Meeting the needs of both the enterprise and staff

It seems that for many people the enterprise goal of corporate compliance is seen to be at odds with the goals of users. I think that's wrong!

This was brought home to me by the surprised reaction of observers at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston to Open Text's new Social Media offering.

In recent years the primary driver for implementation of enterprise content management (ECM) systems in organizations has been regulatory compliance. Organizations need to manage critical records in a consistent manner over time, as required by relevant laws and regulations.

Ensuring that staff (the 'users' of enterprise systems) are aware of requirements and use the implemented systems is often a challenge. Well designed ECM systems can ensure organizational compliance while requiring little change in behaviour as users create and deposit content – but it can take real effort.

As Web 2.0 has shown, users want simple applications, that can be learned quickly, and work smoothly. Increasingly they want these applications to be available for mobile devices as well as desktop computers.

Staff want to interact effectively with their colleagues. Social networking tools are seen as a way to achieve this in enterprises. As I described in an earlier post, this approach is, "people-centered not document-centered." It is also becoming independent of device and therefore location.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to some observers that Open Text, as one of the largest ECM vendors, with a long history of content management, would come out with a people-centered application that runs on mobile devices like Blackberries and iPhones, in addition to the expected personal computers. And most importantly, this application enables users to exchange content with established content repositories.

In commenting on the Enterprise 2.0 conference, Gil Yehuda, for example, said:

"Open Text impressed many people with their new enterprise social media and collaboration tools. With a solid enterprise-class suite of tools, Open Text was one of the few ECM/Portal players to make a showing and a splash at the conference. Whereas many E2.0 vendors target low-tech SMBs, only some vendors have the depth of credentials to handle Enterprise 2.0 (with a capital "E") with its many hairy concerns."

Nice sentiments – my thanks to Gil – but I think we would all agree that technical integration supporting both enterprise-driven content-centricity, and user needs for mobile networking, is but a first step as we rebalance the needs of enterprises and their staff. I expect we'll soon see considerable advances in implementation practices.

There has been much discussion about how compliance requires that all communications by staff be managed as potential corporate records, but a recent AIIM study has shown that most organizations have yet to tackle the problem. It seems that many assume that the way to do so is to 'stuff' transactions from email, IM, social networking, etc. into a content store. The problem is that these people-centered communications will generally not map to content-centric hierarchies. In some cases the only indexing field that can be used is the date of creation. As a result it is necessary to rely on full text search for later discovery, which is then followed with painful, manual recreation of context. Imagine trying to determine who said what and when – from a collection of stored emails that mention a specified term! And email is relatively easy compared to instant messages (IM) and 140 character tweets, since email communications are generally more comprehensive and richer in derivable context.

If you accept that social networking has its own, distinct organizational principles, then compliance applied to social networking must take a different tack. How users interact with each other and the network of communication links that they establish are the most important contextual elements – the medium is the message. Helping users make the connections easily automatically creates context. That context must then be preserved if the saved communications are to be reliable and meaningful from a compliance perspective.

So enabling users to network more effectively actually supports compliance in a developing paradigm!

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