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Information Governance: Pivot Point #2 - Pervasive vs. Transparent Control

ChrisSurdak on ‎11-22-2013 06:00 AM

Around the year 2000, I was working as a technology consultant, specializing in records, document and content management in the then-maturing world of Web 1.0.  I was assigned to a project for a new client who was in the midst of a large migration of their business online.  By that time I had hands-on experience with over a dozen such implementations, so I had a pretty good idea of how to determine what a customer wanted, and how to translate that into code.


After defining the industry-standard taxonomy and meta-data structure (see my previous post on this) we began working through the review and approval process that the client hoped to deploy.  After several weeks of workshops we had documented the review process that they believed they required.  The resulting process included complex, concatenated, serial and parallel workflows with nested, conditional, context-driven, content-derived business rules, all in an effort to make digital review replicate the client’s existing manual review process as closely as possible. 


The workflow was so Rube-Goldberg-complicated that we had to use 6-point font to fit it onto a single PowerPoint slide, and reviewing the workflow could induce nosebleeds in those with an infirm constitution. It took our technical team about 4 months of non-stop coding in order to create that workflow in the ECM package that we were using, and it required thousands upon thousands of lines of custom code. In a miracle of systems engineering our technical team actually made that software work, and deployed exactly what the customer had asked for.


Careful What You Wish For


About two months after deployment, the client asked us to start over again.  Once they actually started to use what they themselves designed they discovered that it was effectively impossible to get a single document through the whole “automated” process that they specified.


Why? Why in the world would anyone want to make it as difficult to work in the electronic world as it is to work in the physical?  Why would otherwise-rational people insist upon layers and layers of reviews and approvals for information assets that by their digital nature want to morph and grow and evolve minute by minute?


I don’t claim to have a definitive answer here, but perhaps it is this morphing and evolving itself that causes people to feel they need heavy, weighty, convoluted and blatant control over digital content. If every viewer of a piece of electronic information has at their fingertips the ability to change that information on the fly, we feel that we need even more oversight over these assets as they move towards their ultimate expression.


Pivot Point Two: Pervasive vs. Transparent Control


The process that we deployed at that client (and most every other one, too) was one of pervasive control.  In every step of the process there were alerts and statuses that made it fairly apparent that your work product was never going to see the light of day. Reviews and approvals flowed like molasses in January, and by the time your content reappeared it was unrecognizable, irrelevant, or both. Anyone running this gauntlet quickly realized that they had entered a sort of document roach motel; content checked in, but it never checked out.


This is exactly the effect that first led to the growth of SharePoint, and more recently to that of cloud platforms, as an alternative document repository. Users will do nearly anything to avoid systems with overwrought, pervasive controls because they know from intuition and experience that these systems will literally prevent them from getting their work done. In this sense, using pervasive controls is like trying to force toothpaste back into the tube.  The harder you push the toothpaste in, the more of if that squishes out around the sides, making a right gooey mess.  In the case of electronic documents, they squish their way into open platforms, email, social media and any other un-controlled means of communications to which users have access.


Conversely, end users should not, must not, be given responsibility for managing their own data.  Today, many organizations ask their employees to manage the records that they create.  Users self-select those items that need to be retained on behalf of their employer, in order to protect the organization’s interests.  This is not only handing the fox the keys to the henhouse, this is giving the fox a loaded shotgun to take in with him. Giving such control to end users is the complete absence of control on the part of your organization, and is fraught with risk.


Transparent Control: A New Approach to Data Management


So, what is the appropriate approach to managing enterprise data? The most effective controls are those which are transparent.  Ideally, users should not know what they didn’t get access to and they should not know when I’m placing controls or executing rules against their information.  Users don’t want to be exposed to the extreme complexities that many organizations MUST deal with as they manage their data in a litigious and heavily regulated world.  Manage my stuff, but don’t make it obvious that you’re doing so. 


How do you do this?  Ideally, you create a centralized source of business rules. A place where rules are defined applied and enforced in a consistent manner, automatically, and in a way that end users are not aware of.  In this way an organization can protect its own interests while allowing employees to remain productive. HP Control Point's technology provides exactly this capability, and does so across hundreds of different content management platforms, seamlessly. 

Through such transparent control mechanisms your organization can protect its own interests AND drive employee productivity simultaneously, keeping the toothpaste in the tube, rather than all over the organization’s sink.



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About the Author


Chris Surdak is a Subject Matter Expert on Information Governance, analytics and eDiscovery for HP Autonomy. He has over 20 years of consulting and technology experience, and holds a Juris Doctor from Taft University, an MS from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a CISSP Master's Certificate from Villanova and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State. Chris is author of the Big Data strategy book, "Data Crush," which was recently nominated as International Book of the Year for 2014, by GetAbstract. Chris is also contributing editor and columnist for European Business Review magazine.

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