Is Real ILM Possible?

Managing data effectively has always been a major challenge for businesses. How do you capture it? Store it? Process it? Access it? What do you do with it once its immediate usefulness to your organization is gone? And, naturally, how do you accomplish all this at the lowest possible cost?

Today, the darling theory of many IT managers, analysts and consultants is Information Lifecycle Management, or ILM. ILM solves all these problems and more -- at least according to its advocates. But critics believe that the technologies, much less the mindset of IT professionals and users, means that ILM is not quite ready for prime time.

"Is it possible?" asks Steve Dupulessie, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc.  "Yes. Is it realistic? No."

ILM Defined
First, what is ILM? Although definitions abound, it's generally agreed that ILM is not a technology per se, but a set of management processes supported by technology that attempt to manage how data flows through a business, from the time it is collected until the time it is no longer needed.

Using ILM to manage costs is a major part of the picture. The expense of collecting, storing and managing data over its entire lifecycle must somehow correspond to its value to a business.

"ILM is really about taking a business view of information and developing the appropriate infrastructure to enable it, and in the process, reduce costs," says Jeff Porter, chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Data Management Forum. 

Regulatory requirements also play a part. By ensuring timely access to data -- both current and historical -- enterprises can more easily comply with legal directives such as Sarbanes-Oxley and perform audits or respond to other external demands to produce data in a timely manner. (article continues)

Not Just an IT Issue
"ILM requires collaboration among business users, records-management people, IT, legal professionals and security groups to determine the true value of that information for the business as it moves over time," says Porter. But such collaboration is difficult to achieve. "Any ILM initiative will fail unless all these people are involved, and committed," says Porter.

In a perfect world, companies would create a set of data-centric business policies that could have technologies that would automatically enforce them. "For example, if we said, 'no MP3 files on the corporate servers,' we could apply tools to seek out MP3s, delete or move them, and notify the users that they had violated corporate policy," says Dupulessie.

Indeed, on the technology side, products that support ILM are finally becoming available to do just that. Tiered storage products have been around for some time, but several other types of software, particularly data classification and master data management (MDM) systems, are emerging that promise to support ILM initiatives.

Over the past 18 months, a number of companies -- mostly small startups -- have released data classification products that can evaluate information value and automate movement across storage tiers based upon business policies. Right now, these things are largely being done with home-grown scripts, but EMC, Scentric, Abrevity and Kazeon Systems, among others, are marketing commercial data classification software that supports ILM. (article continues)

MDM offers an alternative technology solution. Banker is a proponent of MDM solutions, which go beyond ERP and CRM and represent the "newest attempt at achieving a single version of the truth," says Steve Banker, service director for the Arc Advisory Group, an analyst firm based in Denham, Massachusetts. The goal of MDM software is to collect all the different -- and frequently contradictory -- data that enterprises possess into a central repository. In short: if ILM represents the business processes, MDM is the technology that will get you there, says Baker.

Vendors producing MDM systems include Oracle, IBM and Informatica, among a host of others.

"We're just entering a time when ILM can be achieved based on these new technologies," Porter says, cautioning, however, that these products are largely 1. X versions, and enterprises need to do test installs and understand the vendors' roadmaps going forward before committing to a particular product.

Still, analysts say, as these technologies mature, ILM holds out significant promise for IT management.

Decision Support Systems for Executives

Keeping a business on course and profitable requires a corporate leader to make judicious decisions at every step. It's no surprise, then, that decision support systems (DSS), long used at the operational levels of enterprises, have matured enough to become part of executives' everyday tools.

"Although some people think the term DSS is dated -- preferring to call it business intelligence, performance management, executive information system or some other name -- DSS is still a useful way to inclusively describe a broad variety of automated systems specifically designed to support decision-making," says Dan Power, editor of Decision Support Systems Resources, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Difference Is in the Data
When compared to DSS systems designed for the rank-and-file, executive DSS systems are much more visual. They focus on graphical representations of key metrics to help executives digest a lot of information quickly, according to William McKnight, senior vice president of information management at CSI, a systems consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. "In many, if not most cases, executives don't have the time to drill down into the data, but instead want to get to a quick conclusion," he says. (article continues)

Another key difference is that executives tend not to need real-time data as much as operating employees. "Up-to-the-minute information is less important than having ready access on figures for the month, the week, or perhaps the close of business the day before," McKnight says.

