Making Sense of SharePoint and Digital Records Management…

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Hi all

One of the conversation areas in SharePoint life that is inevitably complex is that of records management since there are just as many differing opinions on records management as there are legal jurisdictions and different standards to choose from. Accordingly, a lot of confusion abounds as we move into a world dominated by cloud computing, inter-agency collaboration, changes in attitudes to information assets via the open data/government 2.0 movements, and of course, the increasing usage of enterprise collaboration systems like SharePoint. As a result, I feel for record managers because generally they are an unloved lot and it is not really their fault. They have to meet legal compliance requirements governed by various acts of legislation, but their job is made all the harder by the paradox that the more one tries to enforce compliance, the less likely one is to be compliant. This is because more compliance generally equates to more effort on the part of users for little perceived benefit. This results in direct avoidance of using record management systems or the plain misuse of those systems (both which in turn results in a lack of compliance).

As it happens, my company works with many government agencies primarily in the state of Western Australia, both at a state agency and local government level. We have seen most enterprise document management systems out there such as HP Trim, Objective, Hummingbird/OpenText and have to field questions on how SharePoint should integrate and interact with them (little known fact – I started my career with Hummingbird in 1998 when it was called PCDOCS Open and before SharePoint existed).

Now while I am sympathetic to the plight of your average records management professional, I have also seen the other side of the coin, where records management is used to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. “You can’t do that, because of the records act” is a refrain that is oft-levelled at initiatives like SharePoint or cloud based solutions to try and shut them down or curtail their scope. What makes it hard to argue against such statements is that few ever read such acts (including those who make these sort of statements). So being a sucker for punishment, I decided to read the Western Australian State Records Act 2000 and the associated standard on digital recordkeeping, published by the State Records Office. My goal was to understand the intent of these standards and the minimum compliance requirements they mandate, so I could better help clients integrate potentially disruptive tools into their compliance strategies.

I did this by starting out with the core standard in Western Australia – SRC Standard 8: Digital Recordkeeping. I created an IBIS Issue Map of this standard using Compendium software. What I soon discovered was that Standard 8 refers to other standards, such as Standard 2: Recordkeeping Plans and Standard 3: Appraisal of Records. That meant that I had to add these to the map, as well as any other documents they referred to. In the end, I followed every standard, policy or guideline in a recursive fashion, until I was back at the digital recordkeeping standard where I started. This took a while, but I eventually got there. You can click the image below to examine the standards in all of their detail and watch the video to see more about how I created it.

Map   

Now I need to make it clear that my map is not endorsed by the State Records Office, so it is provided as-is with a disclaimer that it is not intended to drive policy or be used as anything more than an example of the mapping approaches I use. I felt that by putting the standards into a IBIS based issue map, I feel I was able to reduce some of the complexity of understanding them, because now one can visually see how the standards relate to each other. Additionally, by taking advantage of Compendiums ability to have the same node in multiple maps, it allowed me to create a single ‘meta map’ that pulled in all of the compliance requirements into a single integrated place. One can look at the compliance requirements of all the standards in one place and ask themselves “Am I meeting the intent of these standards?”

Reflections…

In terms of my conclusions undertaking this work, there are a few. For a start, everything is a record, so people should just get over the whole debate of “is it or isn’t it”. In short, if you work for a government agency and are doing actual work, then your work outputs are records. The issue is not what is and is not a record, but how you control and manage them. Secondly, the notion that there has to be “one RMS system to rule them all” to ensure compliance is plain rubbish and does not stand up to any form of serious scrutiny. While it is highly desirable to have a single management point for digital recordkeeping, it is often not practical and insistence in doing this often makes agencies less compliant because of the aforementioned difficulties of use, resulting in passive resistance and outright subversion of such systems. It additionally causes all sorts of unnecessary stress in the areas of new initiatives or inter-agency collaboration efforts. In fact, to meet the intent of the standards I mapped, one by definition, has to take a portfolio approach to the management of records as data will reside in multiple repositories. It was Andrew Jolly who first suggested the portfolio idea to me and provided this excellent example: There is nothing stopping records management departments designating MS Exchange 2013 Site mailboxes as part of the records management portfolio and at the same time having a much better integrated email and document management story for users.

