A Funny IA Thing Happened on the Way to Consensus…

July 4, 2014

I’ve wondered for a long time why intranets and information / knowledge management solutions are always built from the ground up as ‘start from scratch’ projects. After all, if you stand back and look at organisations, they each have similar high-level capabilities. Each has operations, corporate services, marketing, service and product development, and finance & procurement functions.

I’ve long held the view that ‘process is king’. As an Information Management professional, I believe all content is produced by business processes intended for the support or consumption by other processes. Given that, I also believe information architecture should be process-centric.

I recently ran a workshop called Process-centric Information Architecture and Governance (which can be seen on SlideShare here). In the workshop, after taking participants through the a high level, process-centric information architecture, I asked them to do a group exercise. The exercise involved them developing a high level capability model which could be used as the basis of an information architecture for their organisations.

Each of the groups had participants from at least three organisations. Organisations ranged across government and the private sector, mainly large, with participants primarily being Information Managers.

After 15 minutes, I asked a representative from each group to stand up and explain their model, after which I asked a couple of questions:

  • Did each group member believe their model could be used as the basis for a capability-based portal for their intranet?
  • Of the three models (three groups), which did they feel was the best for their organisation?

Each group member believed strongly:

  • Their model could be used
  • Their model was the best of the three

The take-aways from the exercise are:

  • High level information architecture CAN be applicable across organisations. (If there are no widely accepted models used today, this doesn’t mean it won’t come about tomorrow.)
  • Collaborative, inclusive decision making results in strong and committed ownership, and a shared vision. This is why it’s important to build high-level models in consultation with your key stakeholders, and bring them along on the journey

On a final note for this blog article, I’d like to say how impressed I was with the participants in my workshop. They listened with an open mind, thought about the challenges I presented them with, and each contributed well. In this game there are no answers or models which are ‘rightest’. The key thing of importance is that you have a thought through model you can explain to others.


Common Characteristics of Highly Successful ECM / KM Projects

July 4, 2012


Several years ago I did a large survey of content and knowledge management projects. The aim was to understand what led some projects to succeed and others to miss the mark. The survey covered more than 80 organisations.

There were indeed some common factors, and even a decade later, the factors remain as relevant today as they were originally. While good governance is critical, the nature of a project is also important. Projects which aim to improve the effectiveness of an organisation’s processes generally achieve more than projects aiming at improving efficiency.

A couple of key differences stand out. A decade ago, there were few enterprise-wide ECM / KM projects, whereas today there are few which are not. A decade ago most projects targeted a set of processes, and in general had clearly spelled out, process-related goals. If you read my blogs, you’ll see I have a strong view that information architecture should be based around business processes and organisational strategy. I believe that enterprise-wide implementations have contributed to a focus on generic ‘content’ at the expense of processes, leading consequently to difficulty in writing a business case and measuring success. Mind you, it’s hard to imagine in today’s environment organisations NOT using their ECM in each and every one of these process groups.

The saying ‘content is king’, often heard from ECM vendors, misses the mark. Process is really the king. Its our business processes which develop and deliver products and services – and for that matter drive our expenses. All content results from processes, designed as input or support for other processes.

The article below is extracted from a larger paper I wrote as the keynote for a marketing technology conference in Taipei. If anyone would like a copy I am happy to email it through.

How to Make Content and Knowledge Management Succeed

The subject of content and knowledge management covers a broad area and requires special skills and planning. What do we need to do to succeed? Let us look at some lessons from a survey of 83 companies that looked at the focus of effort and outcomes resulting from 93 separate content and knowledge management projects.

The projects were classified as high-, medium- and low-impact projects based on realised benefits, usage trends and levels of enthusiasm amongst the user communities. Each of the projects was linked to a strategically important activity involving the re-use of information.

More than two-thirds of the high-impact projects related to production, development or customer service, as shown in the table below.



Production   Development


Customer   Service


Competitive   Intelligence/Strategic Planning




Sales   Processes


Project   Management


Intellectual   Capital Management


Table 1: Application of High Performing Projects

 Of the overall projects, 65% were associated with revenue generation or process quality improvement. 35% were primarily for cost reduction. However of the high performance projects only 5% were associated with cost reduction.

A number of key characteristics were common amongst the successful projects.

