Customers want to “hire” a product to do a job . —Clayton M. Christensen

We now live in the information age where most workers can be classified as Information or Knowledge Workers. Information Management practice at Unique World is all about supporting this breed of workers. Building Information Management Solutions is really not about technology. It’s all about improving the development and sharing of information within a business.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”. — Theodore Levitt, the legendry Harvard Business School marketing professor.

As an Information Management consultant I get to interact on a daily basis with corporate and government customers from various horizontal and vertical segments of the market. In some engagements the management have already figured out what they want and only require our guidance and skills to implement solutions (using technology, principally SharePoint) but generally customers seek our input at the business level, advice to improve their Information Architecture and not surprisingly, use our services to enforce or if you like implement it with the help of technology (again principally SharePoint).

Let me share with you the three most frequently raised customer questions:

  1. What options do we have to better manage our Information ?
  2. How do other organisations solve these business problems?
  3. Will implementing SharePoint solve our problems or how will SharePoint solve our problems?

I have observed that the answers to the first two questions, given the correct probing approach can mostly be answered by the customer themselves. Let me explain. These questions are usually raised at the first meeting with a high-level team (at the customer’s end) that has been set up to shepherd the implementation of SharePoint through the organization.

It begins by envisioning, asking questions about the ways in which they think staff interacts daily with information and it soon becomes apparent that they are defining the profiles of users that they do not fully understand, certainly not to the extent necessary to promote information usability. Only after the intent of our questions become clear, that it’s realized the answers are not known.

We all know that solving the business problem requires understanding the problem and breaking it into sizeable, easy to manage pieces so a solution can be applied. Something about small pieces can show results more rapidly?

In the quest to understand the important pieces\artefacts of information and there flow within the organisation, departments and with individuals. The earlier mentioned workshop leads into additional sessions, brain storming, white boarding and the likes. This in turn leads us to recommend past solutions to some similar IM problems. I am beginning to see patterns emerge (definitely, the topic of another post).

IM problems come in all shape and sizes, the problem could be centred around improving internal or external communication , publishing content, centralizing and standardizing information storage, managing of documents and records, information access, automating processes and improving collaboration.

Now you must be wondering how all this relates to the topic or to my blog. Well it’s quite simple, the answer to the third question lies with us, but we can only answer it based on the answers to the first two questions. As you can see that the first two questions are a prerequisite to the third.

Let me try to answer question number three.

As a Microsoft focused Information Management practise the foremost tool in our arsenal is SharePoint . SharePoint is the name given to a set of products and technologies vended by Microsoft. It’s the indented platform for building IM solutions on windows today. An important part to the answer is increasing customer awareness in SharePoint.

The way I understand, an organisation has an IM problem and is initially interested in SharePoint because of one or more of the below mentioned reasons:

  • They have heard about SharePoint or seen a demo and are intrigued by it’s potential
  • It’s known that it’s successfully being used at another company or government department
  • Already own SharePoint product and technology licenses
  • It has significant investments in the Microsoft platform (Windows, Office, .NET etc.)

So by asking the question the customer actually want’s to know if going the SharePoint way is really the optimum or feasible solution (given external factors to the problem like time, cost, resources and quality).

Once the problem is understood, based on the capabilities of SharePoint and perhaps also based on the external factors as mentioned above suggestions and recommendations are made. Some times it becomes apparent that there are gaps between the expectation and what can be delivered and this might require custom development (although I have a developer background in my view this should be the last resort) or perhaps is very labour intensive to solve the problem using the SharePoint platform to start with.

Just like the drill SharePoint can be viewed as a tool with functionality catered to solve only a set number of problems. Although perhaps it’s not as simple with the exciting advent of WSS 3.0 and MOSS , as now the drill has got proportions of a whole toolbox. Giving rise to the importance of understanding and translating the actual business problem so a right sized hole can be drilled. It has to start with the pain or opportunity at the customer.

This piece is in not intended to be exhaustive. Information Management is a broad topic and SharePoint is a huge platform. In this post I have only tried to inscribe some aspects that as I go are becoming clearer.

I would like to conclude today with an interesting question.

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom -> , Where do you think we are heading with this?

Upcoming Posts in this High Level Series

  • SharePoint 2007, Why Enterprise Architects should care?
  • Upgrading to MOSS 2007 – not an insert a CD affair!
  • SharePoint, Minus the marketing schmooze
  • IM Best Practices, Electronic Document Management using SharePoint
  • Customer Expectations, What’s Next?
  • If you pay peanuts you get monkeys!
  • Don’t overlook the Power of Automation