Avant-Garde Business

Avant-Garde Business

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Avant-Garde Business

“One day you are in, and the next you are out.”
-Heidi Klum, Project Runway

To be Avant-Garde is to be ahead of the curve. For artists, to be Avant-Garde is to produce pieces of art that turn existing norms on their ear. The art Avant-Garde artists produce is often experimental and self-referential in nature. Often, they are scathing critiques of the very world they are a part of, like Duchamp’s Urinal, a piece so influential that it is still being emulated 100 years later. The Urinal, also known as The Fountain, challenged traditional ideas of what constitutes a work of art by raising the following questions: What is art? Is art anything that conjures an emotional response, or are there certain immutable principles of craftsmanship and expression that must be adhered to for any work to be considered art? If so, who decides the standards for artistic expression?

This single work was so disruptive that the world of high art still has no definitive answer to these questions. In the century since Duchamp there has been an array of artists who have created pieces which are confusing, disturbing or downright unpleasant to the casual observer. Duchamp’s impact can even be observed in other creative fields like fashion, music, literature, and film.

High Art is a very unique industry. It is an industry where branding (the artist’s name) is of utmost importance. A painting by van Goh is infinitely more valuable than a painting by Joe Schmo. Why? Because the brand is the product, which is what Duchamp’s Urinal exposed.

What Can Businesses Learn from the Urinal?

The lesson is that conventional ways of thinking need to be challenged regularly and perspectives need to be altered. There is great potential in all things as long as they are re-contextualized so that they can remain relevant and valuable. An Avant-Garde business is one that fosters disruptive ideas. These ideas can often seem like obvious conclusions, but are only obvious in retrospect. For example, the division of labor, a notion so obvious and routine to us now, but at one time was completely revolutionary.

Organizations show their Avant-Garde approach by what they invest in. Right now, all large organizations are working on digital transformation initiatives. To be on the cutting edge, you must know where the trendsetters are focused. Here are the major areas of focus right now:

  1. APIs
  2. Reusable Software Assets
  3. More Efficient Software Development


API is the shorthand for Application Program Interface. In English, it is a digital tool that businesses use to expose their services, content or resources1 and an API can take on many forms. There are four main benefits of APIs:

  1. Creating new sources of revenue or reviving existing ones
  2. Delivering wider reach
  3. Fostering and leveraging external innovation
  4. Increasing internal efficiency

Any business that wishes to modernize needs to invest in APIs on some level. Most large institutions have already made this investment; in fact a quarter of all corporate revenue comes from APIs and API-related implementation2. These forward-thinking institutions that have developed and implemented APIs into their operations are now faced with another nagging and costly problem. It is problem of Point-to-Point Integration.

Point-to-Point Integration

Point-to-Point Integration is the bane of any institution’s IT Department. To conceptualize the problem, think of an organization as a big comfy bed. The organization’s different applications and APIs are the quilt. The trouble is more and more people keep jumping into the bed. These people in the bed represent all the enterprise data and content that the organization is accumulating.

Over time, the quilt has become clumpy and uneven because it needs to cover all these new people in the bed. In order to cover everyone, more down is continuously being added and more patches are being stitched onto the quilt. Point-to-Point Integration is the sewing together of all these different patches. As new software emerges, it gets added as a new patch. As the organization grows, it will need to update their technological capabilities and security – those patches get added, too. Sometimes old patches get stitched over by new ones, and sometimes the old ones get ripped out entirely. “Need another few more patches over here… Oops! Busted a stitch over there.” All this quilt maintenance makes it lose its shape. The quilt ends up looking completely different from the original, and it’s not as warm as it once was.

Point-to-Point Integration is the custom coding of Applications & APIs so different internal and external Applications and APIs can remain connected. Smaller organizations and start-ups likely do not have this problem, or, if they do it’s to a lesser degree. For larger firms that are collecting more and more data and need to leverage this information effectively in order to stay competitive, it’s becoming unsustainable. The application software of these firms was not intended to handle the complexity of their current operations, so IT Departments are having a hard time trying to bring them to scale. Most large organizations spend almost quarter of their IT budgets just on Point-to-Point Integration3. Basically, the infrastructure is being overtaxed and is in a constant state of repair. At what point does it make sense to tear up the quilt and start fresh?

85% of IT Decisionmakers feel Point-to-Point Integration must die in the next five years4. Here the main problems with Point-to-Point Integration:

  1. Takes too much time and resources
  2. It’s difficult to deploy across cloud and on-premise
  3. Apps are at different levels of functionality and serve different purposes5

Reusable Software Assets

Only 29% of companies have been able to integrate their apps6. This means that 71% of organizations are in a constant state of disrepair. Reusable software assets may be the way to solve this. Rather than being programmed as stand-alone features, an institution’s APIs will be developed as themes or templates. The software won’t be designed to serve one purpose. Instead, the software will be designed to be multifaceted. This API software may become generalized instead of specialized in nature, with precise add-on features available for certain departments in an organization. This is so software assets can be packaged and distributed freely throughout the organization in a drag and drop model for easy implementation with more widespread functionality.

Interchangeable parts in manufacturing and mass production was another Avant-Garde idea that seems obvious to all of us now. Mass production in the 19th Century came about because of the machine-tool industry and the ability to produce identical parts at a wide scale. IT Departments are acting as independent artisans did hundreds of years ago, building everything from scratch and trying to maintain each software asset with individual attention7. If all the APIs are built identically and to the same standards, then the final product will be identical and all levels of the organization will have the same level of quality. The tools have changed, but the idea is the same.

