Inbox Zero?

InBox Zero

Recently Inbox Zero popped up again. Not a surprise considering summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere are coming to an end.

Automated responses

The BBC ran an article 2 days ago where German car maker Daimler offered employees to delete holiday emails in a very friendly way:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Comments are consequently positive: “This is good email management.” It doesn’t address the standard flood of emails although it makes the re-start after being away a lot easier and not daunting.

Another approach is trialled by the Christchurch City Council. The management team implemented a suggested response when the recipient is “just copied in”. The response reads similar to this:

“Thank you for your email. As I’m just copied in, your email has been parked in my “for info” folder. I’ll endeavour to check those emails once a week. If your correspondence is urgent please re-send it to me directly with your expectations of my action.”

The objective is to reduce cluttering email inboxes with information that doesn’t require an urgent action by the recipient or in short to reduce clutter.

Most email applications allow for such automated actions via rules and filters, and categories, folders and labels.

Decisions

While the technology allows for such things, it’s up to us humans to actually do it. That means,

  1. consider your response types (do, reply, defer, delegate, archive, delete or see the original post from Merlin Mann),
  2. create good auto- and template responses,
  3. and then actually do it.

The reality looks, unfortunately, different. Some follow their good intentions and put such actions into place while others don’t. There are some good and not so good reasons:

  • a full inbox means I’m busy
  • I actually like having that many emails
  • the Inbox search is great – why hiding important stuff in many folders
  • those rules are too complicated
  • I fear I miss important stuff
  • people expect I’m informed what’s going on
  • the tools don’t match how I work

Some options

Hey, it’s your Inbox, isn’t it?

or

Could we check how you work and see if there is a process that can be adjusted, another tool be found, or expectations managed more efficiently? There are systems like Sanebox, or MailBox, Mailstrom, and Tapermail that all take a different approach. And there is this blogpost for Outlook fans. One might work for you well 🙂

 

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BI or Business Intelligence

BI CubeSome time ago I started this series of blog posts on Information Management. Just to recall we are talking about People, processes, content, and technology. Today I’d like to dive a bit into the content aspect.

Big Data

has a number of components, namely volume, variety, velocity and lifespan.

The volume of information we create and capture has increased exponential over time. Using electronic systems has made that a lot easier than just 60 years ago. And sensors everywhere – thinking “Internet of Things” will continue to push that volume up. Although, volume is no substitute for quality. Finding the information that has value for you (or your business) is critical.

Many data sources are now from automated systems. If you ever watched “Person of Interest” you know what I mean. But simple things add to the variety of information that is collected and created. Think SmartPhone (location based data), wearables (heartrate, …), optical sensors, pressure sensors, and so on. Not everything is standardised and that makes it challenging from a technical perspective to sort, analyse and generally make sense of it. Just have a quick look at the different standards for spatial information.

10 years back doing a daily back up was acceptable and monthly ones were kept for a long time to cover regulatory compliance. Just a few years later many organisations couldn’t complete a full back up every day. The schedule timeframe was too short. Incremental back ups were necessary to cover just the changes. Velocity driven data management started then. Today sensor created data and the multitude of people providing information are updating the knowledge of many domains continuously.

Quality

All 3 factors provide us with up to date information. It’s just the question to find the relevant information for our specific challenge. BI or Business Intelligence is the key buzzword for some time to address this. ETL or Extract – Transform – Load are the processes BI employs to provide actionable information from the big bucket of collected data. BI relies heavily on the accuracy of the source data and their actuality. Hence 2 processes are consistently applied, one that ensures outdated information is archived or reviewed and another that qualifies the data on its source reputation.

BI can then be applied to provide 4 stages of information

(1) hind sight – an explanation why something has happened

(2) summary – a condensed version what is happening right now

(3) foresight – an exploratory view of what might happen

(4) influence – a set of possible actions to achieve a certain result in the future

Challenges and Opportunities!

Internal versus External

Enable or Protect

In many discussions the view of customer  is often cited as a core driver. Organisations have long made a distinction between an external customer and an internal employee. While there is a strong push to only see one customer in recent times, this push comes from a UX (user experience perspective) and “mobile first” perspective.

In this post I’m looking at Information Management from a security perspective. I strongly believe there are differences for employees and customers. In this case customer includes the B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Customer) elements.

The Internal View

Enable and Protect

Most organisations have adopted a policy of openness and information sharing. Fileserver security is often implemented as open unless specific needs require folders or files to be secured. The latter is usually bound to confidential or sensitive information like commercial negotiations and agreements, NDA (non-disclosure) data, and personnel files. Other information is shared to achieve better re-use of data, enable master data management, foster staff engagement, and nurture cross functional teams.

The element of trust plays a significant role at what level data is shared.

The element of control plays a second level role which data is classified and who is the gatekeeper.

The balance between those two is for each organisation different and largely influenced by what is commonly called Culture and the Industry the organisation plays in.

A good description is “Enable and Protect if necessary”

The External View.

ProtectAndEnable

Customers want to have easy access to their information with the organisation. Repeat data entries is a turn off. If I can’t see what I’ve done previously is also a big no – no. At the same time my information should be protected from other customers or organisations but not necessarily from other employees of my business. For example a third party is working on a project with the organisation, then this information should be shared between the relevant team members of both businesses.

