What is an Information Professional?

Beaker from the MuppetsOne thing I heard from MANY people at the AIIM conference was that the concept of an information professional as we understand it was flawed. The claim was that usage patterns of AIIM resources showed that members would join and engage to tackle a single project. Once that project was completed, they would leave AIIM and presumably go do something else that wasn’t information related. John Mancini, the outgoing CEO of AIIM, shared his thoughts on the current information professional in a four post series covering the history, evolution, environment, and future of the information professional.

Experience tells me that the conclusion is incorrect. There are a large number of people who spend careers in the space and dip into AIIM resources only periodically. It is also a conclusion is hard to confirm or deny because once they disengage from AIIM, it is tough to measure what people do next.

Where Do They Come From?

Information professionals come from everywhere. When working with people on projects and talking to them at events, they tend to come from four distinct areas.


  • I’ve met a lot of people from the library sciences in the industry. Many have found their way to records management while others have worked on taxonomies, search, and general findability.
  • Compliance/legal is a ripe area full of information professionals that you don’t encounter until you really start to look at records management, information governance, and the world of eDiscovery.
  • Information Technology is the area from which I came many years ago. I went from what to how and then to why. Many technologists get stuck looking at information simply as bits and not as the lifeblood of the business.
  • The last one, line of business, is a diverse bucket that is full of people who were placed in charge of a system. They may be part of a larger team from the business working on the project or the representative domain expert. These are the people that the project is meant to serve.

I ran a quick twitter poll that omitted line of business as an answer, and 87% answered “Other” as the source of good information professionals. Maybe I shouldn’t have qualified with “good” but it was clear that there was no single source.

Project Managers (PM) was mentioned out as a source of information professionals. A PM gets assigned to a project and ends up managing those types of project forever and may evolve into a program manager. Those PMs can come from any of the areas and bring with them different perspectives.

Where do those people go after the project ends? Do they really only do one project?

The Fate of Information Professionals

I will quickly concede that anyone that works on one project and moves on is not an information professional. They can benefit from the same resources and tools but managing information is not their career. What happens to people after their first project? What determines their path?


To be honest, many run away screaming. When there are a lot of failed projects in the industry, giving many people a negative experience. They state, “never again,” and move on to something more career enhancing.

Others were never destined to stick around. Regardless of where they come from, they complete the project and move on to the next challenge. This is true of many line of business and IT people.

Who sticks around? Those that own the system from the business side. Those who have to answer to the compliance requirements. Those that build iterations of the systems. Those whose job of making information readily discoverable never really ends.

Consultants stick around in the industry. If they are successful and don’t run away from information projects, they can take what they learn in a project and apply it to the next project. The more they deliver, the more they can charge. Many are eventually hired into companies that want to establish programs and have large needs that are not going to go away and want to pull on the diverse experience of former consultants.

Are they all professionals? Yes. They make their living by managing information. They may not have an active project for a new system but they are working to enhance and improve the systems with which they are responsible. They need to constantly learn about new trends and new ways to increase adoption.

None of these people may view themselves as information professionals but they are. Why they don’t is partially revealed by the next question.

Where Do You Go From Here?

For a profession to really exist, there should be an end-goal. What do you hope to be when you grow up? There was no consensus in the poll on what is the ultimate career position for an information professional. In fact, 30% said that there was no such thing. 40% said that it was to be a CIGO (chief information governance officer), a position which does not exist in most organizations, explicitly or implicitly, today.

When I attend conferences, we all share common experiences from projects. We trade stories about how we started in this industry. Very few of us have a clear-cut picture of where this career is taking us.

(As an aside, Chris Walker stated “consulting” as his answer to both questions. You are just always a consultant in the field until you are not. An endless treadmill.)

Different Stories

I’d love to look at the raw data AIIM cites. The activity that they notice likely coincides with the points where information professionals draw value. I have not been a continuous member of AIIM during my entire career since my first project began but I have been an information professional the entire time.

