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DM: as foundational as the slab under your house

This article appears in the issue March 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 3]

I love NHL hockey. So when Optex Systems, Ernst & Young and Documentum invited several of the KMWorld editorial staff to a suite at the Blues/ Mapleleafs hockey game in St. Louis, who was I to argue? The event centered on the new paradigms of knowledge management and allowed users, consultants and the press to mingle and share their views. Of course, it was done overlooking the ice and the board-smashing, fast-play excitement that epitomizes hockey.

During the event, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Miller, the CEO of Documentum, one of KMWorld's hottest companies for 1997-1998. While watching the game, we discussed the power of DM as it fits into the architecture of KM. I came away with a new way of thinking about DM and its evolving role.

I am convinced that DM is infrastructure and that it will be part of the base OS in the architecture of the millennium. Many would argue that DM is but a subset of the application layer and that its role is no more critical than WinZip. Granted in today's world where information lives in many different places, forms and versions, DM can only play a certain role. However, what else can string together disparate types of information? Isn't that critical to the way we need to do business? Maybe we need some clarity.

Clarity. It's amazing how sometimes the obvious can be so vague. Recently, I was engaged with a large financial services client who was evaluating what technologies to deploy enterprisewide. During one of our planning sessions, a debate ensued about how important EDM is and if it should be foundational to the new systems architecture.

Several committee members were in a fog about what DM does and what makes it different from Microsoft File Manager a k a Windows Explorer. Some were proponents of DM and felt it was malfeasant to deploy DM without a strategy mapped to the enterprise information systems strategy. Others, who wanted sovereignty over their stovepipe fiefdom, preferred to take the low road, buy a cheap scanner and some software and just do imaging (store and retrieve).

As the debate escalated, the CEO, who had been surprisingly quiet to that point, left the room almost unnoticed. As a team member was about to declare full-scale verbal assault on his opponents, the CEO stepped back into the room, stood at the head of the table and cleared his throat. As all eyes shot to him, the CEO dropped a 3M Post-it-covered manila folder stuffed with several hundred paper documents; a folded, coffee-stained greenbar report; a 3.5-in. diskette and some Polaroids of an accident investigation, onto the table with a thud.

He broke the silence with the question, "If anyone can show me a single thing that we do as a company that doesn't touch these pieces of information, then speak up; otherwise, we need DM just like we need E-mail. Meeting adjourned." Instant clarity. Everyone around the table now knew what DM does, its value and that they needed it.

The evolution of computing technology has dramatically changed the way we work, interact and think. We are no longer able to simply throw everything into a file folder and pack it around. Since we are in the throes of evolution, we are further burdened to manage multiple repositories of information that represent the legacies and try to blend them functionally with the electronic repositories of the future. Without DM we have pockets of information with no affinity for organization, version, origin, creation or disposition.

More importantly it is not just about the technology, it is about a discipline. To use those technologies effectively to bridge the abyss between the legacy of paper, microfilm and archived transaction data, we must have well-developed disciplines to address many issues. Electronic and traditional records management skills, indexing schemas, information retention and utilization policies that cover everything from data capture to printing must be developed, disseminated and deployed in tandem with technology.

EDM assumes compound data architecture by design, and elements of the CDA can be physical or electronic. Thus, the need to manage multiple entities is resolved. Imagine a commercial lending environment where multiple electronic and source documents are being managed. However, entities such as negotiable being held in collateral must be physically managed as well. A well-designed EDM system could allow one to gain the reference value of a negotiable via an image managed by the system, while it also manages the physical domain in the same CDA structure.

In that case, DM as enterprise infrastructure becomes the bridge to carry us from legacy to future state. DM is more foundational than imaging, OCR/ICR, full-text retrieval, E-forms, workflow or even data warehousing. It is the point of convergence for KM to evolve into being the binder layer of architecture connecting applications to data and process. E-mail was once considered to be non-infrastructure. It is now as foundational as the slab underneath my house.

As the Blues scored their last goal of the game, I asked Jeff if he shared my opinion regarding the importance of DM. As the goal buzzer sounded, Jeff simply smiled and said, "I'm counting on it."

Mother always said, "Clarity is such a simple thing.


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