Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ATR: Underwhelmed by Information Certification

A couple months ago, I wrote about my achievement of AIIM's Information Certification. I took a little while to compose the post and I ran my drafts past both AIIM and the ICRM. The timing was fortunate, as the ICRM was just announcing some much-needed changes to their test process. I wanted to be fair to both organizations and really wanted to try to be objective in evaluating the new Certification against the gold standard in the industry. I found that AIIM's Certification was surprisingly rigorous and the ICRM has taken up the challenge to step up to the plate on some long-desired program modifications.

After a few emails, I finally had my designation acknowledged by AIIM right after Thanksgiving. One email went astray and I was then sent a link to AIIM's website to claim my welcome, congratulations, and certificate. All quite underwhelming. I certainly understand growing pains, but AIIM really doesn't have their stuff together. The certificate is generic. I was told that it is essentially the same format for any other AIIM certificate program. Nothing fancy and it is a PDF, so you print it yourself if you want something for your wall. John Mancini has a generic congratulations letter that promotes other AIIM training. There are links to graphics for the Certification, but how I display the Certification is quite unclear to me. Since it doesn't fit in the typical alphabet soup, initials after your name format, I really don't know how to show it off. Even putting the designation on a resume is unclear. I guess I'm supposed to put the logo on my business cards. Um, that ain't happening. The Corporate business card standard doesn't allow other logos on the Day Job's cards. I still have no information on certification maintenance.

Clearly I got in to this early. But I think that I expected AIIM to be much more mature in running this program. Maybe I got in on beta version .9, but paying full price for a beta leaves a lot to be desired. I'd suggest to the ICRM that they have little to worry about if AIIM continues to handle this program in this manner. It feels slapdash.

Color me underwhelmed.

Comments from AIIM welcome.

OTR: A Tale of Two Customer Service Departments

Yesterday, I had occasion to communicate with the Customer Service departments of two companies. It was interesting to see how each responded to me.

When I bought my Motorola Atrix, earlier this year, I wanted a holster for the phone. Phones and my pockets never get along and I like having the phones on my belt. The only holster available for the Atrix was the Otterbox Defender. It's a little pricey, but provides outstanding protection to the phone. I have a tendency to drop my phones on concrete and the rubberized case reduces the impact. It does make an otherwise very sleek and thin phone look quick a bit more massive, however. Anyway, I broke the belt clip on the holster. This is common for me, generally when getting into the passenger side of a car. Seems like one phone always finds the door frame and tries to remove itself from my belt -- the clip usually gives way and I'm off to Best Buy looking for a new holster. This one was no different. As I went looking for a replacement, one store suggested that I contact Otterbox because they heard they have very liberal warranty policies.

Yesterday, I sent Otterbox an email. I indicated that the clip had broken and I wanted to know if there was any warranty remedy. I figured that I get a polite form note back at least asking for proof of purchase and a return of the broken holster before they'd decide if they would do anything. At worst, it would be no reply or a simple turn down.

This afternoon, I received two emails from Otterbox. The first was a shipping confirmation for a replacement holster. The second was a nice note from a CSR named John (with his full name, phone number, and email address) letting me know that a replacement was being sent. Wow. No third degree, no proof of purchase, no shipping of the carcass. Awesome.

My other customer service interaction was with Dish Network. I got a call at home last night from a company that the Caller ID said was "Vitelity". For some strange reason, I answered the phone. After the usual robo-call delay, the person on the other end asked for me. She was calling from "Dish Network" about my service. I stopped her and demanded to know how she could be from Dish if the Caller ID said "Vitelity". I told her that I was not going to speak to her and hung up. I sent Dish a fairly sharp email (once I found a way to email them) asking them who Vitelity was and why they were calling me saying they were Dish. A subsequent Google search found some references that seemed to indicate they do telemarketing for Dish and they are calling to try to sell movie packages.

My reply this evening from Dish's employee "Richard" consisted of an "apology" (likely "CSR Apology Form 1") for Dish not meeting my customer service expectations and an invitation to call them and talk to them. Uh huh. Thanks for taking the time to read and comprehend my email.

Guess which company I plan to continue to do business with?

