A Conversation With AIIM Fellow Carl Frappaolo

Original article at Infonomics Magazine, May 2009

By Bryant Duhon

Carl Frappaolo has had a long history in the information management industry. He’s co-founded three companies, speaks at conferences around the globe, and has written extensively on nearly every aspect of the ECM industry (including books, Knowledge Management, published in 2006, is one). During his time at AIIM, he helped to develop a well-received research program and training course on Enterprise 2.0. A true ECM educator, he provides his time and expertise at local chapter meetings as well as AIIM’s Emerging Technologies Advisory Group.

Infonomics: First off, how does someone with a degree in psychology become involved in computer programming?
It was not a deliberate path. One thing lead to another, but basically the process consisted of three major steps. The psychology degree was inspired by a fascination with human decision making, and how that process is affected by many factors. Decision making and affecting change led to dabbling with politics and litigation. By chance, functioning as a litigation support specialist on the US vs. AT&T, I was given responsibility for the production of transcripts and depositions via what was then a revolutionary standalone capability called word processing. (Yes, I am that old.) The capabilities of the system intrigued me, so I took some courses in computer programming. WOW – logic and thought processes being automated. This eventually led to discovery of ECM within a relational database product of which I was an educator/sales/consultant. I found myself back at the intersection of humans (as authors and consumers of content) and making/affecting decisions and thought processes. I have been engrossed in the ECM industry ever since (circa 1983.) Although ECM is a broad topic, of which I enjoy all facets, content delivery, knowledge management and collaboration are my favorites. They are the facets most deeply rooted in psychology.

Infonomics: Can you name one or two favorite consulting gigs?
Frappaolo: There really have been so many. In fact one of the things I enjoy most about being a consultant is the ability to “learn a new career” with each new gig. Although my focus is always on an ECM-related project, over the years I have had the pleasure of “role playing” a claims adjuster, R& D scientist, loan officer, attorney, board member, healthcare provider, marketing executive for an auto manufacturer, knowledge leader for a branch of the federal government, team leader for a consumer food products manufacturer, an actuary, an engineer in aeronautics … It has been a rich and rewarding experience. To pick one or two favorites really is difficult. I have enjoyed all of them. What does separate one experience from the another are the people I get to work with. There are some companies whose employees and corporate culture were just a joy to be a part of. But I will not name them here – NDAs and all you know.

Infonomics: Other than a brief stop at AIIM, you’ve co-founded 3 companies since 1989. What about having your own business appeals to you?
Frappaolo: The adage, “You can pick your friends, but not your family”, is at the heart of this answer. The one thing that is most attractive about having your own business is being able to pick your friends, or colleagues. As a result you are given a high degree of influence over corporate culture. I enjoy being a team player, but not just for “any team”. When its “your company” you can determine the type of team you are working with. You have a higher degree of control over the level and approach to team-play and how “success” is defined.

Infonomics: You’ve written a lot over the years (I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of many of your articles). What is it about writing that you enjoy?
Frappaolo: The writing process forces me to organize and crystallize my thoughts and ideas. That is the selfish part of the answer. Writing also allows you to connect, albeit in a non-interactive manner, and share your ideas and experiences with a vast number of people. Some of my books are used as part of the curriculum of some graduate programs. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a group of those students via a phonecast. Its rewarding to know that your writing helps to guide others, and inspire some to embrace a career in ECM.

Infonomics: We’ve had this conversation a few times, but does it matter what the ECM industry is called?
Frappaolo: No, not really, as long as the family of technologies, methodologies and practices reach their full potential. What frustrates me is when names cause division and confusion. To make ECM synonymous with imaging, for example, is narrow-sighted and can do the ECM industry a great disservice. I happen to like the term ECM for what it stand for: Enterprise = within a business setting; Content = anything that provides information, from paper documents to websites, analog video to tacit knowledge stored in people’s heads; Management = a purposeful and deliberate level of control and manipulation to bring about a desired end state.

Infonomics: In a recent blog post, you blasted – rightly – someone criticizing technology instead of the faulty business process that led to a problem. To me, this seems so simple as to hardly merit discussion, yet users repeatedly purchase technology and misapply it without regard to business process. Does your psychology background allow you any insight there?
Psychology, and some common sense with regards to human behavior. Too often, people like to take the easy way out. They want the reward but not the pain. Everyone wants to be the next overnight success, but fail to recognize the years of effort that typically precede an overnight success. Its no different with ECM technology. Despite the potential power derived from ECM, successful deployment usually requires some upfront work and planning. I think we are a long way from “ECM success in a box.” Heck – if that were true, then how would organizations differentiate themselves? I am not speaking about granular and tactical component technology, but the application of multiple technologies to bring about specific and deliberate end games. This requires strategy – and that is what separates two companies that are using the same ECM technologies.

Infonomics: What does being named a Fellow mean to you?
Frappaolo: Aside from the obvious honor that comes whenever you are recognized as a leader by your peers, being named as a Fellow at this time actually has a very special meaning for me. I was introduced to the Company of Fellows many years ago when I first met Mark Robinson. Mark had applied for a job at Delphi and made the short list (it came down to him and one other candidate.) During the interview, I questioned Mark about his designation as AIIM Fellow #131. (It was on his resume, and I had no idea what it meant.) As I stated, it was in his response that I learned about the Company of Fellows. Mark was very proud of his affiliation with the group, despite the many jokes he would make over the years. (Those that knew him should readily recall his arid sense of humor. It was his greatest asset in my opinion.) In the end, Mark did not get the job, but he and I remained friends ever since. In December of last year, Mark passed away. I know that the Company of Fellows is not based on availability when members pass away, but in some strange way I feel as if Mark paved the way for my indoctrination. Knowing that I am now a part of a group that he is still a member of makes this award a very special honor for me.

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