Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss

image002If you ever have the opportunity to hold an off-the-record conversation with law firm knowledge management personnel, ask them if they are delighted with their intranet. Many will confess that they are not. Equally, they will tell you that they did not have much choice about the software because their IT colleagues did not believe there were credible alternatives, and everyone agreed that it would be too expensive and time-consuming to build an intranet from scratch. Consequently, they defaulted to the standard law firm approach to software.

Law firms generally use three types of software:

  1. Purpose built: Software that was created specifically for a legal practice. Examples of this would be Diligence Engine, Exemplify and KM Standards. These applications were created by lawyers to address specific challenges that arise in the practice of corporate law.
  2. Client preferred: Software that law firms use because doing so makes it easier to share information with clients. The leading example of this would be the Microsoft Office suite of tools. There is nothing about those applications that was created specifically for the practice of law, but we use them because the results are in a form clients recognize.
  3. Herd default: Software that was not created for the practice of law, but we use in the legal industry because other firms use it. This is software that was not designed to address the challenges of legal practice and may present its own challenges to lawyers and law firm administrative staff, yet we contort ourselves to make it fit. A perfect example of this type of tool is Microsoft SharePoint.

Using the first two types of software makes sense: In the first case, because it makes the lives of lawyers easier and, in the second case, because it makes the lives of clients easier. So what is the rationale for using software that was not created for law firms and is not required by clients? In the case of SharePoint, there seem to be several reasons that, taken together, can make the decision nearly inevitable in some firms:

  • No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.
  • Some firms received SharePoint “for free,” in that it was bundled into the enterprise Microsoft license for no additional cost upfront.
  • A survey of IT colleagues indicates that SharePoint is “industry standard”.

If everyone else is using it, how bad can it be? An honest conversation with knowledge management colleagues working in firms in Australia, Canada, England and the US suggests that it can be pretty bad. This does not mean that they are unable to create something that works, more or less. However, few truly are delighted with the results. And even fewer are happy with the actual costs of implementing and upgrading SharePoint, much less the logistical challenge of finding and keeping experienced developers and administrators to maintain the resulting intranet.

So why do we adopt the herd default? Often it is because we simply lack information about alternative options. This would be excusable if information about intranets was hard to find, but the reality is that a simple search online will turn up many credible alternatives. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group (who are leading intranet experts) reports that there are lots of credible alternatives to SharePoint:

Many organizations are happy to report that a variety of tools, including open-source tools, are catching up to their needs. Everyone cannot necessarily afford to integrate and support large, complex intranet portal solutions such as SharePoint. But as technology matures, the barriers to entry are lowered, and more portal technology options become available.

This is not a new concept for intranet portal design. In 2000 when we first began studying intranets, open source was used heavily. Not until 2008 did we see SharePoint taking a strong hold. Even that year, our 10 Intranet Design Annualwinners used 41 different products for their intranet technology platforms. In our most recent (2014) Intranet Design Annual, 5 out of 10 winners used SharePoint. In our intranet behavioral-research studies, organizations used about 20 different portal-software tools. So there has never been a paucity of intranet portal technology that can produce worthwhile portals. What’s different today is that technology has advanced to a point where a fairly nontechnical team can create a highly functional portal without an advanced design team in-house.

Here’s the rub: according to the Nielsen Norman Group, it should be possible today to implement an intranet without significant technological expertise. Tell that to the law firm KM departments that struggle daily to modify and maintain their SharePoint intranets. It would be their dream to be able to create, modify and maintain an intranet without any intervention by their IT staff once the active directory was hooked up. Sadly, they consider this to be an impossible dream.

In fact, this dream is not only possible, but the reality for organizations that have chosen intranet software that does what good enterprise or consumer-facing software should do: it does all the heavy lifting so that the user can work more productively without getting bogged down in development challenges.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about one of the alternatives to SharePoint. It is intranet software created by Interact. The folks at Interact retained me to learn about their software and then write about how software like theirs might be helpful to law firm KM departments. I have done that and the resulting white paper will be available within the next few weeks.

