Reflections on the 2018 state of information management

Chief Evangelist, AIIM International

I’ve been saying for years that data innovations make me feel a bit less center stage than I once did. There are two reasons why. The traditional way of looking at processes and automation through a content management lens is changing. And, the lines have disappeared between structured and unstructured information; content and data.

That means a very different role long-term for content people.

The importance of content management

“Content management” at least as it’s traditionally defined is no longer the straw that stirs the process drink. It’s a key element, yes. It’s an important set of tools in the enterprise toolkit. But it is not the only game in process town.

This is reflected in how IBM is now structured relative to its content management capabilities. All of the familiar content management tools and products robotic process automation (RPA), content management, capture, workflow and business rules are all now grouped under Business Process Automation. The focus is on applications that use content services and data capabilities for automation and the integration of content services into existing applications.

The role of information governance

The other side of our traditional content world, of course, is information governance. The governance capabilities at IBM are now grouped within IBM Analytics under Unified Governance and Integration, focused on data integration, data governance, master data management, data replication, data quality and information lifecycle governance.  

Truth be told, those first five elements are not the usual focus of AIIM and ARMA seminars. Therein lies something we need to think carefully about.

Traditional information governance and records management folks from the content world that focus on “documents” need to get familiar quickly with concepts from the data side of the house, because that is going to be the dominant framework in the era of AI and machine learning.

How many content-centric information governance professionals are well versed in data governance concepts? Data lakes? Master data management?

I will confess that I need to expand my own skill set.

The intersection of content management and governance

These two concepts content management as part of the automation toolkit and governance as an automated capability that extends beyond content came together for me recently. In a presentation by Joel Lutz, head of enterprise data governance and privacy at Vanguard, he suggested that one should clearly answer four key data questions first, using “data” as a broad umbrella to include content. We should be asking

  1. What data do we have?
  2. Where is that data located?
  3. What systems are using that data and for what purposes?
  4. Does the use meet all regulatory and business requirements?

Getting an initial handle on these core questions, of course, is more difficult than it seems. Sustaining this commitment in an era of exponentially increasing volumes is even harder. It requires a different approach to governance than is typical in most organizations. He noted that automating governance is no longer optional; you must use technology because scale requires new approaches, and you must integrate data governance into the processes themselves. It can’t be a bolt-on afterthought.

I think all of this points to the need to view content and information governance capabilities from the outside-in, that is, from the perspective of how organizations are trying to transform the experiences of their customers, employees and partners.

The opportunity

I spend a lot of time with sell-side content management organizations that are trying to expand their markets by selling new analytics and automation capabilities to content people with enterprise content management (ECM) implementations. I think many have this exactly backwards. The true path to market expansion is to sell content capabilities to data analytics and automation people.

It may sound like semantics, but it requires a fundamentally different approach to the market. From experience, I can say that a lot of folks on data analytics and automation have no idea what we do on the content or unstructured part of the business, why it requires different disciplines, and how we do it. I’ve spoken to data people who think it’s kind of magic to be able to scrape data from a form that you've never seen before and automatically incorporate this data into a business process. That’s something we've been doing for a decade, and it’s where the vast experience of information professionals from the unstructured side of the house comes into play. That’s only if and it’s a big if we can translate what we do into the broader space of data professionals.

We believe that information is the currency that fuels an organization. As such, it is an organization’s most important asset. At the very time that information assets are increasingly important, our ability to manage them is eroding due to the exploding volumes, variety, complexity and velocity of information coming into our organizations. Addressing the rising tide of information chaos is a prerequisite to solving the digital transformation puzzle.

For those of you with content skills, here is where you can find information to go beyond content to bring structured and unstructured information management together.