In late 2017 the AIIM On Air podcast recorded an episode where they interviewed Michael Gale on his new book, “The Digital Helix: Transforming Your Organization’s DNA to Thrive In The Digital Age,” which you can listen to here.  I recently read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Below is my review for those interested in checking out the book…

The Digital Helix: Transforming Your Organization’s DNA To Thrive In The Digital Age by Michael Gale and Chris Aarons is about digital transformation and how organization’s must change so they don’t just digitize paper processes, but take advantages of the opportunities that the digital age presents.  The goal isn’t to be digital, but to leverage digital capabilities and to solve customer problem’s and become more agile.  The same is try for information governance.  The goal isn’t to manage electronic records, but to become agile in using workflows to manage documents throughout the information lifecycle and help to solve the problem’s of internal customers by finding smarter ways to leverage information assets.

The authors state in the preface, “This book is designed to give the insights, frameworks and stories to identify where you are where you need to go…to architect, design and build the DNA needed to thrive with digital transformation, no matter where you are today.”  This book is less about the technologies that are emerging in the digital age, but more about the cultural change and the mindsets that need to change to embrace the benefits that digital provides:

It does not explore the technologies you might apply to help drive your digital transformation, especially because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is designed to give you the best opportunity to be successful by explaining the questions, insights, interactions, behaviors, and triggers that are driving performance for organizations digitally transforming themselves to thrive in this digital-first world. (Gale and Aarons, 2017, P.1-2).

The cover of the book has many buzzwords like leadership, marketing, customer service, sales, communication, listening and development.  These are typically not words associated with records management and information governance, but many of the concepts in the book about digital transformation can be applied to a records management department that is evolving into information governance.  I also found reading this book helpful as it gave me insights into how an organization will change to adapt to digital disruption and how an information governance program should be ready to grow with those changes also.  Even though Gale and Aarons never explicitly say this, one of the things that obvious in this book is the vital role information governance will play in digital transformation.  For example, as they talk about marketing and communication they make the statement, “For marketing and communications, the additional digital infrastructure has created more information to parse, and in many cases, information overload can hinder efforts to be efficient. (P. 152)”.
To succeed in the digital era there are seven drivers that are at play that need to be considered for any digital transformation initiative.  Those drivers are:

  1. The compression of supply and demand enables near instant fulfillment
  2. Shifting demographics are changing customer needs and expectations
  3. Access to more and more information is leveling the playing field in every market
  4. Pay as you go provides infinite ability to scale every facet of a business
  5. New competitors are built to be digital from day one
  6. The rate of change is extremely exponential
  7. The trade-offs between price, efficiency, and innovation have disappeared.

As information professionals, if we want to speak the language of our colleagues when digital transformation comes up we need to be versed in these seven drivers so that we can contribute and not just be an afterthought for compliance purposes.

Responding to these seven drivers isn’t easy for seven reasons that the author identifies.  Below are the reasons Gales and Aarons presents along with the solution if digital transformation is to take place.

  1. “Executives mandates are not enough,” therefore executives must be digital helix explorers and not just cheerleaders
  2. “When faced with failure many organizations withdraw or retreat from new projects,” but instead we need to know how to get real value from our efforts when the end result isn’t what we initially planned.
  3. “Digital takes different metrics to succeed.” Traditional metrics look at volume, but digital metrics includes more items than volume such as engagement, advocacy and abandonments.
  4. “Success comes from the inside out, not from outside in” because to succeed in digital you don’t need to outsource to outside vendors, but leverage the power within for the majority of cases.
  5. “Digital requires a village and an architect” because it’s not just having the right IT, but also the right stakeholders outside of IT to contribute.
  6. “Openness to alternative strategies drive digital.” Those that win in digital transformation know they need to push boundaries and find the next big thing if they want to be successful.
  7. “Digital is not just customer focused” Digital transformation is more than just customer focused because it can reduce internal cost and enhance back office productivity.

This book is 269 pages and one of my critiques is that it almost seemed too short and too scattered.  The bulk of the book is addressing these seven drivers and having the right framework and change for digital success.  Each driver has its own chapter dedicated to it, but some of the chapters seemed like they could have been longer to bring everyone to the same starting place.  For example, a chapter on collaboration I was easily able to jump into, but a chapter on marketing and sales took me longer to wrap my head around.  Contributing to the scattered feel is that the authors consistently use long block quotes to support their research which can throw the reader out of the flow of what’s being said as it goes from third person to first person.

One of the things that I took away from this book is how many correlations that are between implementing business transformation for a business and implementing information governance for a records management department.  For example, Generally Acceptable Records Management Princi (GARP), has the principle of accountability, which is the same as saying that executives can’t just give mandates, but must be active in showing support and not just sitting on the sidelines of digital transformation.  The authors state that for digital transformation executives should enable others, empower differences and push boundaries for themselves and others (p. 120).

This book is essential for information managers to read as information governance will be essential to digital transformation.  During the time of the industrial revolution wise use of financial assets is what it took to get the resources needed to transform a business.  Now the most important asset for digital revolution to transform businesses is information and removing ROT while making crucial information available no matter if it’s declared a record or not.  Organization that mismanage information mismanage the most vital ingredient for success in digital transformation (Gale and Aarons, 2017 p. 134).

Not all information is born of equal importance, and the ability to separate noise from signals is vital, especially as older signals become potential noises…In the digital era, sources and streams are everywhere. The real question is not about where and what to look for, but rather how do you zero in on the key nuggets that can impact your organization today and set the course for future growth? Think of the odd contradiction we now have. Data and information is voluminous and everywhere, yet when you can find everything and track anything, what do you look for and follow? We live in a world where zettabytes of information are generated in weeks or days, if not minutes (p.121 & 128).

Records management can be a functional separate from sales, but in a digital environment built to succeed information governance needs to be cooked into business processes so that the value of information can be harnessed.  Managing information in faster time frames is crucial for digital transformation success (Gale and Aarons, 2017, p. 220) which is information governance can’t just be an afterthought.  If nothing else, this book shows why information governance is not optional, but imperative in the digital age. “Information is quite different in the Digital Age. Great digital transformations require that organizations know how to handle the constant underlying evolution of the value of information (p. 204).”