While I don’t want to steal a march on the white paper, I must confess that seeing the Interact software in action made me sad for my colleagues in law firm KM departments. When I compared the sheer ease of implementing and administering Interact’s intranet with the stories my colleagues told about their own intranets, it was clear that many were struggling unnecessarily. Given the general approach of law firms to software, I realize that moving away from Microsoft may be a challenge. However, before following the herd, do yourself and your firm the favor of investigating the alternatives. It would be a crying shame to resign yourself to unnecessary struggle just because you did not know there were better alternatives within reach.

Intranet ignorance is NOT bliss.

[This blog post was cross-posted on the Interact blog.]

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#SharePoint Innovator Award #ILTA12

The nominees are Thompson Coburn, Seyfarth Shaw and Pillsbury Winthrop.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Thompson Coburn File Manager. They used SharePoint 2010 to replace their legacy records management system, provide email management, create matter team sites for every matter, and create a DMS-ready interface. They also wanted to use FAST inside AND outside SharePoint. They moved over 4 million files, 3 million of which were email in their records system.
  • Seyfarth Shaw TeamSites. Their SharePoint focus is to support their market-leading Seyfarth Lean and project management efforts. This included comprehensive task management capabilities, self-serve provisiioning with limited IT or administrative involvement, and it needed to be “wickedly easy to use.” They built using SharePoint 2010, Telerik (he says it’s a great product), Microsoft .net and Recommind. They provide a list of maters with “stop light” reporting to show tasks are outstanding. They are able in this way to aggegate in one place each attorney’s data-specific information. They have one site of clients, one site for matters and one site for projects. While lots of webparts are available, they don’t display them fully until the user tries to use tha webpart to add content. This is how they limit webpart sprawl. Seyfarth launched Teamsites in four months. The work was done by a single developer. (Other law firms in the room want to hire him!)
  • Pillsbury Winthrop’s Pulse. This project started as an intranet redesign effort. 93% of their sites are dynamic, they used unique interface and design elements, and super-fast search. Finally, they were careful to orient the the sites so that they are personalized. To begin user engagement early, they invited the firm to help name the internet. Engagement was high — they received 1700 entries. Through metadata, they provide a personalized view to each user. In addition, the user can tailor the page. However, while a lawyer can hide information on the weather or stock market, but cannot hide their timekeeper dashboard. They consulted with eSentio to figure out how to make all their sites dynamic. This means that adding a webpart to one site adds it to all other sites, as necessary. Their user profiles marry and display information from PeopleSoft and SharePoint My Site. The profiles include presence information via Lync. Their Marketing Department provided excellent graphic design.
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SharePoint 2010 as a Social and Collaboration Platform [#e2conf]

This session is presented by Tony Byrne (Real Stories) and Shawn Shell (Consejo Consulting).  You can find the session slides at http://www.e2conf.com/boston/2011/presentations/workshops.  Username: workshop; Password: boston2011.

[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2011 in Boston.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Typical SharePoint myths:
    • it provides unique collaboration services
    • it is easy to use
    • it is low cost
    • it represents the latest and greatest
  • What is special about SharePoint?
    • close ties to the rest of the Microsoft Office suite
    • huge armies of  “Redmond Partners”
    • the breadth of services available via this platform
    • the implied development model is individual and departmental development rather than enterprise-wide development — the tool is more focused on features for users and for developers (to customize the environment), but less so for back-end administrators.
  • Strategy. Microsoft’s strategy behind SharePoint is that it is intended to help keep Microsoft Office relevant in an age of web services.
  • What services does SharePoint offer for collaboration? At first blush, it appears to be feature complete in that it claims to offer most social tools (except microblogging).  However, it isn’t really plug and play out of the box. While it is possible to provide basic blogs and wikis, you’ll need to purchase third-party services to deploy other fairly typical forms of social functionality.  Once you get beyond very basic project-based collaboration, then SharePoint is nothing more than a development platform.
  • “Communities” are a weak point in SharePoint. Communities in SP2010 are more virtual or implied.  This is why people are using third-party services like Newsgator to plug the gap in community management services and features.
  • Search. The out of the box search is decent,but it isn’t FAST.  Be careful, because most of the demos you see feature FAST. Third-party search engines layered on top of SharePoint don’t always function well.
  • Development Cycle. SP has a 3-year development cycle.  However, towards the end of each cycle, users tend to do a lot of bespoke work.  This leads to the need to do a lot of catch-up at the beginning of the next cycle.  This also presents a problem in the social business arena, where changes occur more frequently. To address this and similar concerns, Microsoft is providing more frequent service packs to release new features and bug features in the midst of a development cycle.
  • Don’t Talk About SharePoint. It’s like a blank slate.  Talk about the specific applications or solutions that you create with (or on top of) SharePoint. For example, deploying a tool to solve a business challenge (e.g., improve service quality) is a business solution worth talking about.  The fact that you were able to do it using the SharePoint platform is great, but chances are that SP by itself  was not the complete answer.  You probably needed something extra.  Therefore, talk about the business win — not the foundational tool.
  • MySites. Many people are scared to death of MySites.  One big problem is that MySites don’t scale to companies with hundreds of thousands of employees. MySite allows up to 50 thousand MySite collections per web application. If you have multiple applications, you can have a terrible mess.
  • FAST. It is not free. It isn’t necessary unless you have an enormous number of document (e.g., more than 50 million documents). If you have fewer documents, there are other, cheaper, less complicated third-party search tools that work better for you than FAST.
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The SharePoint Swiss Army Knife

