Remain Calm You’re Still a CIP

Picture Gildna Radner’s SNL character Emily Litella starting a monologue about wanting to bring an end to AIIM’s “see, I pee” promotion. Picture her rambling on until someone points out that “it’s CIP, as in Certified Information Professional.” Picture her offering up her classic: “never mind” and the skit would end.

As much as it would be comforting, I can’t hide behind a misunderstanding. When I wrote my previous post “Ding Dong the CIP,” I knew what I was doing. I was trying to come to the aid of an association that I have great respect for, and to show support for a decision that I was party to making.

I am writing this today, to acknowledge that the CIP is not dead. We don’t have the witch’s broom in our possession and we’re not going back to Kansas. The scarecrow can keep his brain, the tin man his heart, and the cowardly lion need not cower in the shadows of the forest, because, well, we’ve caused enough confusion, and besides, Christmas is only a week away.

Seriously, I’d love to explore all things CIP in this post but, being mindful of the rapidly approaching holidays, I’ll do my best to be brief, and I’ll try to stick to the facts.

Fact – The CIP is back. Again, you can read John Mancini’s explanation of why the Association made this decision. I will summarize this from the point of view of someone who was in the room when the mistake was made:

We misjudged the importance of the CIP within the industry. We heard, loud and clear, from passionate members of our community that the CIP has value and we decided to work to fix the CIP instead of getting rid of it.

I have no problem announcing this mea culpa because, I’d rather take the position of having been wrong than be accused of being obstinate after having been wrong.

Fact – AIIM is working to meet the demands of a community of professionals that is rapidly growing beyond the ranks or ECM and ERM folk. The things I wrote about in my earlier post are also true. More and more people are dealing with more and more issues around managing information, and many of them don’t identify with Information Management as a profession. AIIM will now work to adapt the CIP to fit a broader and growing body of knowledge. Fact – no organization is more capable of meeting that challenge.

Fact – AIIM is a viable and vitally important source for information about information. To the pundits that suggested that AIIM has had nothing to offer without the CIP, I would say “you couldn’t be more wrong.” The CIP is important, apparently more important than we realized. However, the CIP is far from the only good thing AIIM has to offer to the community of information professionals.

Hopefully, the CIP can grow as the body of knowledge that it is designed to certify one in, grows. Hopefully, AIIM, the AIIM community and the industry that AIIM serves can help focus attention on the CIP going forward. Hopefully, this will cause more people to see the value in holding that certification, and hopefully those people will realize that AIIM remains the preeminent source of research, standards, education and communication around that growing body of knowledge.

It’s a lot to hope for, but my history with AIIM tells me that it can all happen. I received, and accordingly I still hold a CIP. I have an ECMm and an ERMm. I still value the later designations more than the certification. The important thing is that when I needed to learn about handling information that doesn’t respond to a SQL query, I turned to AIIM and AIIM delivered. As that information grew in importance in my workplace, I continued to turn to AIIM for insight and guidance and AIIM continued to deliver. As that information worked its way onto multiple platforms, into the Cloud and onto my phone, I didn’t even have to turn to AIIM. People in the AIIM community had already prepared me for those changes. I heard them at Chapter meetings, at the AIIM Conference and, by proxy, through AIIM’s research, whitepapers and webinars.

Whatever your feelings about the CIP, don’t confuse the certification with the Association. Don’t look upon the CIP as an end point that, once achieved lets you walk away from the community. AIIM has much to offer me, you and the entire community of information professionals and the industries that serve those professionals.

Once good thing came from this mistake, the AIIM community showed that they can still get excited. More than ever, I am looking forward to the AIIM Conference in New Orleans and I hope to see you there.

Ding Dong the CIP

ciplogo-120x32Yes, yes, the CIP is dead. Gone, removed by AIIM International. I am was will still say that I’m a CIP, but I won’t hang it off the end of my name.

Oh wait, I never did do that.

Truth be told, I sat for the CIP exam because, as a then new Board member of AIIM International, I wanted to show support for the certification.

The CIP is the only certification exam I ever sat for. I am not a fan of certifications. I’ve worked with people who have them (mostly Microsoft certs) and I’ve worked with people who don’t have them. People are people and the certification never guaranteed success. As for my personal experience, I am way more proud of my ECMm – and yes, I know it’s technically not a certification, I don’t care.