ATR: iPadding

I'm about six weeks into the iPad experiment. It is interesting. Some things work really well; others, not so much. But it has changed my routine and, to some extent, aspects of the way that I work. The biggest gaps with the iPad are Flash and Java. This really only impacts some websites, but there are still quite a few websites built with Flash or Java. That's a pretty big issue and Apple really needs to think about that.

I'm getting to the point where I rarely take my laptop home. During the week, it is chained to my desk and my office is locked, so with a VPN connection and RDP, I can log in to the laptop remotely and pull off needed files or access internal websites if I can't get to them from the home PC. Work email on the iPad is wonderful for the most part. The biggest gap is that I can't immediately get to internal websites, but the ability to quickly open, read and respond to an email is terrific. It is far easier to read email on the iPad than on my Droid, and I thought the Droid had a great screen when I got it two years ago. Interesting how your expectations are modified over time.

If I'm working at home, I still need the laptop for IM and a keyboard. I'm looking at getting a bluetooth keyboard and perhaps a docking station. That might make it easier to work solely using the iPad. Also on the shopping list is a VGA adapter. I noticed some speakers using their iPads to deliver presentations and I downloaded Keynote because it is supposed to be the closest thing to PowerPoint.

The stylus was a good choice. It is easy to write with, although I haven't done a lot of writing. WritePad is great for handwriting recognition, although it takes a little getting used to.

Another gap is good integration with Office tools. It is hard to move notes from the iPad to my laptop. What I'd really like is for a Franklin Planner type of application to integrate with Outlook. A really full-featured planner app would be perfect. Supposedly Franklin is looking at doing just that, but I suspect the decline of the paper-based calendars limits their resources to develop a good app. I'm really surprised that they didn't start developing electronic apps sooner. Once upon a time, they had the market cornered on note-taking and planning. I know a few people who still rely on their paper systems, but those people are few and far between.

In the leisure side of things, my Kindle quickly was shelved. I'm a little disappointed there because it was only a couple months old. The Kindle is a great reading platform, but it isn't much more than that. You can do a few things, but it is not suited for much more than reading books. The Kindle app on the iPad is very nice and turning pages by tapping the screen is easy and natural. I find myself toting the iPad wherever I go. Watching football, I have the NFL app running to follow other scores. I will stop and look something up on the Web. Email is at my fingertips. I am watching TV in the easy chair more than I used to. Battery life is outstanding, although recharging does take a while.

I'd say that overall, the iPad is a game-changer. I have probably barely broken the surface of capabilities, but I'm gaining productivity in general. The price point is still high and the price per GB of storage capacity is still too high. I still think the sweet spot for tablets isin the $200 to $300 range, with economy models around $100. That will move them off the shelves. As long as a tablet is about the same pricepoint as a decent laptop (or desktop), it will be hard for most folks to justify the purchase. That said, they may be the right option for the older adult population that really just needs email and Internet access, with a few toys thrown in.

I'd like to see more security features, antivirus apps, and the aforementioned integration with Outlook calendaring. But it is very good.

More to come.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ATR: Changing the way we work...

I've been working from home off and on, ever since I got my first laptop and a high speed Internet connection. But at the end of the day, digging the laptop out of the computer bag, waiting around for Windows to launch, firing up the VPN, and then launching email is a real drag when you just want to look at one thing. Smartphones, from the Blackberry to the Q9h to the Droid, have made life better in that regard, but they were also limiting in screen size and some functionality. If anything, the smartphone has helped me decide when it is worth my while to crank up the laptop.

After a couple days of really using the iPad, I think things may substantially change for me in terms of getting more Day Job work done at home. Email is instant and much more readable (as long as I have wi-fi). A co-worker pointed out an app that allows me to get VPN access for the iPad and that enables me to get into our document management system at work. There's something I need to play with a bit.

Text entry is still challenging. I've downloaded WritePad, which offers handwriting recognition for notes, but doesn't interface with apps. The faux keyboard is ok, particularly with the stylus, but is still one letter at a time. I want to play with some voice recognition software at some point as well.

So right now, consuming information on the iPad is a winner. Producing information, not so much. When you see a blog post "Written from my iPad", you'll know that I'm on to something. But in the meantime, my plan is to give the iPad a serious workout next week in the office.

So that's the prologue.

