Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Building an Information Management Factory

By Randolph Kahn

Years ago, email burst onto the business scene to become the premier business productivity tool used at work. Not surprising, the post office immediately started to witness the precipitous decline in the number of first class business letters being sent. Revenue from first-class mail in 2000 was $91 Billion, and according to the US GAO it’s projected to be $39 Billion in 2020. Email was a game changer for which the post office didn’t have an immediate answer. The USPO tried staying open later and also tried selling non-mailing related products. The USPO even allowed customized stamps to be printed at home. But in the end, the only way the USPO was going to replace the revenue lost due in large part to email use which replaced the first class letter was with truly transformative change.  Maybe there wasn’t really a viable answer. But whatever was tried was incremental in nature and insufficient to stem the bleeding that was catastrophic to the letter mailing business.

Some kid has the bright idea that he can build an online network for people to share music for free, over the internet. Wonderful idea, unless of course you are the artists who created the music or the music companies that sell it. In either case, both will be directly and substantially impacted.  The music industry was ill prepared for this transformational change and it started to flail immediately trying to seize control of the problem. Whether you embrace change or fight it when confronted with transformational changes will in part dictate your future. But we will come back to that in a minute.

First the Recording Industry Association (RIA) sued the creators of the various such music sharing environments. Then the RIA sued select “borrowers” of the online “free” music to send a message to the rest of the snot nosed kids.  This approach didn’t address the heart of the issue either and made the industry look like bullies. While they were trying to stop transformational change with ineffective incremental baby steps, the winners, the ones building transformational solutions, were creating new ways to build value and business around a new reality-- that music could flow fast and freely across the web.

For Apple, which figured out how to deliver the music and sell it, they have been handsomely rewarded. Many artists now sell their music one song at a time through the Apple music ecosystem or elsewhere or even sell it directly to listeners. For companies like Sony and their famed Walkman, the story of their decline is well documented and painful.  

But this is not an article about business transformation generally. Rather, it’s an article about how global business is going to deal with an information landscape that is rapidly evolving and morphing in unpredictable ways. It’s about companies being overwhelmed by a tsunami of data routinely impacting IT frameworks, storage networks, servers and employees. It’s also about more competing laws and rules that can’t be applied or followed at the document or file level. It’s about big data demanding more information to crawl through while the privacy officer is pushing for the company to keep less information.

If information grew at 2 or 3% per year, then maybe employees could manage privacy, protect company trade secrets or handle the task of records management. But most organizations’ Information Footprints are growing at 25-50% per year and that is not the only challenge. More company information exists outside the company firewall than ever before, making control and access a new complexity. There has been a proliferation of new laws and regulations dictating how organizations deal with litigation response, manage company IP, lock down health information or classify records. 

How does a company deal with the “Perfect Information Storm” where massive volume meets massive management complexities, which collides with burgeoning laws all of which can result in existential consequences from mismanagement.

Every day Bob goes to work and like the day before, he does exactly what he did every day before that day. Perhaps boring for Bob, but predictable for the company and the factory in which Bob works, the products that are created look and function exactly like the ones produced yesterday. That is because the process by which they were created was well, a process meant to predictably create the widget the same way, day in and day out. Behind the factory is the concept that building a good manufacturing process in turn ensures that the widget or whatever, is built predictably good enough, every time. The whole idea is that once the factory is built well, there is no need to rethink the manufacturing process every time another widget is made. If I focus on making each widget by hand when I need to make scads of them, then I am committing to a process that is wrong for the task. On the other hand, if I wanted to craft a fine painting, the manufacturing process is not right for the task.

Contrary to popular belief, information is not so unique that it requires the master artisan’s touch to manage it properly.  Even if that were true and its not, that is simply no longer doable as we have too much information volume and its getting bigger all the time. And even more importantly, if you asked 10 employees about the business value of a document, they would likely have different CORRECT ways to manage or classify it.  Its something like- one man’s record is another man’s junk.  Or better stated, everyone, no matter how much training they have received, evaluates information differently. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. And that is because where you sit in the organization, your educational background, risk tolerance, understanding of the content, etc. all impact how you evaluate whether or not it’s a record, if its private, it it’s a trade secret, etc.

Compliance with laws won’t get any easier. The places data is parked won’t get fewer and volume of information won’t get less voluminous.  Each one of those is game changing. Yet folks still wear their incremental information management hat limping along trying to solve a transformative problem with the wrong tool. Like eating an ocean sized pot of soup with a spoon.  Transformational change needs transformation solutions not incremental ones.

So what to do?

Build an Information Management Factory.  You need to solve the problem from the top down. Looking at the individual file when there are hundreds of millions or billions of them can’t work. Think reproducible. Think massive. Think through-put. Think practical. Think transformational.

Can or should a company ever even contemplate managing hundreds of millions of files with rules built for a time when there were no computers and a few dozen paper records. The information management space is solving a transformational change issue with wimpy incremental ideas whose days were numbered years ago. And yet people are still thinking there is a possibility that it could work.  Get on the clue bus. Employees couldn’t manage company records 10 years ago when the company information footprint was 1/100 its current size, or less. Rethink and rework everything.
10 Things You Must Do Now to get Information Management Right?
1.       Throw out old thinking, old policies, old ideas and tired information workers
2.       Hire a new IM factory “Owner”
3.       Build a multi-disciplinary IM Factory team
4.       Develop the factory build out and agenda for the next 3 years
5.       Build an IM Factory
6.       Simplify rules so that all rules can be applied without much or any employee intervention
7.       Use automation and applications to do the “heavy lifting”
8.       Make certain environments “Non records” locations so that all content goes away after a couple years no matter what
9.       Develop rules for every new info source upfront so end of life is predictable and contemplated
10.   Apply simpler rules to all environments with focus on storage hogs

Don’t forget to buy some robots.  Robots are good for everything.

