Charity begins in my pocket

Now that my son is grown, married, living in another part of the country, and busy with his own complicated set of life challenges, we don’t get as much time to talk. So, when we occasionally do, it’s important to cover only what’s critical. I’m sure we’ll get to that someday. Meanwhile, in the few times we connect, the conversational flow channels toward old territory: we play an abbreviated version of the game “An App For That.”

Since the advent of Smartphones, nothing has stimulated as much passion within our extended family as devising the TED-esque talking points about a newly-imagined app. Don’t judge us too soon. An app can be devised for any purpose, no matter how redundant or ludicrous. And often with added impetus of alcohol and ignorance.  Thus, anyone can qualify to play.  Even those in the US Congress might, should they develop a technology vocabulary sufficient for the task. And can pare down to one cohesive thought expressed simply and effectively. Never mind.

I clearly remember several apps proposed by Team Red or Team Blue during AAFT nights of yore. Alas, none had commercial viability and most had potential legal or ethical ramifications that effectively dashed any other hopes. Much like the real-world ridiculousness of such outlandish premises as drone deliveries or 5G wireless.

Also, like the hype surrounding such ‘advanced technology’, there are few meaningful rules in AAFT gameplay:

  1.  Further research is forbidden. It is always presumed that there are numerous apps already available for download that touch on (or completely obviate) our own proposals. It’s the proposal that matters, not the potential. Just like VC funding.
  2.  Each team’s app evangelist is given 5 minutes to summarize his/her thoughts. After all proposals are completed, the Round of Refute begins. This has neither a time limit nor any other constraints. Disbelief and disregard often combine in profane fits of merciless rant-itude. Which sometimes later get forgiven.
  3.  It is logical that over the course of several sessions, repeats will occur. This is natural and indefensible and therefore makes the Round of Refute richer by far.
  4.  Lastly – and this is key – no one writes anything down. Banish the thought of riches had you dared them. It is tacitly acknowledged by every player that pooling funds for lottery tickets has a higher likelihood of success than building an app for anything. We’re in the age of Instagram Influencers – not Angry Bird entrepreneurs.

Rules, though, are meant to be broken. One particular proposal has stuck with me. So I hereby offer to stick it to you as well. The basic premise: there aren’t enough apps for charitable giving that relate well enough to the human condition to make serious money. Right? Ignoring porn and gambling for now… right?

Yes – it’s true that on Facebook we can invite our friends to give nominal sums to a charity of our choice as part of a birthday celebration. There are also apps that inspire fundraising in many other directions. But the backstories of beneficiaries can sometimes seem either frivolous or insincere. What I am proposing (again) is an app that makes charitable giving easier and more effective by responding to a need we all share. Again, ignoring porn and gambling.

Before I post the description of an app – the one true solution that fulfills this obvious need so perfectly that the world as we now know it cannot hope to remain the same – I ask you to comment with your own ideas just in case I’ve missed something that’s out there and already making more of a difference than my admittedly limited research suggests. Or is simply worth noting as an alternative to selfishness. Until next time….

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The Future of Content is Cognitive

According to Gartner, most enterprises have no cohesive strategy or sufficient controls across redundant systems and redundant content. Why? Perhaps it’s because regardless of the potential value of content, 90% of business leadership thinks structured data is more critical toward success – although literally every connection to an enterprise customer is based on content interactions, not data. The term ‘Business Intelligence’ nearly always leads the list of technology-oriented search strings entered by business executives, while ECM appears infrequently. Sponsorship of ECM as a strategic business asset is still limited.

Maybe when ECM dashboards explain the value of content either at rest or in motion we’ll attract more attention from the boardroom. Yet ECM is a fairly substantial software market worth billions of dollars even without detailed analysis and business leadership interest. Maybe anecdotal evidence of efficiency gains, cost cutting, or risk management suffice in keeping IT buyer’s interest. What hasn’t yet resulted from all those years of investment and experience is the collection of usage statistics, valuation, benchmarks, or success measures that uniformly predict value from adopting either ECM strategies or suites. The actual history of ECM in practice. Stats.

Instrumenting ECM in the Age of Analytics

To date, instrumentation of ECM has been incompatible or incomplete – made more difficult by the numbers of repositories, users, processes, and integration with other systems. Something has to change for ECM to become more essential as a business resource equal to ERP, CRM, or Business Intelligence. The first step is to ensure that ECM analytics are engaged – to collect historical information and to aid understanding of changes that did (or should) occur. If a system maintains no sense of history, changes can’t be qualified as improvements.

It isn’t enough to use one company’s history of ECM practices to fuel Cognitive Content. More evidence from more implementations is required. Starting with visibility and ranging through search, classification, semantics, sentiment… any analytics that score content and the people who create and consume it from Historical, Contextual, Predictive, Performance, and Cognitive perspectives.

There are three key markets that ECM components address: regulated/records/archive, transactional, and collaborative/case management/cloud. Yet in any one enterprise there are often several vendors and systems in play across those use cases. IBM is a qualified leader in each area, yet finds business appetite for adding more cost and complexity (and new enterprise license agreements for on-premise software) to be low. But there’s still reason to believe a single platform can encompass business content better than siloes. One strong argument for ECM consolidation is the resulting ability to put business content under a uniform set of processes, policies, and analytics to enable change as business needs evolve. Because becoming a digital business demands change – especially in managing unstructured data better.

A Cognitive Platform from IBM is the answer for both trimming down to an essential set of content services and increasing business agility. We’ve got the best business case for consolidation and a single-vendor set of solutions. It’s turning ECM’s future away from ‘managing all content’ to ‘managing critical business content’, adding sensing and cognitive capabilities so the technology investment enables a quantified business strategy that delivers measurable outcomes. ECM will soon be defined as an analytics platform connecting callable content services to drive the most value from business information. One that connects many information sources and can automatically ‘play’ solutions templates and assess their present value quickly via instrumentation and analytics.

