One Product Guy’s Ramble Through Document Exchange

The sheer number of places where companies keep their critical information is truly astounding and I believe it is one of the biggest overarching problems in the realm of managing business information today. At the same Gartner Summit referenced above, research indicated that redundant and outdated information constitutes 50-90% of what we manage. So let me rephrase: We're swimming in a sea of old, redundant and often useless information.


3 June 2009

We're swimming in a sea of documents - and there's research to prove it.

When I recently re-read the 2008 Gartner Summit presentation "Understanding ECM and Its Strategic Value," I was surprised to see that more than half of the 190 organizations surveyed had between 6 and 15 separate content repositories at their companies. Another 17% had 16 repositories or more!

The sheer number of places where companies keep their critical information is truly astounding and I believe it is one of the biggest overarching problems in the realm of managing business information today. At the same Gartner Summit referenced above, research indicated that redundant and outdated information constitutes 50-90% of what we manage. So let me rephrase: We're swimming in a sea of old, redundant and often useless information.

You might think this problem could only exist within large companies like the Fortune 1000. Their size, employee base and regional footprint exacerbate the challenge of managing the vast amounts of the company's intellectual property.

But this isn't only a "big company" problem. Within our own client base, which represents more than 90,000 organizations in many industries worldwide, we find time and again that repository proliferation is a common occurrence. The noteworthy transgressors are often the company's network with its multitude of mapped, shared drives that various departments use to internally share information. If you throw in a couple of in house document management systems and an email system, then you have a recipe for extreme frustration in managing documents and information efficiently.

Change is never easy. A casual look at each of our own business practices proves the point that we all love (to hate) hard drives and email. Versions of documents go untracked, folders of great information are poorly named, and email inboxes comingle personal with business information. This is despite the fact that we all know the limitations of poor classification paradigms (folders), despite effectiveness in meeting compliance standards (confidentiality/security) and despite the challenge of easily finding the needle in the hay stack.

This leads me to search. I'm a big fan of how the consumer world has (in their wonderfully capitalistic way) helped people find something they want to buy. Personally, I like Amazon; they do search pretty nicely. And I love Google for the web; they do relevant page results well. In any consumer scenario, I should be able to search, narrow, drill down, find similar items and have suggestions made to me (like when I found a bike for my 6 year old, or a quilting book for my mother-in-law).

Doing this for structured data, like an inventory database, is one thing. Doing it against a business' huge set of unstructured document files is clearly another. It requires a strong ingestion and indexing engine, good meta-tagging, and simple interface to navigate. It's not just about navigating a huge document store, but also about finding information in the context of what we are working on.

As we look at search within Intralinks, the simplicity of how some consumer sites let you pinpoint items provides a great example to emulate. As I write this blog, Intralinks has just published the results of a recent poll of 250+ life sciences professionals. Respondents indicated that one-quarter of investigative sites spend more than three hours per week looking for documents they need and more than half (52 percent) ask sponsors to resend documents when information is delivered by traditional methods. There is also more survey data available here.

Managing information centrally with strong classification and search is still not enough to effectively drive a business process forward. Our document-centric business processes must be coordinated in the context of the people we work with to drive their success-and their increasingly diverse global locations.

In my next post, I'll focus on how globalization changes the way we manage knowledge continuity - and how this changes the landscape for traditional methods of managing information.