Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS 2007) merges workflow, search and collaboration into one enterprise-wide information management platform. In this environment, does it make sense for the professions of records management (RM) knowledge management (KM) and information management (IM) to continue to work independently in their niche roles?
Critics claim that SharePoint is the perfect information management platform. Similar claims were made for electronic document and records management (EDRM) systems - that they could manage all manner of unstructured information. Records managers and information scientists are sceptical.
In April, TFPL, consultants and recruiters in knowledge and information management (KIM), ran SharePoint summit to showcase practical case studies from the enterprise information management (IM) perspective. There were public and private sector CIOs and CKOs in attendance, as well as records managers, information scientists and even corporate communications professionals.
Case studies revealed that there is an increasing demand for people with the skills in IM functions to work together to structure data and to communicate the importance of this to the business and to software providers, before any software implementation. A Forrester report said MOSS 2007’s missing functionality was its lack of classification, taxonomy and metadata management to integrate information. There is a range of industrial strength back end systems emerging from third parties to provide the missing information management functionality.
Descent into information anarchy
RM is all about filing and workflow, KM enables corporate collaboration, IM professionals add metadata and understand search and retrieval. Technologists want to build and deliver great systems. And what about end users? They don't want to hear about document retention policies or metadata, they just want to get on with their own jobs. But everyone speaks a different language and 70 per cent of external consultancy time is spent translating all those different languages. But without structure and consistency behind data in SharePoint, or indeed any platform, enterprise information management can descend into anarchy. So what is to be done?
The value of intermediaries
Using SharePoint, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) Intranet and Collaboration Project employed a joined-up approach using a number of different professionals, including communications professionals. John Quinn was the project's executive. Quinn, now back at the Department of Children, Schools and Families as chief knowledge officer, said the crucial factor in the project's success was having e-communications, information services, FoI and records management departments all represented on the project board.
They acted as intermediaries to influence both the approved IT suppliers, Fujitsu, and the business. Alex Castillo-Soto, head of e-communications for the LSC, who worked closely with John Quinn on the project, said: "SharePoint is the first product that allows information scientists, record managers and e-comms professionals to use one product to bring together all their skills to develop a framework for how end users use this product."
The e-comms team engaged with the end users of team sites in the right language, asking them what they wanted their sites to be called and then helping them to understand the importance of adding metadata for themselves. With skilled super-users (information scientists) adding the metadata, this approach meant little or no training was needed.
Harvesting records at Defra – RM in action
Roger Smethurst, head of information and records management at Defra, customised the router that moves documents from a team site to a records site for retention. The MOSS 2007 out-of-the-box solution moves the required document, but leaves a copy on the team site, causing problems of duplication and confusion over which is the official version. The customised router means that when a document is moved, only a link is left behind on the team site, but no actual copy of the document.
This means that they can still access the document but that it is the records copy. The National Archives approved this approach. Smethurst demonstrated his customisation to Microsoft developers at the Seattle SharePoint conference and they are adding this functionality to the next version of SharePoint.
Darren Collins, practice lead at Hitachi Consulting, says the importance of the growing discipline of information diagnostics in the migration from legacy systems to SharePoint. With many clients deleting up to 50% of their data due to duplication, his key message was content rationalisation and organisation before migration into SharePoint.
Adrian Dale, TFPL associate consultant says the importance of bringing professional disciplines together cannot be under estimated. The need for CIOs who aren’t pure technologists but who look at the business through a pair of information spectacles - at workflow, information architecture and knowledge sharing is vital. "If you chuck SharePoint at the organisation cottage-industry style, allowing team sites to set up their own repositories and their own policies, you will get the mother of all messes."