Plan Your Approach

76% of the high-impact projects had a detailed strategy for reaching their goal. By comparison only 13% of low-impact projects had a detailed strategy. Content and knowledge management is a means not an end, and must have a well-defined business goal and supporting strategy.

Organise Your Content

Information must be capable of being found and being understood. Merely storing it in a database holds little value. You must be capable of creating paths through the information via structured information hierarchies, key word searches and high level information about the information (metadata).

The companies that are most effective at organising and transferring information also ensure that the key individuals who know the subject matter are identified (termed knowledge gatekeepers), and that references are available to assist consumers of the information follow up with next steps.

Invest in Content Maintenance

84% of the high-performance projects provided for investment in ongoing content maintenance. Two kinds of roles were commonly defined: Those who had skills to extract and organise the content (librarian roles); and the business experts who created or determined what went into the content.

Plan for Change

If you change your process you must plan for it. Measures vary depending on the focus of the information and include user training, usage promotion and ensuring that the community understands what is in it for them.

Of the low-impact projects, none included change management measures.

In addition to the above I recommend strongly that any tools you choose should also give you metrics allowing you to measure how the systems and information are used. Remember that usage patterns will change over time – and if they don’t you are in trouble!

Elements of an Intra / Extra / Internet Governance Plan

November 1, 2011

In my previous occasional posts I’ve talked about important success factors in getting the most business benefit from Content Management System based applications. Intranets, Internets, extranets and ultranets (ie. an integrated fusion of knowledge management systems) aside, you can happily build line of business solutions using CMS, especially using content management, forms and workflow. Even better with metrics and reporting. I’ll expand on that in a future blog.

Factors contributing to success (and for that matter issues and risks to be overcome) should be part of a Governance Plan. Your Governance Strategy should cover two main parts: Implementation and operation (ie post-implementation).

The main elements of a Governance Strategy / Plan are shown below:

Main components of a content management system implementation and governance plan

Generic model for governance of ECM / CMS based solutions

We have developed a detailed Governance Plan, which includes many templated resources, and found this invaluable as a starting point for new projects or projects which are in strife. Don’t get too hung up that is says SharePoint – the model is generic and can be applied to any enterprise content management project.

There are many different variations of governance plans, and each project / organisation will have differing needs. It’s important that each element is considered.

One common characteristic of content management projects, far more so than for other IT solutions, is that you find yourself in a constant state of discovery. Just about every day you will find ideas for new applications of benefit in support of business processes. You can’t do them all at once, but it’s important not to lose track of these ideas, and to have an evaluation process that assesses ideas and turns them into reality. In the Governance model above, this is covered under the Benefits Realisation Strategy.

In my experience, it’s rare to see much if any attention paid to a Benefits Realisation strategy, or to have it as a formal part of an ECM project. But like most things, if you don’t actively manage benefits, then you’ll rarely fulfil them. Aspects of a Benefits Realisation Strategy include: Establishment of a Benefits Register; mechanisms to gather feedback and ideas; an assessment and approval process; funding; reporting and post-implementatino review.

At one client, the approval process was tied into general project approval and funding processes, owned by the Finance department. If an idea was assessed as meeting or exceeding a threshold value then it was mandatory to formally consider it, and if approved, funding was automatically assigned.

Intranet / Solution Sponsors and Governance

June 6, 2011

This week I have had meetings with a number of clients where the issue of governance has been a major topic. Two in particular come to mind, and which I would like to look at in this blog article. After comparing and contrasting their situation, I’d like to invite you to comment on which you think will be more successful. I’d also like to pose the question about what level in an organisation you need to have sponsorship and authority.

At the outset, I include not just intranet and information management solutions in general, but line of business or point solutions built on ECM technologies, exposed through your intranet. True ECM platforms provide content management, workflow, forms, and reporting, and these are the building blocks of line of business solutions.

Both of these clients are at the initial stages of implementation and planning.

The first of my clients has an admirable grasp of the complexities of information management. They understand that business content is in a constant state of flux, and that the framework needs to encompass relatively static content (eg. policies and procedures) but also the transient content generated by collaboration. They understand the importance of classification and taxonomy, of communicating the corporate models across business units, and ensuring subject matter experts are responsible for managing their part of the corporate taxonomy. They understand that information has a lifecycle, and are committed to information management policies that enforce retention where appropriate and automate the review or deletion of information after its useful life has passed. These are major parts of an information management or governance framework.

