Going Digital: An overview

There has been a ‘promise’ of getting rid of paper altogether in organisations or for persons in general. Unfortunately that day is still some time away for most of us and may not come until all the sources of paper have been used.

In this series of posts I am exploring the current technological capabilities that are available today. The reason for me to explore this topic is that the business benefits can be quite significant for an organisation, such as:

  • Information can be accessed anywhere and anytime, especially if you have multiple locations
  • Information can be processed more efficiently, especially when multiple persons are involved
  • Compliance needs can be addressed at the very beginning, when information enters and/or leaves the organisation
  • Business continuity concerns can be addressed by reducing risks of information loss
  • The required office space can be reduced

High level there are three views that I would like to explore as depicted in the figure below.

There is the incoming communications of which a significant part is already electronic such as e-mail. However there is still phyisical mail that is being sent to an organisation, for example signed contracts with clients or complaints. This is a part which is difficult to control.

The use of paper within your organisation is something which you can control much better. And then there is the outgoing communications to your shareholders, clients, government agencies, etc.

In order for an organisation to have the capability to become digital this means that there are a number of key (IT) capabilities have to be part of your IT’s infrastructure. For example scanning facilities, indexing services, software that allows users to annotate PDFs, workflow / routing, digital signatures and records management.

A first blog about digital signatures can be found here.

How to help your colleagues to reduce your e-mail load?

Change starts with people setting an example! If you feel strongly about helping your organisation to reduce the amount of e-mails, then what are you going to do about it?

Unfortunately it depends on the situation. I have a number of suggestions for different types of e-mail that you receive:

  • Requests for a piece of information, for example a project plan that someone would like to reuse, how to do something or the response to an RFI for a particular type of request.
    If not done already, take the time to place this kind of information on your intranet, your wiki or knowledge portal so people can find these themselves. Of course you should notify the person that sent you this request the link to the information preferably directly from the source.
  • Your opinion regarding a particular topic. You have 2 options.
    For a one to one conversation: Start an Instant Message converstion with the person or just call the person to prevent e-mails being sent back and forth. It is often quicker and more effective this way.
    If multiple people need to be involved: Start a threaded discussion online that prevents a reply to all chain of e-mails
  • Someone sends you information that they feel you should know and possibly already have received before
    Do not react to the e-mail as you do not want to encourage this type of behavior.
  • You need to confirm or approve something
    Just answer the person but only CC people that really need to know.
  • Someone that just want to have a chat about something random
    Don’t respond unless you have nothing better to do…

The other thing you have full control over is to think before starting typing an e-mail and consider the different communication and collaboration means at your disposal that may be appropriate to serve your needs. This blog post provides some excellent tips on writing e-mails

Do you have suggestions that work for you to help your colleagues, yourself and the rest of the world spent a little less time on e-mail? Please comment on this post.

Note: Obviously if you don’t have any alternative tools then you are in trouble unless you find a sponsor to implement them.

Book Review – Grouped by Paul Adams

This book was an interesting read to gain more insights into social behavior relevant to understanding social networks and social media. It is an easy read and still there are enough facts and examples to support the insights by Paul Adams. His insights are based on the abudance of research available in this area. Therefor the book can be a good directory towards research that you may be interested in.

However there is not much guidance with respect to how to apply these insights in practice, apart from examples such as Facebook and Zynga.

Conclusion: “An interesting starting point but no direct implementation guidance”

E-mail Management – a design decision

As discussed previously, I expect e-mail will be still around for some time. This means there is a need for each organisation to manage its e-mail. This is one of the topics that should be addressed by your Records Management strategy or your Enterprise Content Management strategy (if you have one).