It is a matter of value derived at different stages of my career. In the middle stage, attending conferences was a tough sell. I’d get one conference a year, perhaps, and it was almost always a vendor conference because the value I got to pull from there to my clients was tangible. Now I attend broader industry conferences because now I am a recognized speaker in the industry. Most of my conferences are speaking opportunities. I can add one or two others a year as an investment but there have to be priorities in spending.

I will gladly point anyone new to the space to AIIM to get started. They have a lot of solid training. I will point anyone towards their conference. Otherwise, I let them choose the value that they need for themselves. I don’t assume that someone else’s needs will equal my own.

What is your story? How did you get started? What is your ultimate goal? Drop a comment or email me to the address on my About the Word page. Let’s share stories and work to really define who we are.

FOIA, Email, Clinton, and the State Department

Clinton speaking at the Brown & Black Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, January 11, 2016.A recent piece of FOIA news was brought to my attention by Ann Snyder over at the Information Governance Initiative. The legacy of Hilary Clinton running her own email server is growing. It seems that the U.S. Department of State has stated that it will take 75 years to release the emails of Hilary Clinton’s aides from her time as Secretary of State.

Let that sink in. 75 years. Not days, YEARS!!!

They then go on to give some outrageous estimates based upon processing only 500 pages per month. I’ve been working with the Federal government for years and have worked on many FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) systems. To understand how ridiculous this is, let’s examine an agency where I’ve been looking at FOIA closely this year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

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Content Management, Platforms or Solutions?

Pendulum about to cut a man in half in the movie "Pit and the Pendulum"The Content Management industry is rife with contradictions. The biggest of which is that the business just wants solutions to their problems while IT wants a common platform from an established player to make integrations and upgrades less risky.

I’m not sure how we solve this problem and I am tired of watching the pendulum swing back and forth.

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A Digital Fail in Jersey

Joe Piscopo as Paulie Herman from Jersey annoying an innocent

Picture this if you can. After waking up in Scotland, I get to the Edinburgh airport with my brother for our flight home. My brother is using a cane as he is still recovering from breaking his back in January and we’ve walked a LOT the past few days. After flying across the ocean to Newark we get through customs and are screened by the TSA. All we want to do is grab a beer and a snack while we waited the last hour and a half for our flight home.

Well, Newark had other ideas.

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Pointing AIIM in the Right Direction

Jack's compass from Pirates in the CaribbeanThere are a lot of posts flying around about what information professionals need from an association. My discussion on too many associations seems to have struck a nerve and gotten people thinking. Before I dive into details regarding AIIM, I want to share these posts.

I’m not going to reference the posts moving forward but know that they have, to varying degrees, influenced this post. That said, I had a lot of thoughts on this topic already rattling around in my head. Many of the thoughts below have been shared with other previously as well to test them out.

There are two ways I can share my thoughts. I could rant and rave about everything AIIM is specifically doing wrong. It would get a lot of hits, generate a lot of discussion, and upset the very people who need to read this.


I can simply dive into what AIIM needs to do going forward. The past is written. The present is malleable. The future is fluid. It is the future that I wish to influence by helping form the present.

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The Cloud’s True Advantage is Bringing Focus to Solving Problems

Looking at the Loudoun Heights from the Maryland Heights near Harper's FerryI’ve been talking cloud for years. Most of it was focused on simply removing unnecessary complexity from the world of IT and content management. Why setup servers, create networks, manage databases, or any other tedious, redundant, and valueless tasks?

When I say valueless, I am referring to the fact that managing a database does not bring any differentiating value to your organization. The value comes from the analysis of that data or through the leveraging the data to deliver better, more efficient, products and services to your client-base.

That still isn’t the greatest benefit or the cloud. Too many project spend a lot of time focused on sizing, performance, system compatibilities, and other technical details. That time would be better spent on designing and delivering the ideal solution to the client.

By moving to the cloud, those discussions are taken off of the table. Those conversations don’t exist. The higher up the cloud stack you move (IaaS => PaaS => SaaS), the more conversations focus upon how to better meet the needs of the organization.

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