Reusable Software Assets will likely transform IT Departments from being the developers and problem solvers into becoming more of an educational or advisory department that teaches users how to construct and implement these ready-made software solutions themselves in order to perform their duties more effectively. Most of the necessary assets will have already been created, and it will be the job of the various departments to figure out, with the help of IT, how to mix and match the available resources and use them effectively. In other words, each department will have its own customizable digital workspaces.

More Efficient Software Development

To create these reusable software assets, there needs to be more efficient development. Right now, there is a heavy burden being dropped on IT Departments. The number of projects that organizations gave to their IT Departments last year grew by 27% from the year before. Two-thirds of IT professionals admit that they simply cannot deliver on all of these projects8.

Another issue is that IT Departments are trying to solve problems without knowing all of the variables. This is because of Shadow IT, which is the term for projects that are managed outside of the organization and without the knowledge of the internal IT Department. 40% of all IT spending is on Shadow IT9 which adds to the headaches of Point-to-Point Integration. Everyone is using different apps, many of which haven’t been approved, all with different capabilities, making it impossible to implement a uniform system across all business channels.

In order to get everyone on the same page, legacy management systems and security systems need to be re-developed instead of simply being patched over. An organization needs to develop software that utilizes the capabilities of consumer facing file-sharing apps, social media, and collaboration tools that can also be integrated with existing enterprise SaaS apps. They need to be cloud visible while also meeting all security and regulatory standards. This is no small task, but this is what organizations need to invest in for the future, and this is what an Avant-Garde Business should be working towards.

Bend But Don't Break: Modern Business Characteristics

Bend but Don’t Break: Modern Business Characteristics

By | Digital Teansformation, IIM, Modernize | No Comments


By now you’ve probably heard of the Digital Transformation, or Digitalization, that is taking place across all industries and business verticals. This refers to how firms are updating their business models to handle their Digital Assets, Digital Usage and Digital Workforce. It is an absolutely crucial undertaking for any enterprise’s survival.

Start-Ups are more agile and can more easily adopt new technologies in the beginning stages. Large organizations are dedicating more and more resources to digitalize retroactively, but it is unclear if these resources are allocated properly. Mid-sized companies are stuck with the difficult task of determining when to modernize and, more importantly, how to modernize. You can read more about this here.

Goals of Digitalization

Retroactive Digitalization for organizations with legacy systems in place is no small task. It requires careful planning and implementation. We know that the factors Firm Size, Complexity of Operations, Knowledge Intensity and Threat of Competition push organizations toward Digitalization1; but what are the goals of Digitalization?

According to the MuleSoft Connectivity Benchmark Report, these are the main goals of Digitalization:

  1. Increase IT’s operational efficiency
  2. Improve customer experience
  3. Increase business efficiency

The motivations to modernize may vary from industry to industry, but generally the objective is to automate redundant tasks and lower costs of operations. The MuleSoft report can be downloaded in its entirety here.

What Holds Organizations Back?

There are eight major obstacles that prevent Digitalization:

  1. Time Constraints
  2. Business & IT Misalignment
  3. Legacy Infrastructure & Systems
  4. Integrating Siloed Apps & Data
  5. Lack of Skillset and Experience within existing IT teams
  6. Risk Management Compliance and/or Legal Implications
  7. Company Culture & Mindset
  8. Hiring and retaining the IT team2

These problems may seem like separate issues at first glance, but they are all symptoms of the same fundamental problem which is the lack of a holistic approach to business models and technological operations.

Uh-oh… the “H” word. When you hear the word “holistic” you may think of spirit crystals, chimes, incense, and new age cure-alls. If this is the case, please withhold your skepticism momentarily.

Modern Business Characteristics

Holistic is the simple way of saying that all companies are now tech companies. Can you think of a single successful organization that doesn’t rely heavily on modern technological breakthroughs for their day-to-day to operations? This is why it is important to think of IT and business procedures as inseparable. If you conceptualize a business as the human body, Information Technology is like the central nervous system – it is that important for getting from A to B.

Hierarchical separation is still necessary in the modern holistic business approach. In order to operate effectively, the division of labor based on skillset is also necessary – managers manage, sellers sell, etc. – but the old idea of divide and conquer is no longer sustainable. In fact, modernized business approaches will allow employers to place their employees in the best positions, thereby maximizing their talents and accurately measuring their productivity. It is important for mangers to understand the macro technological concepts they are leveraging, but the IT Department should still handle the nuts and bolts. Open communication channels are more important than ever because of the ever-increasing speed of operations and the rate of digital disruption occurring within industries. The idea that departments should be separated and have limited interaction is going away, which can be seen with the widespread adoption of open workspaces by start-ups.

Limited interaction is also disappearing externally, with Omni-Channel customer experience. This refers to the sales & marketing approach which gives customers different product entry points (mobile, desktop, tablet, in-store) to provide a single engagement experience across all levels of a brand3. It has entirely changed how customers interact with a brand, thus changing distribution channels. Merely by interacting with the brands, consumers are imparting valuable buying behaviors and preferential data. This imparted data can enhance the buying experience and create a totally customized web experience, one with targeted messaging and unique individual offers based on a myriad of measurables. The idea is to make the buying of a product as seamless as possible for the user. Think Seamless.

Connectivity and communication are key. A modern organization should have all its lines of business working together. This means that a business should work in sync with the industry at large, have fluid and agile internal operations, as well as coordinating with adjacent business categories. On top of that, they should have active relationships with their customers.