Platforms Make More Sense

So, the first step of driving Cognitive into the ECM story begins at the platform level – by allowing sensing to take place well beyond metadata, user roles, and access. This is critical for consolidation to happen in ECM – that analysis of information and its value to the business can happen much more easily from a single point of focus rather than in a loosely-coupled or highly-federated information infrastructure. The two terms – Context and Valuation – should be part of the conversation about where ECM is going. They also are critical enablers of Cognitive.

The recent announcement of Cognitive Capture as part of DataCap Insight Edition is the first stage of ECM maturity toward cognitive content. By applying a combination of advanced imaging, natural language processing, and machine learning technologies, IBM Datacap Insight Edition can automatically classify and understand the document just as a trained employee would – including format and structure, and words and numeric information – and make the content within any document agile enough for the business to quickly and accurately determine the right action to take and what other information is related.

The key capabilities are understanding the overall context; capturing segments of information to be moved and managed and related to other data; and correlating it all in terms of semantics, processes, and industry. We know what the data and process models look like for loan origination and we can associate information effectively even if it originates on a paper form.

This is important in:

Banking and Finance – where different business lines such as Retail/Commercial banking, Lending, and Investment banking require similar documents for differing contextual reasons

Healthcare – where doctors and hospitals are transferring hand written notes and images into electronic health records for analysis or filing.

Insurance – where roughly half of all documents received are titled “correspondence” and need to be analyzed for content and classified appropriately.

By analyzing the content, IBM Datacap Insight Edition can identify which content to analyze at the point of capture, while continually learning about new document types for future use resulting in overall faster (and better) processing. It applies business rules to help organizations determine what needs to be done – whether a document should be passed to a line of business system or should initiate a case and workflow for additional actions. Content itself triggers multiple paths of workflow.

IBM’s product vision focuses on delivering the right information, at the right time, to the right users. For this outcome to happen in most enterprises, we need to make ECM easier to buy, to use, and to justify to business leadership. Part of what we’ll focus on in coming years is emphasizing the right set of functional capabilities – callable content services – designed to be leveraged in purpose-built solutions. So the future of ECM won’t as much be about suites as services – and IBM’s will include consideration of open source, competitor, and cloud connections. We’ll also deliver strategic support for enterprise development of a content services center of excellence – a shared services approach for better leverage and reuse of the technology.

The Beginning of Content Services

We’ve already created content services for analytics, capture, case management, archive, cloud file sharing and collaboration, and governance that can be adopted and adapted for any content architecture or buying occasion. We also have built connectors for adjacent analytics on unstructured data via Hadoop and Spark. We’ll continue to focus on our on-premise implementations and help future-proof those investments by enabling rapid assembly and adoption of new solutions whether built by customers or by IBM partners.

We’ll also continue to develop our strategic relationship with Box and will announce several new product and platform enhancements to underscore the value of cloud-based file sharing and collaborative processes to business leadership. We believe it will also open up secure customer-centric workflows for highly mobile processes like P&C Claims and global projects. IBM’s content services (like those delivered with Box) will also bring SMBs, geographies, and industries – beyond traditional high volume or regulated or transactional – into the market. This is a significant opportunity.

Managed services in the cloud and SaaS options will make buying ECM easier but also limit the costs typically associated with integration, customization, training, change management, and support. In addition, we’ll offer simple T-shirt pricing: S, M, L, XL, 2XL. This will offset the old arguments about complicated contracts, maintenance issues, and vendor lock-in. Business buyer response to the new delivery models are positive. But we need to move the needle further from technology to solutions and attendant business outcomes. That conversion is happening via IBM Case Manager, Mobile and Collaboration, and our deepening integration and development on Box.

Content Valuation is Your Next Best Action

The conversation about ECM must change – from one about all content to that of business content. The information that engages customers, informs regulators, inspires business partners, and enables employees. Business leaders recognize the difference between casual content and a contract or proposal or policy. But we still can’t engage them in a discussion about business content value. Because to say that optimized business content processes deliver known value (like new revenue or customer loyalty) in many implementations is an understatement. But to say they deliver predictable value in every implementation is a fallacy.

That’s because every company has enough differences in people, process, and information infrastructures to make predictions of ‘normal’ outcomes difficult. Admittedly, these differences sometimes represent competitive advantage, but more often signal silos and fiefdoms and other complexities that demand changes before realizing the full benefits of further investment. A Cognitive Value Assessment, though, can consider many similar organizations and their related complexities – and process efficiencies, too – and determine what constitutes ‘low hanging fruit’ that can yield the highest value and generate further support for change. Because Cognitive is synonymous with Change. And, often as not, businesses change is not based on internal drivers but external forces.

Better Practices Require Better Crowdsourcing

The analysts and advisors that suggest change usually have methodologies derived from multiple engagements across specific domains. This outside perspective is critical for Cognitive. Especially in ECM. What would be better than getting advice from professional services providers would query peers within an industry, geography, process discipline, etc. to understand how they’ve done something. Toward good or bad or fast or slow or rich or poor outcomes. There is a lot of detailed and credible information – and even ROI calculators – that suggest invoice automation is a profitable undertaking for many businesses with many suppliers.

How many other content type and their related people-based processes can also be optimized based on standard templates? A substantial number it seems, based on solutions definitions from vendors, partners, and services providers. But it might also be possible to glean the same recipe and success factors from published best practices provided to an industry organization like AIIM. A compilation of such stories and detailed assessments by analysts effectively ‘crowdsources’ ECM best practices. And creates a set of parameters that qualify as ‘rules of engagement’ across domains. Actual rules that drive decisions and can change as conditions or requirements demand. It’s a start.

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Is Your Investment in ECM Future-Proof?

