Friday, November 21, 2014

Building an Information Factory

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 United States Post Office (USPO) tried staying open later and also tried selling non-mail 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.  In fact, 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.

Steal this Song

Some kid had the bright idea that he could build an online network for people to share music for free, over the internet (otherwise known as Napster). Wonderful idea, unless of course you are the artists who created the music or the music companies that sell it. In either case, both the artist and music company will be directly and substantially impacted.  The music industry was ill prepared for this transformational change and 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 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 and instead 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 and sell the music, 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 from their own websites. For companies like Sony and their famed (tape-based) Walkman, the story of their decline is well documented and painful to revisit. 

The Changing Information Landscape

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 negatively impacting IT frameworks, storage networks, servers and employees. It’s also about more opposing 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 corporate privacy officer is pushing for the company to keep less information to reduce overall risk.
If, in another world, information grew at 2 or 3% per year, then maybe employees could manage privacy, protect company trade secrets and 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 they face. More company information exists outside the company firewall (or in unmanaged repositories) than ever before, making control and access a new costly complexity. There has been a proliferation of new laws and regulations dictating how organizations deal with litigation response, manage company IP, lock down personally identifiable information (PII) or personal health information (PHI), or classify records.

Dealing with the Perfect Information Storm

How does a company deal with this “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, does exactly what he has done every other day. The products that are created look and function exactly like the ones produced yesterday, most likely boring for Bob, but predictable for the company and the factory in which Bob works. That is because the process by which the products were created was a process meant to predictably create the widget the same way, day in and day out (think Henry Ford). Behind the factory processes is the concept that building a good and repeatable 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 itself 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 factory-based manufacturing process is not right for the task.

One Man’s Record is another Man’s Junk

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 it’s not, that is simply no longer doable as we have too much information volume and it continues to grow. Even more importantly, if you asked 10 employees their opinion on the business value of a document, they would likely have several different CORRECT ways to manage or classify it.  It’s something like - one man’s record is another man’s junk.  Or better stated, everyone, no matter how much training they have, evaluates information differently. Not all the time, but a lot. That is because where you sit in an organization, your individual educational background, risk tolerance, understanding of the content, etc. all impact how you evaluate whether or not it’s a record, if its private, if 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 statements is game changing yet folks still wear their incremental (paper-based) information management hat limping along trying to solve a transformative problem with the wrong set of tools - Much like trying to eat 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 possibly work, in other words think reproducible. Think massive. Think through-put. Think practical. Think transformational.
Can or should a company even contemplate managing hundreds of millions of files with rules built for a time when there were no computers and a few dozen paper record types? The information management space is trying to solve a transformational change issue with wimpy incremental ideas whose days were numbered decades ago. Get a clue and get on the transformation bus. Employees couldn’t manage company records 10 years ago when the company information footprint was 1/100th its current size (or less). The key take-away - 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 strategy 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 of years no matter what.
     9.     Develop rules for every new information source upfront so end of life is predictable and contemplated.
    10.   Apply simpler rules to all environments with a specific 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 incremental fixes won’t address the real issue. In other words, managing information in the current environment is unlike anything ever before as there is so much more content in so many more places which the company doesn’t have control over. It’s time for a whole new way to manage information. It is time for information management professionals to take the lead in guiding the factory in managing information.  Employees can’t and shouldn’t be expected to 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.  Instead, build an information factory, automate as much as possible, and manage whole environments as one. Time changes and you need to revisit and rework your thinking about what works on a regular basis.

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”.  Ka-Boom.


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