There ain’t no IT swiss army knives

A colleague from another part of government asked me to comment on the feasibility of two points yesterday. Both excellent questions and very topical in government today.

a. Expanding CMS functionality to bring in Electronic Records Management functionality.
b. Publishing content to Intranet and Internet using the same CMS.

Here’s what I answered:

My sense on both (a) and (b) is that there is big risk in trying to do too much with any one tool. if you try and add numbers up in word, for instance, you quickly see that excel is a much better tool for it. Likewise, writing text in excel is pretty painful. tools are usually most effective when they do one thing really well – few people carry swiss army knives around – because you never know what the thing that takes a stone out of a horse’s hoof is for and the screwdriver thing almost certainly doesn’t fit the screw that you need to undo etc.

And IT tools are certainly not swiss army knives. They barely do one thing well without a lot of hard work.

So … for instance …

Your internet presence is focused around the citizen. its navigation, search, look and feel are all designed around themes that make sense to the customer and where everything is accessible.

Your intranet is designed around what makes sense to your staff and the processes that they need to follow. it has a different information architecture and whilst staff should certainly (i think) be able to see exactly what the customer sees, they also need to see more – expenses forms, hr policies, access to internal data and so on. On top of that intranets need more security – I should not be able to see your pay if you are my boss, but you might be able to see mine for instance.

Ditto with records management. Content for the web is written in bite-sized chunks with occasional documents attached. if you want things to be accessible, you don’t do too many big files or pdfs, you certainly don’t add spreadsheets very often. You also want to keep records for a long time, maybe decades, but you don’t want all of them readily accessible – some go off to long term offline archives, or tape robots or whatever. You will also generate millions more records than you will develop content for the website so the retrieval and indexing process is probably different.

My sense is get a tool that does one thing really well and leverage it to the max. Don’t try and make word do spreadsheets.

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