However before you start implementing a systems, there are a number of questions to ask in order to determine whether you actually want to have a system:

  • Do you have large volumes and/or large number of employees?
    • If yes, then this may be a reason for an e-mail management system as it can reduce your storage costs
  • Are you located in a country where you may be required to produce e-mails as part of a litigation or due to legal requirements or for compliance initiatives?
    • If yes, then this may be a reason for an e-mail management system especially if you expect this to happen frequently. For example if you are part of an government agency in a country where there are regular political demands.
  • Can you justify the license costs and the implementation costs?
    • If no, then you should have to put procedures and policies in place to allow you to retrieve e-mails (manually) from you backups.
    • If no and the chances of a discovery request are low, you may be able to outsource this to a specialised firm when there is a request
  • Do you have a different system to retain e-mails for records management purpose?
    • If yes, you may be able to arrange for e-mails to be stored in such as system (provided the volume is low)

If you decided to implement an e-mail management system then you should look into the capabilities required. The figure below gives a high level view of the capabilities.

You should also look into the technical requirements and non-functional requirements such as intergrations, infrastructure requirements, capture volumes, capture speeds, and application support to realise these capabilities.

For some more information about e-mail management:

No more e-mail, it could work!

In a previous post I discussed the possibilities to stop using e-mail within a corporate environment. There are a few persons that have been able to reduce their reliance on e-mail to an admirable low amount.

This article from Wired describes how Luis Suarez from IBM has been able to reduce his usage of e-mail to a cool 2 minutes per day!!! Although he has not been able to eradicate e-mail completely he is basically using it as an inbox only tool. Whenever possible he uses internal or external social tools to communicate with people. This has reduced his time required to communicate.

According to this article there are a few colleagues of Luis Suarez that also have taken the same direction. Juliana Leong, one of these people, says that by using social tools to answer questions, the number of questions to her have reduced because answers are accessible to everyone. Another effect of the openess was that questions are asked more through social tools which makes it possible for multiple people to answer a question. This can result in faster responses.

Encouraging to see that people are able to achieve this already in a corporate environment. At the same time the article also highlights that these people are still a minority. Hopefully they will get a bigger following in the near future!

Can Enterprise Content Management become ‘plumbing’?

A long time ago I had an interesting discussion with one of my then managers whether ECM should be plumbing or not. This was around the time the people in my group started moving towards ECM related projects and we as a group were still trying to define ECM as a domain for ourselves. At that time my bold statement was that it should be plumbing from an end-users perspective and try to get away from the IT focus. Do I still think this is the case… now that I am much more experienced? Let’s take a look at both sides…

But first what do I mean by ‘plumbing’? In the physical world we have grown up with electricity and reliable water available at any time and we do not have to worry about there being enough quantity* and that complies with the agreed standards such as voltage and frequency for electricity. Having this kind of infrastructure in place has enabled countless different applications from microwaves to internet and from good tasting coffee at your local coffee shop to Jacuzzis in your garden. What I mean in case of ECM ‘plumbing’ is that an end-user or business owner does not have to worry about there being sufficient capacity or availability. Obviously this means a lot of work for the IT organisation.

Why should ECM be ‘plumbing’?
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just store your project team’s documents somewhere, collaborate with third parties and not have to worry about using the correct (minimum) metadata. While at the same time having your specific security requirements met and no one from IT bothering you about how much space you are going to use. And everything is setup in a matter of minutes or a few hours with almost no effort.

Records managers can do their job without involving busy end-users when there is a compliance issue or litigation against the company. If every new repository in the organisation, regardless of type of content, is setup according to records management standards from the start or, even better, is seamlessly connected to whatever system the records managers use to do their work. This would save lengthy and, let’s face it, boring discussions with business owners or the IT department to convince them of the need.

When there is a great opportunity in the market which demands for speed then it would be great if you could setup an external website, without having to go through a formal process of approvals from IT architects, having infrastructure discussions, and waiting for resources to become available to capture this market before someone else does this.


