Emerging From The Dense, Digital Fog – An Interview with Dr. Ulrich Kampffmeyer

Third in a series of interviews with leaders in the fields of Risk, Compliance and Information Governance across the globe.

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Dr. Ulrich Kampffmeyer is the Managing Director of Project Consult in Hamburg, Germany and a renowned expert on digital transformations, business intelligence and enterprise content management. I had the opportunity to sit down with him in May and discuss the GDPR, artificial intelligence and social issues emerging from the dense, digital fog we all find ourselves in.

Ulrich, you write and teach extensively about the cultural and social changes in work environments that are a direct result of the emergence of digital transformations. Now that data is at the fingertips of everyone, what changes should society expect that the business world may have already?

The pace of digital transformation accelerates day by day. Cloud technologies, artificial intelligence, IoT and other developments are happening so fast that there is a danger they’ll get out of control. The mightier AI becomes the larger the danger that it gets uncontrollable. Consider Soshana Zuboff (one of the first tenured women at Harvard Business School) and her three laws:

  1. Everything that can be automated will be automated.
  2. Everything that can be informated will be informated.
  3. Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control.

Neither our businesses or society are currently prepared for this change. Just have a look at the GDPR discussions. Data protection as general necessity, data safety as the requirement for continuity, data privacy by default, information governance to keep control, keep the value, keep information accessible – these are basic requirements that should not be ignored like in the past. Future historians will call our era the dark age of the early information society.

You spent quite a bit of time at the Fraunhofer Institute developing imaging systems and processes to support archaeological studies. Given that images provide so much of the fuel for artificial intelligence engines, do you envision some of our older legacy systems and indexes ever providing value to future AI efforts?

In the mid-80’s I worked on pattern recognition, image processing, database systems and expert systems for archaeologists and prehistorians. Too early. Today, taking a computer, drones and sensor systems to an excavation is standard. The capabilities of software, hardware and self-learning algorithms are far more sophisticated than in those days. But lets consider so-called old fashioned methods of organizing information. You mentioned the terms “legacy” and “indexes.” Metadata is not legacy. It is a question of quality, control and governance. Controlled metadata, vocabularies and taxonomies are of special value to big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Controlled data sets work as guide poles to train new technologies with high quality information. This is important for automated indexing when capturing information, when sharpening enterprise search for qualified results, and managing your repositories in regard to compliance requirements. Especially when it comes to compliance, straightly organized high quality information is an asset. But AI will change the game as well in the near future. Currently classification schemes and file plans are developed manually by academic rules. In the future software will analyse all information and organize itself by protection guidelines, user models, processes, value, retention.

This series of interviews with global leaders in information governance, risk and compliance seeks to find common values and themes in these disciplines across disparate cultures. I know that you are major advocate of standardization. Are there one or two common threads that run between all of the projects and people you’ve worked with that you also believe should be universal aims?

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Lead by example, forget about the credit…

We’re all well aware that labor intense records management projects, those in which repetitive, mundane grunt work is required, are avoided like the plague by employees and management alike. When a project does happen to spark interest and garner support, once it moves past the planning stages it can begin to feel like nobody on the team wants to be bothered with the actual logistics. Suddenly everybody is a “thought leader” and “focused on strategy” and that’s okay… but maybe that’s where some of our productivity issues actually originate. 

Ironically, what can emerge from these projects are new leaders, because these are also opportunities for individuals willing to actually roll up their sleeves. These are people who drive initiatives and projects forward because they’re more interested in getting the job done and learning something than getting (or taking) the credit.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with pride and unselfishness—where you have people who don’t care who gets the credit. – Harry Truman

As knowledge workers we are supposed to naturally evolve and graduate into more sophisticated roles but more and more of us are also becoming out of touch with basic business operations, assuming technology will ultimately address all of the tedious processes we’re responsible for.  Many employees, even in the public sector, have simply become used to expecting management to throw more money at the problem or to bring in consultants (who will probably just hire temps) to catch everybody up… instead of addressing the real issues. Perhaps, it’s as John Steinbeck once remarked, that we’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” and that in the same vein, by performing grunt work, we are negatively impacting the way we’re viewed by both our superiors and those who report to us. That may be partly true. As Records and Information Management leaders and executives we don’t want to take a step backward, but there is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

There is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

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