Monday, May 18, 2009

Haunted by the Box of Rocks

Previously posted at GTEC Blog:

At GTEC 2008, I presented a seminar called “Managing Corporate Memory in Public Sector”. The well-attended session explored the pending shift in workforce demographics as the Boomer generation approaches retirement age. Sectors at most risk included government, utilities, engineering, transportation and manufacturing. I sought to explore how IT and IM professionals could play a strategic role as our workplace transforms and to minimize risk of information and knowledge loss.

Though this is no longer a new topic challenging public sector management, the situation continues to grow in urgency and awareness. Over the weekend, I noticed that Gartner Research VP, Jeffrey Mann, had twittered about a recent spike in his customer inquiries precisely on this topic. He “tweeted”: “three of this morning’s 4 calls are on knowledge management (two on capturing experience of retiring employees) who says KM is dead?”.

Whether we call it knowledge management, corporate memory preservation, succession planning… whether the project is led by IM/RM, Human Resources or IT… regardless of the tools we use to capture the intrinsic knowledge held in the brains of our most senior valued employees – we know it must be done. Public Sector is a knowledge-economy enterprise. Information, policies, and programs: services are delivered to the citizens, residents, businesses within our jurisdiction to provide a stable infrastructure for social, commercial and political activities. To not pay attention to prospect of losing mentorship, best practices, and institutional culture is to do a disservice to the investment we’ve made in cultivating depth and breadth of public sector experience.

We all have our “keep me up at night” moments. Mine is a story told to me at the annual ARMA Conference in 2006. I was conducting a workshop on this topic of “Managing Corporate Memory” and a woman from an academic institution came up to me, very pleased to see the research I had done on the topic. As part of her Records Management responsibility, she was tasked with capturing the legacy paper and physical records of the scientists and engineers who retired from her institution. She told me the story of a scientist who upon his departure handed to her a large box of ore samples. He said to her very intently, “make sure you hang on to these… they are very very important”. And so she took them. And put them on a shelf, documented with the date and location and name of the scientist who left them behind. She looked at me rather sadly, and admitted that she had no idea what those rocks meant, or WHY they were so important. There was no corporate memory preservation mandate to ensure the samples got to a new researcher who could continue the work. So to this day, they sit on a dark shelf.

Was the cure for cancer in that box of rocks? Did they tell us something about our world that could make our lives better? We may never know.

To learn more about this topic of Managing Corporate Memory, click here to listen to a recorded educational seminar we hosted earlier this year. Any comments or feedback welcomed.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Your Content Is A Social Object

Your Content Is a Social Object.

But hardly anyone treats it like one.

I use this slide when educating customers, partners, prospects and colleagues on the Open Text Enterprise 2.0 direction. How does our ECM Suite help individual knowledge workers and virtual teams bloom into a new world of the Social Workplace? or Social Marketplace? That's what keeps me busy these days.

So with all due apologies to the artist, cartoonist, blogger, marketer, wine huckster, genius, occasionally "not safe for work" Hugh MacLeod @, here it goes...

The watercooler. The coffeepot. The cafeteria. The sheltered overhang in the parking lot that's known as 'smokers corner'. This is what a Social Workplace looks like. That common location that we flock to for some shared purpose. To drink, to eat, to smoke. Not in solitude but with people we can bump into along the way. And subconsciously we know that there's more to that trip down the hallway than the obvious objective. We know that while we're pouring the sugar, or rinsing the glass or passing around the only working lighter in the rain... we'll talk.

We'll catch up on weekend activities, communally moan over the new cubicle layout, whisper overheard rumours and get the gossip from those guys upstairs. You know the ones - not sure what division they're in or who they report to, but always seem to have the goods on what's going on....

So what brings this diverse group of people together? What inspires conversation among people who normally wouldn't interact in the workplace? ...because they're in different branches, or sit too many levels of hierarchy apart to talk via regular business channels.

It is a Social Object. As is the water, the coffee, the dry wind-free shelter. My last blog post explored the concept of valuing information that is used - of directing effort and energy into what is meaningful to one's audience. That information - content - is what brings people into an application or repository. Content that does not lure eyeballs to it, content that is not findable, content that is too hard to retrieve or understand, content that is locked away from its audience: does it have value? If a tree falls in the forest....

So how do I make my content precious? How do I get people who need it to read it? It's up to us to think about how to get this information in front of the eyes that need it. Make it social, make it accessible, let it be found and consumed.

When companies fret that deployments of ECM systems or online collaboration workspaces are failing, it is often because usage rates are unexpectedly low. No buzz, no compelling reason to contribute, no sense of pressure to participate because none of the cool kids are there. Death by meh.

My challenge: make your content a social object. Make it interesting and compelling enough that people want it, can find it, and will appreciate it.

And to content authors I throw out a call to action: put some skin in the game to promote it to the colleagues you think should need it. Send out links to your slide decks. Publicize your research summaries. Evangelize your business plan, engage the people counting on you to draft the meeting agenda. And not by endless emails. But by taking an interest into what your peers are worried about, what they're tasked with, and finding the places where you can lend a hand with what you know.

If we're so bored or indifferent to our own work that we save it and ignore, why should others act differently?