How Santa Uses ECM Part 1

I arrived home in the normal fashion last night, briefcase in hand, the sting of cold about my parka. My wife greeted me at the door with a martini and my children cheered for joy at my arrival. After settling in my chair my eldest daughter brought me my slippers and asked, “Father, won’t you regale us with a tale about your workday?” And the other children joined in, “Yes poppa, please, tell us about ECM!” How could I resist? Even the dog that I own only in this story wagged her tail in anticipation. “Alright, alright. Since you are twisting my arm.” I replied. My wife looked at me adoringly as she stirred beef stew in the kitchen.

“Children, have you ever considered the enormous challenge Santa faces during this holiday season? For ten months out of twelve his mailbox is as empty as this martini glass I am holding….thank you dear. But then in November and December he receives messages from all across the world. Think of it. He gets old fashioned letters still (in fact if it weren’t for Santa the post office would have gone out of business long ago) but he also receives text messages, emails, faxes (not really but let’s pretend shall we?), and comments on his Facebook and Google+ pages (I know, I’m stretching the limits of reason now). We are under NDA with Santa but I don’t think it would be out of line to tell you he receives tens of millions of messages during Christmas time.

“Santa of course was an early adopter of OCR. Even before the proliferation of messaging types he had more than your average number of letters to sift through. The old boy practically demanded all of the improvements we think of as common today in capture technologies. Think of it. Children don’t have the best penmanship. So back in the day exception processing was closer to the norm than a true exception process. But today Santa gets straight through processing on nearly 99.9% of handwritten messages. However, the total volume of letters is stagnant if not declining. So, Santa has outsourced that operation via lockbox to a scan and capture facility that captures the documents stores an electronic copy in the cloud as well as transferring key data elements to Santa’s CRM for production and manufacturing.

“You probably don’t realize this, but Santa is under a host of compliance regulations. Ever since the Tommy Faucet incident where that naughty little boy requested a Payday candy bar even though he was allergic to peanuts, poor Santa in his generosity got caught up in a pretty ugly lawsuit. Well, I’m not calling Tommy a gold digger, but he didn’t have to pay a dime for medical school, that’s for sure. Point being, that even on the e-mail front, where capture is less of an issue Santa still has a bear of a time retaining e-mail and correspondence with doctors to keep up to date medical records on children’s allergies.

“Well, that’s probably enough for tonight children. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how Santa is using ACM.”

Getting Back to Work

A couple weeks ago I got to meet Chris Walker while he was here in Chicago for a conference. Chris and I work in the same industry and have followed each other on twitter but have never met or communicated in more than 160 characters at a time. It was fun to meet and find that we had a lot in common beyond ECM. But one thing in particular has stuck with me from our conversation. Chris said, “The US ECM industry basically shuts down between Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Sure, it was hyperbole. (We all know you are working, Laurence.) But it made me think about my work habits during the 4th quarter.

The main part of my job at Doculabs is sales. On the one hand 4th quarter is the highest pressure time for sales. You need to hit your number. But there is a temptation to focus only on the deals that have a chance of closing this quarter and to neglect the relationships that are being built today and might be sales partnerships in the future. And then there is prospecting. Prospecting is never fun. Nobody likes doing it. But if you give up on it for several weeks of Q4 in the name of closing business then you are left with a pretty empty pipeline come January.

My goal over the next 6 weeks is to stay productive in all of the areas of my job. Not just the one that will get noticed. I’m also hoping to spend the time between Christmas and New Year’s preparing for AIIM’s CIP exam. This is really a life discipline of learning how to remain focused during times of distraction. But I’m looking at it for the next 6 weeks as a challenge for my own productivity.

Are there areas of your job you tend to lose focus of during this period of the year? I’d love to hear how others deal with this season.

The Bad News is that Everyone is Happy

Hello, I think we’ve met. Aren’t you every IT Executive who has invested in ECM and is realizing that adoption has been abysmal? I thought so. And a compliance event has gotten everyone jumpy about content so now you need to fix it? I’m tracking with you. Here’s the problem. There’s nothing you need to buy. No, I’m serious. You have all the right systems. Pitching vendor x and going with vendor y instead isn’t going to help you.

Let me show you some data we collected from your employees:

Oh, don’t groan yet. Not yet. I haven’t showed you the depressing graph yet. Can we get him a paper bag? Yes I know sir, all that money. Yes, they really did say interoffice mail. Ok, if you think you have the strength take a look at our next chart documenting employee satisfaction with the way they currently manage their content:

You see, the bad news is that everyone is happy with the way things are working today. You have a real problem here. So let’s talk about some ways that you can win the battle for  “hearts and minds.”

