‘Sharing’ attitude needed to reap results of data explosion

Ever increasing amounts of data mean enterprise content management is becoming vital, says IT consultant Liz Eastwood

Data is growing at a rapid rate, but until attitudes concerning information ownership change we will not experience the full benefits of this data explosion, says IT consultant Liz Eastwood.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the New Zealand Computer Society, Eastwood said there has been an increase not only in the amount of data available, but also in its variety. Along with this, an internet-driven attitude has developed that says people are entitled to a full range of information delivered via digital media in the workplace. This, in turn, is driving demand for enterprise content management (ECM), says Eastwood, who has been involved in ECM for the past six years.

“Everyone thinks they should have a portal into a wide range of content and should be able to access it from anywhere,” she told the NZCS meeting.

From an information point of view, an enterprise content management system is a means of presenting data in the right form, at the right time and in the right place. It also involves keeping track of current information holders and any changes made to information, Eastwood says. But it is the business function of that information that is most important, she says.

An effective ECM system allows such information “assets” to be used strategically across an enterprise. Ultimately, this comes down to business processes, she says.

The core processes as far as ECM systems are concerned are: capture or creation; review and management; distribution and publication and storage. The latter includes deciding where and for how long information should be retained. While the world of ICT is moving towards business services — think of web services and service-oriented architecture — “we have no business process guidelines for ECM and that’s the biggest challenge,” says Eastwood.

Change management also comes in here. For instance: how do you prepare people for a new way of working? A consistent terminology also needs to be developed so all participants as well as vendors can talk to each other and know they are talking about the same thing, Eastwood says.

A complete content management system should be able to handle conventional office documents and records, along with web content, emails and other digital material and pull all these into a common repository, she says. Even voice and SMS messages can be captured for storage using ECM.

In practice, Eastwood says, vendors usually specialise in handling just one or two different types of data and use different terms to describe different data types.

Another hurdle for ECM involves attitude change: changing people’s mindsets so they no longer regard certain information as belonging to them and so can be persuaded to share it, Eastwood says.

Introducing ECM will also not be smooth unless there are clear policies governing the information lifecycle — for example, when a document graduates from draft form to final form. Also, security, confidentiality and integrity standards need to be developed for the various kinds of content.

Lastly, staff training is crucial, says Eastwood.

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