I've mused before in this space about how work is changing and where we work is no longer important. My prior post about the two minute commute never really happened. People certainly work from home, but I still have a nice office on the corporate campus and I find myself driving there almost every day. I have a decent enough space at home that is far superior to any home office space that I've had in the past. But the nature of the tools that I have had to use tended to chain me to the home office desk as much as I am chained to the in-office desk. Yes, I have a laptop. But that laptop is very adverse to being disconnected from its docking station and walked out of the office while it is running. It doesn't like me to close the lid when it has been running, and switching from a wired connection to wi-fi is an ordeal. So I tend to go to meetings with a pad of paper and a pen. I switched this year to a notebook in hopes that I'd be able to go back to prior notes more effectively. But now I have three notebooks (so far) for this year. So that doesn't work real well.

Enter the iPad. Portable, instant on, and all that. I may actually come out of my cave at home and socialize with the family once in a while. Up to now, I have tended to carry my smartphones with me only when I'm out of the house or away from the house phone. Otherwise, they sit on my desk at home. So if I went out in the living room to watch TV out there, I tended to be disconnected. But I'd hear one buzz and go see what was going on. The tablet takes that one more step. I'll tend to have it with me and be able to respond to email more effectively. So work will tend to follow me whenever my eyes are open. As I become more proficient with the device, I rather expect that I'll rarely crack open the laptop. Maybe I'll start thinking about moving to a desktop computer again.... nah.

If anything, I may start to reduce the hours that I spend in the office to just the hours when face to face meetings are essential. If the iPad frees me from extra hours spent consuming reports and documents in the office, then that will be a significant plus. so one test that I have in mind is whether or not I can effectively consume and edit large documents on the iPad. If that is the case, then I'll start dealing with those things at the boundaries of the workday -- and from the comfort of my easy chair.

I'll keep you posted on this experiment.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

OTR: Geek Meets Tablet

As a bonafide geek when it comes to things electronic, I can think of a number of events in my life when a new technology tool changed everything for me. It seems like there has always been an intermediate step on the way to that tool. So to over-prove the point, let me walk you through some of those things...

Computer: To be honest, this started with my Brother correcting typewriter. When I went away to college, I was given a typewriter that had the ability to automagically erase the entire line that had been most recently typed. No need for Wite-Out. When I got to grad school, a computer entered my life. I was a simple Kaypro IV, but the ability to cut and paste and edit entire documents was a revelation. My first work computer was networked and had a modem. A modem at work led to a modem at home and the home modem led to AOL and then to the Internet. The Internet led to DSL and home networking. Working from home became far easier. Working at all hours became far easier.

Telecommunications: I can remember having a simple numeric pager. I recall getting a "911" page (my wife and I had a deal that if she appended "911" to a page, I needed to call home right away) on the way home one night, pulling off the highway, and searching for a pay phone. Shortly after that, a cell phone company came to the office and offered me cell phone service with a Motorola "brick" phone and a then semi-reasonable rate plan. The electronic leash became shorter, but now I could be redirected on the way home without needing to get off the highway. The cell phones got smaller and then I was handed a PageWriter 2000. I had half of a smart phone and never realized it. That led to a palm Pilot clone to keep my calendar handy and then my first Blackberry, which kept my calnder in real time and allowed me to look at email no matter where I was. What followed was a succession of smarter and more capable cell phones, culminating in my Motorola Atrix. But the Atrix wasn't quite everything and my book-reading habits suggested that the geek needed a Kindle fix, so I got one of those. I liked the form factor and the handiness. But it was limiting. But things had changed.

While the Atrix is great and my current laptop very capable, neither form factor suits me. The Atrix keeps my calendar and holds my email, gives me Internet access, and helps me navigate, but isn't something that I can work from continuously. The laptop is bulky and takes forever to boot and connect to the Internet. The Kindle was black and white, and doesn't do email or web pages well.

Enter the Tablet.

I've been debating the tablet for a while. The original  iPad was pricey and I didn't need another data plan. I'm also a PC guy and things Apple have often confused me. Besides, they were a competitor of ours just a little while ago. The Motorola Xoom was equally pricey. Nothing else really jumped at me. But then I noticed that the cool kids all had iPads. My last boss got one by virtue of being a Board member for a local hospital. She loved hers and found it incredibly useful. I noticed a steady stream of evening emails "Sent from my iPad". After the split of the cell phone company from the Day Job company, it seemed like most of the executive floor was adopting iPads. Since I'm not great at the "Dress for your next job" thing, I decided that maybe "Own technology for your next job" ought to be my monicker. I hemmed and hawed. I found a new laptop for the teenager that was about the price of an iPad. It bothered me that a full-featured computer was cheaper than this crippled tablet thing. I figured that the next go-round of tablets would be cheaper and that would be easier on the wallet. So I dithered.