  1. Get users to understand the business value of managing information assets – for real, not just in a managing-information-is-important-to-our-business way, which is not much better than the compliance-is-everyone’s-job platitudes found on homemade posters in the break room. Managing information assets (and compliance, for that matter) has to be seen as a core strategic differentiator on par with managing your physical, financial, and human assets—and even more so, because most organizations have already optimized these other three, which makes them commodities. Managing information assets, in contrast, is wide open territory: if you can get it handled, you will be way ahead of the competition.
  2. Demonstrate the business impacts of managing information properly – again, for real, not just in a we-can-save-everyone-eight-hours-a-week way, which nobody who writes the checks at organizations cares about (or at least not enough to actually write a check). You need to show how managing information well lead to more sales, higher margins, or lower costs, which it typically does by improving employees’ ability to perform core business activities. So show how managing information better will enable employees to perform these activities better, which will lead to more sales, higher margins, lower costs.
  3. Acknowledge that you only exist at the organization to drive business value – everything IT does should be evaluated on how well it delivers business value (or enables others to do so). Which is no different than anyone at your organization. You’re not doing it for the kids (well, unless you work for an organization that actually is doing it for the kids, but you get the point), so if you’re not contributing to tangible, measurable business value, best case, you’re dead weight, worst case, your days are numbered.

Making these three attitude adjustments allows you to go to these employees who use shared drives over your multi-million dollar ECM system (and like it that way) and show them how that choice negatively impacts their ability to drive business value…which is much more effective than asking them politely to switch from a system they love to one they hate to make your life easier.

My Five Favorite ECM Bloggers

I’m recommitting to blogging about ECM and part of that process is getting the blog set up. There’s the normal stuff like what is the site name and what do I want to focus on. Those were fairly easy. I’ve had fits and starts in the past trying to use cartoons or do short form curation. So I have a better feeling for what works and what doesn’t.

Part of the blog set up is the blog roll. Every blog has to have a blog roll. And I thought instead of just throwing some hyperlinks out there I would spend a little time talking about why I read these blogs and why I’ve included them on my site. So, in no particular order:

Big Men on Content

Best blog name in the ECM world? I think so. Lee Dallas and Marko Sillanpää provide a nice writing duo. I like Lee best when he is doing the big visionary thing. He has a lot of experience and when he speculates on the big questions for our industry he does so in a way that is informed and grounded. This is a good example of how to lead via blogging, if there is such a thing.

I’m partial to Marko’s product reviews. Check out this piece on tablets from back in April of 2011.

Info Mgt Nuggets

Christian Walker is a pretty thoughtful guy when it comes to content but that’s not what I like about him. I like that he can smell some bullshit and he doesn’t hold back about it. Take a look at his post “I Don’t Care” to get a taste of some Canadian intensity.

Word of Pie

Of course Pie is on this list. Are you kidding? Pie’s posts on CMIS have gotten me more excited than a person should be about interoperability standards. And who doesn’t love the Pie V Monks battles that erupt every year or so. (Say aren’t we due for another soon?)

Agile Ramblings

In the interest of full disclosure Joe Shepley, author of this blog, is my boss. But I really like Joe’s approach to consulting. He views the our relationships as consultants to clients as analogous to the relationship between a doctor her patient. I find his thinking on the industry to be insightful because of it’s pragmatism.

Richard Medina

There are a handful of people who could write a history of the ECM industry. Richard is one of them. Rich knows who bought whom, how it is integrated (or not), which clients have used it, etc. He brings a systematic approach to ECM that is very clear. He’s also not afraid to get in the weeds on an issue if it proves a larger point.



My Thoughts on AIIM’s Boot Camp

A week or so ago I attended the AIIM Boot Camp in Chicago. And can I be honest for a minute? I didn’t expect much. That’s not a knock on AIIM. It’s a knock on what conferences have become. Generally we get a parade of marketing-built PowerPoints (sales thinly disguised in research clothing), bad food, and mixed levels of conversation. Out of a 2 day conference I usually walk away with about one or two sessions that I really enjoyed and valued.

The Boot Camp kicked off with a great opening presentation by AIIM COO Atle Skjekkeland. Atle deftly employed the most recent AIIM research on social, mobile, and cloud to continue marching to the beat AIIM set forth back in June officially with the Occupy IT Manifesto.

The other sessions were informative. The only minor critique I would offer is that perhaps AIIM could help their presenters by reducing the amount of preamble on all of the core points in each presentation. (e.g. Every presentation started with a discussion of the rise of social. After hearing it from Atle during the opening session I thought that was enough. But I talk about that for a living. Maybe the other participants found it helpful.)