The second of my clients understands that governance is important. They don’t yet have a picture of what governance means in any detail. They don’t understand the roles which will be involved, or how it will be done. They are learning along the way. They understand that it’s very important to have senior sponsorship, which they have achieved in a state of management flux, and an inclusive process which brings departmentally based stakeholders into the process.

Both are using the same ECM solution – in this case SharePoint – not that the specific technology is particularly relevant.

Which of these projects is going to be successful? This is what I would like any readers of this blog to think about.

This is a bit a of trick question. It’s the start of the journey for both organisations. I sincerely hope both will be successful. In the former, it’s a bottom up approach, driven by IT. In the second, it’s a business driven approach driven from senior level with substantial pressure for a short delivery timeframe, but understanding that it’s strategically important to get it right.

By now there should be some alarm bells ringing on both sides.

I believe client #1 has the best approach for maxiumum potential outcome, but the least chance of achieving it. Further, I think they have the chance  of it being a resounding failure. Client #2 I assess as having a good chance of achieving a moderate success. But at best, they will fall far short of what they could achieve as far as business benefit. I doubt this will be an issue – because they will be blind to what they could have achieved.

Client #1 has no business authority to impose the processes and responsibiities needed for success. IT will need to negotiate with each business unit and get their agreement to adhere to a common approach and invest the cost of departmental staff and time. They have three chances of success – a) fat chance b) pushing it uphill c) in a month of Sundays. Having no effective ability to go out and explain or communicate things to the business is the primary issue. They probably have grossly insufficient budget to do so. Having a senior sponsor is not an automatic fix for these issues – but having one lessens the difficulty and increases the chance of cooperation of stakeholders.

Client #2 doesn’t know what they need to do to make their initiative successful. But they’re willing to learn and adapt along the way. Most importantly, they have ownership and authority to impose directions, ensuring consistent adoption. What they are missing is an understanding of how best the technology can be used to support business processes. Nontheless, they will get some sort of value and business benefits from their initiative.

In these 2 clients there are some absolutely critical truths to be learned. In order of importance:

  • You need executive sponsorship at the lowest level which has authority to impose a mandate and authorise change across the business units affected
  • You need to have budget for training, communications, organisational change management
  • You need to understand what the ECM / technology solution can be made to do to realise business benefits, and ensure this knowledge / skill is spread through the organisation

What does this mean? Let’s take each of these points briefly in turn.


When you implement an intranet or a line of business solution integrated with your intranet it will cover a number of business units.  Line of business solutions are inherently workflow-based, and hence span numerous business units. Think of any business process, and then those who are its participants from start to finish. You’ll have:

  • some initiation trigger or event
  • a need to formalise this into a request – typically then ready for entry via a form
  • maybe an approval from a manager to authorise the request, review the request for completeness, or assign action
  • passing on to the next person for some sort of processing in the next step. Complex workflows may have branching based on conditions and / or parallel processing – as many as required to complete the process
  • final approval – in itself potentially automated
  • execution and / or follow up

In addition, you need to identify metrics, gather them, and report on them both to particpants and management in some sort of consolidated manner. The easy part is the FAQs, policies and procedures and other support content.

Each step typically goes to a different team or business unit. Workflow rarely travels up and down an organisation chart – it traverses organisation structures.

For acceptance of your solution, you either need the approval and buy-in from each of the business unit managers involved , or approval and buy-in of a senior management level executive who has authority which spans each of these business units.

Communications, Organisational Change Management and Training

Setting expectation in those affected by change, and obtaining their agreement that change contributes to some sort of positive and necessary outcome, is critical for acceptance of change.

It doesn’t mean that people have to be happy with change – although this is ideally what we seek to achieve. Some sorts of change are inherently painful, and come about because they are necessary and unavoidable. Thankfully this is not the case in the majority of instances.

However what is critical irrespective of the nature of change is:

  • Telling people it’s coming, what the change will entail, why it will be done and the expected outcomes, when it will happen, what you expect people to do, and how people will be given the information / skills to do it
  • Doing this via a range of communication measures: executive briefings, email messages, posters, online communications
  • Reiteration of the first point again – progress reports
  • Training
  • Constant support in the immediate lead up to, during, and after cutover
  • Ability to report, resolve and communicate the resolution of issues

All this needs to continue until the new skills or behaviours are reinforced and become business-as-usual practice. All of which takes considerable time, expense and hence budget. The key practitioners in making this work are HR and Communications specialists, working in conjunction with technical subject matter experts and business / process analysts.