Swiss Army KnifeLove it or hate it, you can’t ignore SharePoint.  Thanks to the might of Microsoft, SharePoint has become part of the technology and knowledge management conversation at law firms all over the world.

While not every law firm has deployed it, most I’ve talked to are thinking about it.  Unfortunately,  all that thinking is giving them a headache.  Some don’t understand exactly what SharePoint does.  Others have read the marketing materials, but are disturbed by the mixed reports they are hearing from colleagues at other firms.  At a recent meeting I attended, a colleague from another firm summed up SharePoint rather succinctly: (i) SharePoint is a pretty decent Portal and provides a convenient platform on which a firm can gather and display information from a variety of silos, (ii)  it has aspirations of being a document management system which when fully realized could make it a powerful player in this space, and (iii) it provides some workflow tools that are much needed by law firms.

One of the biggest problems with SharePoint seems to be that it has been marketed like a Swiss Army Knife: capable of doing lots of things.  However, the tools provided aren’t always up to the job.  A case in point is SharePoint’s social media tools.  For example, in one recent listserv conversation someone asked about the experience of others in deploying SharePoints blogs and wikis.  The uniform response was that those tools were rudimentary at best and ultimately proved disappointing.  In fact, each respondent said they were looking for a better, more functional third-party tool that they could plug into SharePoint.  What nobody discussed was the opportunity cost of using SharePoint first and leaving their user group dissatisfied.

Initially, I thought the concerns about SharePoint and social media were more about the user interface and lack of full functionality.  However, while attending a webinar this week on using taxonomies in SharePoint, I heard something that gave me pause:  one of the experts on the panel said that while SharePoint appeared to offer the ability to have both top-down taxonomies and bottom-up folksonomies, you really could not (and perhaps should not) deploy both.  That struck me as wrong-headed so I consulted with the father of folksonomy, Thomas Vander Wal.  In an exchange on Twitter, he told me the following:

  • SharePoint’s understanding of folksonomy is really poor and really mangles some things.  Data structures are right. Others not so.
  • In folksonomy the co-occurence of terms works in similar fashion to hierarchy, but SharePoint doesn’t make that easy.
  • The folksonomy should identify gaps in taxonomy and help inform it, but SharePoint didn’t grasp that so it doesn’t work there.

These statements might at first strike you as succinct (or perhaps cryptic), but that’s a function of the size limitations of Twitter.  Regardless, the message comes through loud and clear:  while purporting to provide social media support, SharePoint appears to have misunderstood some basic things about how social media work such that the underlying SharePoint structure seems to resist or hinder full social media functionality.  As a result, firms that are relying on SharePoint to provide a full social media experience may well be disappointed.

To be fair, you may be able to open a wine bottle and slice a piece of cheese with your Swiss Army Knife, but are you actually able to use it to prepare a nutritious and delicious meal?  It seems that the SharePoint Swiss Army Knife suffers from similar limitations when it comes to social media.

[Photo Credit: AJ Cann]

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SharePoint Collaboration [LegalTech 2011]

SharePoint Collaboration Across Your Team. Panelists: Meredith L. Williams (Director of Knowledge Mangement at Baker, Donelson) and Steve Fletcher (Chief Information Officer at Parker Poe).