There was one session that signaled a true change though. Two years ago I attended the e2.0 conference in Boston. After the opening session they had an open mic for questions from the audience. I asked if the social vendors were thinking about how to integrate into records and e-discovery processes. The presenter chuckled and told me that he didn’t think lawyers would figure this out for a long time. I spent the rest of the conference going from booth to booth asking every vendor the same question. What was the plan for storing, preserving, and presenting this information for potential litigation or compliance concerns. Everyone looked at me like I was insane.

Fast-forward to the AIIM Boot Camp. The very same company who told me at e2.0 in 2010 that social and compliance didn’t need to worry about each other was preaching that all collaboration systems must be integrated into a system of record!

As I mentioned in my previous post we are still a long way from making that happen. But I think it is telling that leading organizations are thinking in that direction.

The Boot Camp sells itself short by declaring it provides 5 steps to Victory over Manual Process. It is a vision of the future of our industry. The exciting thing is that it isn’t just a vision anymore. It is happening. Cloud, Social, and Mobile are going to continuing driving the discussion not just because they are innovative and fun. But because they are going to become part of the fabric that makes up everything we know to be ECM.

The interesting part of the next couple years will be to see what “good enough” is in these areas. SharePoint has showed us that “good-enough” is the new disruptive technology. Fully bolstered Facebook-like experiences are not going to be the end game. Instead we will see an evolution of social collaboration in business shedding the useless layers and becoming leaner and more integrated into core business systems.

AIIM has made a big gamble with their organization to focus on this evolution. This Boot Camp was my first hands on experience of AIIMs big gamble. I’ll talk more about that in my next post. And I’ll explain why I think it is working.


There are still four more locations for the Boot Camp Check out the schedule to see if there is one in your area.

Jive/Box Integration: Disruptive or Non-Starter?

Box and Jive Software have just announced that they will partner to deeply integrate their offerings:

“Together, Box and Jive will change how customers share and collaborate on content, driving a substantial new level of business value for knowledge workers in the enterprise and making organizations more competitive and productive.”

Perhaps Box and Jive will be successful in this venture. There are certainly many who have attempted and failed in similar arrangements. Heck, even when both systems are owned by the same company, integration work takes a lifetime.

Box and Jive are both nimble little companies, and so they may execute with more agility than the marketplace is used to. I anticipate a type of “app” feature within the respective systems. The most difficult capability they are promising is cross-platform search. I won’t hold my breath for that.

But even if this partnership is fruitful, will it really be as “disruptive” as both parties think? Let me answer that question with another question.  Have either of these two companies been as disruptive as they think they are? To date, no. I have yet to see multi-departmental, much less enterprise-wide deployments of either of these technologies at a large company. They each have found success in being an easily deployed departmental solution.

I don’t anticipate a lot of departments who have purchased either of these tools for a specific use case clamoring to integrate them, especially if doing so is any harder than installing an app.

Now, to return to a drum I’ve been banging since E2.0 Boston 2010, this would have the potential to be a killer app if Box provided any records management functionality. Today, though, they don’t. So, if you are an owner of any social platform, you need to consider how the content that’s created and collaborated on within that system will be stored, preserved, retrieved, and disposed of according to your organization’s records management policy.

Or imagine that your sales team is using a collaboration solution to work on contracts. You need to think about what you are trading in compliance and possible e-discovery headache, for mobility and ease of use.

There are no good answers to the trade-off between social-local-mobile solutions and maintaining a solid system of record. No one has fully integrated their social/mobile system with their system of record yet. But that doesn’t preclude you from the hard work of figuring out how your organization is going to manage the content in these systems, from a policy and procedure standpoint.

For Capture to Work it Must Work Together

I work with Richard. But I genuinely enjoy reading his take on things. Even something as “exciting” as capture. Here’s a taste:

As you probably know if you’ve been dealing with complex systems (like production capture and workflow that’s integrated with downstream business systems), it’s not enough that the technologies have to “work”. Sure, the scanner and capture software and OCR engines and imaging or document management systems have to “work” – but they also have to work together. The capture software has to run the scanners and other channels, and the OCR engines have to work with those things, and they all have to integrate properly with the ECM systems and downstream business systems and workflow.

But even that’s not good enough! The whole contraption has to work cost-effectively. Which is to say it has to save you money, or make you money. This is an extension about what you probably already know about when to do OCR, versus when to just hand-key the data from documents or forms: Sometimes you have too many errors, and QA and error correction makes OCR inefficient. It’s just more efficient to do it manually!