Consequently such external collaboration is often implemented in closed groups or spaces where membership is controlled. This model requires a much closer attention to detail and review of membership in particular when staff on either side move to a different business or part of the organisation.

Trust and Control play again an important role, although the weight towards control is much larger and often reversed to the Internal implementation.

The description here would be “Protect and Enable where appropriate”.

A Process Guide

Librarian, the Original Search EngineIn the world of Information Management we encounter a lot of different types of data. In order to get the most value an organisation (or individual) would need to know what is perceived as valuable. And also, how the value is realised.

For example, recently Tesla announced making their priced intellectual property available to the public. That is a change in the business thinking of perceived value from keeping the information secret to stay ahead of the pack to sharing the information to innovate faster and create momentum.

My process guide includes these questions:

  • WHAT to document?
    Not everything has value, identify it and exclude it from being treated as such. Simplify the management of non-value items.
  • WHERE to save or publish
    First, understand the difference between a simple “save” = making sure the document is recoverable and a different concept “publish” = making information available for consumption by others. Second, have rules or guidelines where such artefacts are physically located. This can range from your local hard-drive, file servers, dedicated cloud services, to document or record management systems. You decide but spell it out.
  • HOW to document
    This looks like a trivial idea, it is not. The level of detail may make a difference for regulatory information compared to a customer record. One must have certain details to ensure compliance, while the other may be okay with only some meta data relative to the current conversation.
  • HOW to version
    luckily many systems have version control build in – see document management systems in Wikipedia. However, there are still plenty applications that do not. Email is first on that list.
  • HOW to share
    You may ask, what’s the problem? We access the same file on the file server / cloud service / etc. And external people get a copy by email or memory stick. The distribution of uncontrolled copies is enemy no. 1 for Information Management. You will never know who still got the old copy with the incorrect pricing information in chapter 5.
  • HOW to manage access
    Having mastered a better sharing solution, you will find another stepping stones along the way. The best way to manage access. 2 different schools of thought exists – (1) everything is open and only special items are secured. (2) everything is closed and access is granted where needed. Option (1) is common in internal networks and (2) in extranets.
  • WHAT is the change process
    2 core change processes exist. (1) how becomes a saved artefact published? Are there stop gaps, control mechanism, approval workflows, or gatekeepers involved? (2) how is a published artefact updated? And in particular how are stakeholders notified?

I hope those few ideas are helping to get some discussion going!

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Note, the above image is taken from this blog advertising a role as Librarian in 2013. I recommend reading it 🙂

Why should I do Information Management?

Wanted! people that follow processes

Wanted! people that follow processes

In my previous post I highlighted the 4 corner stones of good Information Management.

  • people
  • processes
  • content and
  • technology

Today, I want to add more detail on the people section. You can have the most clever system and still nobody cares. That would be worst case scenario. How can we pave the way for being successful on this front?

User Experience

About 10 years ago I was the first time involved in Document Management. A small team having experts from the different business areas designed the requirements. A large 20 page document outlined all meta data we could think of, structured in categories and divided into mandatory and optional items. We presented this to a selected group of people with devastating result. It failed the 7 second filing test.

One guy said, “if it takes me longer than 7 seconds to file a document with all this extra data, I won’t do it. I’ll use my trusted filing system where I know exactly where my documents are. Others are most welcome to follow the same process.”

These few sentences highlighted common problems with projects, that were not designed with the user in mind but with a process or an ideal outcome. In this case, all documents would be perfectly tagged with relevant meta data and a process would take care of that.

Lessons learnt:

  • any system must be at least as good as the existing system
  • any trade offs must be clearly understood and accepted
  • and the system must be designed for excellent user experience

Is UX sufficient?

The answer is likely to find in this quote:

Any information system is only as good as it is being used.

Tell me, what else can you do that people use the system?

 

4 principles of Information Management

Variety - Volume - Velocity

Variety – Volume – Velocity

The world of big data arrived some time ago. And while the amount of information on the Net is continuously rising, it happens on our personal and corporate systems, too. One only needs to look at the emergence of products like “Sanebox“, which helps you manage your email inbox, cloud storage and share systems like Dropbox and Box, and the rapidly rising capacity that Amazon provides with S3.

Every one of us has so much information available that it becomes harder to keep track of what’s important and how to find it again 2 weeks later!

Good Information Management starts with recognising that is necessary to do something about it.

People

This leads us straight to the first principle. Employees need to do Information Management and not just acknowledging it is a good thing. Hence we must put things in place that ensure people act and act consistently.

Process

This is supported by well designed processes. For example, a supplier email comes in advising a new pricelist. Who receives the email? Is it documented where the new pricelist is stored? Are relevant people notified? Is the old pricelist replaced or marked as obsolete? What happens if the email recipient has left the company?

Content

Information Management is about content. Recognise the different types of information from Word documents, to emails and phone call, from drafts to published data, or from project management to customer requests. Create categories that are relevant to your business and link those to your processes.

Technology

Okay, I’m in IT so let’s not forget that the tools you use play a role, too. Where do people store information? On the local harddrives, a shared service, the cloud? Consistently in the same folders or directories? A lot of people use their email system for storage and retrieval. Most email systems have quite good search capabilities while finding a much needed document on a shared drive or even your local computer is often a challenge. Choose technology that does what you want and is aligned how your staff works.