For me, the real crux of the digital records management challenge is hidden away in SRC Standard 8, Principle 5 (preservation). One of the statements of compliance in relation to preservation is that “digital records and their metadata remain accessible and usable for as long as they are required in accordance with an approved disposal authority.”  In my opinion, the key challenge for agencies and consultancies alike is being able to meet the requirements of Disposal Authorities (DA’s) without over burdening users. DA’s are the legal documents published by the State Records Commission that specify how data is handled in terms of whether it is archived or deleted and when this should happen. They are also quite prescriptive (some are mandated), and their classification of content from a retention and disposal point of view poses many challenges, both technically and organisationally. While for the sake of size, this article is not going to get into this topic in detail, I would advise any SharePoint practitioner to understand the relevant disposal authorities that their organisation has to adhere to. You will come away with a new respect for the challenges that record managers face, an understanding on why they use the classification schemes that they do, why records management systems are not popular among users of the systems and why the paradox around “chasing compliance only to become non-compliant” happens.

Maybe you might come away with some insights on how to better integrate SharePoint into the story? Then you can tell the rest of us Smile

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

paul.culmssee@sevensigma.com.au

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The facets of collaboration Part 3–The feature jigsaw

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Hi all and welcome to part three of my series on unpacking this mysterious phenomenon known as collaboration. In case you missed the first two articles (and I highly suggest that you read part 1 and part 2), I spent some 500 odd hours last year developing a SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture course. Amongst the sweat and tears of that particular endeavour, I researched many papers and online articles that attempt to look at the multitude of factors and variables that impact on collaborative scenarios where SharePoint might be leveraged. I also talked about Robot-Barbie, which represents the tendency for SharePoint features to be combined in such a way where the benefit gained is much less than the potential of the individual parts. Robot-Barbie solutions are to be avoided at all costs.

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In part 2, I explained each of the facets using the model above, identifying four key facets for collaborative facets: Task, Trait, Social and Transactional.

  • Task: Because the outcome drives the members’ attention and participation
  • Trait: Because the interest drives the members’ attention and participation
  • Transactional: Because the process drives the members’ attention and participation
  • Social: Because the shared insight drives the members’ attention and participation
  • An interesting use of the facet diagram is to plot where various tools and technologies are located and therefore, where their strengths may be. In this article, we will go through some of SharePoint’s collaborative components and see how they fit together.

    The document is dead – long live wikis?

    When I have asked people to draw where Wikipedia lies on the facets, the most common answer by far is on the trait side of the collaborative fence. This seems relatively straightforward. After all, the authors of Wikipedia articles obviously have a shared interest in the topic matter. Without an interest in the topic, there would be little incentive to take the time to write about it. Furthermore with Wikipedia, authors are highly unlikely to be working on the same project or task, since the author can be anybody in the world. But, authors are likely to be performing similar tasks in their respective organisations. A classic trait based scenario.

    Wikis also are open and essentially unstructured, relying on authors to link to other content to build contextual relevance. By this logic, Wikipedia is a strong trait based collaborative system and the dominant process driving the use of the tool is insight more than process. Therefore wikis are socially oriented more than transactional. I would suggest that very few Wikipedia authors indeed would be driven by a process that mandating they update an entry.

