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. (https://hbr.org/1988/01/the-coming-of-the-new-organization) 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.
- 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)
- Where does this information come from? (Here we start to see the myriad of flows, relays, and dead ends that emerge.)
- What form is it in? (Is it an email, verbal (formal or informal meetings), written report? Is it anecdotes, polished analysis, a written report?)
- 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?)
- 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.