Another Good DMSG Meeting

On Wednesday 5th September the Data Management Specialist Group (DMSG) of the BCS held very interesting seminar focussing on data management perspectives of Electronic Document Management (EDM).

Andrew Rhodes (Bentley Systems) set the scene by covering how we had got to where we are now and looked briefly to the future.  Christian Toon (Iron Mountain) looked at the risks of not having good information management in place for an organisation, and stressed that risks are more than just cyber threat. The third presentation was a case study by Wing Commander Richie Barr on how the Ministry of Defence had implemented SharePoint integrated with a Record Management System. The slides and audio will be going onto the DMSG website (http://www.dmsg.bcs.org/web/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1) so rather than summarise what the speakers had to say I’m going to pull out what I thought the main points and issues were from both the presentations and discussion (both in the panel and networking sessions).

  • EDM isn’t just about the individual documents, its part of the workflow and information management lifecycle of an organisation.
  • As with paper documents there should be a disposal policy, things shouldn’t necessarily be kept for ever and if you are duplicating paper documents there needs to be a good reason why.
  • Organisations need to value their information, regard it as an asset and have a governance system in place. Failure to do so risks an organisations reputation and will costs it money.
  • Good information management (including EDM) is everyone’s responsibility not just the information/data manager.
  • Solutions should be driven by the business and not the IT.

The excellent case study showed how by using customised off the shelf packages EDM could be seamlessly integrated. Users uploaded to or edited documents stored in SharePoint. This was integrated with a file registry system using a template that created the metadata with users selecting other required information such as security marking from a list. The file naming convention was automatically applied if it hadn’t been followed and users were no longer saving files onto directories in a shared structure and documents could be searched for across the network.

Generally all three presentations were very positive however there were a few notes of caution:

  • Implementing a system for EDM, information governance etc requires a cultural change and senior management buy in to succeed.
  • Over customisation of a package such as SharePoint can lead to slow running and problems of upgrading
  • Putting an EDM system in place should be done speedily; taking months not years otherwise it runs the risk of failure.

One thing which I noticed (thinking back to one of my previous blog posts) was that all the speakers used the terms data and information appropriately as you might imagine for a DMSG meeting, but what was interesting was the emphasis put on information and managing the information life-cycle. Coupled with this was the need for implementation to be business and not IT driven. As a member of both CILIP and BCS I thought this was quite enlightened and indicative of the partnership that should exist between those managing technology and content. Maybe a more joined up information profession isn’t that far off after all.

As is normal with meetings at BCS the networking session which followed the formal part of the meting was lubricated with wine. There were two members of the audience as well as myself tweeting from the event using the hash tag #DMSG if your interested in reading some of the comments being made at the time.

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A Funny Thing at UCL

Readers may be wondering what a write up of a workshop on Humour in Museum and Site Archives (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/calendar/articles/20120206b) is doing in a blog about Information Management? Well looked at another way a lot of the content concerned information, let me explain. The first two presentations we entirely concerned with information management firstly by Ben Croxford the Historic Environment Records (HER) Officer for Kent. Ben made the distinction between evidence of humour in the past and humour by and about archaeology, both of which can be found in formal record. 

The second presentation was mine which considered whether there had been a loss of the personal in the transition to computerised records and greater professionalism (I don’t), illustrated by some of the funny things that had crept into records over the years. I classed the ‘funnies’ as: unintentional (typos, unfortunate choices of words etc), Intentional attempts at humour normally through exaggeration and embellishment and the things from our past that are just plain funny no matter how deadpan and professional their recording might be. The first two classes are being ‘cleaned’ which does improve clarity and ensures authority in the records are not challenged. The third however still has plenty of scope for the individual including what is often dark humour in the case of memorials and historic graffiti. Cleaning and information improvement programmes are an important part of information management. 

Three of the other papers included elements of information management, firstly a presentation on archives by Duncan H Brown. One issue he raised was the selection of what was important within day books on archaeological sites with entries being crossed out later as decisions were made about what would end up being mentioned in the report. Duncan looked at what was being rejected rather than included. This often included the personal and humorous observations but also information about how the site was dug and information retrieved which could influence the interpretation. The introduction of context sheets were also mentioned as a way that information was standardising onsite recording which helped with interpretation but limited individual expression. 

Raksha Dave (known to many from Time Team) talked about her experience of tweeting from excavations and how this is becoming more important for communicating archaeological information direct from the site. She also discussed how it could put the personal back contrasting with other areas where it had now disappeared, including the day book, the demise of which was clearly something the audience lamented.

