The GCDOCS Problematic – What are we trying to solve?

The French theoretician Louis Althusser always insisted that it was not individual answers, but the questions to which the answers were given, that define the value of a solution. It is clear that we have all accepted GCDOCS as an “answer” – but to what problem?

At first glance it seems obvious; we all expect GCDOCS to provide a solution to the problem of “Electronic Document and Records Management” (EDRM) in the Federal Government. But there are two very different ways to define EDRM, and these two definitions can lead to radically different implementations of the system.

1) “The problem is that shared drives and other document management systems do not have the ability to do records management or sophisticated ‘google like’ searching. Solving EDRM therefore means getting a system with the technical capability to manage, retain and dispose of information resources.”

Does GCDOCS have the features required to do EDRM? Absolutely. It comes with a sophisticated document management module including versioning, facets, and search, as well as a records management module designed for retention and disposition of electronic and physical objects. But this is where the danger sneaks in – just because a system can do something, does not mean it will do so automatically, or even do it with ease. If your GCDOCS implementation is not explicitly set up to do records and document management from the moment users start entering content, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to reverse engineer it later on.

2) “The problem is that shared drives and other document management systems have not been architected to deal with records and document management needs.  While these old systems lack key technical capabilities, the fundamental problem is the lack of system management and consistency. Solving EDRM therefore refers to the actual planning and architecting of a system to manage, retain and dispose of information resources.”

The more robust definition of EDRM does not only comprise technical capability, but also the planning and architecture of that capability. Despite the excellent upgrades to technology, we must not let the bells and whistles distract us from the true opportunity GCDOCS is offering: the chance to once and for all classify and manage our electronic information in a consistent and sustainable way.

Problems define the scope of the answers. If we are dealing with the wrong set of problems, our answers will always come up short in the face of our realities. The problem of EDRM in the Federal Government is not a technology problem, it is a problem of planning and architecture. Don’t get caught in the trap of substituting a feature for a fundamental issue, or expecting your GCDOCS solution to deal with all of your problems out of the box. The tool is new and changing but the old adage rings true in the end: “what you put in is what you get out”.


Jason Abdelhadi is an information management professional who has had experience doing IM work for both the federal government and in charitable organizations. He has worked on a variety of IM initiatives including enterprise information architecture, GCDOCS and EDRMS implementations, IRBV identification as well as user experience design and testing. Jason has a multifaceted educational background that speaks to interests in information technology, library and information science and the humanities.


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