I acquired my ECMm as a result of a four-day-in-person class taught by Bob Larrivee, now AIIM’s Vice President of Market Intelligence, and it was among the best educational experiences of my career. At that time, I was new to Content Management and I was new to AIIM and SharePoint was new to the world. OK, SharePoint had been around for a while, but it was awful. A reasonably good SharePoint was new to the world, and it was my job to build it out correctly. During that time (2006-2009), ECM and SharePoint were pretty much my fulltime job. If I had been hiring professionals to help me, I would have placed some value on a CIP. I would have placed more value on an ECMm and / or an ERMm, by the way, I have both, because getting them taught me all the (non-infrastructure) things you should consider before building out SharePoint as a document management solution.

These days, where I work, SharePoint isn’t anybody’s fulltime job. People venture in and out of SharePoint much like they take the elevator from the lobby to the third floor. Like the elevator, they are looking for a reliable solution in self-service form. My department’s job today is to make sure the elevators work (infrastructure) and to make sure people know where to get on and off and which way to go. We spend most of our time guiding people in the right direction. We still build solutions, but we build them in support of a larger, and largely well-understood mission.

Content today might reside in SharePoint, but it’s created and consumed elsewhere. One of our most recently deployed solutions is one that exists across a SharePoint on-premises farm, a SharePoint On-line installation and a series of iPad Apps. Some of the users of this “system” create and consume information, primarily on their iPad. In some cases, the realization that what they are using is, in fact, a SharePoint solution, is lost on them. They don’t care and I don’t care. What I care about is the fact that they have the information that they need, when they need it and that they can rely on the fact that it’s the right information.

The information is managed behind the scenes by metadata and SharePoint workflows, but that’s not what excites the people involved with this system. People aren’t interested in the “management” of content, they want what they want when they want it and they want it on whatever thing they happen to be holding. I’ll let you in on a secret, AIIM knows that.

In fact, AIIM has been saying that for years!

AIIM was the first organization to recognize the difference between Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement. Many others have ridden the wave of that tag line, but AIIM defined it. AIIM recognized early on, the value inherent in mobile and cloud solutions, and AIIM continues to understand that best practices have a place in this complex arena. AIIM also continues to define those best practices and to educate people in how to apply them. AIIM does this through research, thought leadership, education and by tapping an incredible community of true information professionals. I am not drawn to any of the people in that community because of the letters after their names. I’m drawn to them because they have honest expertise in the field of information management and they are willing to share it.

I am still on the Board of AIIM International. I won’t describe or debate the decision to drop the CIP. If you’re interested, please take the time to read John Mancini’s explanation. I will share with you that I am more excited about AIIM than I have been in years. I am looking forward to attending the AIIM Conference in New Orleans in April, and I hope to see you there. Like many employees, I am pretty much restricted to belonging to one professional association and participation in one industry conference each year. My choice is AIIM, on both counts.

The Cost Benefit of User Experience

UI-o-Meter

What are people saying about the last thing you built for them?

I’m doing you a favor today. I’ve written about this subject before, but I’m going to spare you the trouble of searching my blog and I’m going to spare you the accidental navigation (if you’re reading this on a mobile device and trying to scroll) caused by me inserting a bunch of links to previous posts. I’m looking back over my 35-plus years doing systems development and I’m going to summarize the whole thing for you:

The people who use the systems you build deserve the best experience you can give them.

There. That’s it. That’s really all you have to read. If you are wondering how I came to that conclusion or why I’m bringing it up, feel free to continue reading but if you’re content to nod your head and even grudgingly agree with me, well then, off you go.

OK, you stuck around. You know what that means. You’re going to have to read a story.

In 1988, I was in a meeting with my boss, a representative of our underwriting department and one of my better programmers. We were discussing a feature the underwriters wanted in the system we were developing for them. First, a little background (hey, you had your chance to leave):

Nuclear reactors get shut down for stuff like refueling and when they are shut down we charge them less for insurance. The way we do this is by dividing the year into a series of consecutive time intervals, each with its own set of state variables and its own pro-rata premium. Creating a new time interval was a big deal and a difficult process prior to the system we were writing. The designer wanted to make it easy. He wanted the system to show a list of time intervals and let the user highlight one and press the “+” key to insert a new time interval after the highlighted one.

This seemed like a simple request and I agreed to it. The designer wanted more. Since we had never had such an interactive feature in a screen before (this was running under DOS), he wanted us to build a prototype. I told him that wasn’t necessary. I told him that he could see the working element as soon as it was done. He argued that a prototype was necessary because this was a “radical departure from any previous approach.” He also added that he wasn’t sure we could make this. I slammed my hand on the table and said:

If the feature you want can be programmed on a DOS PC, she can build it. We don’t have to prove that to you up front, just let her do her (expletive) job!