Then, earlier in the week, I'm at the ARMA Conference. Each year at the Conference, the ARMA Educational Foundation has a silent auction. I generally bid on a few things and there is usually an iPod or a camera or something geeky to draw my attention. This year, geek gear was limited (although I missed a sweet 14 megapixel camera). Except for the iPad. The siren songs began. "The cool kids all have them." "You really need to understand these things." "It's useful." "You need to understand the risks." "It's cool." The voices in my head were winning. So was my bid. As time wound down, I checked my bid periodically. It was good up until "pencils down!" I won. Now what?

I picked up the new toy the next morning, making my contribution and realizing happily that the Day Job would likely match the gift to the Foundation. I headed back to the room and debated opening the box. I had some work to do and a tour scheduled for the afternoon. Playing with geek toys is time-consuming. So I waited until I got home. And then waited until I was caught up on work email. And then... revelation!

The screen is huge when it sits in your hands. Beautiful colors.  Portrait or landscape with just a slight turn. A bit heavy, but sturdy. Wi-fi hooked up nicely. Email, not so much, but I blame Microsoft's cloud. It worked eventually, and continues to work. iTunes that sound good on the built-in speaker. Instant on. An app store. Most of the familiar things from my smart phone. A weird interface at times for this Windows guy, but the teenager helped me along in exchange for a few doses of iPad heaven.

So now what? Now I will try to work with it every day. It won't fully replace the laptop, but may make me think about not hauling the laptop with me all the time. It is wi-fi only, but the Atrix has mobile hot spot capability. That will cover me when wi-fi isn't available. I need to find a good organizer and note-taking program. What I really want is the capability of a Franklin Planner.

Now the question is, is this just a geek toy, or is it a real productivity breakthrough? Is this the next phase or just a transitional step? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

ATR: CRM versus Information Certification Cage Match

So what in the world was I doing getting up at 6AM on a chilly Saturday morning? A couple of weeks ago I got up to go and take AIIM’s Information Certification exam. Why? Actually, mainly so I could write this blog post. Seriously? Sort of.  I felt that if I was going to talk about the IC (my abbreviation for Information Certification from here on out), I darn well better have taken the test. It also helps to have passed the test (673 points out of a possible 800, with the passing score calculated at 560 points). I went into the exam absolutely cold. No prep classes, no review. I looked at the body of knowledge when it was announced, decided that I had good experience in most areas, signed up on a Thursday, and took the exam on Saturday. This blog post will talk about the IC and the CRM generally and then look at both critically.

As an aside, a little more than 20 years ago, when I was just a wee little records manager, my then boss and I trekked out to Lombard, IL to take the first five parts of the CRM exam. I passed those on the first shot, but part VI eluded me for a few tries. On the day I took the IC exam, I found myself a couple hundred yards away from where I took my CRM exam, so I guess it all comes full circle sometimes. 

So let’s back up a little. The IC is a 100 question, multiple choice examination sponsored by AIIM International. The test is offered through Prometric test centers on an ongoing basis, so you can take the exam pretty much at any time. There are no prerequisites, but I would forewarn folks that this is not a test to take lightly. The cost is $265. There is a modest certification maintenance requirement of 45 hours over three years to maintain certification. The CRM examination series is six exams, the first five of which must be passed before Part VI is taken. The first five parts are multiple choice exams of 100 questions each. Part VI consists of two essay questions. The exams are offered through Pearson VUE testing centers four times a year. The ICRM has mandated educational and work experience prerequisites for CRM candidates. The cost is $750 ($100 application fee, $100 for Parts I-V, and $150 for Part VI). The ICRM has a 100 hour certification maintenance requirement over a five year period. Clearly, these are two very different models.

Each examination has an accompanying Body of Knowledge and training (the IC training is still in development). I would characterize the IC Body of Knowledge as very broad and very IT-centric. The ICRM Body of Knowledge is very deep, but much more narrow and Records-centric. This stands to reason, given the nature of the certifications and the examinations.

