Understanding ECM Is About Dialect

One thing I’ve learned over 15 years in ECM is that there are characteristics in individual systems and solutions that often come to the level of idiosyncrasies.  The problem is that too often people on opposite sides of the table can argue against the same side of a solution for hours without realizing that both sides were talking about the same thing.  Too often we get so wrapped up in our own language of ECM that we don’t realize there are different vendor, industry, and customer dialects.

Take electronic signatures.  Those that are true subject matter experts know that there are several variants of electronic signatures.  The goal is to understand what the customer really is looking for in their solution.  Some may thing that they need full PKI based encryption keys.  But would you be surprise that electronic signatures as mandated by the FDA are as simple as a user name and password validation stored in a system log?  In fact, real world signatures can simply be an “x” on the line.  In lay legal terms, it’s the event.

But It Doesn’t Need to Be that Complex of a Topic

Take something as simple as versions or revisions.  It can be said that version control creates new versions of a document and that those documents have unique version control numbers.  It can also be said that version control creates new revisions of documents and those documents have unique revision control numbers.  It can be also …

Wait a minute.

It can simply be said that (version/ revision) control creates new (versions/ revisions) of a document and that those documents have unique (version/ revision) control numbers.  But don’t get me started about change control.

You see what I mean.  Those of us that have worked for several different customers or vendors have seen this and in many cases regularly.  You may not think about it yourself.  You quickly modify your presentation or your planned words to change “version” to “change”.  But you have that opportunity.  When you’re answering an RFI, RFP, or even an email, what you may think of as a simple terminology change, can be a huge issue.  “We weren’t looking for version control.  We are looking for change control.”

Want another good example?  How about: metadata, properties, tags, and attributes.  Also this is not just an issue with single terms.  Think of concepts like security or workflows.  The list goes on and on.

“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”

My trick for face to face meetings is a small section of whiteboard I set aside as the “Opportunity Dialect.”  On this part of the board I write word pairs that I need to remember.  I am at the customer site and especially if they are not customers yet.  It’s much better to fit into their language, for now, they have been discussing ECM in these terms for months or years.  Changing a term now may isolate others not in the meeting today.  But I always refer to my answers, to a degree, with my terms.  “Yes, our product has change control numbers.  I’ll try to remember to call them that be please remember I’m used to calling them version control numbers.”  At the end of my meeting I make sure to take a picture of that list of words too.  This way any follow up conversations also come across more clearly.  I also do a similar thing with phone conversations.

The bigger point is, do not be afraid to ask questions.  In fact, sometimes it’s worth asking questions like 3-year-old, “but why?”   I went on my first customer visit, to one the team had been to several times.  Before my topic was to be addressed there was an “issue” that needed to be resolved.  I asked what that “issue” was and was told it would take too long to explain to me.   I heard opposite sides of the table arguing the same side of the issue.  At its core was a simple confusion of how the two sides looked at XML segments.  Once we understood their segmenting, a six month tech support problem was closed by a simple conversation.

ECM Esperanto

The better solution is that we need to get closer to a common ECM vocabulary.  I think AIIM’s ECMp program gets us there.  It’s a great way for those of us that are long time practitioner to start speaking the same language.  I just wish they take the program a step “earlier.”  By this I mean I’d like to see a fundamentals primer program that’s maybe an hour long that gives key concepts and terms for free.  This way the general customer audience (users) can watch it to get up to speed and then administrators would take the ECMp.  For instance it was nice to get AIIM’s clarification how attributes, metadata and tags relate to one another.

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