Tuesday, November 27, 2007

These are a Few of My Favorite Slides

I'm running out of disk space. My homebuilt PC has two hard drives. One has 80GB of storage and the other has 40GB. Yeah, that's so 2003. But when I rebuilt this thing in 2003, that was so much space that I partitioned those two drives into 20GB partitions, so I have 6 virtual drives. Problem is, unpartitioning is a real bear and a half. so I'm housecleaning as best as I can, but I think Christmas break will involve some really messy software reloading and the purchase of a bigger hard drive. Ew.

Anyway, in the process of housecleaning, I've wandered through my archive of presentations. (Note to self: MS Office 2003 doesn't like MS Office prior to Office 97, so it's time to do some file conversions, too.) Where was I? Oh yeah, presentations. I've kept a log of all the presentations that I've done over the years (back to 1989). Yes, a log. And I send it to people who want me to speak. It started as a list on my resume, then became a handy thing to send out when I was asked to speak, but the Chapter didn't know what they wanted to hear. (And I have most of the presentations in electronic form.) Since that first presentation in 1989 (which was written out as a paper, with no slides), I've done over 100 different presentations at various forums. In the past couple years, I've pulled back on the number that I do, but I had a couple years where I was out there a lot.

So I was wandering through a few of them. I've noticed that over time, I'm tending to be more minimalist in my slides -- more content, fewer graphics, less glitz. I guess I don't have the time to build slides and find solid graphics, so I'm just sticking with text and simple schemes. As I looked through my presentations, I recalled some of the venues and places that I had been to. I recalled audience reactions and my self-assessment of my performance. I've often said to people that I'm either cheap or good -- and that's why I get invited to speak.

Anyway, I wandered through the slides and I've pulled out a few of my favorites that I thought I'd try to share in my blog. Haven't tried embedding graphics, so we'll see how this goes...

This slide was from a presentation that I did in Boston at the 2003 ARMA Conference. That session was one that I remember like it was yesterday. I was absolutely in the zone. I had a ton of energy, a packed house, and all my jokes hit home. Athletes talk about games where they can't miss a jump shot, or the baseball looks like a volleyball, or every pass is on the money. That was me that day. This presentation pre-dated ARMA's competencies and it was my vision of what a records manager had to know to be successful. For a number of years, I've talked about the "cardboard ceiling" (something that I once heard mentioned by another speaker long ago). This slide is how I've finally come to represent that ceiling in terms of competencies. It's one of the best slides that I've created from scratch and it reminds me of the day where I hit a grand slam. Oh yeah, and that's the day that I oversold the room, so they had me do an encore a couple hours later... that one wasn't so good...

This slide is from my "Perfect Storm" presentation on various types of messaging. The background is awful busy, but the message is something that hits home. I had read this article a couple days before I first gave the presentation and it was one of the first times that I tossed in something fresh and unexpected in a presentation (it wasn't in the handout). records managers hadn't given much thought to Blackberries and really didn't understand them. When I presented this, there were audible gasps as some people in the audience realized that their It departments might just be logging every bit of message traffic coming from their companies' Blackberries. It wasn't so much worry about content, but worry about records being maintained -- and they had no idea they were out there. I do that a lot. I do a presentation and people walk away frightened...

This slide got me in a lot of trouble with my audience at the Chicago ARMA Conference in 2005 ("Taking a Leadership Role when IT and RM Intersect"). Oh, the negative comments on the session reviews! (But there were also quite a few, "Thanks for saying something that needed to be said, I'm tired of my staff looking like a bunch of unprofessional punks.") Anyway, I had been thinking about how many records managers carry themselves. I hate "Dress for Success" sessions myself, but I was starting to see a very disturbing trend of colleagues bemoaning their disrespect within their organizations, while carrying themselves and looking like they had no desire to set foot in the executive suite. At the time, I had found myself in much more of a consultative role in my firm and I was dealing with clients a lot. I found that even though I was the corporate records manager for my firm, I was being accorded much more respect by our firm's clients than the incumbent at the client (and all I was doing was taking away the client's HR files). I was providing advice that I know their records manager could provide and yet that person wasn't invited to the table. When I did insist that the records manager hear what I had to say, I was told bluntly by the client that their records manager wasn't capable of the analysis. I still insisted and then saw the issue -- jeans, ill-fitting, unpressed clothing. Clearly they saw this person solely as a box mover. Now I'm not Mr. GQ, but I could see why they marginalized their records manager.