Modern Businesses should adopt these characteristics:

  1. Reactive and Decisive
  2. Open and Communicative
  3. Disruptive and Aggressive

Bend but Don’t Break

Sports analogies are always helpful when explaining attitudes and strategies. Football fans will know that the game today seems to be more skewed toward offense than it has been in the past. High-scoring offenses that can maximize their possessions have had the most success in recent years. For instance, there were 1,151 yards of total offense in the Super Bowl last year, more than 200 yards more than any previous Super Bowl game4. Defense has become something of an afterthought.

By nature, offense in football is very structured. Even offensive schemes can be extremely creative, it’s really all about execution. Offenses often start the game with all the plays of the first series being scripted. On any given play the quarterback goes through his progressions, “If the first option is covered, I’ll go here. If the second option is also covered, I’ll check down to here, etc.” The line and backs have their protections laid out, and receivers have their routes mapped. There is not much wiggle room for anyone unless a play breaks down, but in general the more organized and buttoned up an offense is the better.

Conversely, defense is all about observation and opportunity. Players on the field need to coordinate with one another at all times, passing off responsibilities from player to player. Any lapse in communication could lead to a breakdown and a big play for the offense. Decisiveness is key, and a split second of doubt or uncertainty will cost the defenders dearly. The players have to make their reads and go. There’s no time for second-guessing.

There needs to be a steady, controlled aggression. If a player is too frenzied, he’ll over pursue. If he’s too cautious, he’ll be left in the dust. “When should I contain, when should I drop back, when should I press, when should I blitz?” These things all vary from play to play and need to become intuitive, just like executing tackles or pursuit angles. Most defenses have a Bend but Don’t Break mentality, meaning they will not crumble if the opponent advances on them because they are constantly adjusting to what the offense is trying to do.

What does this have to do with modernization? Modern organizations must operate like a hard-minded defense. Although modern organizations need to be reactive, they must never be on their heels. Like a defense in football, if an institution is tentative, it’ll get run over. They need to always be aggressive and disruptive. Quite simply, organizations need to take on the attitude of the hitter, not the hittee.

Futurist Alvin Toffer famously said in the early 1990s, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”5 This prediction seems to be becoming more and more true by the day. Even established colossal institutions are going to have to take on an agile, holistic, entrepreneurial, Bend but Don’t Break mindset in the coming decades. 

What to Invest In?

75% of IT Decisionmakers in large organizations are currently executing digital transformation initiatives. The last 25% have plans to Digitalize in the next 3 years6.

The first thing organizations need to do is modernize by bringing all their legacy systems up to date. This means the conversion and destruction of physical records, setting up Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect siloed groups and information, improvement of workflows by utilizing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, updating employee training to bring workers up to speed, and taking advantage of machine learning capabilities.

What should organizations invest in when they are ready to take the next step towards digital transformation? The answer varies from institution to institution, but here are the top 3 investments IT Decisionmakers from 650 different large companies with over 1,000 employees are going to be making in the coming years:

  1. APIs
  2. Reusable Software Assets
  3. More Efficient Software Development Methods[vii]

We’ll dive more deeply into each of these investments in a future blogpost while addressing the major stumbling blocks large institutions face when trying to Digitalize.

  1. McKinsey & Company, 2015
  2. MuleSoft, 2018
  3. Orendorff, 2018
  4. Stites, 2018
  5. Hennessey, 2002
  6. MuleSoft, 2018
Why All the Division?

Why All the Division?

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Who’s Gone Digital and Why?

‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘Who?’ of Digitalization

Digitalization is the uniquely tailored, ingenious combination of an organization’s digital assets, digital usage and digital workforce. Think of these distinctions as the “What?”, “How?”, “Who?” of IIM.
What? – Digital Assets
Digital Assets are what organizations spend on computers, software, and telecom equipment. These assets also include the interconnectivity of IoT Devices and, of course, overall data storage.
How? – Digital Usage
Digital Usage is how digital payments, digital marketing, social technologies, and workflow software are used to manage back office operations and customer relations.
Who? – Digital Workforce
Digital Workforce can be broken down by title or by tasks associated with positions, such as Database Administrator, Social Media Manager, UX/UI Designer, etc.

Now the ‘Why?’

Why have some industry sectors gone digital sooner than others? It is clear that there are many operational benefits of digitalization, but what ultimately drives this decision? According to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), there are four factors that determine the likelihood of a commercial, public or social enterprise digitizing:

1. Firm Size

2. Complexity of Operations

3. Knowledge Intensity

4. Threat of Competition

MGI created the chart below which breaks down the level of Digitization by Industry Sector in the United States. It was put together by compiling 27 indicators that combine the ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘Who?’ of Digitalization to show how these industries relate to each other in terms of technological adoption. This chart was created in 2015, so it is likely that there has been more adoption across many industries than what is presented here, but it is still helpful.

The MGI Digitization Industry IndexThe entire MGI Industry Digitization Index summary can be found HERE.

The term “Digital Divide” was first coined 20 years ago to point out the gap between different segments of society’s interaction with technology. The divide was based on socioeconomic and demographic conditions, but it can also be used now in reference to the contrasting levels of Digitalization among different industries and institutions. In most industries there is an astonishing difference in the level of Digitalization between leading firms and average firms.

Even among the companies that have taken the all-important first step of Digitalizing their data and assets, only a fraction of them utilize all of the potential technological capabilities. This means that there is a Digital Divide within the ranks of the digitalized. Automating repetitive tasks and streamlining internal processes to get the most out of high-skilled workers and improving customer relations should be the objective. Ultimately all businesses are customer-driven and there are many ways that Digitalization can improve the overall customer experience and engagement through new business models.