Once upon my career, I led a team of enterprise architects. Among the many responsibilities we shared, none was more important than the strategic analysis of IT investments. The goals of the annual (and sometimes more frequent) exercise: 1) decide what technology to eliminate; 2) what to keep with confidence; and 3) what we felt was somewhere between. It was an admittedly pointless Principle of Thirds.

That’s because the investments never added up to anything close to thirds. Though maybe at one point there might have been better balance between them, by the time I started to make recommendations the outcome had already become sadly predictable. We’d almost always spend way more budget tending to the ‘not sure’ technology than I’d hope. As in: “Not sure where that $4M USD went.”

That’s not actually true. I know where it went. Shifting development sands. Over-passionate or temporary sponsorships. Mediocre end-user adoption. Lack of integration. Too many overlaps with other systems. Too boutique. Too regional. In some ways, this is where much of the budget for IT disappears even today – in the cracks between what’s ‘got to go’ and what we ‘have to have’. It’s a tough job to place big bets on hazy middle ground. And, that region of investment has been troublesome to many business leaders, too. Because it’s an area fraught with fiefdoms, limited visibility, even less measurement, and few success stories.

The simple fact is that when it gets down to funding, most of the ‘wiggle room’ for innovation won’t come from pulling the plug on flatlined technology. Those savings (+/- 10%) almost automatically get taken from the IT budget. So, innovation will come from smarter decisions about managing in the middle – bringing the best of it forward to add new value. Maybe it shouldn’t have been about money at all – maybe it should have been about potential. That’s where IT and LOB alignment needs to take shape.

What’s an enterprise architect to do? Or even an IT leader or line of business sponsor? Ignoring for the moment that I represent a vendor, take this advice from an experienced advisor (which I also am): make strategic technology investments informed by a new principle of thirds for the digital business era: what serves the customers best, what enables agility (and competitive advantage), and how we can manage the value (risk/reward potential) of information better.

With all of those in mind, few technologies qualify as ‘future-proof’ the way that cloud file sharing and collaboration does. And, it meets the needs of end-users, enterprises, and customers all at once – a rare principle of thirds we couldn’t have predicted back in the day. So when IBM talks about its partnership with Box, and the related benefits of a strategic integration with ECM products in our combined portfolios, it’s important to recognize that we’ve both considered all the history lessons learned from the past – and have recognized how vital confidence is to your IT equation.

Even knowing how hard it can be to place bets on the future of technology, I doubt there’s a content services combination with more potential to idealize interactions between people, processes, and content than the near-term or strategic solutions architected by IBM and Box. It’s a future I am betting part of my career on – and one that should easily qualify as ‘have to have’ for many enterprises. In that recommendation, I have all confidence.

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The Future of Content is Customer-Centric

When I was a Gartner ECM analyst, I answered approximately 42,300 client questions. This rough estimate is based on three factors: time on job (9.4 years), inquiries per year (avg. 900), and questions per inquiry (avg. 5). Inquiries, by the way, are scheduled client calls that last half an hour and are often scheduled back-to-back. There were many more questions that didn’t get logged into a system – many of which happened during day-long client sessions or at events. But the point that research analysts answer lots of questions should now be clear.

Oddly, you might wonder what number of questions I asked as an analyst. That number is somewhat reflected by the body of research I delivered; but on the whole qualifies as ‘secret sauce’ rarely enumerated. But it’s probably best expressed as a Confidence Algorithm: to answer any question with confidence, you’ll have to have asked many times more questions yourself. It’s lucky that I’m curious. It’s unfortunate, though, that I have bad handwriting.

I’ll admit one administrative failing during my tenure: I wrote down all the questions (and my responses) in Mead Five Star Wirebound Notebooks and then filed dozens of them away for further/future analysis… and then got too busy to properly ‘mine’ the contents. And, because the technology market moves so quickly, I presumed much of what mattered between 2002 and 2011 – to either enterprises or vendors – would have been rendered useless by a factor of time. Based on reading through the notebooks recently, I realized I was wrong.

What I was looking for was one word: Customer. Trust that – even with an aforementioned scribbling issue, and even as the night grows long and the wine is nearly gone – I can scan page after page on a shelf full of notebooks and quickly dog ear those on which a critical word appears. Or doesn’t – which in this case was frustratingly the fact. And, sometimes unexpected themes become apparent too. The people I most often talked to: IT leaders and enterprise architects. The issues they faced: vendor and product selection, technical integration or trouble-shooting, and process and planning optimization. The audience for their efforts: internal. So, not a single mention of ‘customer’ across any of the calls made sense back in the day.

But, wow. Since I know some analysts working now (those still willing to talk to me), I also know that the shift toward business participation in the technology conversations they host is very clear. I also know that the most common questions they’re asked relate to customer-facing content-rich processes. Where loyalty is the ultimate goal and reputations are made and lost with lightning speed. And, where the value of their investment is obvious because it engages literally everyone. As cloud and mobile technologies, SaaS, and apps do. Interestingly, another alignment has happened driven by changing market conditions: industry analysts and technology providers are hearing the same thing.

At IBM, literally every conversation relates to customers – whether ours or those of our customers. I say this with certainty because I am still doing research. I’m just not answering as many questions as I ask these days. The question I would suggest you ask is the same I often ask: what recent advances in technology could make the greatest difference in building customer loyalty through better engagement? Also consider: what investments we’ve already made can connect us to that future most effectively and economically? I have an answer in mind and hope you do, too.

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CMO Suites – Missing the Point (Despite Some Analytics)

It has been suggested by recent comments that I have become a standard bearer for content valuation. Admittedly, much of what I have written does seem tied to unusual events, personalities, and costs related to documents. As if there’s a correlation somehow between my opinion and actual life. I’ve recently called out Katherine Bigelow and Edward Snowden as examples of people who understand the potential of documents to help or harm. Now, far be it from me to try to draw any connection between Quentin Tarantino and my company – under normal circumstances, that is.  But the news that an otherwise affable and intelligent auteur has gone over the top due to failed content security compels me to question the rigor of his planning. He sent six copies of a script to six trusted associates and swore them to secrecy. One recipient leaked it to the press. After the anguish and recriminations, the movie he’d been working on for years was shelved – and the millions it would have earned were lost.