But, oh, the reaction! "You don't understand anything about office culture today." "If I wear a suit to work, they will think I'm nuts." "Everyone here has body art... you're incredibly behind the times." Maybe so, but the last time I checked, the CEOs of my last two employers weren't into visible body art. You want to pierce or tattoo some part of your body, go right ahead... I'd prefer not to be able to tell what you pierced through your clothing... or lack thereof. And that might be a lovely red thong you're wearing, but in my book, Too Much Information... (Next on David Letterman, Ten ways to tell that you're turning into an old geezer...)

So that's the first installment of "...a Few of of my Favorite Slides". More as I find some to talk about...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Alphabet Soup

When I was a kid, I used to eat alphabet soup with some regularity. You'd get that bowl of hot soup and proceed to try and make words from all those letters. I'd try and try, but out of all those letters, I'd inevitably get "C-A-T" and cold soup. And the funny thing was that hot soup tasted good, but after spending a lot of time trying to make sense of those letters, I'd end up with foul-tasting cold soup and mushy letters. There's a lesson somewhere in that analogy...

I've had the opportunity to take a look at Mimi Dionne's new blog. Mimi has been around the industry for a while and is definitely one of our shining stars. But I'm a little worried about her. In her first post, she talks about all of the various certifications and certificates that she has obtained or is interested in obtaining over and above her Master's degree. She asks the question, "When is enough... enough?"

I suppose that I am concerned about the seeming proliferation of initials following the names of people in our industry. At a certain point, they all seem rather trite and self-serving. Now, I'll be quick to point out that I have a Master's degree and have been a CRM for 15 years. I'm very proud of both of those pieces of paper and they hang prominently in my office (hey, if the lawyers all display their JDs, I'm going to put up my sheepskin). What seems to be happening recently is that some people in our industry, as well as some organizations, seem to think that the measure of the professional is based upon the string of initials after his or her name. Rather crudely put, this becomes a game of "mine is bigger than yours". And these same folks seem to think that the distribution of these initials is a lucrative business opportunity in which you only are admitted to take the tests when you have paid some serious cash to prepare for the exam. In my mind that becomes a very dangerous game of exchanging cash for perceived credibility.

What bothers me more is that the various certificates are being promoted as equivalent to certifications in our industry. In my experience, there is a very real difference between the certification process and the certificate process. There are some out there who would argue that even a certification doesn't equate competency. I would tend to agree with that. I know of CRMs and CAs who are clueless hacks and happened to test well. I know of many un-credentialed practitioners who are very highly qualified professionals. But what I fear is a glut of vendor types and others who see records management / content management as the fad du jour and possessing a string of initials after their names makes them absolutely credible. For these folks, the initials are a way to sell product / services or occupy a seat in an organization until something better comes along. To these folks, records management is not a career, or a profession, or even (to use a term from my past) a "vocation". They want to make a buck and move along.

Earlier today, I found a question posted on LinkedIn (a social networking site) that asked about records management. The person posing the question wanted folks to provide him with a "records management policy". I read through the answers that had been given. The people doing the answers were Ph.Ds and JDs and some had all sorts of initials after their names. A couple of them knew what they were talking about -- but most gave pretty weak advice. But none of them were records managers (until I posted an answer). Unfortunately, most came across pretty credibly. It's a hot topic. People spouted what I would describe as "book answers".

