Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Tech 2.0 phenomenon, or chuck that paper and give me electrons

Software predictably takes us through two stages of whatever task we’re trying to accomplish. The first stage replicates tasks we were performing with paper. The second stage allows us to perform tasks that would only be possible with electrons.

Consider software used to design structures. Initially, computer-aided design software replicated drawing as it was being done on paper or mylar. But now it is likely you are using software that permits you to design in three dimensions. Try that with paper!

A similar progression is happening with the software used to manage project information. You might start by using it to file email electronically, rather than print emails and file them in drawers. But before long you’re using it to view product documents and manage action items in the field, using your smartphone. You just could not do those tasks with paper.

SOM’s Doris Pulsifer thinks about these sorts of issues a lot, and wrote about it in an article at, “Watch Your Language: Five Information Management Terms I’d Like to Replace.” She takes the position that our language can prevent us from discovering and utilizing these Tech 2.0 advancements, and proposes some changes to overcome that barrier.

I've been posting excerpts from Doris’ article here at the Newforma Blog. Here's term No. 3: “project folders” are really the “project repository.”

Paper-based definition: A project folder originated as a manila folder that served as a single location in which to aggregate any and all information that pertained to a specific project. Hard-copy duplicates were made when information needed to be used for different purposes or by different people.

Digital 1.0 definition: Digital files are saved in an electronic folder with, not surprisingly, graphic icons that look like manila folders! As with paper-based information, digital files require correct filing for future retrieval. Typically, far too many duplicate copies of those files exist in multiple locations on the company’s computer network.

Digital 2.0 definition: The project repository embraces all project information wherever it resides, whether in drawings, documents, emails or their attachments. Using project information management (PIM) technology, people who need subsets of information from the project repository can assemble collections of project-related files in “virtual” folders. SOM has adopted a PIM solution that supports this concept of virtual folders in the form of document sets.

This expanded thinking is highly utilitarian in an age when project teams and the files they’re manipulating are scattered across time zones. A project repository does not depend on physical colocation.

I’ll post another of Doris’ observations next week. Or see the full article here.

Doris Pulsifer leads the Knowledge Management department at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM).

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