The Gulf Between IM and IT
How many times have you left a joint meeting of members of your organization's Information Management (IM) and IT teams thinking that everyone was on the same page, only to find out a few days later that the decisions your colleagues in the "other" unit took away were totally different from what your unit did?
It happens more often than we think. And when it does happen, we should consider ourselves lucky if it takes only a few days for the inconsistent understanding to surface. The tough cases are those when the misunderstanding doesn't come to light for weeks or even months.
IM and IT professionals need to collaborate to meet the needs of a client on many occasions; yet, communication is still a problem between us. But why? Why aren’t we all on the same page all the time? I worked as an IT consultant for some 20 years, then as an IM professional for about 12 years, and it still confounds me.
A few factors contribute to it, but I'm going to focus in on two here: vocabulary and perspective.
IM and IT professionals often use the same words, but they use them to mean different things. Some examples:
- In IM, we call shared drives "clean" when we don't find duplicate files, meaningless filenames, and unclaimed documents…in other words, when the contents are well-organized. But a "clean" disk in IT-speak usually means an empty disk, or possibly one that's known to be virus-free.
- In IM, a "business rule" is a procedure or a rule that a business area decides to incorporate into its processes. In IT, a "business rule" is a functional requirement provided by the business area, that gets reflected in the configuration or functioning of the software.
- An IM person might say, "we need to recover the Smith file," suggesting that the file was sent to another office and now needs to be returned. An IT person talks about "recovering" a file when it has been deleted or corrupted.
These are only a few examples of shared but inconsistent vocabulary. There are many others, and until we become aware of them all we will continue to have misunderstandings.
IM and IT approach organizational challenges from a different perspective.
Imagine a client telling both IM and IT about a database of clients it wants to do some analyses on, and then asks the perennial question: "Can we do that?" The answer might be Yes, No, or It Depends.
In the IT world, the technical answer to the question "Can we do this?" is always Yes. We're talking about technology here! Anything is possible if you throw enough time and money at it, so unless the business area is asking to bring people back from Mars (which, apparently, is not yet technically possible), the answer should always be Yes. But in the IT world, people hear that question and take it to mean, "Given your mandate, management's priorities, and our current funding model, will you help us with this?" The answers Yes, No, and It Depends refer to whether the request can be accommodated in the current work plan.
IM professionals hear it differently. The question they hear is, "Can we do this and still be compliant with IM laws and policies, and privacy restrictions?" Yes, No, and It Depends refer to whether we can put in enough safeguards that we don't risk breaking any rules.
Bridging the Gap
Both groups of professionals have the needs of the organization in mind, but those needs are different.
It's no wonder, then, that we often get our signals crossed. Unfortunately, sometimes that breeds frustration and ill feelings, and that situation is never good for the organization. How do we get around that?
At the upcoming AIIM Conference, I will be looking at this issue along with Jeff Ball, Director of Open Government at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We'll talk about how to bridge the gap and get the two groups to collaborate better. Here's a quick preview of our session:
About Lewis S. Eisen, JD CIP CVP
Lewis S. Eisen, B.A., J.D., CIP, offers an approach to drafting policy that has been adopted by groups at organizations across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He is the author of the international bestseller ’How to Write Rules that People Want to Follow: A Guide to Writing Respectful Policies and Directives.’ Contact him for information on running a one-day workshop for your chapter or region.