Tuesday, 22 April 2014

ECM as a service - is it really a service?

As some of you will no doubt be aware, the New Zealand government has embarked upon a programme to deliver Enterprise Content Management as a service.  So what does this mean in reality - well to try and help and reduce the jargon, here are some of the questions I get asked pretty regularly.

Question 1:  What does ECM as a service mean?
In its simplest sense its a software application (or set of them) that is delivered to you in a different mechanism.  Instead of having the software installed on your servers in your office, its installed elsewhere, managed by someone else and you connect to it through the wonders of the Internet.

Question 2: So why is it better?
Better?  Well in terms of benefits the "as a service" model can result in:
  • Easier Administration
  • Automatic updates and patching (and hence reduced cost)
  • Ease of accessibility - all you need is an internet connection
  • Increased compatibility - everyone is on the same version
  • Reduced risk, overheads etc etc
  • Reduced cost....hmmm, we'll pick this up later

Question 3:  So Its going to save me vast amounts of money?
Perhaps.  Just because the service is delivered to you in a different way does not necessarily mean it's going to save you heaps of money.  For some organisations it will save a lot, for others it will save a little and for others it will cost more.  Why?  Well the idea behind a service is that you consume it pretty much as it is and you walk away when you need to.  But for most organisations moving to this service you have migration costs, customisation and integration costs etc etc added to that the level of potential change the organisation is going through and its not a 'service' that you will walk away from in 6 months, or even in some cases 3 years.

Question 3:  So I don't need to do any requirements anymore?
YES YOU DO!  I have heard this question so many times recently its starting to concern me.  The ECM as a service offering still requires you to understand your business requirements, your objectives, your user behaviour and appetite for change, the line of business systems that either consume or connect to the ECM.  You don't need to do requirements as part of an RFP process but you still need them to make sure you're getting what you need, that there is traceability from solution implementation>testing>design>requirements>business objectives.

Question 4:  But I don't need to worry about the technology?
Kind of - you still have the rest of your technology environment to look after, and there are a lot of connections, quite rightly, between your ECM and your line of business applications; whether that's a list of clients from your case management system,  contract IDs from your financial system, property IDs from your asset management system etc - there are many connections.  But, you don't have to worry about patching and upgrades of your ECM service, the supplier does that for you - and that can be a massive cost saving and a major benefit for many organisations - upgrades aren't always painless!

Top tips if you are looking at an ECM or EIM as a service offering

1.  Due Diligence
Above all else - you are responsible for conducting due diligence, even if there is no RFP process.  You need to read the fine print and make sure any assumptions on both sides are clearly documented and understood.  Hidden assumptions can mean hidden costs and complexity.
  • Each of the service offering are structured a little differently so make sure you understand what is being offered in terms of implementation services as well as technology and software.
  • Make sure you understand what is expected of you, how much input do you have, and are expected to provide during the process - is it your responsibility to deliver use cases, requirements documents, test plan etc
  • What is the exit strategy for the service; how easy is it for you to get your content out of the service with no loss of integrity or is that an additional cost/service for the next project
  • Is the provider setup to support you in terms of resources, knowledge, experience, processes, documentation etc.  Since you are consuming a service, much of the internal capability and knowledge you would traditionally develop will be transferred to your supplier so make sure you are comfortable with what is delivered to you in that regard, and if you're not - tell them

2.  Try before you buy
Like any other software application it's a good idea to look at other sites that have the solution you are interested in, do reference checks, have a look at it in terms of possible fit and most importantly in this scenario - talk to organisations that have purchased and/or implemented a cloud service.  This is all about being informed - but it goes both ways (see point 3)
  • Before you commit to the purchase, does your provider have a sandpit or trial environment that you can access for a pre-defined period to allow you to get a feel for the solution at nominal cost?
  • If its a radical change from what you have now, do you need a well scoped proof of concept to be undertaken?  If you do, clearly document and agree the success criteria before you start!

3.  Meet your project team
Yes this is a service you are consuming but this is also the start of a long relationship with a single provider. 
  • In the past, if you wanted to change support providers you could do so easily at the end of the (usually) annual support period - but what happens now?  In the current environment one service = one provider, so it is critical that you establish your relationships early, meet your project team and the people who are the owners of the relationship post go live. 
  • This applies equally from the supplier's perspective, they need to know you, your culture, your objectives, your resources, your skills, your decision making points in order to be able to support you in the best way possible - so open a dialogue and if you see that there is a potential conflict; deal with it early.   
  • Meeting the team on both sides will give you a clear indication of what perhaps hidden assumptions lie behind the service, for example if your supplier doesn't provide a business consultant but provides a number of technical consultants you will want to think about, and clarify who is delivering that aspect of the solution, its artefacts and solution design - and vice versa.