Although DSS technology is fairly mature, there have been recent advances in terms of portability: Web-based systems that can be accessed from anywhere using a standard web browser and executive dashboards that can be viewed on cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are making DSS a truly ubiquitous tool for IT executives who are frequently on the road.

Changing Behaviors to Better Exploit the Tools
The biggest challenges for organizations wishing to put executive DSS systems in place are behavioral rather than technical. "There are still some things that executives don't want to use a computer for -- they'd prefer to get certain information in paper form," says Power. "Also, what is the culture of the company? Is it fact-driven? If so, DSS systems probably will be more successful than if executives like to make decisions based on intuition." (article continues)

A secondary, but equally critical, concern is getting the data in shape. "Although it's pretty common these days for companies to have data warehouses, databases can sometimes be built specifically for DSS systems," says McKnight. "In either case, making sure that the data is well integrated, clean and kept up to date is essential."

Implementing DSS for the executive suite can motivate senior managers to rethink and re-engineer their business processes. "At first, it's smart to design your DSS systems so that they fit into executives' existing routines," says McKnight. "But eventually, if the DSS developers do a good job, the tools will encourage executives to modify their behavior to make the most of the rich information being captured and stored by the organization."

Ultimately, however, the real risk related to DSS is not doing it. "Some industries haven't yet moved to DSS, but that number is decreasing. The danger is that a competitor will make good use of DSS, will be more responsive to market conditions and will steal market share from you," said Power. "This isn't to say that you are guaranteed to be successful if you've put DSS into place -- there are no such guarantees -- but it's fast becoming a mandatory technology for individuals leading large complex companies."

Web 2.0 Seduces the Enterprise

Talk about disruptive technologies. Despite being widely available for only a few years, Web 2.0 tools, such as WYSIWYG blogging platforms, wikis, social networks, RSS and social bookmarking sites have had a tremendous impact on the way millions of people think about and use the Internet. The term "Web 2.0" itself didn't enter the popular lexicon until 2004; two years later, Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee coined the term "Enterprise 2.0," introducing the concept in a Spring 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review article entitled "Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration."

In each case, the terms and their meanings inspired immediate controversy. Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee has dismissed "Web 2.0" as "a piece of jargon," arguing that the term could just as well describe the original Web functions, which enabled easy connections between people and information. Some argued strongly against an "Enterprise 2.0" entry in Wikipedia, saying that it was too much of a buzzword; the entry survived that debate, but has since been redubbed "Enterprise social software." This entry itself may soon merge with an entry on "social computing."

While these disputes appear, at first glance, to center largely on semantics, they're emblematic of the seismic shift brought about by Web 2.0. Even the most technically disinclined users have to admit that the content creation and sharing tools clustered under the Web 2.0 rubric enhance and facilitate the Internet experience.

Who Wants To Collaborate?
McAfee refers to Web 2.0 applications generally as "emergent social software platforms." This is a crucial, unusual, and perhaps defining phrase," says McAfee, especially in the enterprise context. "I emphasize the word 'emergent' because the new platforms are not trying to dictate to users how (article continues)

they should contribute, or what they should be saying in what format or what structure. Instead, the smart managers and the smart technologists are presenting something that's pretty close to a blank slate, then trying to get out of the way of users and watch what emerges."

McAfee believes that "Enterprise 2.0" -- by which he simply means the use of "social software" or Web 2.0 tools inside of companies or between companies working together -- has great potential to increase worker productivity. The adoption of this collaborative software is not inevitable, however. Senior executives are excited by the possibilities, McAfee notes. "Their job is to make the organization run better. They want all information that will help them do that." But there's active resistance at other levels.

Some of the hostility comes from a simple, but revelatory, difference between social software and traditional business software. The latter is about imposing order and structure throughout an organization, which is, of course, a necessity in many areas. The former imposes little or no structure and by definition lends itself, says McAfee, "to the appearance of unanticipated patterns and structure and content." Unpredictability, understandably enough, makes lots of people nervous, especially if they have turf to protect.