Had he simply added a layer of protection to those documents the result would likely have been happier for all. The value of the forfeited opportunity can easily be calculated: Tarantino movies do well at the global box office and continue to generate income from rentals, etc. long afterwards. According to the Motley Fool:

“Assuming a 477% return on a $125 million budget — a modest increase from Django Unchained — that equates to a profit of almost $600 million, and a total box office take of more than $700 million. Of course, that would make The Hateful Eight the new highest-grossing Western of all-time, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds considering Tarantino’s last project.”

Go figure. 600 Million Dollars lost because of failed document protections. Which doesn’t mean each of the six copies is worth $100M, though they would certainly be collectible. You could buy a pretty great document for less.  Sold for $5.12m in 1980, and for $30.8m in 1994, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester is one option. Or maybe a Gutenberg Bible and a copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the handwritten Gettysburg Address manuscript copies along with a Dead Sea Scroll fragment or two. In short, no prior notion of value stands up to the money conjured by today’s business of entertainment.

Yet, despite all the risks (lost value, stained reputations, lawsuits among them), smart people in the present day still think a wax seal serves as security enough for valuable content.


But it isn’t Royals or Popes or even fanciful pre-teens I want most to inform – it’s marketers. In the last several years, CMOs have become a target for technology vendors, industry analysts, and consultants. That’s because they control new or bigger budgets tied to digital customer acquisition (and retention), and updated technology plays a huge role in that investment. It’s the largest shift in spend in decades – and is matched in some industries by other shifts in reporting structures and titles. CMOs now have their own CTOs. Whole marketing IT teams often independent of the rest of the business. And, a direct connection to data that drives revenue. Sadly, though, all that cool CRM and CXM and Mobile and Social and Multivariate and Analytics and Cloud Whatnot doesn’t get the whole job done.

Because behind the scenes, in the boiler room of every marketing machine, lies a huge pile of Marcom fuel. Project plans, development updates, and many multi-sheet wonder-colored “Campaign-O-Matics” – all in the form of Excel spreadsheets. Forecasts, annual reports, and pitch decks in PowerPoint. Newsletters, press releases, brochures, case studies, and scripts in Word. You can’t starve this part of the engine that runs on content – just as you can’t effectively run a business without data. What worries me is that marketers tend to overplay outside-in data mining/analytics and underplay inside-out content risk management. This routinely imperils business reputation but can easily be managed by enhancing four basic content processes within the many pieces and parts that collectively equal the CMO Suite:

  1. Protect content at the moment of its creation
  2. Re-use (and re-purpose) content successfully
  3. Manage versions (and retain only the closest 20% to final)
  4. Collaborate efficiently to avoid bottlenecks and maintain auditable change detail

Sure, these are at the center of Litéra’s value proposition to enhance content strategy for marketing. But they aren’t always top-of-mind for marketers (or even their technologists). So, I propose that any marketer interested in understanding the value of these four enhancements – and their nominal costs in relation to CMO Suites – reach out to me at their earliest opportunity. It should be obvious that such a blatant call to action is a turn-off in today’s world of analytics-informed, nuanced, persona-based, targeted/personalized/channel-optimized persuasive content delivery. I suppose I should have waited to write this post until the demand for it had reached a peak. But the fact is that investments in marketing technology for advertising and analytics largely outpace those for basic content creation, control, and collaboration. And, it’s time for marketing leadership to realize that marketing content depends on back office essentials that rarely get attention and investment. Is your boiler room too inefficient to fuel your business ambitions?

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IRM – The Final Countdown

As I dimly recall – thanks to education received in another century altogether – there’s an edict (ethos?) in science that “no proof exists without remaining doubt.” Maybe this is partly due to the fact that there are always those willing to take up the cause for an opposing viewpoint. Or, some data doesn’t align correctly to the larger norm. Or, sometimes events or eras just seem to champion ignorance itself. Therefore, on the continuum of certainty, there’s always room for a little Squeak from the voice of the illogical. That Squeak has been the sole remaining reason that IRM technology can largely be considered a failure in legal and corporate markets. Yet, if I am to judge from recent events, the moment for celebrating Squeak’s extinction is near.

Here’s why: according to news reports, NSA officials say Edward Snowden downloaded and removed about 1.7 million documents from computer networks at an NSA listening post in Hawaii where he worked until June. Sounds like a large number, doesn’t it? It’s not, really. According to my back-of-the-napkin calculations in the restaurant where I mistakenly left my laptop last night just after beginning this post, I had 56,320 items in the documents folders alone. Among those items were 11 .PST files (which constitute archived mailboxes) containing approximately 54,000 emails (and attachments) apiece. Granted, not every file could be considered a ‘document’ – unless defined as “a written or printed instrument that conveys information.” Well, then. This is a description that many (if not most or all) of them fit. At last count – on said cocktail napkin factoring documents stored a single machine – I left 650,312 of them for whoever buys my stolen Dell Latitude on Craigslist for $150 in Denver. But a more enterprising thief could do much better. Especially if he can target the right documents to the right buyers.