So to final paper of the day. The information element of Hillary Oranges work on a Cornish tin mine was in the memory of the last of the miners she had interviewed. 

There were also two papers which showed alternative information delivery Surbhadra Das had recorded a PowerPoint animation as she was in mid air and Caradoc Peters who joined the workshop via Skype.

So in summary you can often find information management issues at events where you might not expect to find them. So even personal interest events can end up featuring on the Personal Development Plan for your CILIP chartership, this one will feature on mine. I’d like to thank Joe Flatman for inviting me to speak and Joe and Hilary for their hard work organising an excellent event.

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A Tale of Two Seminars

An interesting thing about being both a professional archaeologist and an information manager is that I have to keep up with a wider range of subjects than if I only worked in one area. 

As I walked to the tube after the latest NetIKX (The Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange) seminar I put iTunes onto shuffle and the lyric ‘open up your eyes’ came on and it seemed quite appropriate. Also being less than 11 words I now know that I’m safe from infringing copyright as this was the subject of the event and being new to this area rather apt. I’d also been asked to write a review for Information Today Europe so which you can read on their website (www.infotoday.eu/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/The-future-of-copyright-82730.aspx) so I’m not going to repeat that here instead this is a more personal commentary. Two excellent speakers Charles Oppenheim and Emily Goodhand looked at the recommendations of Hargreaves Review of copyright and recent cases. So why 11 words? Well a recent case ruled that 11 words constituted a major portion of a newspaper article, however the Hargreaves review recomends new exemptions for quoting including blogs as well as parody and pastiche, (which this isn’t whatever you may think of my writting style). The results of the Hargreaves Review are very positive moving rights back in the direction of users although some recent cases have continued a trend in the opposite direction. 

By contrast the seminar at UCL on Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online (www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/calendar/articles/20120522) had more speakers and just as much lively discussion. Again I’m not going to go into detail as this was videoed and a Storyfy is available [View the story “UCL Workshop on ‘Barriers to Participation with Archaeology Online'” on Storify]. The event was also heavily tweeted using the #digipubarch tag. I’d written a paper on this subject in 2003, much has changed since then, social media in particular but others issues remain, in particular large corporate organisations struggling to keep up and engage with the technology available to them as well writing for the web being different from other publications.

Both events also had similarities, I caught up with people I knew, made new connections and both finished with a whine reception. Maybe the sectors aren’t as different after all.

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An Information Manager, a Database Owner and an Archaeologist walk into a bar…

First of all welcome to my first blog post. My intention with this is to create a space to talk about information management particularly in relation to the cultural heritage sector. There won’t be regular cycle of updates just as and when there is something I’d to discuss.

I’ve been mulling over something since the Institute for Archaeologists’ (IfA) annual conference in Oxford in April (http://www.archaeologists.net/conferences). I was struck by how the terms data, information and to a lesser extent knowledge were used interchangeably by speakers in a number off sessions. The exception being the session organised jointly by Edmund Lee and myself on behalf of the IfA’s Information Management Special Interest Group (IMSIG) (http://ifa-information-management-sig.wikispaces.com/Where%27s+IT+All+Going+2%3F), which is probably not so surprising. Should I be concerned? Is this just semantics or are there more important subtleties that some in this sector aren’t picking up on? Is this a more general issue with other professions? Starting out as an archaeologist and drifting into information management I can’t speak for other areas.

I don’t want to go into detail about the subtle nuances between information and data this has been written about at some length by those better placed to discus them than me. I’d recommend taking a look at the paper written for the Data Management Specialist Group of the BCS by Keith Gordon (http://www.dmsg.bcs.org/web/images/stories/PDFs/information-or-data-2011-03-31.pdf). Like Keith I think the definition of information as data in context is too limiting. Keith goes on to show with the aid of flow diagrams how data is a re-interpretable representation of information which once put into a form that can be used by ‘the business’ it once again becomes information. I see similarities here to the work the team I manage do, breaking down information from differing sources then combining and re-interpreting the resultant data to produce new information in the form of records about historic environment assets.  

So then what is knowledge? At the IfA conference knowledge seemed to be primarily used in relation to traditional publication. Knowledge and knowledge management to me means far more than books or internet publication such as this blog. It encompasses pedagogy and the dissemination of information as well as the how. Teach someone to interpret themselves instead of interpreting for them each time, bringing us back to the breaking down and re-interpretation of information and data. If we accept that information is the re-interpretation of data, then knowledge can be seen as the facilitating of information. Things which archaeologists are very skilled at.

Oh and the three people in the title…they are all me with different hats on.

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