Understand What ECM Technology Can Be Made to Do

User-centred design is one of the greatest crutches ever invented. Engaging people and seeking feedback during the development process is a different thing. Basing design largely on user input will result in small incremental change based on what they are currently familiar with or experiencing – and side stepping inherently valuable tools in your ECM toolkit.

When people are used to the horse and buggy, they are not going to be able to even conceive what you can do with a motor powered, electrically enabled vehicle – or the types of subsystems and their maintenance required to keep them running.

It’s a huge challenge. Very few people undersatand what a moderm Enterprise Content Management system can be made to do – and without this udnerstanding, the benefits not identified and realised are substantial.

Experience tells me that a business-focussed, business and process analyst who understands what ECM technology can be made to do (as opposed to having to know the nuts and bolts of how it’s done) is a critical role. Equally crtiical is the necessity of ensuring these skills are passed through the organisation, and that this becomes part of the planning and governance framework.

So let’s hope both clients perceive the holes in their respective projects and find ways to plug them.

Content roadmap – the mix of social (user generated) and editorial content

October 20, 2010

I have recently seen opinions about the relevance and importance of the extremes between web 2.0 / user generated content (UGC) and editorial content. There are vigorous proponents at each extreme – and in the middle.

I sit firmly in the middle, especally when you are talking about corporate sites or intranets. As with most things in life the truth is somehwere in the middle between extremes.

Policies, procedures, product information, facts, corporate position and philosophy are never going to be generated through social media or user generated content. UGC can certaintly influence corporate thinking. Comments and observations about products and services are vital for innovation and ongoing improvement, and can provide fresh ways of thinking. UGC can shed valuable light about how brands and products / services are perceived / received by their market, be it internal within an organisation or in a pubic arena.

How you treat and manage each type of content needs to fall under a governance model and philosophy for your information architecture and the associated information management processes. Factual information comes from the ‘inside’, ie. from a managed, authoritative  source, such as a product management, process management or communications group. Observations, comments and discussion comes from interested, typically consumer groups ie. from the ‘outside’. The inside group needs to listen to the outside group – there are always wisdoms to be heeded. These wisdoms  will fall into 3 main categories:

* observations (for better or worse) about the products and services you are offering – and these can be valuable to heed for product or service improvement / innovation
* shared experience – the ‘truth’ about the product or service based on experience from your consumers, and information filling the gaps in what you are providing
* pure subjective / incorrect opinion and intentionally malicious information – usually coming from people with a barrow of some kind to push

To help manage each type of content you need a model and set of management / governance procedures and practices. It really doesn’t matter how this is structured – the most important thing is that you develop a cogent model which can be easily communicated to your stakeholders. Having said that, people usually have difficulty developing and communicating models.

The diagram below presents a model showing how inside and outside information can be categorised and relates to each other. Processes for approval, review and management of each type of content will be similar within the groupings.

Model of editorial social information types

Model of editorial social information types

Processes and insights are the key focus of content and what people want from knowledge management systems, when considering unstructured content.

Process content provides ‘how to / when to’ type content and might be procedures, flowcharts, FAQ etc. It also covers automation such as forms and workflow. Consumers of this content come from all parts of the organisation and may include external participants

Performance content relates to reports and analysis. It may include, or provide access to, structured information such as dashboards, plus explanatory content which interprets and explains performance data (depending on the capability of the ECM). Consumers of performance data are typically in an internal managerial role.

Performance content relates directly back to metrics relating to key organisational processes, for example, sales processes, manufacturing processes. If exposed externally you may be providing data about service or fulfilment levels.

Products and services are the outcome of processes. Within an organisation, people generally know about products and services, and are more concerned with process related content.

Organisational information gives an operating context for people’s responsibilities and roles. People are responsible not for the products and services of an organisation, but the processes associated with their design, development, production, storage, and delivery. Organistional information is important both for internal (intranet) and public (internet) use but will have different degrees of detail and presentation.

An intranet should provide people with training and development tools. Training is predominantly process execution related, and about the acquisition of skills and knowledge in order to manage processes and the people responsible for their execution. Similar information is provided externally but more in the nature of FAQ, service levels or simplified / high level process summaries.

