Information Management Conference 2013

I don’t typically write about work because, you know, it’s work. But, at the end of November, my branch, in conjunction with AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) Western Canada, hosted an Information Management conference. For those of you who don’t know, that’s my field. Professionally, I’m a librarian, but instead of working in a library, I opted to work in Records Management (which is the old school term for Information Management) and eventually migrated over the my current job focusing on imaging/digitization (digitally capturing records for use in electronic content management systems) and general business analysis. I work for the Government of Alberta. Which is part of why I have a disclaimer on my blog.

I have to admit that initially I was a bit concerned that the conference would be mostly vendors trying to sell things and government employees re-hashing presentations I’ve already seen a million times. But, they pulled a rabbit out of their hat and found some interesting speakers covering a diverse array of relevant topics. The theme was “Navigating the Digital Future” so pretty much everything was about Electronic Content Management (ECM), digital content management issues (security, governance, etc.), and the use of digital information (big data, social media, etc.). The main streams were: Strategic Information management, Digital by Design, and Emerging Trends & Technologies.

I was going to be a dutiful employee and only attend sessions that were relevant to my job, but my boss (who is awesome!) encouraged me to think outside of the box and attend a mix of useful and “fun” sessions. In retrospect, I really think that this is the right way to do a conference. Pick a couple that you “need” to go to, but then let your brain stretch and expand by picking a few that sound interesting or that are covering new-to-you topics.

I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and some of the things I learned at each of the sessions I attended (and give you a glimpse into my professional world).

Day 1

Topic: The Workplace in 2020 (Keynote address) ; Presenter: Jesse Wilkins, AIIM
I think it’s fair to say that Jesse likes to keep things current. There are, sadly, still a lot of old school information managers who can’t get past the idea that ALL THE THINGS need to be managed PERFECTLY. Guess what! Ain’t gonna happen. Do you know what else isn’t going to happen? People like me aren’t going to stop periodically hitting the social media sites during the workday, or trying to use our own (more advanced) technology for work (ex: using your tablet instead of a notebook in meetings), and otherwise giving the old school peeps minor heart attacks. Time and time again, I see the more modern thinkers telling us to embrace it all: embrace social media, embrace BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and embrace the fact that records management will never be perfect, but that “close enough” is better than nothing

Jesse spoke about some of these issues and I think this was a really great way to start the conference. It was a much needed slap in the face to remind us that we were there to be open to the digital world and start thinking about how we can migrate away from the old school ways and into a more modern ways of thinking.

Topic: Experiences with Google Docs ; Presenter: Simon Collier, University of Alberta
So, the University of Alberta has migrated their email and such to Google.

Wowza!

This was/is a big project they undertook and I was quite impressed with the fact that they pulled it off. Before this, the university had something ridiculous like 82 different email systems, multiple IT departments, and a whole lot of trouble collaborating outside of departments. In the end, they’d migrated 170,000 users (if I remember correctly). Users have access to use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, and Google Docs.

Simon was very frank about things: it’s not perfect, there are still issues, and it’s hard work because they need to keep up with Google who likes to innovate and make changes as needed. But, on the whole, it sounded like things were going pretty well.

Some of the audience asked very pointed records management questions. I was really impressed with Simon’s honesty (records management isn’t really a bit priority for them) and logic (the data is stored in Google data centres, but why worry about NSA spying on them – it’s more likely to be hackers trying to steal innovation, and Google is all over trying to keep hackers out to avoid being front page news).

Actually, on that note, he made two really good points: (a) there are enough government agreements between the US and Canada that it doesn’t really matter where your data is stored – if law enforcement really wants to spy on you, they will find a way, even if it means using agreements to get your own country to spy on you, and (b) Google data isn’t just stored in the US, it’s all over the world in international data warehouses.

Topic: Data Surveillance (Plenary session, which means that everyone saw this presentation) ; Presenter: Ray Boisvert, I-Sec, Integrated Strategies and former CSIS Assistant Director
The theme of this talk was basically hacking 101. Gone are the days of only having to worry about countries spying on countries; now hacking is happening 24/7 to pretty much everyone. Think you aren’t important enough to be hacked? Wrong. Once they have control of you, they can broaden their reach to everyone you’re connected to – eventually they will find someone important or someone they can easily steal from.