How do the four factors of Firm Size, Complexity of Operations, Knowledge Intensity and Threat of Competition push companies to Digitize?

Here’s the answer, according to MGI:

Large firms are more likely to adopt digital tools than small firms (with the exception of small “digital natives”), in part to manage greater complexity. For a similar reason, firms with long supply chains or many establishments are also more likely to digitize. Companies with a large share of highly educated or specialized workers also tend to be more digitized since the productivity returns tend to be higher. Finally, the actual degree of competition in a sector does not seem to be a factor, but the prospect of competition is.

In other words, large organizations are more likely to Digitalize their assets retroactively, while small start-ups are likely to build their business models digitally from the beginning. Mid-sized organizations are less likely to adopt digital processes. Operations with complex moving parts are also more likely to go digital in order to improve their internal operations. The benefits to improving efficiency for businesses with highly educated, specialized employees are even greater than those with less skilled, lower paid laborers (think billable hours), so they are pushed toward Digitalization to take advantage of their workforce.

The final push to Digitalization is also the greatest motivator; FEAR. The fear that a leaner, younger, more agile and more advanced competitor will emerge and crush you. This fear is not unfounded. In fact, businesses that rely on a single revenue stream or that play an intermediary role are at the greatest risk in the Digital Age because it is the nature of digital disruptors to give things away to consumers and to bypass middlemen. Just think about how music streaming services have changed the recording industry, or how travel booking applications have reinvented the travel industry. These are just two examples, but you can look at how digital disruptors have come into almost every conceivable industry and destroyed value by giving things away to the consumer, seemingly for free. This disruption forces modern companies to create more sustainable business models by experimenting with alternate sources of revenue. 1

The Digital Divide among firms today can be compared to the difference between those organizations that utilized electricity 100 years ago, and those organizations that did not. If you haven’t adopted Digital Processes for your firm, you’re working by candlelight. It’s time to get on the grid.

  1. Manyika, et al., December 2015, p. 15
Form vs Dynamics & the Future of Commerce

Form vs Dynamics & The Future of Commerce

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The saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” has been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson for years. Mr. Emerson would likely revise his famous axiom if he were alive today. Building a great product is not enough – it must be individualized and customized in order to offer a personalized user experience. This can only be achieved when organizations embrace the digitalization of their processes. Businesses must rethink how they interact with their customers and how they operate internally if they want to remain competitive. Now and in the coming years, an organization’s survival will not depend on having a superior product delivered at a lower cost; instead, survival will depend on that enterprise’s capacity for change.

Form can be thought of as essence and content. Dynamics can be thought of as potential. What is a greater measure of perceived potential than the stock market? On the open market, an enterprise’s value is not based on what that enterprise is, but rather on what the enterprise could be. Here is a table taken from a recent white paper by Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research entitled, “Digital Transformation Ushers in a New Era of Communications” that tracks the turnover of companies on the S&P 500 Index since the late 1950s.

S&P 500 Index Lifespan, 1960-2025

From the same white paper1, which can be download in its entirety HERE:

The chart shows that in 1960, businesses remained on the index for 50 to 60 years. By the 1980s, the speed of churn had doubled. Based on these trends, by 2025, businesses are forecast to stay on the index for only 12 years. ZK Research predicts that 75% of the S&P 500 Index will turn over in the next 10 years as digital transformation takes hold.

The lifespan of 500 largest U.S stocks (weighted by market capitalization) map up nicely with the Three Waves of Technological Disruption. There are many factors that impact markets and this is purely speculative, but the major drops seen from 1980 to 1990, and 2000 to 2010 could be the result of late technological adoption. The First Wave of Technological Disruption was the availability and development of the personal computer in the early 1980’s. We see a significant drop in the lifespan from 1980 into the 1990’s. Could this be because many of the largest companies didn’t effectively incorporate this instrumental technological development into their systems, while emerging companies managed to do so and passed them by? The Second Wave, the development of the web in the 1990s into the 2000s, was also followed by another major drop in the average life on the S&P 500 Index. Did slow utilization play a role in this spike as well? Now we are in the midst of the Third Wave which is being defined by the leveraging of data and the streamlining of processes through automation. We should see a slight uptick in the lifespan according to the graph. It’s fair to assume that if companies that don’t keep up with these powerful tools and modernize, they won’t be around for very long. Many variables impact markets, but it is hard not to notice the waves.

Although though there are upticks in the lifespan of the major organizations, as the chart shows, the rate of change within the S&P 500 is occurring at a high frequency. These institutional changes might be because technology is continuing to develop at such a rapid pace. The increasing rate of development won’t just impact the major corporations – it will touch everyone. If your organization is slow to react, you could easily find yourself not just one wave out, but rather two or three. Pretty soon you’ll sink.

Here is a list of the 10 largest companies in the S&P 500 as of May 31, 2016:

    • Apple
    • Microsoft
    • ExxonMobile
    • Johnson & Johnson
    • General Electric
    • Amazon.com
    • Facebook
    • Berkshire Hathaway (B shares)
    • AT&T
    • JPMorgan Chase

How many of these companies will still be on this list in 20 years?

In philosophical terms, dynamics and form are intertwined. There is no being without becoming in the world of Process Philosophy. This applies to any business or organizational process. Simply put, there is no stasis. You and, by extension, your organization can’t be too much of form or too much of dynamics. Essence and potential must work together. Consider this revised version of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous expression: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door… but the world won’t stick around.”

The question that you need to ask yourself regularly is how can you get your users to stay?