I became a CRM in 1992 and expect to officially be recognized as a holder of AIIM’s Information Certification in a few weeks. None of what I am writing here should be construed as anything but my opinion. I am speaking on behalf of myself and no other organization. I have given AIIM and the ICRM the courtesy of seeing these comments ahead of posting. Their input is limited to correction of matters of fact or removal of content believed to be disclosure of their confidential or proprietary information. You will shortly note that the ICRM has just announced a number of changes to its exam. These changes have been in development for some time.

Information Certification: My Gripes

There are plenty of certifications where the certification exam consists of a 100 question examination. With over 200 “Examination Objectives”, the IC has a very formidable body of knowledge to test against and for test takers to master. In theory, that means that a typical IC examination can’t possibly cover every Objective in any sort of detail. Some of the Objectives are in areas that I would consider to be very immature in terms of the development of best practices. This would primarily be social media and collaboration, with cloud computing also in that realm of immaturity. Other areas are much more mature.

As with any new test, there will be some bugs. One question didn’t ask for the selection of two answers, but the exam software had been programmed to check for two answers (a good save on the part of the software, but likely confusing to some test-takers). I didn’t like a few questions because I couldn’t find an answer that I would agree with. A few questions were written awkwardly or didn’t have enough information to truly make a good answer selection. These are relatively minor gripes and they will work out over time as the question bank is continually refreshed and evaluated.

I’m still not sure how to display my new certification. The manner that AIIM displays the IC on its website isn’t something that I can put on a business card. It is generally typical for a certification to be shown as “C-something or other” (e.g. CRM, CA, CDIA, CIPP, CISSP, CISM, etc.). So this certification will probably have a hard time getting traction through visibility on business cards or email signatures. Perhaps that will become clearer when I get the official AIIM paperwork on passing the IC.

I’m a little concerned about the lack of educational and experiential requirements for the IC. While the exam content bar is fairly high, I would expect that a good test taker who goes to the test prep sessions will be able to pass the exam. And that is one of the main problems that I have with 100 question exams associated with sanctioned exam prep classes. If the prep class teaches to “the book” (whatever body of knowledge is used to formulate the questions), the students will take the test to “the book” and not necessarily to any real life experience.

My overall impression of the IC is that it was harder than I expected, but remember, I took the test completely cold. All I did to prepare for the exam was review the list of Knowledge Domains. Now I do have 25 years of workplace experience, a lot of technology experience, and over the past couple of years, a lot of Information Governance and Information Security experience. The average records manager will have a very hard time with this exam.

CRM: My Gripes

I don’t have current experience with the CRM exam beyond some hearsay from colleagues and a review of the ICRM Exam Preparation Handbook. Twenty years ago, I took all five multiple choice parts of the exam in one sitting and passed all five. Part VI took me a couple tries because I thought a little too far outside of the box. My primary concern is that the CRM exam may include testing on some areas that simply aren’t that relevant. My biggest area of concern is Part II, Records Creation and Use. Mail Management, Reprographics, and Forms Management are simply not relevant to me. Granted, I have moved beyond operational records management, but I have never had responsibility for any of those things in my career. I’d prefer to see a much greater focus on electronic records in this area, as well as greater attention to records requirements for electronic systems. Part III, Records Systems, Storage and Retrieval, is still too focused on paper records systems. While this area is still a core competency for records managers, there may need to be greater focus on managing active electronic records. Part V, Facilities, Equipment, Supplies and Technology should be phasing out micrographics in favor of other technologies. The CRM exam needs to move slightly more in the direction of the domains covered by the IC and away from the physical management of records. BREAKING NEWS: The ICRM announced at their annual Business Meeting that the CRM body of knowledge was being substantially updated, effective with the February, 2012 examination cycle. The revised body of knowledge corrects many of the deficiencies that I noted above. These changes should be published on the ICRM website in the near future.

In terms of rigor, the CRM exam requires considerably more education and experience, although these requirements are being slightly relaxed. Where the IC is a mile wide and a yard deep, the CRM is a mile deep and a yard wide. The CRM’s essay questions are also critical in that they show that the candidate can think on his or her feet and write coherently. In my mind, this is the greatest differentiator.

