are guaranteed to create a reaction amongst most IM professionals.  I’m willing to stand behind each one!

  • The Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) makes no distinction on whether information is part of a record or not.
  • DRM, EDRM (and the mis-labelled ‘Enterprise 2.0’) systems cannot resolve FoIA requests
  • Enterprises don’t know what information is being created, stored and used outside the corporate firewall.
  • The destruction of electronic information and records is tantamount to vandalism.
  • Records managers and information professionals are applying 20th century policies and procedures to 21st century ways of working. The two are incompatible.

I will come back to the penultimate bullet point above – about destruction of electronic information and records – in a later post, because this is one of the most contentious points (given the reaction I’ve received so far), and clearly at odds with the hugely powerful and influential vendors in the EDRMS space.  For me it is the single most damaging aspect of current IM thinking, and entirely unnecessary in today’s world of virtually unlimited storage space.

In the presentation I use the analogy of the pre-15th century scribes and their potential modern day Records Managers equivalents.  The scribes were responsible for managing and preserving the wisdom of the ages on precious manuscripts. Records Managers could be said to do a similar function for modern day documents (paper and electronic). However, the difference today is that – in accordance with accepted practice and procedure – we allow the systematic destruction of knowledge and wisdom, based on a fairly subjective assessment of what is deemed ‘relevant’ in a contemporary society. In effect, shaping history as we want it to be seen by future generations, and not necessarily as it really was. Will we be judged and found wanting by future Historians who will questions (as I do) why we need to destroy knowledge? I think so. Do you?

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Microsoft’s Cloudy Vision

Cloud computing

Microsoft’s Windows Live efforts are the software giant’s answer to web applications and cloud computing. However, from where I stand, they’re less a cloud strategy than a layer of fog over the multibillion-dollar packaged software franchises that keeps Microsoft going.

Ray Ozzi, Microsoft’s chief software architect, seems to appreciate the scale of the task facing the software behemoth. In his interview with Om, he recognised that their legacy desktop applications were no longer the pivotal point for development: “A student today or a web start-up, they don’t actually start at the desktop. They start at the web, they start building web solutions, and immediately deploy that to a browser”

However, the various announcements about online versions of Exchange and Sharepoint, and the beta release of Office Live Workspace all seem to be distinctly underwhelming, and indicative of a “me too” mentality.

Users are getting more familiar with accessing web-based applications, and putting increasing trust in the likes of Google for providing secure services. From a personal perspective, I’m fed up with having to keep patching (mainly Microsoft) applications on my desktop, and finding Windows Vista runs ever more slowly each day (and that’s when it doesn’t crash and burn). I’ve resisted upgrading to MSOffice 2007 because quite frankly, I don’t need the extra features, and am making gradually more use of Google Docs and OpenOffice.  I’ve also started to dabble with Google Apps, and am in the process of migrating all my Outlook email and contact management to the Google environment, hence my reliance on Microsoft is diminishing by the day (unfortunately will be stuck with the Operating System for a while yet though).

Whether things like Foldershare or Skydrive will buy any time for Microsoft I don’t know, but the ad hoc nature of these ‘software plus’ services,  the small enhancements to its email and collaboration applications, plus some tweaks that let users access Office documents while away from their main PC,  doesn’t collectively strike me as being part of a major strategic rethink in how best to address the web-based picture. It certainly doesn’t appear to be tapping into the power and potential of cloud computing that the likes of Google and Amazon have been forging ahead with. Whether Microsoft’s failure to present a cohesive and compelling strategy is ultimately going to be fatal for them remains to be seen. They do have the benefit of a cash mountain behind them, so I guess they could buy themselves into anything (but not sure that Yahoo is the answer either!). However, I think it’s a bit like turning an oil tanker, and in the meantime Google has docked and is unloading the goods. Interesting times ahead I think

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