A “Column 2” sort of girl

Although process, not content, is my main focus, I dropped by the e-Content Institute’s 16th annual Information Highways conference in Toronto today to sit in on a workshop called “Bridging Obstacles in E-mail, Workflow and Compliance Management: Best Practices”. Although it was a vendor presentation by Tower Software, I figured that I’d see something interesting along the way.

As an aside, I have to say something about the conference title: the term “information highway” is a bit of a blast from the past. It might have been on the cutting edge 15 years ago when the conference started, but when’s the last time that you heard it without a snicker involved?

Meanwhile, back at the presentation, the speaker from Tower’s Toronto office couldn’t make it, and the replacement had flown in from DC this morning. She spent half of her intro expressing surprise that none of us had met the original speaker (from what she called “our Canada office”), as if Toronto were a small town where we all have dinner at the local Legion hall together on Saturday night. Sigh.

Tower’s view of workflow is interesting: they consider that it’s either ad hoc, transaction-based or knowledge-based, where the latter can be email-based, process-based or document-based… huh? Okay, I’ll cut the speaker some slack for having to work from someone else’s slide deck, but what was the original speaker thinking? Maybe he was trying to categorize everyone else’s stuff as ad hoc or transaction-based, then show why their “knowledge-based” workflow was better, but it wasn’t clear to me and I’ve spent enough years around workflow such that anyone’s explanation of where they fit in the space should be pretty obvious to me within a couple of minutes.

In spite of all that, some interesting tidbits, particularly about how email messages are now considered evidentiary in many cases, with their legal admissibility being based on authenticity, which in turn relies on content, context and structure being preserved and auditable. Unfortunately, although IT is usually responsible for email, they know nothing about records management (RM); furthermore, individuals manage/delete/archive (or don’t manage/delete/archive) their corporate email as if it belonged to them personally, not the corporation. The answer, even admitted by Tower, is not in a software package, but in the creation and enforcement of email RM policies.

Although their system can capture everything without user intervention, that’s not really recommended because you just end up with a mass of undiscriminated data, not unlike what is on many corporate email servers now. They state that every user needs to take some responsibility for RM (presumably because there are insufficient business rules built into the system to allow it to automatically categorize messages, or even recognize duplicates catalogued by multiple recipients), but I think that the chances of that happening on a suitably complete basis are pretty small when you consider that most people don’t even put the items in their InBox and Sent Items into properly categorized folders.

All good stuff, but a bit of a yawn: now I remember why I kept my focus on process and became less and less interested in content except as an adjunct to process. I recall working on a client project several months ago where I was designing a BPM implementation to integrate with a line-of-business database, hence I had a lot of discussions with the data architect who was designing the database side of things. I dropped by his desk one afternoon and we had a rather passionate discussion about the relative roles of data and process in the system.

After some amount of discussion, I said “Do you know the Zachman framework? Well, I’m a column 2 kind of girl.”

“That explains it,” he said, “I’m a column 1 kind of guy”.

Clearly incompatible.