Filip Callewaert
Filip Callewaert

Filip Callewaert is the information manager at the Port of Antwerp Authority. He was a speaker at the AIIM Conference 2015 in the US where he presented the very interesting story about “how in big transition projects in organizational development, information management can act as a silent, but most important strategic partner”

Below is an interview with Filip, conducted at the occasion of the AIIM event. A must-read for anyone who is interested in activity based workplaces for the knowledge worker, digital transformation, customer experience, design thinking and lean (among others). And one of the many reasons why we recommended our friends to invite him as a speaker and why you should follow him on Twitter to learn more.

A new way of working – moving away from paper

Filip, you’re the Information Manager at the Port of Antwerp Authority in Belgium. Can you tell us about your tasks, challenges and recent project?

Filip Callewaert: The Information Management department at this moment at the Port of Antwerp – the 2nd largest port of Europe – is one of the major players in a corporate change management programme “Overstag” (Dutch for ‘Tacking one’s boat‘).

This programme was started up when the Port Authorities decided upon building their new prestigious HQs building. As it is the case in many organisations now, plans for a new building are quite often also the start for plans for a cultural shift, a new way of working. Part of the change is the ambition to work in a far more digital way – so moving away from paper.

What we build is that kind of digital workplace where team members reside many hours a day collaborating, using the sole source of the knowledge worker: information

When the archivist retired, I was recruited to lead this digital mind shift, together with a team of 12 (of which most are still focused on reducing the paper pile). I had just finished a similar project for a city’s social service administration where I built a good experience with a design-thinking, incremental iterative way of implementing ECM softwares and a mobile way of working. The empathy with the end-user team and the agility in the process had made it possible to question some firm legacy IT decisions on ECM practices in that administration.

There was severe noise in the people-process-tools triangle, in which the tools had been stressed too uniquely, and where ‘implementation’ might have been confused with ‘installation’. The introduction of a team collaboration software much more answered the needs of those teams to get the things done.

The digital workplace for the sole source of the knowledge worker: information

Surprisingly enough, what I found in my new job seemed to be almost an exact copy of the situation in my previous job:

  • IT had few years ago decided upon ECM tools and that was it;
  • mobile working was neglected, or better: stubbornly kept outside;
  • there was much attention (and money) for specialized software applications that generate reports for senior managers, but that had the worst user experience possible for those feeding those systems;
  • as a consequence many parallel team and individual information universes existed;
  • the broad area of supporting generic knowledge and information work with fit devices and applications was completely neglected (we have MS Office for that) – no man’s land.
For work, digital transformation is entering a complete new world of work, that puts the old one upside down

In fact, what we build with the Information Management department is that kind of digital workplace where team members reside many hours a day collaborating, using the sole source of the knowledge worker: information. While the contractors are building our new offices, setting up activity based workplaces, inspiring spaces and engaging bricks and mortar, we build the same, but virtually.

How teams get things done: collaboration and design thinking

What about the platforms needed for such a transformative project?

Filip Callewaert: Concerning these virtual workplaces, we mainly see attempts in upgrading existing ECM-solutions for this function. But we are more than hesitant whether the current ECM applications can really function as digital workplaces:

  • until now, they are no true team collaboration solutions; if they have the ambition, this is too often translated in a bad user experience.
  • they are based on the traditional mental model of classifying and storing products in folders and subfolders, not only preventing openness in problem solving processes but neither succeeding in creating rich contexts for stored information; the openness of collaboration is too much separated from the content itself.
  • also the concept of making, sharing and storing information in files (eg. .doc) is counterproductive to the knowledge worker’s problem solving processes, as files.
  • the most interesting information, i.e. process information of the problem-solving itself, is not captured/stored at all as we mainly focus on records/process-output.

Enterprise Social Platforms seem to be a better fit than ECM applications, though blending the two would still be better. As we focus on designing digital workplaces, “storing and classifying files” is as such not our core business any more.

We try to understand how teams need to get the things done, with information, and that has almost nothing to do with managing the classic records set. Serving the design principle of proximity, we want to build (physical and virtual) rooms that bring together the necessary information that team members need to get their problem solving processes move forward efficiently and effectively. But we also need to bring together those people, for whom we build those virtual rooms that efficiently support collaboration and communication.

Problem solving processes are different in every team, so information management is different for each team. That’s where design thinking fits in.

From classic information management to Adaptive Case Management

Isn’t this what you just described IT’s business?

Filip Callewaert: Maybe it is. But I experience that as the information management team we have entered no-man’s land: it looks as if no one paid attention in the past 30 years to the concrete working situation of the problem solving knowledge workers. We experience that we easily create value for these internal clients, who more than once experience that wow-feeling, which creates a similar wow for us too, but we do know that we are merely in the introductory stage of what we are designing.

Port of Antwerp Authority new HQ building
Port of Antwerp Authority – a new HQ building, a new way of working

This also led us in the domain of project management. As our focus has been “information” in “problem solving processes” and the team-things getting done, we were faced quite fast with information management in (big) projects. Though, we soon decided that any problem, big or small, could better be seen as a “project”, so that it all fit in the team task management and personal task management. This made the information flow for e.g. (team) meetings and follow up easier and more natural. This is also where our concept of “Adaptive Case Management” (ACM) originated from. Each problem solving process, big or small, needed to be supported by “a case”: its single point of information.

