Managing workloads with your inbox

A few weeks ago I was asked to help out the crisis communications team managing the oil spill in the gulf.  As I was wading into my first day at the disaster something became incredibly clear – there was no centralized data management – no customer relations management (CRM) – no content management system (CMS).  I suspect that the National Guard and the Coast Guard were using some sort of closed system in the command center (not having had the honor of serving, I’m unfamiliar with military protocol), but there was nothing else in use to manage all the other corporate, state and local resources.  In the midst in the one of the worst disasters in recent American history, I found myself thinking about this simple question – why was the best and the brightest of our nation managing the crisis via email?

The only reason that I can seem to come up with is the same one used for explaining why government tends to remain in the dark ages on most matters of tech – policy makers are the last frontier to adopt new technology.  I’m sure you had a Facebook account long before Barack Obama launched his new media campaign for president, and it’s only a recent development that I can pay parking tickets online in San Francisco – yet content management isn’t new.  37signals (the creators of Basecamp, Backpack, etc) launched more than a decade ago.  During that decade hundreds of content management systems have been developed – from social media based to internal closed systems – it’s not the availability of the CMS, but the adoption that has stalled.

If policy makers in California want to truly be prepared for the next disaster or crisis, we need to start thinking about CMS not as good idea, but as a necessity.  Email became mainstream because it’s convenient and useful for basic communication – but it’s awfully cumbersome as a tool to manage or share information, especially during a crisis.