    Closer to SharePoint home, Look at the success of SPDevWiki as another example. If you were to plot it across the spectrum (and remember this is about collaboration using the tool, not individual use), it would appear in a similar position on the model to Wikipedia. People use SpDevWiki because they wish to develop and contribute to a repository of knowledge to help others in similar situations. This reciprocal behaviour serves to help the individual in their own endeavours.

    image

    But there is an interesting change if I ask people to simply draw “a wiki” on the model, rather than the specific example of Wikipedia (the mother of all wikis). The model tends to look something like the image below. Suddenly the scope of wikis expands more into transactional, but few people draw a wiki across the whole collaboration spectrum. As a result of this pattern, one question I make a point of asking people in all of my classes is whether they have ever seen or used a successful project management wiki. I have asked this question in London, New Zealand and around Australia, and the overwhelming answer is no. One respondent stated that his organisation had implemented a project management wiki, but conceded that he was the only one who maintained it.

    image

    The reason I continually ask this question is that I wanted to know if the pattern I had observed was common, as I can only base observation from my own client base. Using my clients, I have seen two occasions where wikis were particularly successful. The first was a wiki for programmers who worked for the same company and the second was a school, where teachers maintained a wiki as part of a SharePoint solution that we put in. Both of these examples are clearly trait dominant in that the authors were in a very similar role. Perhaps a gross generalisation is that wiki’s are best suited to trait/social based collaborative scenarios? If so, it raises an important issue. If a task based collaboration effort has a varied mix of participants, then using the model suggests a wiki may not necessarily be the way to go.

    By the way, I have learned over the years that as soon as you make an assertion to rightness, someone will come along and prove you wrong. For example, I strongly advise people not to use the Microsoft pizza/pie diagram to introduce SharePoint to new users, but Ruven Gotz proves that it is perfectly acceptable to do so. Therefore in the example above I am only reporting on my observations, plus feedback from those who have attended my classes. I am not trying to prove right or wrong here as I know many will disagree with the diagram. But what I am interested in, if you can prove the assertion wrong, is what you did to make a wiki successful in the other quadrants?

    Wikis vs. Custom lists

    In typical SharePoint fashion, there is always ten ways to do something, each with their own pros and cons. Both wikis and SharePoint lists are flexible information repositories, that differ by the degree of structure imposed. Lists offer the creation of custom columns of different kinds, that allow tables of information to be stored and via the use of views, to make sense of the content. You get a few other niceties like datasheet view, attaching files, and export to Excel/MSAccess. In fact, many people like to adopt lists because they previously used Excel for storing information and Sharepoint offers similar functionality with improved data entry and multi-user support.

    Someone once told me that more critical corporate data is stored in excel than any other database system in the world. I am not surprised in the slightest.

    When asked to place where SharePoint lists fit on the facets model, many users tend to link it to transactional based collaboration that is equally task or trait based. Lists it seems, are well suited to tracking “stuff”, which lends itself naturally to transactional collaboration where process tends to govern interaction.

    Lists also tend to need more up-front work where a wiki usually does not. Before content can be effectively added to a list, you need to define columns or content types in advance and hope that you get it right. Information Architects routinely get paid to help do this. Remember that transactional collaboration is the world of well-defined inputs, because process governs the interaction. As such, project delivery (a transactional/task oriented process) often uses list based techniques because of the improved ability to track, slice and dice information, when compared to a wiki. Dux Sy’s book on using SharePoint for Project Management is a good illustration of this approach. Wiki’s do not even get mentioned in Dux’s book. Why is this? Perhaps the tracking of time, resources, costs, risks, constraints and work performed is best delivered via lists? Certainly, more fully fledged PMIS systems like Microsoft Project Server are highly database driven and designed for transactional work.

    It is then quite interesting to overlay SharePoint lists and wiki’s together. Is it possible to make a more educated call as to when one option is more suited than the other? Take a knowledgebase scenario which could easily be either a wiki or a list. Perhaps the decision as to use wiki or list should be based on the nature of the collaboration? If a bunch of people linked by trait are creating a knowledge repository, a wiki is a proven approach – Wikipedia shows this to be the case. But if this is for say, a more transactional scenario such as a call-center, where KPI’s are based around quick turnaround and resolution of common problems, a list approach might be better?

    image

    At this point I can feel the heat of offended Enterprise 2.0 fanboys. Please understand, I am not anti wiki’s or anything 2.0 – we use these tools in our practice. Furthermore SharePoint blurs the above distinction anyway. Columns can be added to wikis and they leverage SharePoint’s version history too. In other words, you can make a wiki look and feel somewhat like a list. Furthermore, SharePoint wikis can be integrated with information management policies and workflow. When you add those additional capabilities to the mix, you might draw things differently. Nevertheless, I think this is a useful exercise because it might offer insight as to why certain portal features rarely, if ever get used in certain situations.