After the meeting, the woman came into my office and said:

I appreciate your confidence in me and I like the way you stood up for me, but I don’t actually know how to do that.”

I knew that, but as far as I was concerned, that fact was irrelevant. She could learn. The feature was going to make someone’s job easier and that was worth learning how to do.

Today, as we are in the early days of a new wave of development, I am more convinced than ever that the effort required to build a better user experience is a price worth paying. The math is simple. You build a system once every three to five to seven years but people use that system every single day. Where do you want them to register on the UI-O-Meter?

As an added benefit for those of you who stuck around, I am giving you the answers to a few common problems. Note: I have tested all of these:

We don’t have time to do this” – Give them a choice of waiting a little longer or accepting a second phase to the project.

We can’t do that in SharePoint” – Buy an add-on feature or hire one of those SharePoint whiz-kid consultants who can.

This can’t be done in SharePoint” – Move the process to a different platform.

This would take too many development hours” – Do the math. Development hours vs. hours spent using a crappy system.

If all of those fail, slap your hand on the table and sprinkle in a few bad words.

If you have your own favorite excuse and an alternate way of looking at it, please add your thoughts to the comments.

In Search of Value

Value Hierarchy

Apologies to Maslow

One of the goals that I have maintained throughout my career has been to add value to a process. Long before SharePoint, in fact long before (OK, little before) Microsoft, value was a key requirement in the systems I was building and designing. As a young systems analyst, I remember receiving strange looks from my “customers” when I would ask: “how would that report help you?” I used reports as an example because people always seemed to want more reports than they needed. Once, when I moved a system from one platform to another, I didn’t bother recreating 90% of the reports. I promised to build each one as the need became critical. I only ever recreated about another 5% of the missing reports.

I would get equally strange looks when I would ask my IT colleagues: “how would that add value” or, somewhat more surprising: “how can we build this and be sure we are adding value?

Don’t let me paint too rosy a picture. I’ve built my share of systems that missed the sweet-spot of the target and I’ve left more than a few valuable features laying on the cutting room floor. Systems development has always been affected by drama and budget, in addition to logic.

As I am managing what will likely be my last long-term development effort, I am focusing more than ever on value. I have 3-5 years left to make a start on a new generation of systems, and if I am successful, those systems will be built on a foundation of “adding value to a process.”

I haven’t had much to share on this blog in recent months, but some projects are reaching a point where I can talk about them in generic terms. In most cases, I can’t talk about the work, because I’m not doing it. I can’t talk about the players, because some would rather not be a part of my blog entry. I can’t always talk about the details of the project because legal/accounting/human resources – ‘nuff said. But I can talk about goals and objectives and the way a focus on value has led us to some interesting decisions. Decisions I might not have made back when I started this blog and was bent on using SharePoint whenever possible.

By way of introduction to what I hope is a small series of blog posts (maybe enough to satisfy @Sympmarc’s Saturday addiction) let me share a couple of thoughts on how we got to this point.

Success moves you higher – I am old enough to have participated in systems development projects where the primary goal was to automate transaction processing and save money by eliminating jobs. Oh, we told ourselves that we were improving accuracy and letting people focus on higher-order tasks, but we were also letting them find those tasks at a different company. By the time SharePoint became available, we were way beyond that kind of development and we were looking for ways to use the information we had been gathering. SharePoint offered us a way to move up the hierarchy shown at the top, just a bit.

Failure also moves you higher – The reason I put the “Process Improvement” layer in quotes and in red and with the snarky bit at the end is because it wasn’t always the result. Often, process improvement was a collective bridge too far. Business leaders wanted magical solutions and technical managers and staff couldn’t wait to buy/build/use new toys in pursuit of that magic.

Automating a Business Process

There are times when you can run the table and automate the whole thing. There are also times when that would be a bad idea.

The diagram above illustrates where we sometimes went wrong and how we are correcting those mistakes. Consider the five boxes across the top. Occasionally we have felt that we could automate all of them. In fact, we could. Unfortunately, automated analysis and decisions, by default become arbitrary. A report is on-time, because it is not yet late, or a report is late the moment the time allotted has passed. People on the other hand, understand that a report nearing its due date may be in trouble and people understand that sometimes life gets in the way of an arbitrary due date.

Note: I have been doing this stuff since the ‘70s and yes, I know that systems can be made to be more holistic in nature. However, the effort in building those systems, as well as the effort to maintain those systems is very often too high. Humans are much better at making holistic decisions than machines.