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Agenda — Best practices for leveraging SharePoint across your firm; serving clients and adding firm value; what they’ve learned NOT to do; design and development option.
  • Using SharePoint for Practice & Industry Teams — Baker Donelson is using SharePoint 2007, but are moving to SP 2010. They have 30 practice & industry teams. Each team appoints knowledge management lawyers who assist with KM projects, including maintaining the resources for the SharePoint site. (Each team has a SharePoint site. The sites are different, depending on the needs of the relevant team.) The sites provide acess to a bank of standard form documents, sample work product search (via West KM), sample clause & defined term search, and practice guides.
  • Cross-Department & Practice Group Teams — While not every Parker Poe practice group was interested in building and maintaining an SP site, several teams have found SP sites to be powerful tools. (Teams are multidisciplinary groups focused on a particular issue (e.g., health care reform, green buildings, etc.)
  • Efficiency Tools — Baker Donelson uses Deal Builder/ Contract Express to put together document drafting packages, They have also created expertise location tools that allow lawyers to identify their own expertise and locate other experts. They also have created a training platform that provides training materials (including podcasts, slides, case law, practice guides, additional resources) to lawyers within the firm and direct to clients. These materials are created and maintained by the lawyers themselves.
  • Staffing — Baker Donelson does not have a large dedicated SP staff. Instead, the small KM group teams with the three web developers in the It department to create materials that can be maintained by the lawyers themselves. One of these web developers is entirely dedicated to creating and maintaining key SP workflow. Parker Poe’s SP deployment was their first experience of portala. To begin, they created a cross-department team to create and the SP site. This team included IT, Marketing and the Library. Marketing helped with the look and feel and planned the formal launch of the portal. They worked with XMLaw to plan and carry out the initial deployment. Parker Poe now has a dedicated SP administrator
  • Information Governance — the Baker Donelson KM team is responsible for governance. All materials are housed in their original silos to ensure security, ethical walls, and accessibility for legal holds.
  • Client-Facing Sites — Parker Poe started with their Resort Hospitality team site. The site includes tips for clients, info on new Portal resources, industry news and events, information on new client matters, they included links to 10, 000 documents in an iManage folder. Once they heard that lawyers in the team were showing it to clients and getting rave reviews, they created a related client-facing site that provides information on a location-specific basis. For example, a location-specific site includes information on local resources, weather, news, legislation, local contacts, documents relating to that location. They gave HubbardOne XMLaw OneView Extranet 60 days to create the client-facing site.
  • Client-Team Sites — Baker Donelson has automated workflow whereby the moment a new matter is opened, that triggers the creation of an internal SP site that includes every piece of information they have relating to the client and matter. Sample content: client contact information (drawn from Interaction), working with Monitor Suite; they provide a live feed of public information showing the practice trends of that client. The client-facing view of the client service team site shows: a real-time view of the matter calendar; information on external experts involved in the case; Baker Donelson created a litigation hold management system for the client and mapped the client’s data workflow (each node on the map is linked to a wiki that is populated by Baker Donelson lawyers, thereby creating transparency into matter documents).
  • Management Dashboard — Baker Donelson has created a dashboard to provide an overview on top clients and top prospective clients.
  • Legal Project Management — Baker Donelson is using their SP portal to help run their LPM effort. They have a project management office to run their administrative projects AND a Legal Project Management Office that helps manage legal matter. They created a template that helps generate a project site that integrates models, samples, budget information (including actuals) using the Budget Manager tool,
  • External Toolkits — Baker Donelson has created toolkits for clients: Board of Directors toolkit, IPO toolkit. Among the resources, they provide access to model and sample documents, as well detailed legislative resources. Many of the resources are populated by wikis maintained directly by lawyers within the firm. These are built in basic SP (like the internal sites) and are sold to clients on a subscription basis.
  • Lessons Learned — Assemble the right cross-departmental team to plan, deploy and maintain the portal; create diverse test groups and use them; test before release and then test again; don’t force adoption — pull them in with relevant information that’s quick and easy to find; identify your authoritative source of data (e.g., Active Directory) and make sure the data is clean and reliable; make sure the content is refreshed frequently — especially on the home page; start with critical low-hanging fruit to drive traffic and usage (e.g., HR data and financial data)
  • Design & Development — interview users and create pilot groups to guide the design process. They in turn will become portal advocates. Many users are now looking for more personalized interfaces — this presents new design challenges. It is also a departure from the cookie cutter SP sites many firms provided before.
  • Metrics — Be sure to monitor everything down to individual links. It’s important to know what is being used, when it is used and by whom.
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SharePoint Puzzle

What’s going on with SharePoint? Klint Finley, writing for ReadWriteWeb, reports what seem to be some counter-intuitive survey results:

A survey by AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) found that although Microsoft SharePoint is being rapidly adopted by the enterprise, at least half of the enterprises polled that are implementing the platform don’t have business uses in mind and many lack specific policies regarding its use.