Surrounding this formal, more easily managed content are less formal processes for collaboration and communication. All such content is transient, and about events, occurrences and questions which arise in the course of doing something – in other words, participating in processes.

Providing good communication and collaboration tools makes processes more effective and efficient. Problems can be resolved before they become issues, and advantages can be taken to improve aspects of processes in train.

It becomes critical to try and capture observations and ideas from people where they can improve processes, products, services and the way the organisation works.

These observations lead to continuous improvement and innovation. Throughout an intranet and its associated tools, an easy and consistent way of capturing observations and these wisdoms should be found, together with processes for assessment and incorporation.

Conversely, if misinformation is being published you need processes to track, respond and report.

The achievement of such a structure and its operation in practice is a key governance responsibility of a strategic oversight group or committee.

How important is W3C WCAG Accessibility to your organisation (short survey)

July 16, 2010

In Australia, the federal government has just adopted W3C WCAG 2.0 and announced a transition timetable.

I’d like to understand how important organisations rate accessibility, if it’s policy, and current or future plans.

I have created a short survey with 7 questions at Click here to take survey, which will take less than a minute to take.

Alternately, just respond to this discussion and let us know if you are or will be compliant, or if it’s not on your radar.

I’d also be interested in the experiences of those of you who have been involved in developing accessibility compliant sites, and any tips or comments you have.

I’ll consolidate and pubish summary results in a couple of weeks.


Information architecture design philosophy

April 12, 2010

General Design for Information Architectures Relating to Intranet and Knowledge Management Systems

There are many possible organisation structures and information architectures for an Intranet or knowledge management system. The easiest to envisage and explain is based on an organisation’s structure, and key processes within each organisation unit.

However organisation structures change. In some cases frequently, and reorganisations tend to render large slabs of content out of date or incorrectly organised.

A more valuable approach is to structure and organise content around key processes and roles within the organisation, and the information people need to work effectively with those processes. The goals and responsibility briefs of people are geared towards effective delivery of an organisations products and services – all of which is process related.

In developing an information architecture and knowledge management solutions, an organisation should consider the 9 P’s of knowledge management[1]:

  • Philosophies (strategic alignment with organisational goals)
  • Presentation and branding (style)
  • Products
  • Processes
  • People and organisation
  • Performance measurement and reporting
  • Participants (consumers, providers, administrators)
  • Patrons (senior executive committee, sponsors, and content owners)
  • Protection (information security, veracity, and intellectual property)

Expanding on these points:

Philosophy and Presentation

  • Has visible alignment with organisational objectives
  • Has clear, detailed and (generally) measurable objectives
  • Describes a clear philosophy and vision about the approach towards clients, products and processes
  • Is linked to organisational culture
  • It’s important that you consciously draw the bounds to limit scope to what can realistically be delivered in up to 90 day blocks…
  • …whilst providing a platform and architecture which supports future growth and evolution

Products, Process, and Performance

  • Products (and services) are what you sell and earn you money[2]
    • The usual marketing ‘P’s and ‘C’s always apply[3]
    • Your online channel must dovetail into programs for your other channels
  • But process is King
    • Every part of service or product delivery is part of some business process
    • Every product has a lifecycle…which is a managed via product lifecycle processes
    • Each client engagement is part of a broader process
    • Processes are collections of events
    • Your content should be process and event oriented
    • Consider what events trigger change – it’s change which invalidates content. not time, although it’s much easier to schedule time based content reviews as opposed to building an event model to identify and trigger content review and update
    • It should model customer engagement and conversations
  • Part of the skill in developing process-centric content is structuring it in such as way as to promote targeted performance outcomes – this means understanding relevant performance measures for aspects such as service delivery and quality

People and Patrons

  • Processes must be people and outcome oriented
  • People who are engaged are more likely to be satisfied
  • People who are engaged and satisfied become patrons and sponsors (i.e. champions)
  • Keys to engagement with people are:
    • Conversations should always be two-way
    • Find where to put your clients and people in the driver’s seat as decision makers – this devolves effort and reduces bottlenecks
    • Every transaction yields an opportunity to gather feedback
    • Feedback is a key component of improvement and innovation
  • People engage with processes by virtue of:
    • Skills
    • Knowledge
    • Their role (and associated responsibilities)