4.  Define and obtain performance metrics
In most of the services there will be performance metrics including standard infrastructure level metrics such as #of users actively using the service, %downtime over the X period etc but what performance metrics do you need - from a technology, business, and compliance perspective?
  • Reporting can often be an added service, so the sooner you can start thinking of those meaningful metrics that you need the more robust the solution will become.
  • Each of the providers will have a different approach here, so check the fine print about the level of reporting you can expect and in what format - the term "report" can be interpreted in many ways so be clear on this
  • What access do you have internally to write your own reports, do you have the necessary passwords and connections, do you need training, support or is this an enhancement to go into the pot and wait for funding?
  • And before we get too excited with reports and all the wonderful things we "could do", let's also be clear on what we are using the report for - if it has no purpose it shouldn't be delivered.  So what do you have in your service agreement, contract, or internal business case, team metrics etc that these reports will feed/deliver for you?  And if you are shrugging your shoulders right now - perhaps now is the time to start thinking.

5.  The supplier is your partner not your enemy
The one thing I have enjoyed about the NZ process has been the open discussions that have been had between agencies and vendors.  Everyone involved wants this process to be successful, and the relationship with your provider will be critical here.  On both sides, I make a plea again for honest and open communications; if we see things that we think can be improved, or a process that isn't clear lets raise it.  When you are looking at your potential provider, look at their structure - how are they envisaging dealing with you and the wider user community to share experiences, lessons, concerns and opportunities.  The vendor community can bring you insight and experience, but you as the customer also need to bring your thoughts, your needs, your viewpoints and your experience to the table.  That way ECM as a service version 2.0 will be a far better product for all concerned.

A final word
I would have renamed the ECM as a service to ECM Platform as a service, because thats a better reflection of what is being offerred 'as a service', the platform is being delivered to you but the rest of the ECM discipline; your information architecture, security and access framework, metadata schema, collaboration and community configuration, compliance regime, training, policies, governance etc are all still largely your responsibility and rightly so.  So if you were hoping that this would be a "insert disk >click next > click done" process - you're wrong.  But then where is the fun in that :)

As ever guys, these are my thoughts but please share yours - the more we can get some of the myths debunked, the lessons shared the better off we will all be.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Its all to do with training...

"Its all to do with the training:  you can do a lot if you're properly trained"
Queen Elizabeth II

And who would argue with the Queen?  Not I!  So here we have the most commonly used definitions of training:

Training is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one's capability, capacity, and performance

Organized activity aimed at imparting information and/or instructions to improve the recipient's performance or to help him or her attain a required level of knowledge or skill.


the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour:
Oxford Dictionary

Okay, so that's simple enough, training is teaching a skill to someone else, we can handle that.  But how do you train?  Where do you start?  and what does good training actually look like - are there benchmarks, a checklist, well here's the start of this months soapbox; training and competencies.

Tip 0:  Make a Plan

Why do you need a plan?  Well in many cases you already have this plan inside the employees development plan or annual appraisal, it may be a training plan as part of a software rollout, or new process that is being implemented.  Training doesn't happen by itself, you need to make a plan for how you manage training; either for you team or your project - what are you going to do, your manager, your HR department, IT, 3rd party vendor etc.  Planning allows you the time to pull out issues like time, budget, priorities and resourcing that you need to be aware of before commitments are made and expectations set.  It will also influence how much time you can spend on the following.

Tip 1:  Understand your Objectives

This sounds so simple, and in reality it is.  Avoid woolly statements like "I want my staff to be effective in their duties" and replace them with "Staff must be able to create style template in word, and use those styles to create complex documents"

You can get some help here from course outlines, so for example, if you know your staff's Office skills need some attention look at the course objectives to give you an idea of how to structure your objectives.  The actual need for training should be defined in the staff appraisal process or general observations.

If the training has no clear objective then you must ask yourself why it is needed, from a records perspective this often comes back as "but we have to for compliance reasons", that is no reason at all to deliver training.  People's time is precious and if you cant articulate the benefit of training then the training itself is starting off well behind the eight ball.