    Document Collaboration – Transactional or Social?

    Finally for now, document based collaboration seems to fit into any quadrant (and is therefore quite tricky at times). This is because the “document” is simply a medium of collaboration (as is a wiki for that matter).

    For one extreme, take the example of a quality management system (policies, procedures, manuals). Given that a QMS is usually part of a compliance regime, requiring audits and demonstrated conformance, document collaboration is fairly rule-based and managed via well defined and understood process. Therefore, we are talking transactional work. In this world, SharePoint features like content types, metadata, policies and workflow are fairly easy to define and implement.

    But a QMS, via policies and procedures, guide the behaviour and decision making in organisations. So while transactional, it is oriented towards trait based. This is because a QMS is rarely installed to deliver a single project, but to guide delivery of many projects. One thing that might be guided by a QMS is the creation of a legal contract that outlines the scope and responsibilities of two parties undertaking a project. Documents such as contracts, while also usually transactional, are task based they outline a legal commitment to achieving an agreed outcome.

    Contrast this with a team collaborating via documents. A team can be driven by an outcome or common interest (department) and as a result covers both the task and trait based quadrants. Often the rules of engagement are much less rigid or formalised with regards to document use and structure. Thus, a lot of team document collaboration is more social and trying to fit this into an overly strict or complex taxonomy can do more harm than good. I noticed with great interest that recently, certain SharePoint elephants in the room are starting to be named. The recent articles on NothingButSharePoint entitled “SharePoint Content Types: Is this a lost cause?”, highlights what I mean. In this article, repeated attempts were made to try and harness the value and power of content types into a large enterprise. However despite the effort, they were rarely used.

    To me, this highlights the characteristic of team collaboration – particularly knowledge workers. If collaboration is not a predefined interaction, then content types, which by definition, force us to go to a lot of effort to define inputs when those inputs are not necessarily known. Perhaps the nature of the collaboration taking place played a part in the lack of take-up reported in the aforementioned article? Those who advocate metadata as the only true solution may in fact be pushing a transactional paradigm onto a collaborative model that is ill-suited?

     

    image

    As a general rule, in transactional scenarios, the classification of the document is of more importance than the content of the document. This is the records management and compliance paradigm, where the fact that the document is controlled is the key driver. However, in team collaborative scenarios, the content of the document is usually more important than the metadata classifying it. From a team members point of view, metadata that helps to indicate content is more important than metadata that indicates compliance.

    As documents age however, the value of the content tends to diminish and the value of the classification increases. Balancing the need for compliance against the need for collaboration is a key document management challenge irrespective of the tools and systems that underpin it. There is a large smackdown looming between the worlds of compliance vs. the world of government and enterprise 2.0 and I will eventually write on that topic.

    Once again, the key point here is context. Some document oriented collaborative scenarios are highly structured and well suited to well-defined taxonomy and metadata. Others are somewhat less so. Perhaps a tool like this helps to work out when certain information architecture decisions are applicable when it comes to document collaboration?

    Conclusion

    You might have noticed that this post has more questions than answers. In doing a model, I never said I would provide more answers. Instead, more of a frame or perspective to ask certain types of questions that many SharePoint practitioners have increasingly be asking (as evidenced by the content type post above). In the next post, I will conclude by using the facets to examine several common arguments seen in organisations, where people in particular roles are in effect, predisposed to having a bias in one or more of these facets. We will also look at SharePoint as a whole, as well as examine what we can glean about user engagement and buy-in.

    Until then, thanks for reading.