We have recently taken technology out of some steps of a business process that we had previously automated, in order to improve the process. Instead of automating all of the steps, we are focusing on “what information would help humans complete this step easier/faster/with better results?” I put this in the win column because we have the information we need (because we built good solutions in steps one and two). Now, by utilizing SharePoint’s native features, we can provide good information for people to consider in steps three and four. And yes, since nobody wants to do recordkeeping, we will automate that last step.

That’s it for today. I have some stories in mind that build off of this foundation, but those can wait for another day. Maybe not next Saturday, but let’s keep this a Saturday kind of read.

One Stop Shopping Plus Mail Order

imageA few weeks ago, I received an email about an old post about managing a walking contest in SharePoint. Ironically, we are preparing to kick off the 2014 version of that contest in about 2 weeks and once again, we are managing it in SharePoint. I like to use these little side projects to demonstrate what SharePoint can do out-of-the-box. Some might ask “why focus on out-of-the-box? SharePoint can be so much more.

Their question is not quite correct and I am lying just a little bit.

The problem with their question is that “SharePoint can be made to be so much more” but the making can take a lot of time.

The lie that I’ve told is a lie of omission. I didn’t tell you that my box is bigger than Microsoft’s box. My box includes things like HarePoint Workflow Extensions and Nintex Workflows. HarePoint’s extensions add some very cool features to SharePoint Designer workflows and Nintex, well Nintex Workflows are like a slice of SharePoint Heaven here on Earth.

So, truth be told, I like to show people what we can do very quickly in SharePoint with the tools that we have available to us. That’s important for a reason that most IT departments don’t consider often enough.

Sometimes, people don’t ask for things because they think those things will be hard to build or expensive or that they will take too long.

They aren’t trying to save my time or my budget; they’re just trying to avoid being told “no, you can’t have that.

In the 2014 version of our SharePoint-driven walking contest, we have added two new features. Both are aimed at improving the user experience and both came at the request of my new young colleague Stacy. Stacy is not only the architect on this project, she’s the user. She’s managing the walking contest and she’s building the site with some help from me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with a walking contest, it’s pretty much what you would imagine:

  • Our company is divided into teams.
  • Each person tracks and records their steps each day during the contest.
  • At the end of the contest, the team with the most steps wins a team prize and the person with the overall highest number of steps wins an individual prize.

Stacy wanted to make two improvements to the accounting process for the contest. She wanted to add options for mobile entry and she wanted a dashboard of sorts for reporting progress.

Mobile entry was easy but, again, it uses a few tricks from our bigger box. You can send your entry into a SharePoint Remote Entry library by including the subject line “10-11-2014 8,996” i.e. the date and the number of steps. A SharePoint Designer workflow, aided by HarePoint’s Regular Expression actions parses the subject line and adds the steps to your step count. A second workflow adds your step count to your team’s total.

We could do all the processing in one step, but I like breaking things into small chunks. That is a carryover from my history of coding in Smalltalk, but it’s a good practice for SharePoint. Small workflows are easier to test and they are easier to “debug” since there really isn’t a “debugger” available in SharePoint.

Employees with iPhones can also easily enter their steps via a mobile view of the Steps Entry form. Actually, anybody could do this, but “iPhone” is linked with “easy” because our MaaS360 mobile device management software allows us to push that mobile form through our firewall without the need for a VPN connection (which people hate to make on their phones).

Finally, we needed to build that dashboard, but we decided to make it functional instead of just informative – that’s where the “one stop shopping” comes from. We started with a Web Part Page and we added an Announcement part and an Instructions part in those top-of-the-page whole width zones. Then we added three useful parts. On the left, we have “My Steps” which is a view of the Steps list filtered on the current user. In the center, we added a view of Team Status that shows the current ranking of teams and on the right; we added a simple entry form for steps.

image

I have to admit, this is the first time I have ever put an entry form on a dashboard. It works. Having the entry form on the page makes this page the only thing people actually have to look at. My Steps, My Team and, as I look at my steps and realize that I forgot to enter yesterday’s value, I can do it without leaving the page.

Stacy’s homework assignment is to add a chart to graphically display some of these statistics and to make the page a little prettier. Mine is to start walking.

Last Weekly Post

imageAfter 5 ½ years of sharing a weekly story, the regular nature of this blog has to come to end. It’s OK, you and I will both benefit from this change.

I could go on about the state of the industry (which I might be able to accurately describe for a moment in time) or the state of SharePoint (sigh) but neither of those issues is driving this decision. This decision is being driven by the state of me. I am neither doing, nor managing enough activity around the subject of this blog to generate meaningful content on a weekly basis. I am still working. I am very busy, but not busy enough in this area. I am returning somewhat to my roots (systems development) and managing a small department as we prepare for the future. My stories are more abstract, more personnel (not a typo) and more nuclear (not a typo). Those combine to build a pile of ideas that are either hard to share or which can’t be shared without permission.