  1. Kerravala, Zeus. ZK Research. Digital Transformation Ushers in a New Era of Communications. 2017.
Your Information Is Useless

Your Information Is Useless

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Modern businesses run on data in order to streamline efficiency and guide all decision making. However, there is one problem with this data-driven approach; the vast majority of your information is useless.

With emerging artificial intelligence, most organizational chores are becoming automated. This leaves specialists free to focus on operations and the development of their enterprises. In the coming years every successful organization will incorporate artificial intelligence into both their internal and external processes. Technology will handle much of the procedures employees spend their time on, from HR to Bookkeeping and everything in between. Relations between customers and vendors outside of the organization will also become automated thereby increasing speed, minimizing errors, and improving efficiency.

All of this can be done through data accumulation. Once collected, organizations then leverage these vast informational databases with predictive analytical software which is uniquely tailored to fit each task, employee, vendor, customer, etc. These capabilities exist already and are being implemented across all industries. Their effects will only become more and more abundant.

Paralysis by Analysis

Having all the information available doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make the correct decision. In any endeavor, discernment is key. Listing all the variables won’t guide you to the right outcome. Individuals and organizations must perform cost/benefit analyses for every decision they make, but the relevant elements are constantly changing and there are only so many pieces of information the average person can account for at any one time. The challenge becomes separating the wheat from the chaff to determine the elements in play and simplifying the equation. This is easier said than done in a world of ever increasing complexity.

Here’s a breakdown of how the average organization manages its content in 2018, according to a recent study conducted by Access Information Protected:

Organizational Content Breakdown
2% Legal or Auditory Info
5% Formal Records (for publicly listed companies)
25% Ongoing or Active Operational Data
68% Outdated or Redundant Info

This shows that most of your information is not only unhelpful, it actually gets in the way and slows you down.

Trim the Fat

How can you avoid an information surplus?

First and foremost, you must go paperless. This is the necessary first step to modernizing your business practices. Embrace digital and get rid of as much physical documentation as you possibly can. One practical way to do this is to simply not print in the first place, which can be done by utilizing digital signatures and taking the proper security precautions.

Most of the security threats organizations face are internal. It’s true that businesses must be vigilant in defending themselves against being hacked from the outside, but security breaches are actually much more likely to come from within. These breaches can usually be traced to negligence and not malicious intent, so content management training and establishing normal procedures for employees are vital.

There is always fear and reluctance to change, especially when the processes you currently use seem to be working and have been effective. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is hard to shake, but mapping to the past is not a recipe for future success.

Waves of Disruption

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We are in the midst of a major technological disruption – one that will transform the nature of our business practices and daily operations. How we function internally and with our external customers will evolve. The kind of dynamic change we are experiencing has occurred twice in the last 40 years. We are in the third wave of technological overhaul. These waves of change will likely happen more frequently in the future. The simple truth is that once this wave has passed, EVERY company will become a technology company to a certain degree.

First Wave of Technology Disruption

The first wave came about with the availability of the personal computer in the early 1980s. In 1965, Moore’s Law predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years and decrease in relative cost at an exponential pace. It stated that processing power would double and the price would drop by half in bi-yearly intervals. This prediction coming true is what pushed the world into the digital age. Computers could be built smaller and smaller and at a fraction of the cost of the prior years’ models. By the early 1980s the technology was affordable enough and could be made small enough that individuals could take advantage of them.

The decentralizing of computing technology allowed individuals to rapidly perform functions and improve overall efficiency. This was the beginning of database management as we know it today.

Second Wave of Technology Disruption

Telecommunication networks were used to link these personalized computers. This interconnection enabled the rapid collaborative development of open source software through online repositories, which became the worldwide web. These software programming languages came to be standardized and used all over the web. Most businesses at the time utilized these programming languages to set up their own intranets, which were isolated and customized to their own particular needs.

Tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Apache had to allow for these technical standards which were established in the early days of the web to be supported by their server software and browsers rather than build their own individual proprietary software. This allowed the web to continue to grow because it required cross-system functionality. For example, Google Chrome would support the same features as Apple’s Safari and vice versa. It also meant that one tech company couldn’t black out their competitors features and forced them to compete by advancing the tech and delivering better products. Businesses began to use the massive established telecommunication networks for practical business solutions in the late 1990s and 2000s. This allowed for instantaneous access to data and mobile utilization through email and later through mobile applications. As smartphone technology advanced and connectivity became more reliable and more available, the mobile workforce blossomed and traditional corporate systems and expectations began to shift.

Third Wave of Technology Disruption

This is where we are now. This current wave is propelled by the availability of vast amounts of data and artificial intelligence and machine learning. According to the Association of Intelligent Information Management (AIIM), the Third Wave of Technological Disruption will be about using advancing technology to improve efficiency and productivity and for “understanding, anticipating, and redefining internal and external customer experiences.” The wave is going to change many organizations’ approach. There will be less need for intermediaries. Multiple parties will be able to work on the same task with minimal delays and an increased level accountability. Systems will face less security risks IF organizations make the proper investment in their information governance programs… That is a big “if.”

Intelligent Information Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part VI
Intelligent Information Management

Slaying the Dragon

We all know the fairy tale… The brave knight challenges the fierce dragon, who has been sleeping on top of an immense and unclaimed treasure. By slaying the dragon, the knight captures the gold and the glory that everyone else has been too afraid to attain or even attempt. This fairy tale is an analogy for modern business practices: organizations that utilize ECM are the sleeping dragons and their content is the unused and wasted treasure. In the coming years, Intelligent Information Management (IIM) will play the role of the knight.