Back in the late 90's (yeah, all those years ago), when the Internet and the IT arena was going gangbusters, there were an incredible number of certificates out there. You could be a Microsoft Certified this or a Novell that or a Lotus something or other. Pay the bucks, take a test and print out your certificate. The theory was that with technology moving so quickly, the only way that an IT manager could tell if someone really knew their stuff was if they had the current Microsoft whatever certificate. And people ate that stuff up in the consulting world like there was no tomorrow. Whenever I was "on the bench", my fellow benchwarmers would be studying up on whatever they needed that week to be marketable.

So I suppose that experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I watched people bleed out the ears chasing the latest software or operating system version, only to be stymied when a client actually wanted them to evaluate competing products. Oh, they could set up this one or that one. They could make the things work. But they couldn't do critical thinking. They didn't see what made the most sense for the client. They could implement the solution, but they couldn't decide which solution made the most sense for the client. But clients just wanted things to work -- and they wanted the latest and greatest thing. Solution implementation was in; solution assessment was out.

I fear that some of these certificates in our industry take people down the same sort of path. While the certificates are vendor agnostic, they still constitute book-learning for the most part. As I said in a prior post, you'll know your dpi and network topology, but will you really understand how to make the system fit into the larger scheme of records management?

So are they really all bad? I'm not sure. I have 20+ (holy cow!) years of experience, with 15 of those hanging around imaging systems and serious technology. I would suggest that I have a pretty good grounding in the technology of our industry. Expert? Perhaps. Could I learn anything from a certificate program? Maybe some little bit of trivia or some shortcut to calculate required disk space. But what experience adds to the mix is the understanding of how these things need to work in the real world. In that same post about spinning that IT manager's head around, I pointed out all of the issues that I have learned through hard experience. They aren't necessarily things that you get from "the book". I've learned that you have to consider user, functional and system requirements, very often in that order, in order to get a system accepted and implemented. You have to consider corporate reality. And you have to prove your case. Technology is not always the answer to every business problem. Sometimes all that technology does is make bad things happen faster.

One of the first things that I learned when doing process mapping and in taking Six Sigma courses (as well as from implementing Six Sigma) is that you have to understand the root cause of what is broken in a process. You can't try to fix the symptoms of a problem when you don't know what the underlying disease happens to be. Determining what the root cause is requires very critical thinking, not simply book knowledge.

So when is enough... enough? In some respects, learning should never stop. Good certification programs require the certification holder to continually refresh (and share) his or her knowledge in the industry. There is always something new to learn. There is always something new to try (like blogs). As a professional, you should never be satisfied that you know all there is to know about your profession. It evolves and you must evolve with it. But above all, you must hone your critical thinking and ability to define solutions based upon a broad range of knowledge, not the "solution" offered by a vendor's presentation or gained by attending some expensive classes and passing a test. There is a need for good solutions for an organization, but those solutions must accurately reflect the business requirements and need.

There is another factor at work here in this rush to add initials after our names, I think. Records managers tend to have bootstrapped their way into their positions. They worry that they don't have a particular degree or something that shows that they know what they are talking about. Fifteen years ago, that's one of the motivations that brought me to the CRM. But over time, I've found that my Master's degree carries more weight and that the CRM simply indicates that I am a professional. This is my career. If I am truly a professional, I don't need to go add a bunch of initials after my name to prove that I know my business. I can articulate the business requirements of good records management and I can select the systems and processes that contribute to a compliant program. That is what is expected of a professional. If you see a lawyer about a will, do you ask him for his will-making certificate? If your doctor is going to prescribe a drug to you to remedy an illness, do you ask to see her certificate for that malady?