No business uses? No policies?  I thought this was a violation of the rules everyone learned in the IT 101 course on implementing new technology.  What’s worse is that the survey reports that 26% of the respondents claim that their “implementation is being driven by the the IT department with no input from information management professionals.” If this is true, then in a quarter of all cases, the IT professionals have acted contrary to the restrictions they impose on the rest of their organization.  But wait, there’s more:

Among respondents who have completed their SharePoint implementation, 58% report being able to do most of the things they needed with SharePoint. Others are using customizations and plugins for added functionality. ROI has been better or much better than expected according 28% of respondents, as expected for 40%, and only 9% consider it to be less than expected. The rest said it was too soon to say.

So, how do you explain this level of satisfaction given what appears to be patchy planning? Low expectations? A poor understanding of what the tool can do? Or have we all been so beaten down by disappointing implementations that we’re grateful for whatever crumbs we can get? But wait, there’s more:

Collaboration is the most popular use, followed by document management, file-sharing and intranet creation.

Now this makes no sense since I’ve heard lots of folks (including a few from Microsoft) say that the collaboration tools that come with SharePoint really aren’t all that great. Again, what’s going on? Have users discovered something that the experts missed in the collaboration tools? Or  are we so desperate for collaboration tools that we’ll take whatever we can get?

I’m no expert in SharePoint, but I am very interested in learning more.  If you can explain this puzzle, please do let me know.  I’m dying of curiosity!

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Update:  AIIM has provided a helpful summary of their survey results.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer all of my questions. (Hat tip to Curt Melzer at PinHawk Law Technology Daily Digest.)

[Photo Credit: Horia Varian]

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SONY Keynote: Going Social With SharePoint

James Whitmoyer, Business Applications Manager, Sony

Title:  Going Social with SharePoint at Sony

Background:

[These are my quick notes, complete with  (what I hope is no more than) the occasional typo and grammatical error.  Please excuse those. Thanks!

From time to time, I’ll insert my own editorial comments – exercising the prerogatives of the blogger.  I’ll show those in brackets. ]

Notes:

  • Initial focus of this presentation was on the external social media efforts.
  • How do they bring social media internally?  Marketing to employees is similar to marketing to customers?
  • He noted that they are using SharePoint, but it doesn’t look like SharePoint.
  • They use My Sites as a way for employees to build their own brand within Sony
  • Use Office Communicator with presence to connect employees while reducing e-mail.
  • They encourage people to create “My Sites” by featuring best pictures from individual My Sites on a central site called “Sony Source.”
  • They are encourage every employee to blog.  They search through My Sites to find and promote interesting blogs.  Many employees are blogging about work-related content rather than leisure activities.
  • They have included an activity stream via SP 2010. This is a more effective way for teams to be in touch – they prefer it to e-mail.
  • They encourage employees to build their own brand
  • They have a virtual org chart that shows where everyone sits in the food chain and other colleagues who might be able to help. This has led to a huge improvement in responding to queries.
  • Why does this matter?
  • Externally, this provides a better way to reach customers where they spend their time
  • Internally it reflects how people live in their private lives.  Therefore, it improves personal productivity.
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Dino, Dodo, Extranet

We all know that dinosaurs and dodo birds are extinct. What about extranets? I know we’ve got them, but for how long?

With the increasing pressure from clients to have access to the wealth of knowledge generated by law firms, some firms have tried to lance the wound by offering a small collection of their content on password protected extranets. The problem with this approach is that it puts the burden on the client. For example, the client (and in this instance I mean every member of the client’s law department) must (i) know the extranet exists, (ii) figure out its design quirks and how it works, (iii) have some sense of its collection, and (iv) remember the unique password every time they want to consult that archive. Multiply this across the sites of various law firms and you’ve got a major challenge.

