Q&A with Steve Weissman, ECM Consultant, Thought Leader, and Educator
Content management projects can range from small and tactical to high budget and strategic, and just about anything in between. One of the common denominators of highly successful and valuable content management projects, wherever they lie on the complexity spectrum, is the careful planning and analysis of the business context and processes prior to the development and deployment of a solution. That’s where Steve Weissman comes in.
Steve Weissman, CIP, ECMm, BPMp, has been in the content technology business for the past 20 years. Currently President of the AIIM New England chapter and a sought-after independent consultant, Steve has researched, written about, and provided expert guidance regarding the application of both the most mundane and disruptive technologies.
(Note: If you read through to the end, you can hear Steve say "park the car" in Bostonian.)
JZ: I understand that you are the wizard behind the AIIM training video series that covers all of the topics in the Certified Information Professional (CIP) exam. You also offer an accredited AIIM CIP class. Can you tell me about this certification and your involvement in the certification process?
The first thing to note is that I had nothing to do with the certification. It was all AIIM, all the time. They did a good job with due diligence and seeing how professional certifications operate. This CIP certification is part of AIIM repositioning itself in exciting ways, putting the business practice of information management at the center. They are embracing a view of the world that I've always had. It was Groucho Marx who said, “I'd never be a member of a club that would have me, and now suddenly I am one!”
I'm excited about this transition... essentially, we are all saying that content is content. I'm the guy who stood up at the AIIM conference in 2003 & said, “Why are we distinguishing between web content and enterprise content? It's all content.”
AIIM approached me to do the training videos, and the syllabus was already in place. I looked it over and said, “You had me at hello.”
For starters, master data management as a discipline was something that I had never seen before in an AIIM context, but always believed should be part of the landscape, and it's part of the certification. Content as separate from databases is ridiculous, because business processes pull information from both.
So when they asked me to do the videos, it was a no-brainer. Now, not only are the training videos online, but I have since launched the first accredited classroom course for the CIP. There's a lot of extra value to be derived from an in-class experience. For example, the course can be delivered in context, e.g. an insurance company would have a different training focus for content professionals than a publishing company. Another aspect of the classroom experience is that students talk to each other about the projects they're working on, or have done in the past, and that’s a valuable source of insight.
JZ: You must have seen a lot of content management projects in your time. We know that the analysis phase of any project, not just content management, can often be shortchanged, even if it’s the most important phase, often driving the efficiency and smooth progress of a project. How do you help clients with this project phase? Do you ever have to convince people to spend more time and effort on the front end of the project, studying context, people and processes?
The answer is yes, always. I teach an ECM class for AIIM, and in the first session, we talk about the need for strategy to guide the project. When we come back from lunch, someone will inevitably raise their hand say, "This is all really cool, but when do we really start doing the work?"
The fact is, this is the work. How do you know what to buy, or how to use it properly, if you really haven’t determined why you need it?
That's very much a typical reaction. The strategy work takes time that's not part of people's regular work day, so it’s more work. That's why it's hard. There are also budget pressures in many cases, requiring that the money be spent before the end of the quarter, half or year, which means that priorities get skewed and corners get cut.
This is always an issue - how big of an issue depends on where it originated. How do I help them with it? Education. There are consequences to giving project strategy short shrift, but those consequences come later, and project teams need to understand that.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard a CIO say, “I wish I had thought about this earlier.” Not that the system has failed, but it could have -- and should have -- been so much more.
When you buy a refrigerator, you do your research, to be sure that the product fits your needs, and your money is well spent. When it comes to a project that costs thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, why wouldn’t you do the same type of due diligence?
JZ: Another “make or break” factor in technology project success is change management and user adoption. Can you give us some suggestions for managing user adoption? Do you have any war stories to tell us?
This is another one of my favorite topics. Essentially, change management is like parenting: you're trying to get people to do things that are good for them, but that they really don't want to do. Instead of “eat your vegetables and clean your room,” it’s “use the system and apply the meta tag.”
