two arrows
While debating the difference between information and knowledge leads us down rabbit holes, we can all agree on the need for strategy PHOTO: Dean Hochman

People get frustrated with discussions of semantics. What good does debating whether or not the term "enterprise content management" is dead or not or if information and knowledge are interchangeable terms? 

Labels and definitions are important. Language is how we impart our ideas and concepts to each other, while taking into account our audience. 

But people in the enterprise content management industry can consistently agree on one word: strategy.

Long Live ECM Strategy

When an industry analyst firm stated it would no longer use the term enterprise content management to differentiate products and segment the software market any longer, it flustered some, while others responded to the pronouncement with a resounding “meh ….”  

Others noted AIIM had — for years — suggested ECM was as much, or more about having a strategy in place than about buying an all-encompassing “ECM system.” 

As an ex-consultant, I could not agree more: in the old “consultant's triangle” of People, Process and Technology, there is a reason technology comes last. 

All of a sudden it sounds so simple, all you need is a strategy to manage content across your enterprise. Problem solved, right? But then someone starts poking at the differences between content and information, between information and data, and all the multiple “owners” of these moving parts and things get messy again.

Parsing Data, Information and Knowledge

If you have ever taken a knowledge management (KM) course or read a KM book, you will have seen the DIKW pyramid — it takes us from a broad based of data, up through information, to knowledge and then the pinnacle of wisdom. 

We rarely talk about wisdom in our organizations, but we do discuss big data and master data management with a Chief Data Officer (CDO), talk about information management, business intelligence and actionable insights with a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and in some instances parse where information and people intersect to becomes knowledge with a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO). 

Plenty of conversations also revolve around what turns data into information and whether we are really managing information or knowledge. In my opinion, far too much of what is described as knowledge management is missing the human element and is therefore information management, which brings us to whether we should be discussing content or information, and oh, where do records fit in again?

The diagram below is my simplistic take on how all of these moving parts fits together. I acknowledge it is simplistic and idealistic, and may not describe your organizational view of things:

master data management

When We Talk Strategy, We Must Talk Ownership

In an ideal world, the CDO would manage all of the databases full of rows and columns of data items, the warehouses and the lakes, the SQL and the No-SQL, the Hadoop and the analytics that break down "big data" into useful information.

The CIO would cooperate with the CDO on things such a metadata strategy and policy, but the CIO would own the information management strategy. The CIO may overlap with the CDO on business systems based on databases that constitute the management of “structured information” — you know the acronyms — ERP, CRM, HRM, etc. 

Within information management strategy there could be an “unstructured information” component, or this could be spun out as a separate (but integrated) ECM strategy.

If, like most organizations, you were not lucky enough to build a single monolithic ECM platform on a greenfield site 10 to 15 years ago, having a strategy is even more important. A strategy is required to put governance in place across your myriad systems: the IBM FileNet repository you use for scanned document images as part of your business processes, the ‘on prem’ and online SharePoint sites used for document-centric collaboration, the OpenText Content Server based workflows used by operations, the Box instance used for sharing documents with external collaborators, the iManage instance used by the legal group ... and on, and on, and on.

So while ECM as a software category may be replaced by "content services" or yet another term, you absolutely need a strategy and a plan for the governance and management of all the different types of content you create, store, publish, archive and dispose of across your organization.

Knowledge management is the same. If a vendor tells you they have an “out of the box knowledge management solution” for you, then I have a bridge in London I can sell you real cheap.

Whether you believe knowledge can be shared, stored and transmitted, or if (as I do) you believe it turns back into information when you do these activities, your CKO (if you have one) should own the KM strategy. The KM strategy will overlap or integrate with the information management strategy, but it will focus on people and process first, and technology tools will support meeting strategic objectives. 

As knowledge largely resides in people’s heads, your CKO should work with HR colleagues to identify opportunities for managing people as an element of KM, an undertaking which only grows in importance with the rising “grey tide” of an aging workforce.

Strategy Is All

Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the fictional lead character of the TV historical drama "The Last Kingdom," ended the recap at the beginning of every show with a catch phrase: "Fate is all!" 

To paraphrase our hero, strategy is all! 

It does not matter if your definitions of data, information, content and knowledge do not agree with mine. It doesn't matter if you don’t have a full suite of CDO, CIO and CKO, nor does it matter if you do — but they have different portfolios. What matters is you have a strategy to coordinate across these portfolios. 

Information governance requires a strategy. It does not really matter who the owner is, as long as someone is responsible and accountable. But you need a strategy and a plan in place to manage the lifeblood of your organization: the data, information, knowledge or whatever you want to call it. 

Don’t be Uhtred, fate has been kind to him, but you cannot leave strategy to fate.