Easier Than You Think
The fact is, says Forrester analyst Oliver Young, Web 2.0 tools make it easier for people to get things done. Interactions via e-mail and phone are relatively ad hoc and decentralized, he argues, while social software enables, "efficient interaction between people, content and data." (article continues)

Take RSS, for example. Often mistaken for another form of social software, RSS is actually an increasingly popular marketing tool. Companies can publish very specific information about new products, bug fixes and special promotions, and make it easily accessible to customers via RSS.

"Bringing the publish-and-subscribe paradigm of RSS into the enterprise has been one of the biggest hurdles," Young says, in large part because IT departments are concerned with the technology's security. RSS capabilities built into Internet Explorer 7 and Outlook, for example, don't provide the kind of security that can be built into a dedicated feed reader. "There's the potential that you'll be opening yourself to viruses and spyware," says Young, but quickly adds that this security concern is, right now, more theoretical than real.

Putting Web 2.0 To Use
Much of the above explains why Enterprise 2.0 is a lot like sex: everyone talks about it, most people think that others are doing it more, but in fact it's very difficult to know what's really going on inside the firewalls. Only a few major corporations have wholeheartedly embraced Enterprise 2.0 tools: McDonald's and Northwestern Mutual each have built new Intranets upon platforms centered on customizable home pages, social networking capabilities, wikis, blogs, RSS and other Web 2.0 tools, but in most organizations, the tools are often being used in small groups or divisions. Dell's support team has adopted wikis as a key tool for sharing solutions to customer problems, but it's unclear how often other segments of Dell use wikis. (article continues)

Blogs and wikis seem to be the most commonly used Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise, says Young, with RSS and social networking applications making some headway. This is likely to change soon, as Microsoft has added Web 2.0 pieces to SharePoint (basic blogging and wiki functionality) and other big players like IBM, SAP, Oracle and BEA are, says Young, "bringing these tools into the enterprise as part of the typical application upgrade."

Young says that IBM, with Lotus Connections, has the most complete Web 2.0 suite and that although hard sales numbers haven't been released, the company has "said anecdotally that they're doing better than they'd hoped up to this point."

These large, traditional enterprise software providers seem to be battling it out with scores of nimble Web 2.0 startups for business market share, but the most likely scenario, says Young, is that many smaller companies will provide discrete applications for, partner with and eventually be purchased by the bigger fish. The vast majority of CIOs want suites that will provide all of these tools and more, preferably in a one-stop shop scenario. Meanwhile, some examples of well-positioned small and specialized companies include SixApart for blogging; Atlassian Confluence and SocialText for wikis; Communispace for social networking; and NewsGator for RSS.

Web 2.0 tools will inevitably be ubiquitous within most enterprises, which will lead to fundamental changes in the way some business is conducted. This will be disruptive -- but the familiar, major brand packaging, support and security, and the slow, piecemeal adoption of the available tools means we're likely to look back on Enterprise 2.0 as less a revolution than a critical and natural step in IT evolution.

Revive That Derailed Development Project

When IT consultant Mike Benz's phone rings, it's often a client struggling with a software development project gone bad. Recently, for example, a retailer called the certified project management professional (PMP) in Minneapolis, Minn., in a panic: They needed to change their computer software, hardware and their business practices in order to comply with new credit card security standards put forth by the Payment Card Industry (PCI). Having let other projects take priority, they ran into trouble just when they ran out of time.

Application development project failures are ubiquitous; very few organizations don't have a sad story to tell, and often for the same reasons: too- tight deadlines with too-few resources; too much time spent on minutia; and, perhaps most importantly, solid project management practices have not been established.

You don't have to join the "woe is me" chorus. When implementing a development project, forewarned is forearmed.

Getting Better All the Time
Although application implementations are fraught with failure, in fact, the news isn't all bad, emphasizes Jim Johnson, chairman of The Standish Group, a technology research company based in Boston, Mass., that tracks projects and publishes software, "Chaos Report," every two years.

According to the 1998 report, a whopping 28 percent of all software projects worldwide failed or were not used. The number dropped to 23 percent in 2000 and then further decreased to 15 percent in 2002. Johnson attributes the decline between 2000 and 2002 to the fact that spending on Y2K projects slashed (article continues)

budgets for new projects. In 2004, however, the number rose to 18 percent and stayed steady in 2006. Johnson adds that in 1998 the project success rate was 26 percent, but by 2006, 35 percent of projects were delivered on time, on budget and in use.