One theme of this ongoing Enterprise Content Management Series that we’ve emphasized is that all data has a lifecycle. So too does ECM, and its lifecycle is coming to an end. So why were the last five installments series dedicated to ECM? Because, even though the terminology will change, conceptual familiarity is necessary for optimal organizational performance. ECM must be achieved in order to evolve into IIM.

The reason ECM is being phased out as a term is because of emerging technological trends like IoT, data-centric metadata management tools (Hadoop, NoSQL, Blockchain), cloud content management solutions that are being incorporated into file platforms, the push for digital and the need for on premise legacy systems to move to the cloud1 These technological advances will change the way we look at information and the data continuum. The data lifecycle will be much shorter and it will become more dynamic. The enterprise content, itself, will also morph, especially with the implementation of artificial intelligence. In this data-driven age content is a valuable commodity and it must be protected. With these IIM advances, enterprise content will not only be protected – it will be put to work.

Intelligent Information Management Model

One way to think about the IIM Model is to conceptualize it as one brain. The brain performs many functions and the different parts of the brain regulate different life functions (the temporal lobe handles emotion, associations and equilibrium, while the occipital lobe handles sight and recognition, while Broca’s area handles speech functions, etc.2). All the brain functions just seem to be happening and that’s because of the immediacy with which our brains operate. There is so much information constantly coming at us. Our brains sort it all and focus only on the things that are relevant to the task at hand, whatever that may be. The brain is continuously reacting to outside stimuli. It’s a little surreal to think about, but this is the way that organizations will operate with IIM systems. There will still be separate specialized enterprise areas, but they will become completely fluid. IIM will become the central nervous system of any successful and innovative organization in the coming decades.

Modernize, Digitize, Automate & Leverage

According to AIIM (the Association for Intelligent Information Management), there are four key actions that must be taken to enable IIM to happen; modernize the information toolkit, digitize core informational processes, automate compliance and governance and leverage analytics and machine learning.

IIM Solution Software & Service is a growing sector with a range of capabilities available, but there is no one solution or combination of solutions that will work for every organization. It’s not one-size-fits all, so you should be prudent and focus on what it is your organization is trying to accomplish. When choosing an IIM software or service you shouldn’t focus on the suite capabilities that are available. You should focus on what’s required and absolutely necessary before you invest.

ECM is the essential first phase of IIM. It cannot and should not take place without mastering the four main areas of ECM; Imaging, Workflow, Records Management and Enterprise Relationship Management. As the information age rolls on, the changes to business operations are really unknowable. Human work arenas have developed, from farming for most of history, to factory, to office, to the mobile workforce. In recent years there has been much speculation as to the effect artificial intelligence will have on our organizations. Here are two major questions:

What kind of impact will automation have on future work opportunities for individuals?

How will AI automation affect the very nature of work?

“Nothing is written.”
-Lawrence of Arabia

It is impossible to predict the future with any accuracy, but there is no debate that artificial intelligence is starting to reshape the ways businesses approach their operations as seen through the ECM evolution and the more proactive IIM advances. Organizations will become better and better at optimizing their data and using it to develop a more fluid approach. Rather than locking it all in a vault to be opened periodically, content will be used to create more content and the barriers between an organization, its partners and its customers will shift as well. Complex inter-relationships will be established and automatically updated to maintain the functions of the organization at large. Artificial Intelligence will make this dynamic change a near constant occurrence and Intelligent Information Management will be leveraged to make this happen. It will be interesting to see how these operational changes will be adopted, and how new organizational formations will manifest over the next few years. With such dynamic and sweeping changes, new opportunities for individuals are bound to present themselves as well.

  1. Mancini, 2018
  2. Cognifit, n.d.

Enterprise Relationship Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part V
Enterprise Relationship Management

Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM) encompasses many facets of an operation. What makes it distinct from earlier installments in this ECM Series is that it is the only ECM area that incorporates and utilizes outside elements. While the other categories (Imaging, Workflow, Records Management) all deal with the internal workings of an enterprise, ERM acknowledges and accounts for external drivers. Enterprise Relationship Management covers the methods you use for coordinating with your suppliers, vendors, distributors, customers, etc.

To give a quick example of these external drivers, consider an Uber driver, or a Lyft driver, or a Via driver, or any driver from pretty much any rideshare app you can think of. They pick you up and take you to your destination. Each driver has a profile, and you can give their service a good or bad rating through the app. They can also give your customer profile a rating. If you get enough bad ratings, all the ridesharing drivers will know not to pick you up. This is Enterprise Relationship Management in action. ERM is the utilizing of operational data to improve efficiency and organization.

There are four elements of ERM: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – the last example was CRM -, Partner Relationship Management (PRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource Management (HRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM)1. If you like initialism, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go through each category, but it is helpful to remember that the goal of ERM is similar to that of workflow – to automate as much as possible in order to improve efficiency and drive profits.

“Speed, Speed, SPEED!!”
Mick, Rocky II

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) & Partner Relationship Management (PRM)

There is some debate over whether or not PRM should be considered a separate entity from CRM, or if it’s really just an extension of it2 . Both CRM and PRM share their data through an extranet network. This allows access to a small subset of data from an organization’s intranet. Extranets act like an intranet, where employees can create content, communicate, collaborate, etc., but it provides controlled access to authorized customers, vendors, and partners, or others outside the company3.

How is this extranet good for partnerships?