  • If setup correctly this can benefit end-users tremendously through speed and ease of implementation. There are limited number of technologies in use which lowers the learning curve for new employees and reduces licensing costs,. It is easier to keep the IT resource pool trained and relevant, easier to aggregate content / provide access to content through search capabilities across different repositories and there is more time available to improve existing tools.
  • There is less lengthy involvement of end-users required in IT projects
  • Overall there should be less costs involved in the long run
  • Easier to implement compliance initiatives
  • Basic IT infrastructure setup is arranged from the start such as security, internal/external access, storage, and scalability


  • Setting up ECM related services can take a long time and there’s a risk of business needs not being met with sufficient speed
  • Standard tools cannot always be used by everyone and require a sound process to be able to deviate from the standard
  • Selecting technologies to provide services is more critical because when a service becomes successful it will be more difficult to switch
  • Requires top management commitment, significant budgets and active support
  • Requires consensus across departments/divisions to become successful. Governance across various parties is always more complex
  • Risks of the creation of a bureaucratic support organisation limiting the speed of implementation

Please note: in some case it could be possible to use externally hosted or cloud services instead of developing service in house which could reduce the initial costs and possibly make switching easier (provided there is a good migration path available).

Why should ECM NOT be plumbing?
If there are no limitations regarding technology choices and end-users have full control. For example your team is new to the organisation and is already familiar with a specific tool that is not yet available within the organisation. Having to learn a new tool could take some time for them.

Another situation may arise where there is a group of end-users with unique requirements that are difficult to implement with a generic tool while there are special tools in the market for such a group of end-users. An example, from personal experience, is that is a significant effort to implement the requirements of a legal team in a generic tool such as MS Sharepoint or EMC Documentum.


  • Unique situations can be addressed without being limited by the current standards and available tools
  • There are now many tools available in the cloud or hosted that can be setup quickly at limited costs
  • Less commitment from top management required
  • Governance is less complex on application level as there are less parties involved
  • Smaller budgets required (but in total for the organisation it could be more)
  • Potentially faster implementation, especially if it is only for a smaller group of end-users
  • Less need for consensus across departments/divisions required


  • Potentially many tools available within the organisation resulting in higher license costs, a higher learning curve for employees, multiple tools that do the same thing (more or less),…
  • Requires a more diverse skill set from the IT department
  • Requires significant end-user involvement
  • Potentially reinventing the wheel several times
  • More overall effort required on installations, upgrades and maintenance of applications
  • More effort required to aggregate content or make content available in search capabilities
  • More due diligence required before a new tool can be used. For example when using new cloud based or hosted applications there may be a need for involvement of security personnel, legal counsels, records managers, etc

My ‘revised’ conclusion:
ECM should be both… plumbing and no plumbing at the same. There are elements of ECM that would be highly beneficial to an organisation if these would be part of the ‘plumbing’ within the organisation. For example repository services for documents, records, and digital assets. There could be a service to automatically setup internal collaboration spaces / workspaces … It could be possible to automatically archive content and support for business applications such as ERP.

However there will always be situations that are unique where it does not make sense to setup services upfront or are only for a specific type of end-users that have their specific justifiable requirements.

So when should an organisation consider investing in the development of ECM ‘plumbing’?

  • The organisation has a well defined vision & strategy regarding the application of ECM within the organisation. The end-user communities and business owners have a business need that can be fulfilled with the service.
  • There should be sufficient scale and reuse of the plumbing. In other words the functionality should be sufficiently broad to support many users and situations.
  • The services can be setup in a way that requires little resources or no resources in every new setup.
  • The organisation can commit for the long run as it will require a significant amount of effort to get it right and there are sufficient resources, including budget, to improve and maintain once a service is setup. Furthermore there is an appropriate governance structure in place to deal with the current and future developments.
  • The service can be setup based on internal and external standards. This should reduce future replacement of technology
  • The service will not be limited based on technology considerations such as storage capacity available, compliance with the organisations security standards or network capacity. If a service is attractive to end-users this will kill it right away because it cannot deliver on promise.



