digital, information overload, john mancini

No matter how it’s discussed, we’re all at fault for creating information overload and, at the same time, we’re all victims of information overload. It’s tough enough to keep track of all the photos, videos, downloads and e-mail on our personal systems. Now imagine trying to keep track of the flood of content being created on an enterprise scale. That, in a nutshell, is what information professionals are up against. 

Some companies have strict policies that outline how information is cataloged and saved, while others are still trying to figure out how to make sense of it all. And the explosive growth of social media, e-mails and mobile technologies is making a problem that has been around since the early days of computing that much worse. Adding to the problem of sorting out the clutter are legal mandates for how long to store information and, of course, security issues. No one wants to be the next victim of a Wiki Leaks type of security breach.

So what can content management experts offer to help companies address these issues?

A Little Background

Recently the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) issued a paper titled “ECM at the Crossroads.” This analysis paints a picture of the enterprise content management (ECM) installed based as it approaches maturity and examines such issues as migration and legacy challenges, integration, remote access, collaboration, social systems, and storing information in the cloud. Here are some of the highlights of the report:

  • ECM is a work-in-progress for most: a disappointing 18 percent of the companies surveyed have implemented a company-wide system.
  • The wish: While actual company-wide deployments are few and far between, 54 percent say they have made the strategic choice to move toward a single-vendor ECM suite for the future including 19 percent who are building around a new suite, while 35 percent are sticking with multiple or best-of-breed solutions.
  • The reality: ECM is a multi-system landscape where 75 percent of those surveyed have more than one ECM system, and 26 percent have four or more systems.

Why So Much Content?

It’s important to realize that ECM and other document management technologies were originally designed based on using file cabinets for document storage. But a funny thing happened on the way to the store, documents evolved into marketing collateral, videos, and content from wikis, blogs and social media. Since most ECM and records management systems were designed to house common Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, it became a huge challenge to work with new forms of content. The explosion of content across all companies has become almost unmanageable without a concerted, corporate commitment to sustainable content management. If you don’t think this is a priority, you’re not paying attention.

Further Fragmentation

With so much content being created by employees and their digital tools it’s no wonder that we’re all drowning in data. Each company might have its own cataloging system, different naming rules, and government regulations to adhere to. Worse yet is that most companies have various legacy systems that need to work together in order to keep content organized.

And while auto classification technologies do provide some help, content from instant messaging and social media posts are very hard to sort through accurately. There is much grey area around what is just idle chatter and what in fact is a record that should be preserved.Our research shows that close to 40 percent of those surveyed said that the most disorganized form of content in their company is instant messages, which was ranked No. 1.

Learning Opportunities

Two other areas, e-mail and social content, are also a cause for alarm. Only 27 percent of those surveyed consider their content management system to be the primary e-mail repository. Social content has similar problems as only 11 percent say they use their content management system as their internal social platform. The conclusion is that for the majority of companies, social and e-mail live in their own silos, at minimum making content hard to find and at worst potentially running afoul of legal or policy requirements.

Impact of Mobile Devices

Another major change in the corporate landscape has been the adoption of mobile technologies. Having employees on the road has always presented a challenge in terms of productivity, efficiency and accessing corporate information. Yet the growth in use of handheld devices and smartphones has fundamentally changed the way many people work. In fact, 45 percent of those surveyed say that mobile access to corporate content is very important to their work, yet only 11 percent say that their company has a browser interface that is designed to support mobile devices.

How to Fix It?

It’s clear that information overload is causing serious issues for companies of all sizes. And while there are many technologies designed to help organize all of this information, such as electronic content management, Web content management, and records management, companies are still bogged down by misplaced information, duplication of data, and confusion about document retention policies.

We suggest that companies that are facing these issues take the following actions:

  • Analyze where poor access to information is hurting the business -- trapped on paper, spread over file shares, locked up in enterprise systems, or simply mobile-unfriendly.
  • Use this to re-energize your ECM projects. The more content you can converge into a single, searchable, mobile-accessible ECM system, the fewer other places you need to go to solve the problem.
  • Take stock of your current ECM and other content repositories and consider migrating content and consolidating. Modern auto-classification and migration products can take much of the pain out of selecting which content to recover from legacy systems, improving search results along the way.
  • Evaluate how you might enhance your ECM functionality. Capture and process workflow, collaboration, digital signatures, extended search, internal social, and output management might all find a natural home within ECM and boost your return on investment.
  • Look to integrate the ECM system with your other key enterprise or line-of-business systems to provide a single sign-on access point, centralized records management, and process integration.
  • Consider whether any of your current ECM systems are truly fit for purpose. If they are limited in some of the core functional areas we have discussed, then consider consolidating around a new, better-suited system.
  • Bite the bullet on e-mails. Either use auto-classification to tag them and move them into your ECM or system of record, or implement a dedicated email archive system. Either way, they must be searchable, discoverable, and put onto a retention schedule.

Image courtesy of Elnur (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Looking for more on information management? Check out Barry Schaeffer's Successful Automation Project Planning, Implementation by the Numbers