Records managers must stop seeing themselves as somehow lacking as professionals. This "woe is me" attitude serves no one well. If this is your career and your profession, act as a professional. Learn at every opportunity and share that learning. Don't chase the latest fad or the latest buzzword. Understand how that buzzword fits (or what it is really describing), but keep your eye on the bigger picture and ensure that you understand the fundamentals. The buzzword of the day will soon fade into something else -- and you'll know all along, just being a good records manager is enough to solve the perceived problem. If your organization just sees you as "the file lady" or "the box guy", it's time to move on. And if you can't grow in your role, then all of the initials in the world won't give you one iota of additional credibility. Cure the disease, not the symptom.

And so I would say to Mimi, you're certainly welcome to add to those initials after your name. You may actually learn something new to add to your tool belt. Evaluate those programs on the basis of what you can learn; not on the basis of the perceived credibility of some "credential". But you don't need to do it to impress me or make me think that you're a professional. I already know that. And I suspect that most everyone else knows that as well. Never stop learning and never stop sharing. But don't focus on the letters for so long that your soup gets cold.

(As always, my blog posts are my personal opinions and not those of my employer or any other organization.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Two Minute Commute

At some point in the next couple of months, I will begin working from my home on a regular basis. That means that I'll be moving from a very spacious 15 by 15 (feet) office at work to my home office, which is in the process of being constructed and will measure about 8 by 10 (feet). One benefit of the new office is that it will have an attached powder room, so I can now feel like an executive, with a bathroom right adjacent to my office. So I am in the process of selecting furnishings for the office since this will be where I am expected to work most days, coming to the real office when I need to have face to face meetings or meet with a vendor. On the plus side, my commute will be a matter of seconds instead of the 45 minutes or so that I have allotted (each way) now. On the negative side, I recognize that I am a social animal and will need to work harder to maintain relationships in the office.

My new space will be a dedicated office. In the past, my working space has been part of our kitchen or in the basement. Right now, my desk has been relocated to the basement along with all my "stuff" and I'm finding that while isolated, it is not the most conducive spot for working. As winter comes on, it is also a tad chilly. The new office will be fitted out with bookshelves, a proper (and matching) work surface, a decent amount of storage, plenty of electrical, data and telecom outlets, and a door. That door will be useful. It will help me feel like I've "gone to work" and will indicate to the family when I really need to be head's down on a project.

My employer is looking to reduce the second largest line item on the corporate budget -- real estate. Those of us who are knowledge workers and who generally spend most of the day locked in offices staring at a computer screen or on conference calls will be able to do this from home -- greatly reducing the daily requirement for square footage and reducing the cost of real estate for the company. It's sold as a "win-win" -- good for the bottom line and good for work / life balance. Since many of us travel frequently as well, it will also utilize space that can sit empty many days a year when we're on the road.

I've dabbled in working from home for some time now. I've had a home computer since CP/M days and I've been online in a meaningful way since 1993. DSL showed up in 2001 and I've been able to be much more effective working from home since then. Add in my new Motorola Q9h and Bill Gates' profit margins are seldom more than a few feet away from me. Prior jobs allowed me the flexibility of working from home in between road trips or on days where weather or family circumstances allowed me greater productivity if I avoided the highways. If my younger daughter is home ill (or has a day off), I should be able to be home now without any feelings of guilt.

But, there are drawbacks. I like that office. I tend to nest at work. I have a fair number of things that I have picked up over time that I like to display. I also have a fairly large reference library. And I've been gifted with a about ten linear feet of files from my predecessor that I will need to send offsite or find space for in my shared digs at the office. That's the stuff that will be hard to part with.

As a new employee, I'm still building a network and relationships in the new company. Being in the office allows people to drop by and say hello or allows you to run into someone in the cafeteria. It also allows the happenstance "drive bys" that come with seeing someone in the hallway or in their office. Moreso, as a records manager, I'm worried about what will happen to records when knowledge workers are primarily doing their work at home. And that, after all this lead in, is the focus of today's post.