    Paul Culmsee

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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    Share2010 – A new kind of SharePoint conference

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    Having spoken at the odd SharePoint event over the last three years or so, I’ve always lamented on the lack of a purely business focused SharePoint conference. Whilst the conferences I attend do cater for non technology oriented topics – particularly the best practice conferences, there is usually an equal or greater proportion of content aimed at the nerdier aspects of SharePoint.

    Sadly though, nerds don’t often sign the cheques. Those who do sign them, are rarely interested in deploying SharePoint via Powershell, or why sandboxed solutions are a good thing or not. They are looking for the ways and means to take SharePoint (the enabler) and work out what the hell SharePoint is enabling and to work out if it has done so properly.

    Some time back, via a reference from Kristian Kalsing, I received a call from the organisers of the forthcoming Share2010 in Sydney, asking for feedback on what I would like to see in a good business focused SharePoint conference. In speaking to Steve from Eventful Management and his team, it was clear that something unique was in the making here.

    Fast forward several months and after a whole lot of market research and round-table discussions from SharePoint customers (including a couple of our clients), we have a conference that puts many critical topics close to my heart, front and centre, namely governance, user engagement and adaption, business process automation and workflow; information architecture; collaboration; document and records management; resourcing and support; social networking; ROI; security and so on.

    I am honoured that I was also asked to participate as a speaker at this conference, along side the likes of Dux Sy, Erica Toelle, Andrew Jolly and Michael Sampson. You will find that speakers from this group have one thing in common: Their focus on the softer areas of SharePoint. There are also speakers from some of Australia’s leading organisations (and some international ones too), who will share their trials, tribulations and lessons learned. This is real problem/real solution type stuff and I am seriously looking forward to being part of it.

    I’ll be involved in the initial festivities on the Sunday evening, conducting a special interest kickoff session called SharePoint Governance Home Truths. This session aims to present a lot of my work in a more relaxed, entertaining manner and hopefully, set a good tone for the rest of the event.

    I will also be running a special event on Wednesday called “Microsoft SharePoint Governance f-Laws: Handy Hints for Those Who Question Business as Usual”. I am really excited about this. Developing the content for this session has been a labour of love for me since November last year – and is a kind of magnum opus of everything I have learned in my IT and non IT work. I have been very fortunate to work on some very large and complex non IT projects and worked with some amazingly talented people in the areas of project management, cognitive science, facilitation and community engagement. I can absolutely guarantee you that there will be many aspects to this session that would not have been seen before in one place in this distilled form. I am super excited about delivering this in full at Share2010 – there simply could not be a better conference for this type of workshop.

    By the way, I used elements of this material in the SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture course that was developed for the Microsoft NZ/3Grow Elite Program. The feedback from that course speaks for itself.

    The outcomes to expect for attendee of this session are:

    • Understand the SharePoint governance lens beyond an IT service delivery focus
    • Develop your ‘wicked problem’ radar and apply appropriate governance practices, tools and techniques accordingly
    • Learn how to align SharePoint projects to broad organisational goals, avoid chasing platitudes and ensure that the problem being solved is the right problem
    • Understand the relationship between governance and assurance, why both are needed and how they affect innovation
    • Understand the underlying, often hidden forces of organisational chaos that underpins projects like SharePoint

    There is a large amount of content and activities in this session that has never graced CleverworkArounds. In fact, if I ever get around to posting some of the content, I could blog for months. But more importantly than the content, you will have a lot of practical tools to leverage as well. Attendees to my session will receive a CD containing end-to-end governance artefacts ranging from IBIS maps, goal alignment and performance framework outputs, envisioning workshop sample outputs, Information Architecture mind-maps, BPMN diagrams, wireframes, user engagement tools, ROI calculations and more.

    As it happens, I collaborated on a lot of this stuff with Erica Toelle, so it is terrific that she is speaking at the event and her “Don’t reinvent the wheel” talk should not be missed, as well as her Tuesday keynote. If I ask her nicely, she might just pop a few of her goodies onto the CD as well!

