Two recent articles reminded me of my days as an Enterprise Content Management consultant.
Gordon Ross discusses knowledge loss through attrition on the Thought Farmer blog. Due to the demographic bulge known as the Baby Boom, many industries will lose sizable portions of their workforce, many from upper levels in management. What happens when this group retires? How can organizations retain the knowledge these workers had?
I used to talk about this issue a lot when I worked for government clients. The U.S. government, particularly at the federal level, is one of the sectors that will be hardest hit by this event.
You’d think, with years to plan — and the government loves to plan — there would be more of a concerted effort to write important things down, put those things in an accessible place, and tell people about them. But this is a classic case of boiling the frog. The situation never seemed dire enough for most organizations to do anything about it.
At an individual scale, most workers don’t have the time to think about transition planning or succession issues. They already have enough work on their plate. And of course, “just writing stuff down” is an oversimplification. It takes time and thought to prepare training and instructional materials. Handing over a few hurriedly scribbled notes on the way out the door is not enough.
Would better tools help? Perhaps. But that brings me to the second article.
In Content as a Capital Asset the Big Men on Content lament that most businesses don’t give enough attention to — or budget for — content management tools. If companies started treating content as capital, they suggest, you’d see businesses doing a better job of cultivating and managing it.
Some industries do treat content as capital. Most newspapers and magazines have morgues, where old editions are preserved. Movie studios have film vaults and sound effect libraries. Artists and designers maintain portfolios.
But in most companies, information management is incidental. It’s something done in the course of business, not as an end in itself. It doesn’t directly impact the bottom line, which is often why calculating ROI is so hard.
We’ve seen, again and again, content management vendors and consultants try to stir up enthusiasm for managing internal company information. Forget the demographic issue, guys — if fear of Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA or product liability suits won’t get companies moving, nothing will.
Instead of trotting out bogeymen, focus on the positive. Give us stories of companies that manage information well and gain efficiency, productivity, and competitive advantage from it. Inspire us, don’t scare us.