Tip 2:  Understand your learner

Again this isn't complicated, but too often we overlook the learners needs and assume that everyone will learn through an online e learning tool, or a face to face lecture.  But if training is to be effective it has to, wherever possible, be tailored to the trainees needs.  And yes guys, those "training needs analysis" exercises we used to conduct are still incredibly relevant!  Don't assume that the best bang for buck is a classroom course, in some cases it could be mentoring, or access to webcasts and even dare I say it instructional you tube videos.

Tip 3:  Understand your trainer

Whether this is an in house or outsourced role, you also need to be aware of your trainer's style, the amount of hands on versus classroom lecture that they will naturally deliver.  Like learners, all trainers have a style of their own and you need to be aware of that and assess it for fit before you proceed.  How experienced are they, do they understand the organisation and have they done this before. 


Tip 4:  Test the water

When you are delivering new training or old training through a new medium, test it out first, check the preconceptions you have, the assumptions you have made and get some objective feedback.  This could be gained from within the organisation, through a service provider, contractor, professional colleague etc.  But in cases of large projects and wherever significant money is being spent, test it out before you let real people lose.

Tip 5:  Measurable Results

For any training to be effective, you have to be able to measure its success, whether this is an increase in confidence to deliver workshops, a more assertive staff member, a team member who can now manage the organisations templates, or be the site administrator etc.  If the training is measurable then you will have more success with the individual as they can see direct benefit (WIIFM) but also for the organisation.  Training budgets are often the first things to get cut in times of economic strain and so having your training aligned to the business' objectives, and being able to demonstrate qualitatively or quantitatively the effectiveness of your choices, increased your credibility and has a downstream affect then on your future training requests and recommendations.

OK so 5 tips to start with, I know you have comments - lets hear them :)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Technology is a panacea - Yeah Right!

What a day today has been, do you ever feel like it is groundhog day?  Get the feeling of Deja Vu?  Well that was my day today.

Perhaps I have been in this space too long, perhaps I am getting old :) but I am finding myself increasingly frustrated at how many times people say, "well why cant the system do that for me".... now I do have to think back to my University days here where my Professor proclaimed, a system is like a car, it can transport you where you want to go but you have to operate the pedals and the gears.  And a few years later, that is still very true; but why havent we as a community learned that yet?

Why do we still assume that "the system", can do everything we want for us, and lets be honest  users seem to expect this of almost every system, not just ECM systems.  Ok, wake up call world, technology is a tool - in the right hands it can deliver huge value to the business but in the wrong hands it can wreak havoc.

Over 20 years ago, Information Systems Practice textbooks were talking about the holy trinity of people, process and system as the core of what we have to look for when implementing information systems of any kind.  But 20 years later, we have forgotten that.  As users of technology we seem to have gone backward, waiting for the system to be the panacea, and in the RM space, waiting for the system to magically 'deliver' our perfect view of records management...and we surrendered our brains when?  Systems are only as good as the effort we put in, and in times of fiscal cuts, that effort is reduced consistently.  Now thats not necessarily a bad thing as it can focus the mind very nicely on what we want to deliver, but only when you acknowledge that the dynamics have changed.

And we are not very good at change, are we guys?  No, be honest, our organisations, our technology partners, and our advisors dont seem to be very good at managing change at all.  Perhaps its time we ditched the textbooks and got back to dealing with the real needs here, lets go talk to our team; our people, our users, our clients, our stakeholders.

Oh dear, Im being radical again arent I.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Should we be here?

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my annual Convention and as usual had a great time and learnt something new from every session I attended!

But on the plane ride home, a colleague posed an interesting question for me. You see, in some fields, there is an annual 'navel gaze', a point at which the profession comes together and asks itself "should we exist as a profession", which made me sit back and wonder at us, at the records management community I think its time we had that same conversation.

We have had conversations in recent years as to whether we are a 'profession' or not, and in some areas we still have work to do; research or lack thereof, being a big area of concern for me. But I dont think we have ever asked ourselves if we should exist, why are we here, what value do we bring, what do we accomplish?

I dont think this is a conversation to be scared of either, I think it is a conversation that we should be encouraging, because sometimes you need to look deep inside yourself, answer the hard questions before you can grow and thats where we are now.

In 2010 RMAA changed its name to Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia, a bold move but a necessary one. We have evolved, we are no longer the "filing clerks" that some perceived us as, we are the enablers, the improvers, the delivery team, the gatekeepers, custodians, risk mitigators and strategic thinkers. So what does that mean for the profession, for our skill sets, our competencies and our growth.

If we are to "evolve or die" where do we go next.

So records managers, should we exist as a profession or should we allow ourselves to be subsumed by IT, by Project Managers and Policy Analysts...you tell me.