Based on Johnson's "waste-to-value" ratio, companies are getting a better return on their IT investment. "For every dollar we spent on software projects in 1998, only 25 cents went towards value," explains Johnson, whereas by 2006, 59 cents went towards value. "I equate that to better project management, better project management techniques, smarter users who are able to articulate what their needs are and smaller projects that are more agile and done quicker."

Plan to Re-plan
"What sends a lot of software projects off track is poor initial conditions at the outset; mistakes get made fairly early in the lifecycle," says Peter Sterpe, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. Software has a huge amount of variation and program requirements can easily change, Sterpe adds. "Estimating the scope of a project once and then never modifying it and sticking a team with it can really doom a project."

In the case of Benz's client, "There was no methodology. They were trying to solve lots of little tiny problems but they weren't looking at the whole picture," he says. The PCI project was low on the company's priority list and there was no plan for fixing all the problems that cropped up. (article continues)

Faced with a large monthly fine or loss of their authorization to take credit card payments, the retailer made the project the company's top priority. Benz insisted that management put together a team of dedicated gurus in a "war room" with food delivered. "We created a visual chart of the 100 things that needed to be done and we assigned each of those specifics tasks to the gurus," he says. "Every time someone got something done we marked it off and we all took tremendous pride in our accomplishment. We made tremendous progress in a short period of time and we were compliant with the PCI standards on deadline."

Such extraordinary efforts derail resources and personnel from day-to-day tasks. Sterpe advises companies with "track wreck" projects to look at whether the salvage is worth it -- or if it will exceed the benefits they will get from project.

Plot Your Path To Success
When a project is in danger, take these steps to get it back on track:

Communicate Identify the root cause of the problems and then have the courage to let everyone know.

Fix it People often will find a "fixer," someone with special skills, knowledge and strong leadership. Sometimes this means hiring a consultant.

Leverage the lessons After the carnage has been swept away, revisit and, if necessary, recreate the plan to conform to the new circumstances.

Know what's going on Chart the progress on a wall where everyone can note their responsibilities, spot incipient problems and check off accomplishments at a glance. "It builds morale and demonstrates progress," says Sterpe.

Welcome to the World of Web 2.0

You know the drill: You call tech support about a computer problem, you're immediately put on hold, and then you wait for anywhere between five minutes and forever before talking to a real person. You're asked to describe the problem, then you're put on hold again while the support person searches the company's internal difficult-to-search knowledgebase for a solution. Or your problem may involve a new product and the knowledgebase might not have been updated. Maybe your problem can be solved over the phone, maybe not. But almost certainly, you'll have lost lots of time waiting to find out.

At least one major computer software manufacturer has successfully tackled the problem using a Web 2.0 technology -- a wiki -- to drastically improve its customer support. "They added our wiki application to their traditional knowledgebase," says Jeff Brainard, the director of marketing at Socialtext, which is located in Palo Alto, Calif. Soon the number of customer service representatives using Socialtext's wiki to share problems and solutions not found in the knowledgebase skyrocketed. According to Brainard, more than 4,000 service representatives now use the wiki.

"There's a tangible benefit," says Brainard. "They get through calls more quickly. What used to take 15 clicks to solve now takes five. Their managers look better. The company estimates it's saving at least a million dollars a year, and maybe as much as $10 million."

The Promise of Web 2.0
Although "Web 2.0" is sometimes dismissed as being a term that's both trendy and vague, the six sources we spoke to, ranging from corporate consumers of Web 2.0 products to consultants to vendors, were able to define the difference between traditional Web applications and Web 2.0 (article continues)

applications. The traditional Web was about setting common standards -- TCP/IP, HTTP and FTP, for example -- for the use of e-mail and for Web browsers. It was about e-mail and websites. Web 2.0 is about building communities through user-generated content and enabling use through not just the PC but a variety of devices, such as cell phones, PDAs and kiosks. It's about personalization, multiple forms of content (audio, video, text, messaging) and customizable tools. The differences are visible, radical and useful.