It can make or break a project, but in reality, very few systems out and out fail. Sometimes they don't work well. For the most part, the technology is pretty good. The question is, did you do it right? Buying and deploying a system only gets you so far. Without change management and user education up front, the system can only do so much. You're not getting the information that you can get from the system - and that's the point. It all really boils down to the information.
I tend to think about this in terms of preparing a RFP. The only reason to care about the technology is in terms of the information -- the information is what matters. Before that, it starts with business processes, and finishes with change management. The earlier you involve the people who are affected by the system, the more likely they are to adopt the change and use the system.
I have 2 anecdotes regarding change management and user adoption to share.
The first is about recognition and rewards as a motivator. I know of a sales organization that has contests, and the big winner gets a big prize. In this case, the grand prize was a Ferrari. BUT, nobody wanted to win it. Why? Because the winner had to pay taxes on the thing. You have to think it through … what are the ramifications on the winner?
In the second anecdote, a department wanted to discourage employees from printing and making paper copies of documents. How did they do it? They took the printers out of the department. If you needed to print or copy something, you had to walk further, to another department on another floor. And that worked.
This is really like parenting -- sometimes there has to be consequences. And you have to be sure that as a manager (or parent), you can live with the consequences.
JZ: On your website, you discuss a concept called Maximum Total Value (MaxTV®) for technology solutions. You’ve articulated a pervasive problem of defining a successful project, or technology solution, that crops up in all types of projects, but seems especially relevant to content management projects. Is it enough to define project success as “on time, on budget, within scope”? What do you mean by Maximum Total Value, and how do you help your clients achieve that goal?
Interestingly, we didn't start out studying value -- we were looking at metrics and adoption and this concept came out of that. It’s not often that an analyst puts an idea in the field that came out of research from the field.
The essence is that there's more to value than just money, but we tend to fixate on money. ROI & TCO are used to measure success, and that's fine, but it only goes so far. ROI tends to be focused on a specific point in time. TCO suggests that a total cost exists, but really, it doesn’t. The cost isn’t finite. Every technology system has ongoing costs, at a minimum this includes maintenance contracts. But these measures are how technology projects tend to be justified.
Going back to the CIO saying, “I wish I'd thought of this before.” It turns out that what they were getting at was the need to focus on process change and collaboration too – something I now describe as “helping people work better AND work better together.”
So what we have are three legs of a triangle – economics, process change, and collaboration – that support system value. Adjusting those 3 aspects of an initiative is the secret to getting the maximum value at any point in time, over time.
For TCO - I have no problem with total, I have a problem with total cost. I also get worried when people sit down to evaluate how the system performed in terms of meeting business needs, and the cost question tends to not come up any more. At evaluation time, people talk about process change and collaboration instead, which means the solution is being judged on different merits than were used to originally justify it.
The buying decision is justified on one leg of the triangle, and evaluation is based on the other 2. In the end, it may be worth it to spend more up front to benefit the other 2 legs, because over time, they influence the value of the system.
Think of it from a different angle. I got tired of buying microwaves that die after 2 years, so I spent more money, and bought a better microwave that will last longer. I also bought the insurance they offer. If you do this for a microwave, why not take the same approach with a costly, and strategic project?
JZ: In your path to developing the Maximum Total Value paradigm, I suppose you’ve seen many projects that are not deriving enough value from their technology. Without naming names, can you describe a couple of cases on both ends of the spectrum - an initiative that derived a lot of value (maximum?) from the technology, and one that did not get enough value for the investment? What are some common factors of projects in these categories?
Oh yeah, I have stories!
So I got a call from someone who says, “I bought an imaging system, can you help me use it?”
I said, “What's it for?”
- “Well, my boss came to me at the beginning of the month and said I had to buy something before the end of the month or we’d lose the budget. So I did.”
- “How did you know what to buy?”
- “That's why I'm calling you.”
- “What are you scanning? Do you need 2-sided? Do you need stapled? What's the business process?”
In a nutshell, the project didn't go anywhere.