Confidential Documents and their Proposed Price on the Open Market

Patent Submissions             $2M
Client Lists                            $1M
Business Plans                     $1M
Product Plans                       $1M
Contracts                              $1M
(factor in the fact that once pricing/discounts are known, they stay
below the published value for a long while)
Bug Lists                               $1M
Competitive Matrices         $150K
(in pure staff time; value to new entrant in the market is substantially higher)
Employee Evaluations       $250K
Sales Forecasts                    $250K
Internal Strategy Presentations                            $250K
Salary/Option Letters                                             $250K
Internal Contacts List (home address, etc.)        $250K
Internal Communications (Board)                       $150K

The key difference between Toby Bell and Edward Snowden may be more than the negligible math separating the size of my document store from his. It’s the potential for catastrophe that their exposure can cause. But even this is partly fallacy. On the right day to the right audience for the right reasons, my documents could prove to be (in some ways) as damaging as his. Suspicions cast, jobs lost, competitors propped up, partners outraged, regulators engaged, audits invoked, hair pulled, teeth gnashed. And that’s just the appetizer from the feast of woes my laptop lost at the dinner table could inspire. You don’t have to believe this – only my boss does. Because the buying argument for IRM usually loses support at the top. Building a business case for IRM is easy. Defending against perceived risks expressed by leadership about historically poorly managed implementations is harder. Either way, it’s a matter of trust. Lately, as business trust of IT has continued to erode, IRM is merely one casualty.

Yet, there’s never been stronger evidence to support it: more users conducting business remotely; more content stored/shared in the cloud; more content on portable and often stolen devices (14% of reported crime in New York City is ‘apple picking’ – theft of smartphones); casual attitudes toward content sharing generally; and misunderstanding about other protections like PDF. Thus, because the risk is obvious and technology has finally outpaced outdated criticisms, the time to decide to provide better control of content access and custody is now. Now. Swaying business leadership to this point of view shouldn’t be hard, right? Wrong. It’s an uphill battle. Because the Squeak usually makes itself known after about 10 questions – or twenty-four floors. Here’s a typical elevator-ride Q&A involving an IT Infrastructure Leader and her CEO while moving from the basement to the boardroom:

Elevator Opens:

IT: “Hello, Mr. Johnson. Good to see you. How’s that new iPad working for you?”

CEO: “Uh… fine. Jean, is it?”

IT: “No, it’s Joan. Don’t worry – people get that wrong all the time.”

CEO: “So… Did we ever get that Y2K thing sorted out?”

IT: “Uh… yeah. Listen, Mr. Jones. I’d like to propose a very slight budget increase for 2014. We’d like to implement Intelligent Rights Management.”

CEO: “Sounds great. What’s in it for me?”

IT: “It protects the company from the likeliest source of damage to our reputation: lost, misused, misunderstood, or stolen information gleaned from office documents.”

CEO: “So, this fits higher on the risk list than executive mayhem? Good to know. How does it work?”

IT: “Basically it’s a wrapper that secures any content – whether at rest or in motion – from unauthorized access or use. It’s easy to use and easy to manage.”

CEO: “Sort of a “Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak” for contracts, financials, and leadership memos?”

IT: “Not really. More futuristic. More like an on-board content computer that is self-guided and self-healing along with a remote control to change policies on the fly.”

CEO: “I loved Harry Potter. I just downloaded a couple of his movies on my iPad.”

IT: “Nice. One of the reasons IRM is becoming a critical issue is due to file-sharing sites and unauthorized use of proliferating creative content.”

CEO: “Huh. So, who gets to fly the documents? Everybody?”

IT: “Anyone who creates a file can do it.  At the moment of creation it’s self-guided by corporate policy, but we also have the option for manual overrides. One of the cool features of the latest IRM software – like the kind Litéra is delivering – is that you can alter the permissions after the fact. That way, if a contract expiration date has passed and the document could no longer be opened and signed by our supplier, we could update the policy if procurement agreed to allow it in special cases. In effect, every document ‘calls home’ for policy instructions whenever it gets touched.”

CEO: “Wouldn’t we have to install software or something like that on every machine that would come into contact with the file?”

IT: “Typically, the software installs on servers. There can also be plug-ins to make it easier for end-users to set their own policies as they create files. But they won’t need training or change management to benefit. And, people who are authorized to use the files need nothing – no need for our suppliers or outside counsel or regulators to download anything.”

CEO: “How will this change the way we share information and collaborate? Does this mean our people can just run amuck with company communications and files?”

IT: “Just the opposite, though in fact people are running amuck right now. We’d have a measure of control and confidence that can even become a competitive advantage.”

CEO: “Could an administrative or IT security breach of IRM potentially lead to my organization losing access to every single piece of content that has been protected?” <SQUEAK>

IT: “It could happen in theory. (CEO stops listening here). But there are safeguards and redundancies to prevent lost access or changed policy. Blah, blah, blah.”

CEO Has left the elevator.

It isn’t that we don’t have other options for creating and storing critical documents than my C Drive. Cloud-alone content strategies are appropriate for small businesses and those with limited risk of exposure. Hybrid content architectures with both a private Cloud for collaboration and an on-premise regulated repository for records management are proving their worth and becoming common. Many mobile devices are more like content carriers than creators – but this doesn’t reduce risk enough to let CEOs sleep at night. People are much less careful with other people’s documents than they would be with those for which they are directly, explicitly responsible. Making the documents more self-aware is an evolution that has taken too long. Automating policy throughout their life cycle isn’t onerous – it’s actually easy.

Bottom line: it’s sometimes hard to distinguish what’s mine versus what’s my company’s. According to me. But the legal fact is that the computer is a company asset and all files thereon are subject to its control. So, stand down, CEO. Shareholders, board members, industry associations, industry watchdogs, regulators, partners, and outside counsel would be outraged at the failure to protect your company IP – especially if the argument against it seems so perilously personal. Sure, my lost laptop contains a plethora of risky files – but only if they can be opened. Which they can’t – all permissions have been cancelled. Imagine how Edward Snowden would have felt to discover that the files he forwarded to global news agencies were similarly encrypted. Edward Who?

How do you feel about IRM’s chances for adoption given today’s frequently mobile collaborative processes? Are you using it? Any other thoughts about protections?