The reason that I'm moving to "iWork" -- as we call it -- is that I'm moving from the company's Law Department to the IT department. I'll be working for the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) in our Information Protection department. It makes sense. My new boss interviewed me before I was hired and working for him was a possibility from day one. His team includes people who are responsible for Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery as well as Data Privacy. So it is a natural fit and we're all focused on risk mitigation when it comes to the company's information assets. The team is also global in nature, so the iWork program will also benefit us when we have those late night / early morning conference calls with one end of the world or another.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, the drumbeat of interest in iWork has been ramping up. This has led to a number of calls and emails from people wondering what they should be doing with their records as they move out of fixed office space and what they should be doing with records when they are at home. So we're working up some direction for employees, while trying to ensure that we're not stepping on any toes.

Things that we're trying to address:

  • Shredders. Yes. Internal and confidential documents are required to be shredded before being discarded. iWork employees get an allowance for equipment and a shredder is expected to be purchased.
  • Secure storage space. Yes. Part of the allowance is to be used to purchase secure filing equipment that will allow internal and confidential documents to be secured, along with laptops and other company property.
  • Offsite storage. No and yes. We're not going to allow our offsite storage vendor to make house calls. We are encouraging employees to make certain that they are backing up electronic documents on company servers.
  • Use of personal computer equipment. No. I'm making a strong pitch that we always provide company-owned or leased computer equipment and mandate the use of this equipment. Some bean counters are looking at this as an exercise in numbers and the battle is on. The problem with allowing company information to be maintained on personally-owned equipment is that litigation makes this very interesting. John Montana's excellent study, "Access Rights to Business Data on Personally-Owned Computers" (from the ARMA International Educational Foundation), is the document that I most reference when discussing this issue. I have support from our litigation attorneys as they have seen some really messy situations in the past when they had to get an employee's personal computer because of litigation.
  • Termination of employment. We have a policy that requires managers to ensure that all records maintained by a terminated employee have been transferred to another employee or otherwise retained properly. This becomes more difficult when the employee's work place is not within the four walls of the office.
This process also demands that we put in place excellent repositories for information. That we have to work on. My fear is that people will do things that make life easier, like sending documents to personal email accounts or using online storage repositories to hold company information so that they can access it at home (the issue exists regardless of where people normally work, but gets exacerbated when the secure VPN connection for company work prevents the employee from printing a document on the home network).

What this also means is that you're never really away from work. In today's world, I guess being available, in effect, 24 by 7 is a necessary evil. However, it also allows you to be a parent 24 by 7 when necessary. So when my daughter needs a ride to Girl Scouts or someone to help her with homework, I'll be able to set aside my "day job" for a few minutes -- and that, especially, is not a bad thing.

As I was writing this, I was thinking about the evolution of work as I have experienced it in my life. Both of my parents worked when I was growing up. My mother was an executive assistant and was able to walk to work. We could stop by her office on the way home from school and check in. She worked typical office hours, but as an assistant to a sales executive, was on call at all hours. But by and large, her work was confined to the office or what she could accomplish on the telephone from home.

My Dad was in the trucking industry as an operations and sales manager. His hours and travel varied. Many of his "days" lasted into the wee hours when he was entertaining a customer. I'd hear him come in after midnight and head out at 7am the next morning. He was an early adopter of communications technology to stay in touch with the office. For many years, the family car had a two-way radio -- the iconic "Adam 12" radio, as we used to call it. Even back in the 70's my Dad was always connected -- and Mom had a way to find out if he was coming home for dinner. When cell phones came out, my Dad had one of those installed in the car as well. My Dad was big on "going for a ride" with us and many excursions were interrupted by a voice from the radio calling, "Base to 2-9-9" -- which meant that something had happened and he needed to drop by the office or go look at an accident scene.

But I learned from my parents that work oftentimes demands that you are available at odd hours or inconvenient times. In their cases, getting serious work done usually meant a trip to the office. In my case, I can often get it done from home. I do know that with an actual office in my house, I'll also close the door from time to time and call it a day.