Myth Of Systems Of Record Vs. Systems Of Engagement

Enterprise software world doesn't divide in half that neatly. Weave the two together to accomplish more.

Tony Byrne, Contributor

July 20, 2012

3 Min Read

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

When Geoffrey Moore famously divided the world of information management and collaboration into two different categories of systems--systems of engagement versus systems of record--he offered a convenient way of figuring out how to address the age-old management challenge of balancing empowerment and control in the new digital workplace. The thinking goes like this: Some digital systems are designed to handle business transactions and other artifacts that constitute enterprise records requiring specific rules, retention periods, and disposition schedules. We are now witnessing the rise of a new class of systems to support looser, more ephemeral, engagement-oriented activities. These two types of systems feature very different capabilities and operate under radically different norms.

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Such bifurcations are simple, and as others have pointed out in this case, simple is good. Unfortunately, in the real world, business systems don't divide neatly this way.

In customer research for our vendor evaluations of social collaboration and cocument and records management systems, we found a rather messier reality. For example, people discuss important business decisions--thereby creating records--on enterprise microblogging platforms every day. (This is why you need to carefully assess SLAs and key data ownership terms in both the free and paid versions of platforms such as Yammer.) Meanwhile, employees want to engage with their colleagues directly from within line-of-business systems such as document management services and even ERP platforms.

In other words, your colleagues are creating records while they engage, and seeking to engage while they manage formal documents and participate in structured processes. Ditto for your interactions with customers and other partners beyond your firewall.

This is all really coming to a head as the industry crawls its way toward what many observers call social as layer. What this means is that social functionality is a common, unifying layer of interaction that appears as part of many applications, rather than only in an enterprise social networking tool.

As a concept, social layering remains quite nascent, and vendors still have many things to figure out, including compliance, for handling things such as records and security, and truly contextual usability, for spontaneous engagement. But the inexorable push in this direction clearly reflects genuine needs in the workplace.

The implications here seem very important. In the end, you can't fence off information management, structured rules, and classification services to some dusty old corner of your digital workplace. Important records can reside everywhere today. And likewise you can't relegate social networking and collaboration to some groovy community space outside your traditional enterprise workspaces. Humans want to engage fluidly on their terms, not yours.

I recognize that in some industries--pharmaceuticals, for instance--a bright red line still exists between compliant and non-compliant systems. But that's increasingly the exception to the rule.

Going forward, I suspect that successful enterprises will weave effective information management into collaboration platforms, and humanize legacy environments through embedded social interaction. The vendor community hasn't fully gotten there, yet, but this is only partly a technical challenge. Addressing the challenge means beginning to think of every system in your enterprise as a platform for records and engagement alike.

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About the Author(s)

Tony Byrne


Tony Byrne is the president of research firm Real Story Group and a 20-year technology industry veteran. In 2001, Tony founded CMS Watch as a vendor-independent analyst firm that evaluates content technologies and publishes research comparing different solutions. Over time, CMS Watch evolved into a multichannel research and advisory organization, spinning off similar product evaluation research in areas such as enterprise collaboration and social software. In 2010, CMS Watch became the Real Story Group, which focuses primarily on research on enterprise collaboration software, SharePoint, and Web content management.

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