    You can register here, for this unique event, and let’s hope that there are many more to come. There is opportunity for one on one meetings with speakers like myself as part of the deal.

    Thanks for reading

     

     

    Paul Culmsee

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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    Also why I’ve been quiet…

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    I’m in an airport (again), typing this on my way back from my latest trip to New Zealand – a country I am loving more and more each time I go there. (Anywhere that I can go that uses the same power plugs as back home is a great place in my book).

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    A while back I posted about the book I am writing with Kailash Awati (Beyond Best Practices). If that project wasn’t taking enough time, dedication and brain cells, I have just finished an undertaking that has essentially consumed me for four months (some 450 man hours). This week it was delivered and the student responses far surpassed my expectations and made it all worthwhile.

    I created a 4 day SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture training course as part of Microsoft New Zealand’s Elite initiative. (760 pages of SharePoint governance and IA goodness!) If you are not aware of the Elite initiative, it is a novel initiative by Microsoft in New Zealand to improve the quality of SharePoint practitioners in the Microsoft partner ecosystem. Now I tell you – Darryl Burling and his team down there at Microsoft have their ear to the ground – and really do listen to their customers. They initiated this program to allow local solution providers to take the next step beyond technical knowhow and turn it into deeper proficiency.

    The SharePoint Elite Partner Initiative is designed to recognise those New Zealand Partners who have built skills excellence and a track record for success with SharePoint into their business. When it comes to SharePoint, these are the elite – the best of the best. If you are looking for a partner who can help you plan and deploy your SharePoint implementation, these are the best in the business.

    This Elite program is unique in its focus and via the insight of those who conceived it, allowed me the flexibility to create a course that was a balance of technical labs, sensemaking, governance, critical thinking and user engagement. I was going through the course feedback just now and the key trend from it all was that the students really enjoyed the softer stuff that I teach, more so than the “here is a SharePoint feature and look at what it can do!” type material (they can get that sort of material anywhere).

    So all in all it was a great week, which made all the effort, sweat and tears leading up to it worth it.

    So thanks attendees, it was a great 4 days. For other readers, hopefully the course might come to a city near you in the not too distant future.

     

    Thanks for reading

    Paul Culmsee

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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    Don’t feel bad if you struggle with SharePoint

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    This project was not SharePoint, but I have seen some people try and do this with SharePoint. But you can imagine how much stress this project would have caused to participants.

    The South Australian government has pulled the plug on its $5 million records management system project, ending a five-year saga plagued by repeated cost blowouts, delays and confusion

    http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,24897,24510560-15306,00.html

    I can’t help but feel that if this particularly wise and insightful document written by their federal government counterparts had been written a couple of years earlier, some of sting just might have been taken out of this example of expensive project failure.

    Many of the most pressing policy challenges for the APS involve dealing with very complex problems. These problems share a range of characteristics—they go beyond the capacity of any one organisation to understand and respond to, and there is often disagreement about the causes of the problems and the best way to tackle them. These complex policy problems are sometimes called ‘wicked’ problems

    Critically, tackling wicked problems also calls for high levels of systems thinking. This big picture thinking helps policy makers to make the connections between the multiple causes and interdependencies of wicked problems that are necessary in order to avoid a narrow approach and the artificial taming of wicked problems

    Read the full document here:

    http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications07/wickedproblems.htm

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    SharePoint sucks at document management – or does it? A metal perspective

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    This is an opinion piece, a different tack than a lot of my other topics. I’m going to attempt to use heavy metal music as my metaphor to get my point across. No idea if I will succeed :-).

    Opeth \m/ \m/

    image

    Firstly, SharePoint, in my opinion, is a collaborative platform, more than it is a collaborative product. In the same way that Lotus Notes can be argued as a messaging platform. Both have their core competencies and solve particular types of problems. However, they can also be customised and sophisticated applications can be built upon the foundation they provide.  Note my emphasis on the word collaborative.

    Continue reading

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