Whether you embrace change or fight it, when confronted with today’s information realities, what is clear is that the problem isn’t getting any easier to solve. What is equally as clear is that you and your colleagues have not been very successful at solving it either. The reason is clear, minor incremental changes won’t solve the information management problem any more than a spoon can be used to serve up the ocean.
When faced with an exponential information growth problem, responding with incrementally better solutions won’t address the issue. In other words, managing into the current environment is unlike ever before as there is so much more content, in so many more places which the company doesn’t have control over. Its time for a whole new way to manage. It time for people to be smartly guide the factory in managing information.  Employees can’t and shouldn’t manage stuff anymore. They are bad at it. They don’t have time for it. And there is too much of it to meaningfully attack the issue.  Build a factory. Automated response. Whole environments managed as one. Time changes and you need to rework your thinking about what works.
I heard a funny joke-“How many Canadian post office employees does it take to deliver a letter?” Answer—“None as they are phasing out of home delivery because they are bleeding money”.  Boom.

We have spent the last few years building IM factories. It’s doable and needed. If we can do it, so can you. Get busy

We the People Expect a Record

I am exhausted by all the petty infighting. I am tired of the partisan politics. Just knock it off already.  It’s nothing but wrangling between the political parties. Everyone gets it. It’s so painfully clear. Poor Hillary in another overly politicized inquisition to just tear away at her flesh and storied career.  

Our republic is great. For me it is the greatest country that has ever existed. There are some other really good ones, but America is the “cat’s meow.” Loathe to be insensitive with my last idiomatic expression, I don’t want to offend cat owners or dog lovers or people who like leashes--well you get the idea.

America is great in part because it has advanced a unique form of government with built-in checks and balances, among many other institutional protections. What that means is that one branch of government can’t push around another branch. After all, we evolved out of a polity where the king or queen held sway and the Constitutional Framers decided the monarchy wouldn’t work here.  That means that Congress can’t make war by itself and when the President can’t get his ideas passed through Congress, he can’t circumvent the process with some king-like Executive Order to frustrate the process, for example (the Iran Nuclear deal advanced through Executive Order notwithstanding).

Another unique feature of our democracy is governmental transparency. We get to see what our elected officials do or not do. They are supposed to memorialize their actions in the government record for posterity and transparency sake. Thereafter our laws, like Freedom of Information, ensure that we have an optic into governmental activities, assuming it isn’t classified. Because we don’t want just anyone seeing our classified information.

Another really great thing about America is our advancement of individual freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights, among other places.  But it seems like sometimes when our great American values collide, we have to have a predictable way to advance the most important values of our great land.  The right to do whatever you want, whenever you want is not likely going to win especially when it’s the government at issue.

So if you are a government worker and you don’t like having a government email, too bad so sad. All employees can’t do what they want at work, including the US Government employees.  Or if you don’t like the government provided IT staff, technology choices or functionality provided to get your job done, you can’t just find a cheapo cloud provider and use their free IT email and storage services for your government work because, come on, that would undermine the whole accountability/transparency thing that made our great nation great.  But Hillary Clinton is different. She is the boss. So when she tells the entire State Department to refrain from using personal email for government work, she was talking to everyone but herself. And when she complains about managing the complexity of multiple communications devices, then she should be able to get rid of her government email all together, right? Come on, she’s the boss and should be able to use a private server located in her basement to manage US foreign affairs for all other nations because it’s just way easier for her.  And if she wants to manage state secrets through an IT provider in Colorado located in a strip mall, then she should be allowed to, because, come on, she’s the Queen Bee. Come on, this is America, “Land of the Home and Free of the Brave.”  Freedom rules. But we do not have kings and queens and that’s the really great part of our great land.

I sure wish they would stop busting Clinton’s chops over the information she sent or received via email. Even if it was classified it wasn’t marked classified so not one of the bad guys would have bothered to hack her account and read such boring stuff. (Yes, I heard the “rumor” that several foreign governments tried to hack her server, but who knows if it’s really true.)

And then there is the personal vs. government issue—you don’t think her aids know the difference between a wedding invitation discussion and an explanation of security threat in Libya and the likelihood of a major terror attack on our diplomatic presence there?  Why not let Clinton decide when she will turn over records in accordance with the Federal Records Act, because after all, transparency can happen sometime in the future—maybe after she is elected queen.  And don’t you think the Secretary of State is the best person at the State Department to know what is classified or top- secret and how to protect it. For that matter, I bet she knows best how to secure data, and between her Colorado IT shop in the mall and the NSA or Department of State security personnel, I am sure she had it all locked down and buttoned up. “Hey, can I get some help over here working my fax machine.” And why bother with the National Archives and Records Administration to decide what is a government record worth keeping when Hillary will give us what she hasn’t destroyed when she decides it’s time. 

It’s an election year and that is all this is—partisan politics. I hate the sabre rattling about the silly email security stuff.

On the other hand, if she wasn’t running for President of the United States and her former boss wasn’t the king, I wonder if Hillary would be prosecuted for her mishandling of sensitive government information the way others have been. Thank goodness for transparency and accountability.  I see myself as an Independent. I am not anti-Hillary. But this is not about Clinton or the Republican’s trying to make hay from the Benghazi tragedy. For me, it’s about making a record. I am for ensuring America’s greatness by keeping a complete record and making it open to the citizens. I am also for protecting government secrets. I am also for applying a little reasonableness to the discussion. If what Hillary did doesn’t bother you a little, perhaps you are too colored by Fall foliage or the election season. Just saying.