How Do We Get There From Here? Knowing Where You're Going with an Information Management Solution
Imagine one afternoon your supervisor approaches you and says, "I know you've always talked about seeing more of the country. And we really appreciate all the hours you put in on the Petersen project. You deserve a little time away. Here's a bonus check that should cover a nice RV, and a few months of living expenses to boot. Why don't you gather up the family, take the summer off, and finally take that cross-country vacation you've always dreamed of?"
What's the very first thing you'd do? (Well, after you pick your chin up off the floor...) You would have a lot to consider. For starters, you might want to think about a travel plan. Are you a "let's see where the road takes us" type, or would you meticulously plan every mile? You'd have to get input from your spouse and kids -- are they more Bryce Canyon, Mall of America, or Disney World? And of course there's all the packing and preparation. Could you get by with t-shirts and shorts, or are you out of sorts if your Polo isn't pressed? Freeway fast food, or gourmet picnic lunches in the shade? And how about the cat -- would you make room for the litter box, or send Whiskers off to Grandma's for the summer?
Of course, you'd be putting the bulk of that check toward your new RV. But there are so many options. Do you spring for the deluxe king-sized customized Class A with full satellite hookup and a separate bathroom for the kids? Or something that gets more than 5 miles to the gallon? Will you tow a vehicle for shorter jaunts from your home base at the campground, or get by with the family bicycles strapped to the back?
A lot to consider to be sure. So with all that in mind, if you take a few moments to factor in your goals, the wise use of your time and resources -- andyour standing with your spouse -- your initial move would probably NOT be to rush immediately to the nearest Winnebago dealership and drive off in the very first one the salesperson talks you into.
Unfortunately, however, when implementing or upgrading information management solutions, many companies or IT departments tasked with the job do the equivalent of just that. Suddenly (and often, "Finally!") armed with some significant budget allocated toward any number of workflow, information storage, or business process problems based in content, IT managers or purchasing agents often feel obligated to rush headlong into acquiring a tool without really considering their goals, needs, or how they'll use the technology. Just like heading straight to the RV lot, it's a natural tendency -- but one that absolutely needs to be informed by an effective and thoughtful goals and direction phase.
Every company, budget, and information management problem is different, so you should always consider several issues before even thinking about purchasing any products, tools, or even hosting vendor demos. As a core part of our Wise Content™ Methodology, i-Squared considers several key points:
- What are your goals for the project?
Or, in other words, what information problems are you really trying to solve? Specifically. For example, can staff not find the documents or files they need when they need them? And is that because they don't know where they are, or don't know what they're named? Or does an inadequate workflow and approval process commonly gum up the works? And can customers or clients easily get what they need, or even self-serve through a web site or portal? Spelling out specific, clear, and agreed upon goals at the outset helps to maintain focus and ultimately identify and customize the best technology solution for you.
- How do you create and manage your information now?
Many companies will have one or even numerous information management tools already in place. Often, they are either underused due to poor implementation or employee training; or misused and tasked with handling functions they were never designed for. Often, too, through legacy or ad hoc purchases, several adequate systems might be in use but may not be compatible. A realistic and informed survey of all of your current assets prior to considering any new ones will enable you to evaluate and integrate any new technology you consider, and also fit project parameters and budget.
- How broad is the problem?
Hand-in-hand with considering in-place toolsets, or business processes related to your information, is understanding the size and scope of the overall challenge, and how it compares to goals and project constraints. Does most of your content get hung up in approval by one small team? Or, are staff throughout the organization frustrated with similar format and conversion problems? Solutions might range from an optimization of existing tools and a solid business process analysis within a single division (relatively cheap), to a large enterprise content management purchase and implementation (relatively expensive to "Wow, that's expensive!").
- What stakeholders are involved?
The term "stakeholders" can imply an unmanageable number of individuals or parties, but it is indeed important to consider them all when setting goals or gathering requirements. For most IT-related business solutions, everyone from the most senior executives and enterprise managers to power users and customer-facing staff will have valuable knowledge, input, and opinions. As in the adage about the blind men and the elephant, you'll find you can't understand the whole picture -- or choose the right information solution -- without considering every perspective.
Too often, due to company culture, entrenched habits, compartmentalized department functions, or budget and process ownership tensions, reasonably solvable information management improvements never seem to get past the talking stage. This can lead to employee frustration and attrition, poor productivity and, ultimately, lost revenue. But remember, when addressing them, rushing out to buy the RV is not a solution in itself, and can have costly ramifications -- so always make a plan, pack wisely, and go home and talk to the family first. (And be sure and clean out the litter box -- face it, you're probably going to be taking that cat.)