Let’s look at the bright side: I benefit from not having to scurry to find something to say and you benefit by not having to read suspect quality material and my editor (wife) can relax a little on a few Saturdays.

I appreciate the time you have spent reading this blog. I hope that you will stay connected to it so you can swing by for the periodic updates that will be coming. The best compliment I ever received was when Marc D. Anderson said that “SharePoint Stories is a Saturday kind of read.” I will try to keep true to that concept.

I would be silly not to ask you to:

Follow me on Twitter – https://twitter.com/DAntion

Visit my other blog – http://noFacilities.com

This isn’t goodbye, it’s just a change. If we technology folks understand anything, we understand change.

Plan Faster

imageThat’s the Jack Rabbit pictured at the right. It’s a roller coaster in Kennywood Park outside of Pittsburgh and it’s been rolling since 1920. It has changed over time, but it still offers the basic promise of a thrilling ride. It’s still a very important part of the overall joy of spending a day at Kennywood. I’m sorry, this isn’t my vacation blog, and I do have a point. The world of information management is changing very fast, but we can still keep the whole package viable, if we manage change correctly.

About a year ago, we made the decision to use Citrix ShareFile. I started to explain that a while back, and I promised a more detailed explanation, but I’m not going to provide that today. One reason is that the ShareFile we decided to use has changed. It’s changed quite a bit, as has every other file-sharing service. If I explained the features we liked about ShareFile this time last year, you might say: “you can get 10x that amount of file space today for free!” You would be wrong. You can get closer to 50x today for free if you look in the right places.

That isn’t the point, that can’t be the point.

That could never be the point. You could never make business decisions based solely on price, but you clearly can’t do that today when it comes to file sharing and online storage.

The point, my dilemma, the next IT problem, is that the pace of change is exceeding our ability to plan like we used to. Remember Roadmaps? Remember when the industry leading vendors would tell you what they were planning to do over the course of the next 3-5 years? I do. I remember being able to take those roadmaps, with a few grains of salt, and build our 1-3 year plans from them.

Forget that.

You can’t do that anymore.

We selected a product/service (ShareFile) in October 2013. By the time we explained our plans to use that service to a committee representing our customers in April 2014, it had changed significantly. Now, as we are getting ready to roll out the solution, it has changed even more. It’s OK. It still does what we want it to do. And, the changes are mostly good, or the kind that might be good someday. I don’t have this stuff all figured out, but here are a few things I think we have to keep in mind as we try to hang onto this ride:

Maintain control – You can’t run your business if you cede control to vendors who are fighting for their own survival. You might not be able to specify the details of your plan as it extends very far into the future, but you still have to have a plan.

Maintain focus – If you’re saying “how can I plan when technology is changing so fast?” you might be focused on the wrong thing. You might be focused on the tools. My plan is to support the business needs of our company. ShareFile is a tool that I am using to meet those needs.

Be the buffer – If you think your head is swimming in a sea of technological change, think about your non-technical coworkers. You might be able to (I’m dropping the metaphor before I have to talk about someone drowning) deal with the pace of change, but they can’t. They shouldn’t have to. Remember, they have a day job. Even if you are using a cloud-based solution, you can control the pace of change through the solutions you build.

Avoid kit solutions – I buy a lot of tools, but the ones I won’t buy are the 18-piece battery powered every-tool-you-ever-need kits. I don’t buy them because when the batteries die and the new-fangled batteries aren’t being made to fit that kit, I’ve lost 18 tools. SharePoint might be a kit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy it, but we have narrowed our plans to use SharePoint to stay closer to what we think are its core capabilities. ShareFile basically does one thing. It’s a thing we need, so we’re good.

Avoid capital expenditures – One side-effect of cloud-based solutions is a move to subscription fees vs. capital expenditures. That’s a good thing. Large capital expenditures have to work over a long enough time to provide the return on the investment that you made to acquire them. The return on investment ends when those 18 inoperable tools have to be carted to the curb.

Communicate – Even though you can’t introduce change to your coworkers as fast as it’s being introduced to you, you have to change things faster than they want you to. Let people know what you’re thinking and where you are heading. Let people know when your plans start to change. Let them know that you’re managing rapid and uncontrollable change on their behalf.

Buckle-up, keeps your hands in the car at all times and enjoy the ride.