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The 2014 conference season is drawing to a close, and I’ve had the opportunity to take in what’s happening in information management, from the vendor perspective, the practitioner perspective and the business perspective. And while there were lots of interesting, very forward thinking developments around cloud, SaaS, vertical solutions, mobility, IoT and so on, I walked away with the impression that our biggest unsolved problems are the same ones we had in 1999: finding and sharing the right content, with the right people, at the right time.

From One Inefficiency to the Next

To give an example: I ran a workshop a few weeks ago on information management at a conference for excellence in petroleum operations. My session had participants representing more than 30 oil and gas organizations, from super majors all the way down to $1 billion operators. About halfway through, I asked the group, “If I came to one of your facilities, could I type an equipment number into your document management system and get the relevant documents I needed about that asset?” The answer was a resounding no from every single person in the room.

Or another example: I commonly run into Fortune 500 organizations in heavy industry who have manual, paper-based AR and AP processes, who struggle to get information management initiatives funded because it’s “difficult to find ROI.” These are folks who are mailing, faxing and emailing invoices for hundreds of thousands, if not millions and tens of millions, of dollars, and whose aging receivables report are rife with opportunities to save big through basic information management improvements.

Or a final example, from banking and financial services: organizations in these industries have been working to remove paper from their operations for over a decade now, and most have achieved that goal. But when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that what they’ve essentially done is replaced an inefficient, manual, paper process with an inefficient, manual, digital process. And so all the mortgage application documents that get emailed to your mortgage broker or scanned at the branch, for example, are more often than not indexed manually by armies of back-office document handlers and shepherded through the underwriting and approval process via human intervention.

Refocus on the Small Stuff

My takeaway from all this is that every one of us, vendors, practitioners and end users, need to refocus on the small stuff, the basics, blocking and tackling, and -- taking our cue from Prince -- do information governance like it’s 1999.

  • Can your end users find the documents they need to do their everyday tasks? If not, don’t worry about real time co-authoring capabilities or verticalized business applications.
  • Have you automated your basic, bread-and-butter business processes? If not, don’t worry about applying advanced case management to your dynamic knowledge worker activities.
  • Can you consistently, automatically apply a core set of metadata to every business record? If not, don’t spend time building elaborate taxonomy frameworks that require massive end user and system overhead.
  • Can you deliver the basic information required to effectively, efficiently, and compliantly execute your business processes? If not, forget about big data and predictive analytics.

I’m not trying to be a Luddite here. I love the strides that information management technology has made in the last few years. But let’s be clear: there’s a difference between being cool and delivering value. And right now, based on what I’m seeing, many organizations are struggling with problems that vendors and practitioners have already solved in the 20th century and are far from being ready to take advantage of the cutting edge solutions readily available today from information management vendors and service providers.

My stance is this: if you’re one of these organizations, forget about the lure of the next big thing and focus on the simple things you’re getting wrong today: finding and sharing the latest versions of documents, applying workflow to core business processes, enforcing a simple metadata standard. These are not sexy, but neither are they trivial. If you can effectively do them, you’ll deliver significant value to your organization and, in the process, set the stage for greater accomplishments to come enabled by the cutting edge work of vendors and service providers. But until then, keep it simple to achieve success.

Title image by Northfoto / Shutterstock.com