According to a 2006 report by Forrester, wikis -- documents that can be created, added to and edited by anyone in a defined community -- have become one of the most popular Web 2.0 solutions in the enterprise. Blogs have also been embraced, as have instant messaging, forums, RSS feeds and Facebook-style profile pages for employees. Increasingly, business users who may have surreptitiously been using open-source wikis or who have been instant-messaging under the corporate radar are finding that their companies are now providing them with similar tools. The main difference is that the corporate Web 2.0 tools are usually more robust, more secure and more tightly controlled than the similar offerings available to consumers. And CIOs, according to another recent Forrester survey, aren't interested in picking and choosing their Web 2.0 tools one by one. Sixty-one percent of the 119 CIOs surveyed said, according to Forrester, that they want their Web 2.0 tools "as a suite. . .[from] a large, incumbent vendor."

In the Web 2.0 world, "large" and "incumbent" don't automatically mean traditional corporate vendors, such as Microsoft, SAP and IBM. Socialtext has only been around for five years, but (article continues)

2,000 organizations already use its package, which integrates RSS feeds, blogging, discussion forums and other common Web 2.0 tools with its wiki platform. Awareness, known as iUpload until July 2007, is barely eight years old, but its Headcovers Unlimited suite leads the pack of enterprise blogging platforms, according to Forrester.

Pitfalls Still Lurk
While vendors can provide SaaS (software as a service, or remotely hosted applications), Web 2.0 suites still face stumbling blocks:

  • The generation gap "People who are over 40 have a harder time adapting to this than younger people," says Sam Aparicio, vice president of products and strategy for the Angel website, a call-center application provider in McLean, Va. Richard Lyons of Chicago-based Lyons Consulting advises using incentives, like contests, games and good old-fashioned recognition, to encourage hesitant new users to participate. Socialtext made wiki and blog content accessible to e-mail users and also enabled employees to publish to wikis and blogs via e-mail to ease adoption.
  • Security Web 2.0 is suited to SaaS delivery because new tools are being developed so quickly and are "mashed up" so easily. But large companies often hesitate to use vendors who provide SaaS solutions because they want to protect their data. When insurance giant Northwestern Mutual raised questions, Headcovers Unlimited was able to demonstrate that their data could be segregated and also protected through Northwestern's already-existing single sign-on system. Socialtext addresses similar security concerns, in part, by offering a dedicated appliance that companies can use on-site.
  • Ease of use Many open source wikis, such as Wikipedia, require contributors to master a wiki "syntax" -- a markup language -- which is a significant barrier to participation, especially among workers used to productivity suites like Microsoft Office and single-user project management software. Socialtext focuses on making its software work with existing software (article continues)

and services, and has also eliminated coding from its wiki. Both Socialtext and Awareness integrate their tools into a company's Intranet home page, so they are  always visible -- and hopefully inviting -- to employees.

  • Measurement Deploying enterprise-wide Web 2.0 tools can cost both time and money. Both vendors and customers should discuss how the success (or failure) of these tools can be measured. Is it a reduction in call times and clicks for phone support representatives? Something more intangible, like widespread participation? To ensure mutual satisfaction, define what success would look like before and during the process.
  • Picking the right use "Wikis aren't a solution for every problem in the world," warns Brainard. Nor are blogs, RSS feeds or any single Web 2.0 tool. Business users can't expect to -- and shouldn't be encouraged to -- embrace Web 2.0 tools when more traditional software packages do the job just fine. It may be tempting to hype the shiny new wiki, especially after a large investment has been made, but companies would be wise to roll Web 2.0 applications out slowly. Recruit and encourage enthusiastic early adopters to create a base that can self-seed an organic expansion, with the tools already in place and available for use.

Web 2.0 Is Here to Stay
With Web 2.0 still a toddler, rapid change in this market segment will be a constant in the years to come. But the advantages are immediately clear. Web 2.0 marks a clear turning point in the way companies manage, organize and, perhaps most important, retain information. If nothing else, user-generated shared content has a hidden advantage that's rarely, if ever, discussed. "It's a way to keep information in-house after an employee goes out the door," says Lyons. "It's no longer locked up in their e-mail."