My electron-free work diet

People complain about email at work: "I'm drowning in email! It takes me two hours to clear my email before I can get to work!" they say.

Some people have even declared that they are giving up email for good.

But I think they are cheating – they are not really giving up the activities for which they use email, they are just finding another 'technology drug' – something newer, better and arguably more effective. After all people need to do their jobs. The proportion of knowledge workers is increasing steadily, and you just can't be a knowledge worker without using electronic aids. Whether they admit it or not, email (or some other electronic technology) is now essential to executing their job if they prioritize email activities according to business value.

I would hazard a guess that hardly anyone who has given up email has gone back to writing or typing their business correspondence. They are using instant messaging, social networking, video conferencing, shared blogs or something I've yet to hear of to do what they used to do in email.

But working in business there is a risk in adopting a new technology before your colleagues – no one may listen to you and you will become irrelevant, and in business it is never a good idea to be irrelevant! It's good to be seen a trail blazer as long as you are also seen to be more effective.

I was stuck by this the other day when I needed to contact a colleague who is the most active user an internal social network in our company. I sent him an email, just as I would do for anyone else in our company, but just for good measure I sent him a direct message on the social network, asking him to check his email. He replied to say it was a good thing that I had messaged him, as his email client was turned off!

So if you were really serious you would swear off all electronic technologies to conduct work. Martin's electron free-diet declares that:

"If it plugs in for electricity or to send information, you can't use it!"

I allow for artificial lighting where required, as long as it doesn't plug in for power or to send information. The same goes for heating and elevators.

I have no intention of adopting this diet as long as I want to keep a paying job.

Really this is a thought experiment to define what we consider to be content in the context of enterprise content management (ECM).

I think Content is what knowledge workers create using the electronic tools so vital to the conduct of modern business. Content is the currency of business processes.

The traditional ECM perspectives have document management origins that tend to make most content descriptions document-centric, and even when the scope is expanded to include a much wider range of file types, there is still a focus on lifecycle management from capture to archiving. I was struck by this reviewing the entries in the recent Infonomics Weekly
ECM in Sixty Seconds Video Challenge. There were great entries that said very much what I would have said if I had my act together in time to enter.

Now I'm beginning to feel that the trouble with enterprise content management as a description is that it emphasizes content, the enterprise and management too much!

I'm leaning towards thinking ECM is more about helping workers be more efficient at doing their work and ensuring that their work product has value because it makes a difference.

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