The biggest gripe with the CRM is that it is only offered four times a year. My understanding is that since the multiple choice sections are graded as completed, the CRM candidate who passes the first five sections in one sitting (or the last section that they need to pass) can immediately sit for Part VI during that exam cycle. This will reduce the cycle time for successful candidates, but makes for a grueling couple of days. The ICRM announced at their Business Meeting that four candidates had successfully accomplished this.

With regard to the examination process, my experience with the CRM exam goes back to the days of blue books and handwritten answers. That said, both exams are comparably administered for the multiple choice sections. I do have some concerns with the manner in which CRM Part VI is administered. Candidates must close out their first answer before selecting the second question to answer. This limits the candidate’s ability to edit their answer as well as refine the answer as they manage their time. While this is normally good test-taking strategy to manage the time allotted for Part VI, one colleague pointed out to me that this approach tests the candidate’s ability to quickly compose and articulate a response, in a manner similar to what would be expected of a professional in a workplace situation.

So Which One is Better?

As with any certification exam, a lot depends upon the goals of the individual. The IC will generally allow a candidate more velocity to achieve a certification. The CRM will test deeper records management knowledge and writing ability. When I first heard about the IC, I had some concerns that AIIM was setting a very low bar and that the IC had the potential to overtake the CRM as the primary credential for records managers. I still have some concerns about that, but a lot will depend upon how each certification is marketed and discussed across the industry. My personal opinion is that the IC will appeal to IT-centric candidates and candidates with more interest in electronic records systems and information governance. The CRM will appeal to the records management community and likely be seen as more relevant for consultants in the records management arena.

The CRM demonstrates greater alignment with the ARMA Core Competencies, but still has too much focus on paper records and peripheral services (the recent changes will correct this deficiency to some extent). The IC is more oriented to technology and electronic information systems, but lacks prerequisites and testing on records program management competencies.

I’m pleased that the IC has a certification maintenance requirement. I haven’t seen the annual cost to maintain certification, but I would expect that it is modest. The actual contact hour requirement amounts to attendance at a major educational conference every year, or the equivalent substitute experiences. The CRM is slightly more requiring, but they are pretty close.

Exam prep is an area of concern. The ICRM relies on volunteers for the most part and exam prep sessions at educational conferences and meetings. The IC exam prep will be offered by third party providers. The CRM exam’s prep is generally more professionally practical, but likely less consistent (again, the ICRM just announced that it is moving to standardize the exam prep content and will provide more guidance to instructors). The IC exam’s prep will likely be the opposite. My experience with third party test prep is that the preparation is delivered in “boot camps”, with the exam following immediately. Third party providers will often effectively promise success to candidates (although it is often couched in language that provides the candidate with a subsequent exam prep class for no charge). I’m not certain how this will shake out for the IC, but with third parties delivering the test prep, I expect that the approach will be similar to what I have experienced and observed in other certifications.

So which is better? I still give the nod to the CRM for thoroughness, but the IC has a lot going for it. I remain concerned that the IC with its related exam prep classes will turn into a certification factory (as with many other technology certifications). I worry about exams that rely heavily on what amounts to week-long cram sessions. I’m not sure that they provide true education and that teaching to the exam tends to generate certification holders with very little practical knowledge. That said, for an experienced records manager with a good grounding in technology, the IC might be a nice certification to supplement the CRM.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

ATR: Coolest. Job. Title. Ever.

My business cards carry the title, "Senior Director, Information Governance". In our business of records and information management, that's the latest buzzword, and it is kinda cool. I always aspired to be the "Records Evangelist", back when all the cool kids were the "Evangelist" of this or that. The other day, a couple of us were working out a responsibilities matrix. We had "Data Owner", "Data Controller", "Data Processor", and a couple others, but we struggled to find a label for the Information Security and Information Governance team. Our requirements overlap, but we're not really doing anything with the data beyond making sure that it is managed properly. "Information Manager" sounded too hands on. "Information Governor" was too political. "Information Oversight" was the wrong grammar.

Finally, my colleague smiled. "Information Overlord!"

Patrick Cunningham, CRM, FAI
Information Overlord.
Fear me.