On the other hand, I worked with a farm credit service bureau that had bought a bunch of other companies and wanted to integrate different systems, claims, policies, and collateral. They set up a task force to study the problem. That’s the right way to do it.
There was a great deal of variation in the levels of experience in the room. The VP was new to system technology, and he didn't initially understand the concept of hyperlinking within a system. The task force was talking about a single document that different systems link to. For example the claims system, the adjustments system, etc., all link to a single case document. The VP was thinking that you store a physical file in all of the different systems. In one of the task force meetings, it came out that he didn't understand the concept of storing a document at a single source for all systems to reference. When he understood this, all of the rest made sense.
With the task force in place, they found ways to make better use of the technology budgets, because they took the time to sit down and map out the project. They identified problems in the beginning, rather than at the end, when they are generally more costly. As a result, the VP was able to go to the IT department and contribute funds from his department so they could buy incrementally bigger and better machines that would accommodate his department as well as the general IT need.
They were able to write a really good RFP, based on real requirements.
So it’s usually not about success or failure, it’s about deriving value from a technology project. I bought a cheap microwave and it worked. Was it a failure? No. It worked for 2 years, and did a what it was supposed to do. But, I got more bang for my buck when I spent more money for a better microwave that lasted longer.
JZ: What’s the most innovative and unique content management project you’ve worked with?
I ran an awards program in a previous lifetime for process innovation. One of the award winners had one of the most effective content management projects I’ve seen in a long time. It was so mundane, but so transformative for their context. It was in the transportation business, and it involved the notion of putting units in trucks to allow the drivers to scan their bills of lading, delivery receipts, and other paperwork back to the home office right from the cab of the truck, thereby allowing the trucking company to shorten the time to billing and, ultimately, payment. Such things also exist in truck stops for fleets without in-cab capabilities. This transformed the entire business.
I like this story, because on the surface, you don't think of trucks as being on the cutting edge of content management. But in fact, it’s the business process that matters, more than the logistics.
Another project that I like to talk about in terms of content management brilliance was actually a project at MIT called SixthSense. The video clip of the TED talk in 2009 describes a wearable device they developed to read meta information around you, wherever you are. The device consists of a camera, a tiny projector, a mirror, and some hardware components that are connected to a mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user's hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques.
The end result is that the device can read and interpret the objects that you interact with in your daily life, and render relevant information with the projector. Some applications could be shopping and choosing the most ecologically responsible paper towels, or reading a boarding pass in a taxi and showing the flight status instantly, without a screen or keyboard.
This is information management in the 21st century. When you're not in front of your laptop and the content in front of you is a blank piece of paper, how do you then manage that record?
JZ: The mantra at the AIIM conference this year was “SoLoMo,” for “Social, Local, Mobile,” and certainly for content management projects social and mobile aspects are cropping up more frequently. What trends have you noticed in recent years in content management, and how are these trends changing project planning, rollout, and adoption? How have project requirements changed in the last 5 years?
Here are some key themes I heard people talk about at this year’s AIIM conference:
- collaboration, and
- change management.
Of all those, probably the analytics piece is the most intriguing. It links to the business side of the equation that is near and dear to my heart. Metrics need to be embedded for effective analytics. You can't improve what you can't measure. The rest of the list is hot, but I was heartened to hear conversations about analytics. Often, that piece gets lost in the hype.
JZ: These days, it’s hard to have a conversation about ECM trends without touching the topic of the Cloud. Very often Cloud means a big change for IT people, somehow minimizing the need for IT infrastructure and resources. How does the Cloud disruption impact your role and mission in the earlier phase of projects?
It doesn’t! Or at least it shouldn't. It's just another deployment option. It can be a really good one, but if you allow it to change your fundamental scope, you're making a mistake. You need to understand what you're doing first, and then make a fit. You don't do it because it's the cloud, you do it because it's right for your situation. Ultimately, it's a business decision -- just like all the other decisions.
Lease or buy -- you make these decisions about a car -- why not about technology?
JZ: You’re a Boston native. Will you say “park the car in Harvard yard” for me with your best accent?
Category: Industry Insight