Your extranet can streamline repetitive business processes. For instance, if you order from the same vendors over and over, it makes sense to establish a secure private network where all of your orders can take place in a virtual space4. Say you’re a beverage company and you use the same distributor for all your regional sales. With a good PRM system in place, every time an order is placed with you it can instantaneously be communicated to the warehouse, and then an order form is automatically sent to the distributor, which calculates the number skids, the weight, the price, pickup and drop off location and ETAs, and any other pertinent information. All of the input is done by the customer in the extranet, rather than over the phone or through email.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

ERP is, simply put, the accessibility of certain resources to multiple divisions of the same organization. One example would be sales orders automatically populating a financial sheet5. It reduces redundancies and ideally puts the right information in front of the right people.

Human Resource Management (HRM)

HRM takes the same concept of automating repetitive tasks and attaches it to speeding up the processes associated with the recruiting, hiring, developing, and reviewing the performance of personnel. Performance management software can determine performance by establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for personnel based on their roles and the expectations associated with those roles. One of the more common ways it is used is through payroll software like electronic timesheets.

Supply Chain Management (SCM)

SCM will overlap with the other elements of ERM because the supply chain is a term used to describe the flow of business processes from one arena to the next covering materials, suppliers, transportation, warehousing, reverse logistics, inventory and distribution. It is an end-to-end coordination. Its nature is to be a multi-operational, cross-functional, cross-company coordinating agent6. The supply chain is really about collaboration between internal divisions and external operators. The right SCM technology is similar to a lot of HRM software. SCM evaluates performance of suppliers and it can also assign corrective and preventative actions, like providing alternate routes and accounting for all kinds of roadblocks and delays.

The barriers between CRM, PRM, ERP, HRM, and SCM can be hazy at times, which is why they all fall under the umbrella of ERM.

When all of these abbreviated terms are put together it can seem very confusing. The main point to remember is that all the Enterprise Relationship Management divisions are meant to minimize risk, eliminate waste, drive down cost through automation, and speed up processes. Stay tuned for our final installment in our Enterprise Content Management Series, where we’ll discuss Intelligent Information Management (IIM) and speculate about the future of ECM.

  1. Techopedia, 2018
  2.  Rouse, 2018
  3. Eisenhauer, 2017
  4. Eisenhauer, 2017
  5. Oracle, 2015
  6. Dittman, 2010

Records Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part IV

Records Management

You understand the importance of Enterprise Content Management (ECM), the data continuum, cloud-based imaging technologies for back filed documents and the importance of proper workflow. These are the large-scale, macro concepts and system implementations of ECM. Records Management is the next area of ECM we will focus on. Records Management is the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, no-frills, in the trenches work of ECM.

“Let’s get down to the neety greety.”
-Ignacio, Nacho Libre

We’ve covered digitizing physical documents and discussed the push toward paperless environments and workflow protocols, so let’s focus on electronic documents. Most organizations are sitting on a mountain of data, and, unless there is a solid Records Management system in place, it will be a jumbled mess. Standardized file naming conventions are the best and most immediate way to manage your organization’s records, but just because you have a naming convention in place does not guarantee information won’t be lost, work won’t be duplicated, and time won’t be wasted. It has to be the right naming convention.

What’s the right standard naming convention?

Naming conventions vary across industries and from one organization to the next, but the first step is to implement something that makes sense. Just because you put a system in place, doesn’t mean you’ve improved efficiency. The point is to make sure that the records are easy to navigate and immediately recognizable. This video from the University of British Columbia’s Records Management Office does a great job of clearly explaining how you should go about it:

The tutorial gives a breakdown of how file naming conventions should be set up. It points out the need to have simple naming that separates drafts from final documents. File names should be broken down into unique elements, separated by underscores, so a user can know what the document is about at first glance. If it’s a working document, it will likely go through drafts that need to be revised. You should mark each revised document’s drafting status by assigning it a revision letter, i.e. “revA,” “revB,” etc. and NEVER mark a document as “final.” If you want to mark it as completed, name it “rev0” so last minute changes can still be made to it and it can be given a status of “rev1,” “rev2,” etc. instead of something like, “final final.” We’ve mentioned in previous posts that all information has a life cycle. By marking a document as “final”, you are essentially killing that document and the information it contains. If you mark it “final final,” you’re hiding the body.

As stated above, there is no standard file naming convention that crosses industries. Your files can be named in any way that fits your organization’s needs, but name should answer three questions for the user:

1. What is this document about?
2. What is its drafting status?
3. Is it in use?

You must be sure that whatever method you choose is adopted by everyone. Consistency is crucial.

“All things must pass
All things must pass away”
-George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

Once you set up your naming convention, you have to properly organize your folders. If you can’t find the folder that contains your properly named file, it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it is lost. Folders become confusing when they contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders… etc. When organizing folders, you cannot be afraid to change their set-up. Often the previous setup was completely logical and made sense at that stage of institutional development, but all institutions are constantly evolving and pivoting (at least they should be), and, now more than ever you must be able to adapt. In the future you’ll have to adjust your organizational models even more frequently than you do now.

Okay, how should Folders be set up?

Whether you’re proficient with the command line, or you’re comfortable using the file finder window on your computer’s operating system, you want to eliminate waste and improve efficiency when dealing with your content, which is a key theme of ECM. The best way to do that is to make your folder structure as simple as possible while still being effective. So, just as with file naming, there is no standard, one-size-fits-all, cross-industry folder structure implementation that exists. It must be tailored to fit your organization’s functions, and it is subject to change over time.