TIMAF best practices – a collection of how to’s

The Information Management Foundation collected 19 best practices in their first book from various areas within the information management domain. The book’s editors are Bob Boiko, one of the leading authorities on Content Managemnt, and Erik Hartman who among others organises the Hartman Event in The Netherlands. The cases are written by various authors that have many years of experience in their respective area. This is one of the first books that I have encountered that presents independent cases of real life situations. The are also a few more generic topics described for example the lessons learned from the Dublin Core Meta Data Initiative about setting and maintaining standards or how to develop your governance.

The independent cases is the strength and the weaknesses of this book. You gain insights into their specific challenges and how they went about this. At the same time this also limits the reach of the book because the cases do not cover the full breath of the information management domain. The focus is mostly on the content management side of the domain with a bias towards web content management and related topics for example meta data and search that are also more broadly applicable.

I hope that they will follow through with publishing more books, or perhaps a website that continuously collects best practices, where other topics such as records management, document management, email management, business intelligence, master data management, etc get more attention as well.

The book is great if you are looking for a proven approach how to go about projects in a specific area. If you are looking for actual solutions or architectures as a reference or as inspiration for your situation, I do not mean specific technology as such, then this book will provide you with little answers.

Do these limitations make this a bad book? Not at all! I will just have to keep looking to gain more insights into what organisations have actually implemented succesfully and why they decided to do things their way.

Can someone know everything about Enterprise Content Management?

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a term that has been around for quite some time now. I myself have been working with ECM components from the start of my career although I would not have been able to classify this as ECM at the time…

There are various definitions about ECM but most seem to agree that ECM includes subdomains such as:

  • Document Management
  • Records Management
  • Workflow Management
  • Web Content Management
  • Digital Asset Management
  • (Enterprise) Search

There are various other domains such as Collaboration, E-mail Management or Business Process Management that could be added depending who you would ask.

Each of these can be used in numerous ways separately or combined to fulfil the needs of users, departments and businesses. For example an external facing corporate website could be managed with a WCM system, have a search engine attached and the images and videos presented could come from a DAM system. Typically the publishing process would be tightly controlled by the Public Relations department or a Communications department.

Another example could be the storing of matter file related documents by Legal Counsels using a Document Management system* to provide the need for secure storage, document collaboration, access control, and basic progress tracking.

The last example, to demonstrate the fast possibilities for ECM technologies, is the use of an Enterprise Search tool setup to provide a unified search function across different repositories to help users find information they need for their work such as templates, process descriptions, wiki pages containing relevant knowledge, etc.

In each of these examples and each implementation there are different business needs fulfilled, different users are involved, different business processes involved and different types of content is being stored and managed. These subdomains would not have been lumped together if there were no similarities.

For example all content is likely to have a defined life cycle, there workflows involved**, in order to manage the content there is a need for meta-data to be collected, etc. Due to these and other similarities it is possible for experienced persons to extrapolate their previous experiences to other subdomains and may still being able to be effective. Especially if they involve ECM technology and process specialists.

Document Management and Records Management have many similarities if they are related to Documents as content. However Records Managers are also very much interested in records that are not documents such as e-mail threads or Instant Messaging conversations. These are not just other types of content but also require different tools to capture.

“Can someone know everything about Enterprise Content Management?“

My answer is “No”,however in order for someone to be able to be effective in the application of ECM regardless of their roles:

  • A person needs at least a good understanding of the different subdomains
  • A person should be aware of his/her knowledge limitations and use ECM specialists for the subdomain you are dealing with (if you are not that person)
  • A person should be aware of persons that claim they know everything about ECM and are likely to have a preference or sweet spot regarding one or at best a few subdomains.

So where do I stand? I do not know everything about ECM either!!! I have touched almost every ECM subdomains in my consulting career to varying degrees. With respect to ECM I am the most experienced with Document Management because in all my projects this topic has been either the main focus or was a component to be used (even in my non-ECM projects). A good second is Web Content Management.

*) There are also specialised systems
**) automated or manual