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Content in the Cloud – WWKBD*

“When Content Goes Out The Door, Control Goes With It.”

If you are a goofy optimist, this statement might seem self-explanatory. And, you might feel comforted. But I’d have to wonder if you are clear on the facts: content is in motion far more often than in the past – and enterprise confidence in its protection should seriously be in doubt. If this comes as a surprise, I am happy to be the messenger. Every business leader should be up all night with worry given the problem. Because few people have the right answers. And, for once, those that do aren’t lawyers. Or technologists.

How do I know? There’s a protracted conversation on LinkedIn among legal technologists about whether file sharing via Dropbox is a bad idea (even as many lawyers they work with no longer care how their colleagues in IT feel about it). Of course it’s a bad idea. Yet, the same tension is being felt in every workplace across the world – and the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) is undeniably building. In the brave new world of Mobile Computing/Cloud/Social there’s an evil old world underlying truth – hackers, phishers, scammers (and even governments above them) are interested in your content, and are having little trouble acquiring it. Could your competition be far behind?

Maybe this is a direct consequence of the “dress down Fridays” mentality. Imagine sending your most important proposal or patent application or even your personal patient files… wearing shorts and flip-flops. That’s mobility. It’s good. You probably do this often. But, what kind of impact would your vital business or personal information have if it showed up similarly clothed: in shorts and flip-flops? Dude – that’s bad. Worse still, you aren’t sending your deliverables to Cancun; you’re sending them to North Korea or Bulgaria or Azkaban.

Would your competitors kill to get detailed terms, conditions, and pricing that a captured proposal contains? Maybe not. Would they at least consider steaming open an envelope? Probably so. That’s what theft of trade secrets, price lists, intellectual property, etc. now constitutes: nothing more than steaming open an envelope. Usually a PDF file with password protection. That’s a poor way to protect your most valuable property. By my estimate, there are exactly the same number of cracking tools as there are PDF files online. Now imagine the heroes of recent movies like Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty facing the perils of war in under armour alone. Would director Katherine Bigelow send her cinematic soldiers to distant lands without a stitch of protective gear? She would not. It wouldn’t be credible. And, you shouldn’t either.

Here’s why: I think we face a mobile-day dilemma because our consumer behaviors threaten enterprise reputations. How bad would your customer feel if a contractor working on the big process improvement project sends a copy of your software sales proposal to a friend of theirs in a competing software company. Not bad enough. Worse still, it’s merely a momentary bad – like taking another cookie when there are only three left on the plate. It’s clearly time to take stock of the risks and rewards of Content in the Cloud. Many of the people in my life – family, friends, colleagues alike – are aware that their actions have consequences in theory, but aren’t really sure what those might be in practice. So, I’ll offer a few ideas in hope of starting a dialogue. Perhaps even a call to action about changes in control as various hand-offs occur when content traverses the void between local repository/file server, device, email, Cloud host, customer, etc.

*What Would Katherine Bigelow Do (with the final shooting script for her next movie, for example)? She’d dress her deliverable to do battle before sending it to a potential investor. You, as the armorer of your enterprise, should do the same.

  1. Valuable stuff needs safeguarding: store your deliverables in a regulated repository (on-premise) and have all versions accounted for. This policy can be automated. I can’t count the number of times a ‘final version’ gets changed ‘one last time’ by someone who then attaches this rogue new file to an email and sends without storing as a new version.
  2. Prep your stuff. Convert deliverables to PDF and password protect them. Do not confuse this with actual content risk management. But PDF is still ‘common currency’ for file sharing and everyone has access to the viewer.
  3. Add a content rights management wrapper to the file. Set permissions (can’t forward, print, copy. Can view and edit.) and then set an expiration date. In order for content to persuade people most effectively, it should have a freshness stamp. When business gets concluded on old documents, money is lost and relationships suffer. The key ability is to be able to destroy documents from afar if they’re old or being misused.
  4. Attach to email (fair) or send via secure file transfer (better). In both cases, encryption and metadata cleaning are enforced by automated policy. Set the message to High Importance and check that both a delivery and a read receipt (as well as any deadline dates) are included. Copy the CRM or engagement systems. These are also steps that can be automated by policy.
  5. Store the signed contract or track the outcome of the deliverable even if unsuccessful in building business. It’s amazing how often results aren’t evaluated carefully to improve the process for efficiency, effectiveness, and protection.

Bottom line: the farther your deliverables travel beyond the firewall, the more ways you’ll want to protect them. Sometimes, this includes destroying them to keep them safe. Scorched earth policies can be much more palatable when there’s a backup of your stuff stored safely at home. Next to your flip-flops.

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Google – Walking the Talk

Google’s latest advertising slogan/mantra is deceptively simple: “Work the way you live.”

Toward that concept, the most unintentionally funny presentation at Gartner’s 2012 ITxpo was a lunch session hosted by Google. To be fair, I should disclose that Google is one of Litéra’s collaborative authoring “compredators” – a term describing the combination of competitor and predator common in the IT industry. And, toward further fairness, I should give Google credit for putting itself at risk by deciding to prove its point with live demonstrations of enterprise-class applications even as the overburdened wireless network thwarted most others. Bravery notwithstanding, Google proved that enterprise-class apps will depend on enterprise-class connectivity as much as they do features/functions. It also proved I tend to enjoy too much irony in my humor.

