Answering Drucker’s Questions for an information Organisation

When organisations want to buy an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), they often believe it will solve their records management problems. They find they have lots of paper. They have lots of electronic documents. They have shared drives that are full and disorganised. The EDRMS is often touted as the magic bullet, it will solve these problems. However, if we read Peter Drucker, they are solving the wrong problems because they have not asked the right questions.

Peter Drucker suggested some questions in his seminal article The Coming of the New Organisation. ( The new organisation would be based on information. He wrote this in 1988 before the web, digital platforms, or social media, yet had an insight into how organisations worked. More to the point, he understood how computers would influence those organisations.

First, it would allow what people did manually to do it faster.

Second, the data processing would change the structure of an organisation. This was a major insight since it signalled the radical changes in organisations that we are now experiencing.

Third, work will be done differently with sequencing of work being replaced by synchrony of work.

The second point is what I want to consider as it relates to the EDRMS decision. Usually an EDRMS comes with a desire to have “New Ways of Working” (™ © ® etc. etc. ad nauseam (no one ever introduces old ways of working. 🙂 ). The NeWoW reveals, or threatens to reveal, that, as Drucker noted; many layers of management only exist to relay information across the organisation. They serve as signal boosters to pass faint signals from the top to the bottom or farthest reaches and from the farthest reaches to the top of the organisation. However, to make the NeWoW, a success, at least in terms of the EDRMS, the organisation has to know how it works. Here is where most change programmes fail since people rarely ask the questions posed. Or at least, it does not appear these questions are asked. Usually, consultants will come and discuss Business Process Re-engineering. This is useful, except it only address the first point. It helps the organisation do what it does manually, faster with the new digital system.

What I am not aware of, but perhaps a reader is, of an organisation that has asked itself Drucker’s questions.

  1. What information do senior managers need to do their jobs? (We assume we know that, but we have never asked it or analysed the results)
  2. Where does this information come from? (Here we start to see the myriad of flows, relays, and dead ends that emerge.)
  3. What form is it in? (Is it an email, verbal (formal or informal meetings), written report? Is it anecdotes, polished analysis, a written report?)
  4. How did it flow? (What flows upwards? What flows horizontally? At what level? What flows downward? How do managers get information and from whom? Is it a formal flow or an informal one?)
  5. How much of that data is for control and how much is for information? (I would say 80/20 very little information is circulated for information that staff can use, it is mainly delivered for control)

As Drucker says, information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. However, to convert data into information requires knowledge. Yet, knowledge is specialized. Here the command and control system emerges in its fullest culture especially if the belief that information is power and so must not be shared.

When I first started working in UK local government 15 years ago, I was told an important secret.

“You only tell your direct reports 50% of what they need to know to do their jobs. Otherwise, they will take your job!”

The questions are likely to reveal that the people who convert data to information are senior managers and a few middle managers. The rest are passing information around as relays or collecting the data.

I would be interested to know if anyone has asked Drucker’s 5 questions to see whether you work for a command and control organisation or an information organisation. The answers may reveal the gap between the appearance and the reality.

I would be interested in your views on the questions and the answers.



About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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1 Response to Answering Drucker’s Questions for an information Organisation

  1. Massimiliano Grandi says:

    I think that the main task of every discipline is that of casting light on what was formerly known only by implication and make those who should benefit from it aware of what actually they look for and need.
    This is valid not only for archivistics and records management, of course.
    This exercise is never trivial, because in every domain – as soon as you have tried to organise the whole of the current knowledge by shaping a given model – you almost always find out several cases and occurrences which force you to change your model.
    In this sense, I do not see in principle much difference between fields deemed to rest on particularly developed theoretical systems – such as cosmology or mathematics – on one hand, and disciplines intended to cater for more immediate needs and provide ready-to-use tools for practitioners, on the other hand.
    With reference to the questions listed by Drucker, these should form the primary objective of the famous (or notorious?) functional analysis. Instead of functional analysis we might use other terms: identification of needs; knowledge mapping; risk assessment. Different terms – of course – imply different perspectives, but let us try not to be hypnotised by the fetishism of words: what matters is that – whatever point of view or word you choose – in the end you need to make clear what was formerly guessed or even obscure. When undertaking this process, it is important to set a realistic target, since perfect knowledge is unattainable and – moreover – we do not have to conceive anything similar to the inflationary model to explain the evolution of the Universe, but just find a key that may enable us to understand to a sufficient extent which kinds of information are created and set aside in a given environment and how this information is structured.
    In this sense, I believe that the more important contribution by Drucker is to suggest a different angle from which we can take the cue to start the analysis of an environment and the information objects and flows it hosts.
    Maybe a more user-oriented angle, which is an interesting approach but perhaps also one particularly difficult to be adopted, since the ability of being aware of one’s own needs is not at all something to be taken for granted and you need much insight, analysis and effort to gain this knowledge.


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