I know that a great driver of this approach is to provide access without compromising security and confidentiality, but does it really work for clients? We’ve heard in-house counsel express the desire for law firm content without having to hunt for it. They would like it in an environment of their own choosing and design. So instead of providing content access tools like extranets, should law firms be thinking harder about better content delivery tools?

Imagine a virtual umbilical cord stretching from a law firm to its client’s knowledge management system, providing a regular supply of helpful resources? Imagine being an in-house lawyer who doesn’t have to go to a thousand places on the internet to find information, but rather can simply surf a single familiar internal platform? Imagine that in-house lawyer’s delight when they can find easily the information appropriate to the decision at hand, and can identify and follow-up with the lawyer and firm that made the retrieval so pain free? Imagine the impact of these experiences on the relationship between that law firm and its client?

This isn’t farfetched. As more and more law firms and law departments move to a SharePoint platform, we will approach a common technical vocabulary for making content available.  Next, we need to push this further to see how to provide that content outside the law firm firewall safely.  This could be a wonderful opportunity to provide exactly the level of law firm transparency and support that clients have been asking for.

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If you’d like to learn more about new ways of using extranets (before they become extinct!), read Are Law Firms Ready for Transparency?

[Photo Credit:  Kevin Zim]

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Fighting the Farmers

Silos are a common means by which farmers store the grain they have harvested until it can be taken to market. While silos make sense in agriculture, why are they so prevalent in non-agricultural organizations? Nearly every business has farmers or systems that gather and hoard data in information silos that are impenetrable for those outside that particular farm. This happens even though it is commonly understood that these silos hamper rather than enhance the efficient running of a business.  So in marches KM on a mission to “break down silos” and facilitate the free flow of information. However, knowledge management alone may not be enough since much depends on the tools chosen and on the execution.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, may I direct your attention to the following items:

The Tools You Choose Can Exacerbate the Problem: Tom Vander Wal recently reported on the sad plight of several organizations that had deployed Microsoft SharePoint in the hope that it would facilitate knowledge sharing.  Instead, this is what happened as a result of the tool they chose:

Many who deployed SharePoint, thought it was going to be the bridge that delivered Enterprise 2.0 and a solid platform for social tools in the enterprise is summed up statement, “We went from 5 silos in our organization to hundreds in a month after deploying SharePoint”. They continue, “There is great information being shared and flowing into the system, but we don’t know it exists, nor can we easily share it, nor do much of anything with that information.” I heard this from an organization about 2 years ago in a private meeting and have been hearing near similar statements since. This is completely counter to the Enterprise 2.0 hopes and wishes they had for SharePoint. They were of the mindset that open sharing & having the organization and individuals benefit from a social platform.

[…]

There is much frustration and anger being shared as people try to resolve how to share information between groups and easily merge and openly share information once it has been vetted. … One of the largest complaints is the information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate outside the group or across groups, but it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search. The Microsoft SharePoint model is one that starts with things locked down (focussed on hierarchies) then opens up, but unlocking is nowhere near as easy a task as it should be.

The Way You Execute Can Create New Problems: In 2004 the US Office of Management and Budget identified several functions or “lines of business” of government that could be rationalized across agencies by using technology to cut costs and improve service.  At one point, the OMB estimated that the lines of business initiative could “save as much as $5 billion over 10 years by consolidating systems and functions just in the financial and human resources lines of business.”  Yet in the estimation of even one of its strongest proponents, the project (styled at first as primarily an IT initiative) did not sufficiently take account of the people and politics involved.  The final nail in the coffin was the reality of underfunding of the project by Congress.  The result was summed up by Vivek Kundra, the new Federal Chief Information Officer, in the following way:

Many of those initiatives, he said, attempted to break down the vertical technology silos that evolved across government but ultimately resulted in horizontal, cross-agency silos, such as the Lines of Business initiatives that began in 2004.

Horizontal silos!  Are those any better than the earlier vertical silos?  And yet this is a mess made by people who were trying in good faith to break down silos.

Bad tools and poor execution can result in even more balkanized data and technology if we aren’t careful.  Clearly, if we’re serious about fighting the information and technology silos, we’re also going to have to be more strategic in the way we fight the farmers that build them.

[Photo Credit:  Bob Jagendorf]

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