One way to organize folders is with the ABC Method. This organizes folders alphabetically so, for example, the “accounts payable” and “accounts receivable” folders may be subfolders to an accounts folder, which is a subfolder of the root folder titled “A.” Folder A might also contain a folder titled “access codes”. Basically, in the ABC Method, unrelated folders are grouped alphabetically. This may be a great method for smaller institutions to organize their folders, but you have to know what you’re looking for, so it may not be as effective for larger groups.

The ABC Method may be the best way for you to organize your files or it may not be. There are countless ways for you to set up your folders; the challenge is finding the best way. The point of highlighting the ABC Method above is to illustrate that the methodology changes. What makes perfect sense to you might not make any sense to someone else, and what made sense in the past may not make sense now, and what is in place now almost certainly won’t make sense in the future. Finding the best system doesn’t mean finding a perfect system. The best way to decide how to set up folders is to try to imagine that you know nothing about the intricacies of your operations and then follow the most logical file path as if you were starting from zero.

Here’s a helpful article (Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization) to reference when managing your folders. Tip #27, “Try to Minimize the Number of Folders that Contain Both Files and Sub-folders” is a good rule of thumb for avoiding confusion. Another rule to remember is that all your data has a lifecycle. Since this is the case, so should your Records Management systems; be willing to change outdated and inefficient models. Change is inevitable, so try to embrace it. In the next installment of our Enterprise Content Management Series, we’ll be discussing Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM).


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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part III

We’ve covered what ECM is and the data continuum. We’ve gone over the immediate and quantifiable changes associated with Imaging. Now it’s time to tackle Workflow.

“Now the real game begins.”
-The Riddler, Batman Forever

Don’t worry. Workflow is not a new concept. Henry Ford’s famous assembly line is an example of workflow. One modern example of workflow is an online repository, like GitHub, where web developers can work on different phases of a project. The project can be tracked and monitored and tasks can be assigned to those who are best suited for them. Another modern and more accessible example is a fast food drive through. You have one person on the headset taking the orders, ringing them up and plugging them into the computer that sends it to the people in the back. There’s someone on fries, there’s somebody else whipping up the burgers and another person on drinks who hands you the food. There’s also a manager onsite overseeing everything to make sure everything goes smoothly. Your fast food is only fast because of the efficient workflow set up by the franchise.

What is Workflow?

Examples of workflow are everywhere. Workflow is the optimizing of high value workers so they can concentrate on high value tasks1. Going back to the drive through, the person working the register and the person working the fries both have important roles in the operations of the restaurant, but the person who’s taking the orders on the headset has a much more specialized skillset. He can interact with customers and work the register. The person on the headset must also be able to make change for one person while taking orders from the next. He has to be able to concentrate and multitask for hours because a slip up slows everyone else down. It would be a waste to have a talented high-value worker focusing only on the fries because it is a much simpler task.

How are burgers related to Enterprise Content Management?

“Mmm… Burger.”
-Homer Simpson

The fast food analogy is only meant to get you thinking about the systematic break down of tasks into sequential units as a productive operational process. That’s the essence of workflow and that’s how it is used in ECM. One of the most common ways workflow is seen in ECM is by establishing different admin accessibility for different users. Say you’ve digitized all your information and destroyed the physical documentation. You know that you can access and search all these scanned files using OCR technology. It’s all right there at your fingertips… but you might not want everyone to have access to all that data, just like the fast food manager doesn’t necessarily want the French fry guy working the register. If you are implementing an ECM system in a hospital, for instance, you may not want the Doctors to have access to employee health records (even though they are medical professionals), but you probably do want them to be accessible for certain members of Human Resources. There are any number of examples of role-based limited access that you want in place. In organizations, you want people to focus on the roles they are suited for and limit the opportunities for misbehavior.

These different roles can be established through a variety software, but the key is to find one that is easy to use and can be integrated with your current systems as seamlessly as possible. Workflow solutions enable work to be shared between workers easily and allow duties to be routed to the appropriate personnel.

Much like the assembly line we mentioned at the beginning, the purpose of an effective ECM workflow is to automate processes as much as possible. If you’ve ever applied for a job at a large company, the first step is often to fill out its online application, which is an online form. When we fill out these fields we are sending structured information to a database that is one piece of its larger ECM software system. There are likely minimum requirements for the position e.g. college degree, five years’ experience, etc. If any of the minimum requirements are not met your application will be sent to sit in a database on file and will most likely never actually be reviewed by the human hiring agent. If you do meet the requirements, then it will automatically be sent to the hiring agent for review. Enterprise Content Management workflow applications not only manage all the content an organization produces, they also manage all the content an organization receives.

“The idea is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness…”
-Bruce Lee

All of this is meant to alleviate manual processes, save time and money and improve security2. The whole purpose of workflow in ECM is to allow specialized people to spend more time doing productive work and less time on organizational and retrieval chores. Individuals in organizations often debate whether or not these workflow systems help. Some see them as cumbersome and restrictive, and others see them as great tools.

So, which is it?

An individual’s stance on this may vary depending on one’s skillset, personality, tendencies and temperament. These workflow systems are a part of professional life and will only become more vital to operations as time goes on, so, if you’re unable to adapt or adopt them, you’ll be left behind, BUT, if you rely on them too heavily, you might be limited in your career because one firm’s ECM system can be totally different from the next. Let’s finish up with our friend from the French fry station. Just because he shouldn’t be working the register doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable asset to the fast food operation. He may bring a positive attitude or a willingness to work which is intangible but does have a productive effect. In sports these are called locker room guys. Until an organization’s system is entirely automated through workflow, these locker room guys will still be needed.

Keep an eye out for our next installment in the Enterprise Content Management series, where we’ll focus on Records Management.