Do we lose the classic information management (‘storing files’) out of sight then? Certainly not, but it’s not our first focus. The problem solving process is, and as this process is a flow of information, we identify those moments where record creation/finding/re-use/sharing/deletion is important, for which the necessary actions need to get defined. This prevents us from seeing information governance as an aim in itself.

Digital transformation: co-designing the future of sharing and people

The core topic of the event was digital transformation. How does your project fit in this context? What does transformation mean for you, your work and the practice of information management?

Filip Callewaert: Okay, it’s a digital transformation because technology is at the basis of this transformation. Without things like computers and the internet this would not have happened.

For me? Digital transformation is becoming part of a new world, a new future. And I do not want to do this in a passive way, but I want to co-design this future. I can hardly wait. As the future is already here, but it is just unevenly distributed, I’m inclined to go and actively search it, find it, grab it, experience it, being part of it. Trips abroad, to London, the US, AIIM Conferences, or inspiring happenings as (such a surprising event – in Belgium!) give me lots of inspiration and adrenaline.

Information Management will be about the very active use of information to get wiser, more intelligent as an organisation, a team, an individual

For work? Entering a complete new world of work, that puts the old one upside down. It disrupts business models, organizational structures, cultures, leadership models. It’s a very human paradigm that puts authenticity in the center. And I say: finally! But I feel priviliged that I can experience this transition; it makes you fully aware of the improvements as you can compare old and new physically.

For information management? IM will develop 101 niches to get specialized in. So we will get a true diversification of IM professionals. And as everything goes faster and faster, Information Management will be about the very active use of information to get wiser, more intelligent as an organisation, a team, an individual. The dominant perspective is collaboration, working together in order to get the things done, it’s about the work-place, not in the first order about “the cloud where we store and share our files”. As feedback loops enormously grow in number, get faster and shorter, the meaning creation process grows much more in importance; the value of the “products” (records) are more relative.

In that same way “knowledge management” (that never “worked”) evolves now towards “knowledge sharing”, in which communication and collaboration get the main focus. Information management and knowledge management will merge into a very interesting discipline.

A paradigm shift – and it just started

It seems as if Peter Drucker’s prediction from 1993 that ‘The most probable assumption is that no currently working business theory will be valid ten years hence — at least not without major modifications’ has become reality. What evolutions and new/modified ways do you see in business and management?

Filip Callewaert: Peter Drucker was unimaginably visionary – he was really in the future at that moment… Most of us needed an extra 20 years to see (believe?) the same. As a matter of fact, he caught the right perspective in seeing the shift towards the era of the knowledge worker, away from the industrial age.

Through doing, you think more goal- and client/user-focused,
through thinking, you do it better: : “conscious action”, which, in fact is “action learning” – the dream of all knowledge managers and learning organisations who failed in the past.

When you want to identify the evolutions in business and management, then you’d just better summarize it with the shift that is happening now from 1.0 to 2.0, disrupting traditional business models and management styles. So we do enter a complete new world of work; it’s much more than a bunch of modifications; it is a paradigm shift. There are numerous books (and summaries) on the topic.

Talking of Drucker, he provided me with the words that best denote the project that gets my full personal and professional devotion:
“The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.” (from Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge. California Management Review. 41 (2), 79-94, PDF opens). And we have only started!

Technologies and processes: putting users first

What technologies and especially opportunities/challenges they bring along, are you most interested in and why?

Filip Callewaert: Personally: I’m still waiting for the true steps ahead in how digital workplaces need to evolve to make knowledge work really more efficient. I’m not at all convinced at this moment with our ECM stuff, BPM silos, intranets and portals etc.

Information is the most important resource in the product or service design process

These might win awards, but observing the knowledge worker (instead of reading the award proposal) makes me mostly feel sad. We hardly succeed in realizing the “flow” in the work of a team of knowledge workers, all together focused on the team things done.

More than once we see the potential of technology, and it certainly is an enabler. But how we organize our work (processes) and how we live together as teams (culture) are as much part of the story. The shorter and numerous feedback loops will certainly improve our processes (and will also change the character of “a process” as such, which shows itself in the agile paradigm that is emerging now), and the 2.0 paradigm certainly realizes the first interesting and positive steps for our team cultures. So, all together it seems a very promising future, but for ‘my’ project, we’re only at the beginning.

Can you share your views, based on your work experience on the customer experience and the role of information as THE asset in that context?

Filip Callewaert: Whether it’s for a customer, an employee, a user, creating the experience is all about the question whether you succeed in creating value for them, and only value, without the interference of noise/friction/waste.

Information is the asset in two different perspectives:

  1. it’s the most important resource in the product or service design process;
  2. products and services get more and more information intensive themselves.