One interesting idea Ray brought up was who we trust with our information. People freak out about providing Facebook (etc.) with personal information or having things stored in the cloud, but in the grand scheme of things, Facebook is more secure than the online appointment booking system for your hair salon. Why? Because Facebook has a vested interest in not being hacked and they are a prime target, so they work hard to keep hackers out. You hair salon probably thinks that no one would bother hacking them. I think what it comes down to is this: be smart (use good passwords, don’t use the same password everywhere, don’t post things like credit card details, set privacy settings appropriately, etc.).

And, just for fun, he shared this video, which is pretty hilarious.

CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs

Topic: Big Data and Analytics – How to Make Sense of the Data Deluge and Drive Value for your Organization ; Presenter: Éric Leduc, Microsoft
I haven’t much to say about this presentation. It was interesting and the speaker was very engaging, but it felt a bit too much like a sales pitch and a bit like he was confusing Big Data with crowdsourcing. (Note: I don’t always have a problem with sales pitches, and, in fact, a colleague and I wished that there had been a showcase room where vendors could show off their services or latest devices so that we could play and ask questions. But, the presentation description made this sound like a presentation about Big Data, not about the Microsoft tools we can use to handle Big Data.)

Based on various conversations and questions I heard throughout the conference, I think a lot of people are still pretty confused about what Big Data is. I’m going to be lazy and refer to Wikipedia (from Wikipedia’s Big Data entry, November 29th, 2013):

Big data is the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

In other words, there’s so much data that trying to find useful information/knowledge can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Topic: Picard vs. Crusher: Will Fake People Still Read Books in the 24th Century? ; Presenter: Mike Perschon, Grant McEwan University
If you ever get a chance to listen to this man, do so. He’s very engaging and interesting. He’s also a nerd (he’s a literature prof with a love for scifi and fantasy). For the conference, he spoke about paper versus digital books (noting that it’s incorrect to say “print vs. digital” as they’re both types of print), and instead of telling us which is better, he spoke about the pros and cons of both  and engaged the audience to be a part of the discussion.

One point he made is that formats have been changing since we first started writing things down. This relates to both the physical format (clay tablets, scrolls, paper, digital, etc.) and the way in which things are told (epics versus novels, etc.). He didn’t discuss audiobooks, but I think they fit in the conversation, too.

He also pointed out that people can get really hung up on reading things in their original form, but sometimes we need to alter things in order for the masses to consume it. Case in point, Beowolf is considered the first work of English literature, but because it’s written in Anglo-Saxon, we have to translate it for regular folk to read it.

Direct quote from his slides (source unspecified):

The goal is always communication.
We read to KNOW.
We write to be KNOWN.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this. The number of random blogs out there (mine included) is a pretty good indication that people want to be known in some way. How they want to be known affects the content and approach used (ex: high profile blogs with giveaways and ads, versus a random personal blog with no set agenda with minimal followers … like mine).

What is all came down to was this: the format isn’t necessarily going to affect the consumption of the content. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if you read something that’s in paper or digital format, at least you’re reading!

Also, I learned a new word: malapropism. Here’s an example of a malapropism: the octopus wrapped his testicles around the ship and crushed it. Can you guess what a malapropism is? That’s right. It’s the use of an wrong word in place of one that sounds similar (tentacle vs. testicle) resulting in something silly.

Day 2

Topic: Rethinking Strategy: New Tools for Stakeholder Alignment, Collaboration and Collective Impact ; Presenter: David Forrest, Global Vision Consulting Ltd.
Sometimes it’s the content that matters more than the medium. Marshall McLuhan, Canadian communication theory philosopher, once stated that the medium is the message. I think a lot of people falsely interpret that as meaning that the medium used is the message itself, but what he was really saying was that the medium used influences how a message is perceived. Some may argue that how a presentation is delivered (in terms of whether the speaker is engaging or dry) may not count as a medium, but I think that the presentation of content can affect what people get out of it.

