Not all users are bad, but they may not be paying attention

Yesterday, in the As the pendulum swings - Users vs. the Enterprise, I discussed how the balance between the needs of staff users and those of the enterprise that employs them has recently swung strongly to favor users as a result of consumerization.

My perspective was that of the enterprise. But even though users are currently in an advantageous position, they may still encounter issues. I found this when I left OpenText recently.

I had worked for over a decade in the same company. Outlook/Exchange was the standard email system during that whole period, and in recent years OpenText's own Exchange email archiving solution was implemented internally. I was comfortable that here was robust data protection, backup and archiving with long-term recovery capabilities that I could rely on without thinking. I kept all of my contacts in the system, and was readily able to access them through my laptop, Blackberry and iPad.

When I left the company, my access to the Exchange server was of course removed. That is when I discovered that I had lost all of my contacts, some ~4,000 in number. In hindsight it was obvious that I had become complacent and was not using the features of Outlook that would have stored my personal information locally. Fortunately, I was able to recover the contact vCards. All would not have been lost, as I use Linkedin for many contacts, but certainly not all.

But, I also connected my primary ISP email account (Yahoo) to Outlook so I could read both work and personal emails. Fortunately, I had configured the mail service to keep copies even after they were downloaded by Outlook, so I still had copies of the incoming emails, though not some of the outbound. There were a few other emails accounts that I use less often and did not bother to connect so these were unaffected.

I had kept my personal files separate from my work files on my company-supplied laptop, and my departure from the company occurred over time, so I was able to ensure I had preserved all of these on my personal computer. But had I been required to immediately return all of the company equipment, getting my personal files off the company equipment would have been hard or even impossible.

So, lesson learned. As I reconfigure my personal 'IT World', I will make it more robust and independent. It will have a redundant blend of local and Cloud storage. I learned that lesson with the dot.com bust when a number of resources I used disappeared without warning. In fact recently, both the Adjix and Unhub sites that I used regularly disappeared.

But I will also ensure that I can respect the compliance and efficiency needs of any company that I work with in the future.

The merger of personal and social in the information sphere in recent years has been much discussed. But it isn't just enterprises that have to deal with this, so must their staff.


As the pendulum swings - Users vs. the Enterprise

There have been two traditional enemies of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) adoption:
  1. Email
  2. Shared network folders/drives
For most users in an enterprise (i.e. staff), it is simply easier to send a file to a colleague through email than it is to first deposit the file and then send a link instead.

In the early 2000's, progress was made to close the usability gap so that it was nearly as easy to deposit and send a link as it was to send directly. Enterprises were motivated to encourage or even require this user behavior by compliance requirements (e.g. SOX), especially in some industrial (e.g. 21 CFR Part 11 in the life sciences sector) and government sectors. The effort was made feasible by the fact that in the majority of cases, the files were in either Microsoft Office or PDF formats, and that each enterprise typically had standardized email system, often MS Exchange or Lotus Notes. ECM systems provided easy approaches that tied the two together.

Similarly, with shared network folders, users found it very easy to just create a folder that they needed, then share it with a few colleagues as required. But this is highly non-scalable, even for individual users, who quickly have access to hundreds of poorly named and unmaintained folders and files. The benefits of bringing some standardization to the naming and maintenance of folders and files, with audit trails and version control, became an ECM adoption driver that even many users supported. Enterprises saw the efficiency benefits of making current and relevant information more readily available to staff in support of their work.

But in recent year the pendulum has very much swung back in favor of the end user with the consumerization of enterprise IT.

On the email front, most staff have ready access to Cloud email services such as Gmail, even if their enterprise-sanctioned email service goes down. And increasingly staff are creating content in other formats (i.e. not Office or PDF) that are supported by these email services, or other services that provide new types of content such as blogs, microblogs, wikis, videos, etc. And they are often doing this on devices that they personally supply (e.g. smart phones and tablets).

And on the shared folder front, dedicated Cloud services such as Dropbox and Box.net are making very significant in-roads into enterprises, even if they are not sanctioned. Users simply take the easier and arguably the best way (from a personal efficiency perspective) to get their jobs done. They gain ready access to 'their' files wherever they are and on whatever device they use.

Clearly the 'pendulum' has swung very much towards the needs of end users in recent years. But the return swing is inevitable. It will likely be driven by:
  1. Disclosure disasters to come (think Wikileaks 'on steroids'), that will force enterprises to be enforce processes,
  2. Growing process confusion and inefficiencies as the number of consumer-oriented services used by staff continue to grow, and by
  3. Enterprise software vendors moving to adopt the best features of consumer software to the needs of enterprises.


My next phase

Today was my first day after I left OpenText. I had a great 11 years with the company that afforded me fabulous opportunities to learn about content management, the enterprise content management (ECM) field and how it relates to business process and enterprise architecture. In recent years our view of content greatly expanded to the digital media perspective.

On the collaboration side, I had many opportunities to blog - sometimes in this blog, and more often in OpenText Online Communities and internally within OpenText. I also heavily promoted microblogging in the context of work. After a slow start, it was gratifying to see growing numbers of active participants.

Personally I am one of those who tend to 'drink from a firehose' of information, even when it threatens to give me a headache. As a believer in the importance of metrics, it was interesting in my studies to find I was subscribed to 40% more internal discussions than the next most active staff member. I was also one of the most active and relevant staff on external social media as shown by internal tracking studies for marketing effectiveness. So my activities had business benefit. But they also had personal benefit. Much has been written about the merger of personal and business life, and this is one clear example.

As I announced my departure from OpenText, I was contacted privately and publicly through many different channels, which was very gratifying. New opportunities are opening up, in part because of those online social activities. I'm hoping for a wide range of new experiences in the coming months, helping me to broaden my knowledge and to do some things I could not do before.

The orientation of this blog will change, and hopefully my post frequency will pick up again.

On to the next phase.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to contact me directly you can find me on Linkedin, Twitter (@MartinSS) or email me at MartinSS at Rogers dotcom.