OTR: The Founder's Touch

I've started collecting books about the founders of companies. Recently, I read Paul Allen's memoir. Before that, I had read about Google. A book about Hewlett-Packard awaits. A couple of years ago, when I started at the Day Job, I was given a copy of a book called, "The Founder's Touch". It was a book about Paul Galvin, the founder of Motorola. With the death yesterday of Steve Jobs, I spent the commute home reflecting upon the impact and importance of a company's founder -- the founder's touch.

I had the experience of working for a company a few years ago where the founder was still running the business. The company had a great culture and spirit. A wall in the office was covered with professional portraits of the children of employees. The wall was called, "The Heart of Whittman-Hart". It was a touch of the founder. Early on, those pictures were paid for directly by the founder. Unfortunately, the company went public shortly after I got there and the founder effectively lost control of his company. Once it became a public company, the focus shifted from investment in growth opportunities and entrepreneurship to a focus on billing and pipeline. The next company I worked for was a partnership, run by people who were hired by the founder. A key perk was free breakfast and lunch (with leftover lunches for people working late). That was the founder's touch because he wanted people to be near the office where they could be billing instead of driving all over foraging for lunch outside. It too, lost its culture when it became a public company. The Day Job has also struggled. The founder and his son led the company through many years of tremendous growth. They had a long view of investments and R&D. Unfortunately, when the grandson of the founder took the reins, the marketplace had changed and the expectations of the market had also changed. He was out and the founder's family was out. For a variety of reasons, the Day Job is much smaller than it once was. I suspect that this would not have been the founder's choice.

I never begrudge a person who creates a company. As far as I'm concerned, they took the risks and invested their own money and sweat to create the company, so who cares what they take out of it? I really don't mind that Bill Gates is one of the richest people on the planet -- he and Paul Allen created Microsoft and had the guts, brains, and luck to make it an extraordinarily successful company. I feel the same way about Steve Jobs. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are in the same boat. Bill Cosby once had a routine where he tells his son, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out." That's the prerogative, frankly, of a founder. But strangely, the ones who get beyond the initial growth do whatever they can to create a legacy and sustain the company that they created. There's certainly ego involved, but it is also likely a sense of responsibility.

I fear, however, that the days where someone creates a company in the garage (or the basement here in wintry Chicago), finds a market, grows exponentially, and runs the company until he or she dies, are numbered. What we see too often today is that the garage thing happens, but the founders find venture people with money and a desire to get a high immediate return on investment. In the old days, founders would drive through the tough early times with their own money and ideals. Now they collect checks, promote the business at a breakneck pace, and try to cash out before it falls apart. If they get beyond that point, they take the company public, everyone in on the ground floor makes a lot of money, and the company implodes a short while later. That's why Jobs and Gates are celebrated. They managed to get their companies to success without cashing out first.

Part of the problem is the marketplace in general. Wall Street over-rewards short term results and punishes long-term success. Years ago, buying stock was an investment in a company and the investors understood short term risks for long term gains.Today, the market demands short term gains at the expense of long term success. And investors hate risk... they want their money to grow quickly without any risk. Any idiot can achieve short term gains in a company... cut employees, reduce capital spending, cut research and development, sell off parts of the business. These things make the books look good this quarter, but damage the company over the long haul. Unfortunately, that's what "investors" and market analysts demand today. No CEO is going to stand up in an Annual Meeting and tell investors that the investors are going to share in some short term pain while he or she invests in opportunities that may pay off ten or twenty years down the road, no matter how big that payoff might be.

When I look at the Day Job, I see a company that made a nearly 25 year bet on cellular telephone technology. Cellular development started in 1968, the first call was made in 1973, the FCC approved the technology in 1983 and the cell phone hit the mainstream in 1993. If you were a CEO and told Wall Street today that you had a great idea and that idea would start making a little money in the late 2020's and would be commercially viable in 2036, you'd be run out of the company by next Tuesday. A founder might be able to make that bet, but he'd make that bet out of his own pocket.

I watch these "Occupy Wall Street" people and shake my head. I read their list of "demands". They are no different than Wall Street. They want immediate short term results at the expense of the long term -- and with no risk or investment by the beneficiaries. None of them have the founder's touch.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Back in the Blogging Saddle

This is pure tease, but I'm working on a blog post that will discuss the ICRM Certified Records Manager exam in comparison to AIIM's Information Certification. Should be up a day or two. Stay tuned.