The huge crowd heard the Google argument about how its integration of mobility/social media/collaboration/information crosses platforms as much as it does processes and even IT boundaries. Ultimately, though, it might depend on lower expectations regarding security, policy management, access control and rights management, etc. that make even ‘good enough’ traditional IT models of end-user provisioning seem remarkably good. So much so, that all the spadework already done to lower consumer expectations about quality, connectivity, responsibility (can you hear me now?) may not have been enough. Imagine the day when just about everything you want to accomplish at work is opposed rather than enabled somehow by technology (as it was for the Google team yesterday):

  • Couldn’t work on the same document at the same time
  • Couldn’t snap a photo of a business card, OCR it, and have it appear in Google Drive
  • Couldn’t connect to data analytics tool BigQuery (fail message actually appeared)
  • Couldn’t video conference multiple participants on different devices
  • Couldn’t get audio working – and when it finally was corrected, every third word from the person speaking was corrupted

I do not want to work in the 3rd Word World. And, 99.9 percent uptime is a meaningless SLA when the one hiccup corrupts your carefully rehearsed closing argument or a critical sale. That’s what happened to Google at Gartner – despite very interesting technology and a sizable fan base, it should have been a great show but ended up exposing some real issues with how it thinks we want to work. It was weird watching a rock star with the hiccups.

Weird, too was how its promo for Google Docs makes clear that rock stars in one arena may not suit the needs of audiences in another. In the short video, we see a blank sheet in an editing environment – and as the soundtrack begins, lyrics begin to appear: … “Oh here she comes, she’s a _________”, and we’re suddenly seeing the famous pop music duo Hall & Oates collaborating as they might have back in 1982 on the hit song “Maneater.” Well, at least we see their cursors flying as they try several alternatives before settling on the term that became the song’s name. It takes a mere 30 seconds to instruct us how Google Docs works even as we are charmed by the mediocrity of the outcome. But those same 30 seconds can set certain types of enterprises back 30 years.

Here’s how: any business that depends on lifeblood collaborative document processes (think contracts, proposals, statements of work, service agreements, policies and procedures, technical documentation, press releases, business plans, annual reports, regulatory submissions, or even songs) understands that the process of collaboration is onerous and often broken. Now, I admit that if Google has taught me one thing, it’s that I can forget everything I ever learned about everything. If I need an answer, I find it (and 240,875,333 more useless options) anywhere I happen to be. So, despite its claims of responsible digital curation for your essential  information,  I wonder if it understands how much value is in the ideas presented by those who may not have them included in the final version. Preserving institutional memory ensures lower risks and higher productivity.

For example, the third collaborator in the song “Maneater” was Sara Allen. She’s credited (and paid) as a songwriter, but her real contribution was suggesting to Hall that he delete parts from the song’s early draft version. I wouldn’t have remembered this without Google’s help. But it underscores the most alarming part of Google Docs (apart from the fact that any public Cloud host will get subpoenaed on any given day and routinely cough up data)… the history of the final version is incomplete without storing all the adds/edits/deletes/approvals. These contributions are part of any negotiated document. They need to be available for the forseeable future. They are records.

If I have a contract with you (in this case, you’ll be a lawyer), and we both work in Google Docs to hammer out the details of a settlement, and I work somewhere else in the document at the same time you are changing the terms and conditions completely in your own favor, then shame on me if I fail to go back and check your work. To a limited extent, I can review changes by any editor, assuming I’ve caught them before they were changed (again). But the potential for overwrite anarchy depends on users understanding the implications of co-authoring – especially in larger teams that operate across firewalls.

The worst could be when you work with dozens of other auditors in a risk management spreadsheet (not just because that’s what you do for a living) and Google detects you are nearing its storage limit: it will ‘prune’ some of the edit history: according to Google’s site “it will automatically collapse some of the revisions from throughout your spreadsheet’s history to save space. There is currently no way to retrieve the individual revisions that were pruned. To permanently save a particular version of a spreadsheet, go to the File menu and select Make a copy.”

Yikes. So, to “work the way I live”, I’ll have to accept lots more risk even beyond lost changes. Plus, I can’t work offline on documents – I can view them but not replicate my changes when reconnected. Plus, I have to live with overwrites in my company’s contracts, presentations, proposals, SOPs, 10-Ks — records, all — that aren’t exposed to me intuitively or might get lost forever. No wonder the theme song Google chose is from 1982. That’s the last time I remember having no enterprise-class technology to rely upon.

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Great News for Telemarketers!

Not that I’m suggesting that trends in our modern service-based economy might ultimately make the headline a ‘grabber’ for many more of us in the future than might find it appealing at this moment – but the simple fact is that our government has opened a floodgate that will madden the mainstream even as it fills the wallets of fringe factions. Like telemarketers. Here’s how:

Way back in 2003, the US Federal Trade Commission implemented a Do Not Call (DNC) list and began enabling registration of phone numbers by those wishing to ‘opt out’ from receiving calls by telemarketers. And, since then, the average number of telemarketing calls received by the more than 70% of households signed up with the FTC fell off by a significant percentage. Enough to consider the program a success – though Wikipedia notes that “… many journalists and victims of fraudulent calls and Do-Not-Call violations have extensively documented ongoing and widespread inaction and lack of enforcement by the FTC.” Some such ‘shades of gray’ notwithstanding, the greater good seems obviously served.

Yet, notably absent from the regulations those many years ago and lasting up to today: political organizations, pollsters, and charities. Oh, my. I won’t waste words complaining about the increasing numbers of calls from charities I must fend off each month. That might make me seem petty and uncaring; and I prefer that those traits not be inadvertently attributed to me by mere exposure to my blog when instead they could be gleaned by a tedious process of interviewing my family and friends. Such as they are.

When politicians were asked to agree to respect the DNC and shut down their direct connections to constituents (they could not otherwise reach via any other means) to deliver important rhetoric personalized for household-level consumption… they said NO. How many NO’s have to be said to qualify for capitalization of both letters? Consider this: among all the politicians across the local, state, and federal levels of government – numbering 513,200 by a Web authority – only 3 agreed to respect the DNC list by suspending contact. So, am I sensationalizing the issue? NO.

Thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen’s United, the degree of difference between political parties, their fundraising arms, Super PACS, pollsters, and fraudsters in general has become indistinguishable to the average citizen as they field growing numbers of phone calls each day as elections grow closer. Moreover, just as ‘Christmas Season’ for retailers now precedes Autumn and extends to Spring, the political season seems to be in continuous harvest mode without pause for either thought or action, as evidenced by the incessant ringing of my DNC-listed phone. Sadly, it seems to be a prudent course of action to avoid complaining too much about politicians being exempt from respecting the Do Not Call list given that they also have access to the Do Not Fly list. I do not want unfairly to become a ‘person of interest’ as a consequence of being a person with little interest in politics.

I had slightly more interest in politics in prior years. Back in 1976, for example, I was a page at the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. One thing I learned quickly is that pages do not have a formal training program, so when I was delivering deli sandwiches to Robert Strauss – the Party Chairman at the time – I unwittingly violated protocol and asked him a direct question: “don’t you guys have the money to bring in a catering company?”

The real question could have been: “why would I want to be a politician?” And, to his credit, he answered as if he’d heard that instead of the original one. His answer? “Son, if it was a cushy job, the wrong people would want it.” He was the last politician I’ve had direct contact with. And, to this day I realize that most constituents have had the same experience – limited exposure to the policymakers and more to the administrators. So, if I get a tidal wave of pollsters calling day and night, I’m apt to suffer in silence. I don’t ‘know a guy’ in government, and I don’t think my voice in this debate will turn the tide.

I’ve thereby become inured to repeated violations of privacy at the behest of politicians who would otherwise protect that privacy with DNC – if not for their own conflict of interests. Thus I can tell you that the reason I think we’re doomed to increasing violations of DNC by telemarketers is that they now know that we are getting slammed with calls and have lost the will to document/report/expect justice. The reason I think more of us are doomed to become telemarketers will have to wait for another day/discussion.

So why should a content management expert care so much about violation of privacy, you wonder?

The government snuck in an exemption to the DNC that they now take overwhelming advantage of… and others are sneaking into my house behind them based on the logical presumption that I’m now too weak to fight.  My further logical presumption: that even
as people don’t know how to handle reductions in rights personally, they’ll have the same problems professionally
. Just as I don’t really know who to call when I have a complaint about calls, I don’t know how to document a complaint about a lost document or email online. Nor do I know who in the government is responsible for consumer protections around Content in the Cloud. So, the logical question to ask is: “If you are working on a document online – in Google Docs, for example – and it disappears, what remedy do you have?”

If you are a large enterprise, someone is already dealing with consumerization issues and can effectively explain that each site has Terms of Use (TOS) or End User License Agreements (EULA) that limit their liabilities in case of loss, downtime, corruption, unauthorized access, etc. They might also explain that the government – which has lots of reasons to want to sift through them – is very happy that the biggest Cloud hosts now contain larger and larger pools of documents because they can more easily reach out to public companies/public hosts (Google, MSFT certainly) and gain access to far more purportedly private stuff than ever before: “As stated in our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, Google complies with valid legal processes seeking account information, such as search warrants, court orders, or subpoenas.”

Privacy is equally tenuous in the online information age as it was in the telecommunications age. Perhaps more so because we’ve been trained to self-serve in response to losses we incur. Put that in the FAQ under ‘disillusionment’. Do you think the government will add protections that might thereby limit its access to huge aggregates of Internet-based information? Uh, NO.  And, do you think as consumers we’re engaging in risky content behaviors as a consequence of new devices, collaboration, and storage options? Uh, YES. Maybe those factors have compelled me to work for a company solely focused on Content Risk Management instead of becoming a politician. It’s possible that investigating opportunities to provide better safeguards for information even as the processes surrounding it get optimized for the mobile/Cloud age qualifies as a kind of activism. But it may not change the world. Sorry, Mom.

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The Rise of Social Documents

I’ve had a hard time finding the best way to describe an emerging technology, despite having bet a large part of my career on its potential. Worse, attempts by others to deliver applications that are ‘close enough’ have clouded the waters so much that I find myself having to start conversations not about my own company’s product but with the more visible alternatives and then contrast ours from there. As an example, I know I can count on any executive to be <somewhat> familiar with Google Docs – but not that they’ll appreciate the degree of difference between consumer grade and professional grade versions of collaborative authoring.

That’s what those of us in technology have called it for years: “Collaborative Authoring.” It has been ’emerging’ for years. And, the world has reacted with indifference. Had the world been inspired to do further investigation into the potential for this technology – by perhaps finding it included in the operating system or apps store for devices like the iPad – the world might have done more than shrug. I’m not saying this as a self-serving attempt to promote my company’s version of a product. I’m saying it as an only partly self-serving attempt to encourage those who work with documents, email, or computing devices of any kind to believe that they could quite literally gain back hours of lost time and some analogous increment of reduced frustration (grrs?) by changing how they collaborate.

Everybody collaborates, by the way. The problem isn’t getting it to happen; instead, it’s undoing all the damage done over the past several decades that resulted in making it happen poorly. An example of this is email. Had we received any training or change management, we mightn’t continue to attach very important confidential contracts saved in Microsoft Word to outbound messages and also send a copy to our personal account hosted by a 3rd party. We would know better. Because it would feel wrong. Like biting tin foil. Which none of us has ever actually done – given that aluminum foil displaced it a lifetime ago. But my point is that we need to set a course to make Wrong behaviors intuitive where presently they feel Right. Using email presently ‘feels like’ biting potato chips/chocolate/french fries and we need to instruct users over time that it should instead ‘feel like’ hearing fingernails on a blackboard or stepping on a cockroach. Which, for most people, would be deterrents.

So. Who are these ‘most people’? They are the overwhelming majority that make decisions supported by documents. I’ll write more about this in my next post. Meanwhile, your thoughts about Collaborative Authoring – whether the name itself, impediments toward adoption, or existing applications – are welcomed.

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