What does this have to do with David’s presentation? He isn’t the most dynamic presenter and I happened to overhear some people who asserted that his presentation was boring and that they didn’t understand what his points were. Clearly, they weren’t actually listening to him. His presentation wasn’t all fireworks and go-go dancers, but he had some very interesting things to say about strategy and strategy development.

In a lot of organizations, strategy seems to be predominantly created by big-wigs in their insulated little offices. On occasion, the rest of the employees get the chance to have a wee say on the finer details of the implementation of the strategy, but not often enough. As David said, we need to be fully aware of the world around us when creating strategy, we need to adjust to changing circumstances (which means that long term strategies need to be reviewed and updated regularly), and we need to include the worker bees in the strategic planning (they will make it happen, so they need to be included to help guide it and feel a sense of shared purpose in order for the strategic plans to be a success).

He then spoke a lot about engagement, which I found ironic, considering the previously mentioned people who’d clearly checked out simply because his tone was a bit monotonous. People aren’t engaged at work and that affects both their quality of work and their quality of life. If organizations are able to foster a sense of shared purpose, more people will be engaged and find their jobs more rewarding (which is beneficial to the people who hired them, as they get better quality work). David also spoke about roadmaps and how they can tell the story of the organization’s shared purpose and provide defined accountability and goals.

It wasn’t the most life altering presentation I’ve ever heard, but it was full of good content that I wish more people would incorporate in their business planning.

Topic: Motivation Deficit: Understanding and Recharging the Dead Battery Employee ; Presenter: Ann Curry, University of Alberta
This was an interesting, albeit more academic, presentation. The focus was on motivation: what it is, the many (many!) theories about it, and some general information about the importance of having motivated employees.

Basically what it comes down to is this: everyone has different motivators and different approaches work for different people. This can make trying to motivate employees difficult, because one size does not fit all. But, it’s worth your while to motivate employees because they will work harder and have more loyalty to the purpose and vision your organization is striving for.

Topic: The Three Essential Building Blocks of Data Integrity ; Presenter: Martin Felsky, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
Martin is one of the go-to people for data integrity and the use of electronic content in courts in Canada. I’ve been to at least half a dozen presentations by him, mostly about the same topics, but I still learn something new each time. For example, did you know that they will be working on updating CGSB standard 72.34? No, probably not. I bet you didn’t even know it existed. It’s all about the use of electronic documents as evidence, and it was written in 2005, so it could use an update to incorporate changes (of which there are many) over the past 8 years.

Martin provided us with a big long list of problems that lead to data integrity issues. They included: no indexing/metadata, not having a procedures manual, not having or (worse) not following policies (ex: records retention policies), inconsistent policies or systems within an organization, orphaned data, no quality control, no tracking or audit trails, inadequate security, etc. There are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration when planning to manage records electronically and it’s amazing how many organizations (or, even just parts of organizations) are missing some, if not all key steps needed to create a solid electronic information management program. And, this is a pretty big deal with you get called to court. If you can’t prove that your records are authentic, you won’t be able to use them.

Topic: [Endnote Address] ; Presenter: Jill Clayton, Information and Privacy Commissioner, Alberta
The was a short and sweet presentation in which Jill reminded us of the importance on information management in the continued efforts to protect private information while still managing the dissemination of any information that’s allowed to be shared. Basically, the best way to avoid issues is to have clear guidelines and know where (and how) to find the information that has been requested. This is a pretty hot topic in the public sector because a lot of people (everything from reporters to scholars to citizens who think the government is a giant conspiracy) request information on a regular basis, and the government holds a lot of private information both about its employees (politicians to mailroom workers) and citizens (we need to know who you are in order to provide services). But, all of that information is protected as needed and accessible only to the people who actually need it to do their jobs.

 

And, that, my friends, was the conference, as I experienced it.

I, along with a handful of others, Tweeted during the event, which I’m sure drew the ire of a few oldies (of which there are many, because I work in the public sector) who probably thought I wasn’t paying attention, but I like the interactive approach to conference attendance. It was great being able to read tidbits from the sessions I didn’t go to. And, yes, I know how controversial tweeting a conference is. I tried to keep my tweets to a minimum out of respect for my non-IM twitter friends, but I’m sure that at least one follower was glad when it was over ;)

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