How do we know that we do create value for the user, customer, employee while designing the product or service? Through an iterative-incremental, experiential way of working:

  1. build your hypothesis,
  2. experiment,
  3. measure,
  4. learn
  5. adjust and
  6. restart: the so-called continuous bèta you find yourself and your organisation in – continuous improvement cycles combined with disruptive innovations – lean AND agile.

A combination of think, just do it, learn and grow.

Continuous Beta
Continuous Beta

One such design project cycle generates and uses more and more information as not only more information is generated and used by more devices (e.g. sensors) and more (intensive) dialogues/interactions with much more stakeholders (i.e. the collaboration dimension), but the cycles themselves are shorter, go much faster and just restart, one after the other – which means avalanches of meta-information.

[blockquote author=”Filip Callewaert”]A knowledge worker / designer should never experience the documentation process as overhead[/blockquote]

Think first, act next or act first, think next?

Filip Callewaert: In the iterative formula, you can certainly discuss the order of think first and then do (obeying the plan-do(-check-act) commandment): why not do first and then think? This option will certainly make certain types of knowledge workers happy, but it is a fact that for design thinking, doing is a form of thinking.

Situate it in the and-and-spectrum:

  • through doing, you think more goal- and client/user-focused,
  • through thinking, you do it better: “conscious action”, which, in fact is “action learning” – the dream of all knowledge managers and learning organisations who failed in the past; it’s the 70-part in 70-20-10 learning.

What’s of the utmost importance in this process of iterative working, is the act of documenting your process (of doing and thinking), as it builds the consciousness of your process, and facilitates the “do” part of the project.

A knowledge worker / designer should never experience the documentation process as overhead: we experience this act of writing your actions and thoughts (“working out loud”) as an intermediary constructive act that not only facilitates thinking, doing and learning but also IS thinking and doing – it is part of the design process in the same way as laboratory notebooks are an essential tool for discoveries and scientific problem solving processes.

There are some interesting blogs on this so-called “working out loud” ( – read John Stepper’s and Simon Terry’s!). It’s one of these practices that got really enabled by social software.

Focusing on the process of team problem solving itself

It’s a non-traditional and transformational view for sure but as you see it has been enabled by social. How has it impacted your views on information management?

Filip Callewaert: The development cycle is getting so much more information intensive. That’s why my view on information management is one that is much more focused on the process of team problem solving itself (or call it: the design process). And that will certainly be one of the reasons why adaptive (or dynamic) case management is so prevalent in my information management practice.

An adaptive case is a learning-doing environment, that combines the emergent process and its records. But even the records get a more dynamic character: information management in this context is much more about generating relevant design process records: frozen, meaningful moments in your emergent process that differentiate bulk/probably irrelevant information from relevant information. This relevancy is very much relative and depends on varying perspectives. Identifying this relevancy is real knowledge work and this will still be/stay human work – at least for some time, as the evolution in artificial intelligence will certainly disrupt this too.

[blockquote author=”Filip Callewaert”]Experience is the flow’ you get in as a customer/employee/user: the triangle {people, processes, tools} “melts” as one – there is a fusion – and this is perceived as generating the full potential and completely answering the expectations.[/blockquote]

The product and the experience – feedback loops, flow and lean thinking

So, information is increasingly important in the development cycle that is collaborative, iterative and revolving around value for the user. What other links do you see between information and customer/user experience?

Filip Callewaert: Apart from the meta-information (at the level of your project management), we also distinguish the importance of information IN the experience (of the user, client, employee) itself. There are three areas to mention in that regard.

1. Systems

First, information is the n°1 asset because successful products and services are more and more situated in eco-systems: each time that we participate in an “experience”, information is created, captured, classified, stored, delivered.

This is not a one-time cycle, but many similar cycles happen at the same time and influence each other. Services, products, processes, tools are interconnected and as in each system, feedback loops (call it: communication) use information from the process and add new information – exponentially creating the ‘big data’. This makes the experience not only rich at this very moment, but also potentially intelligent, as this might be the basis for better future experiences.

2. Information flow

Second. What is this “experience” in UX (user experience), CX (customer experience)? I prefer the definition that sees it as ‘the flow’ you get in as a customer/employee/user: the triangle {people, processes, tools} “melts” as one – there is a fusion – and this is perceived as generating the full potential and completely answering the expectations.

To get in this ideal state, we need to filter all noise or friction due to ill-concentrated participants (employees), broken processes, ill-developed tools or user interfaces. Do you succeed in providing your customer, employee, user with the necessary information he needs at the right moment; do you succeed in ‘silently’ capturing the information that will be of value later on in the process? etc. In a flow experience, tools and processes get invisible for the user – but they are there.

Any “flow” is an “information flow”, but mind that it’s not (alone) about documents or written information, it’s about all the kinds of information that the human senses can process.

3. Lean & design

In designing this kind of information flows, lean thinking provides us with helpful principles. Creating value is partially translated as “removing waste”, which, in the flow design means: avoiding noise or friction.

Lean identifies several classes of waste (or noise/friction), and it is interesting to see that many design principles in fact can be matched with lean principles.

Summarizing, let’s say that more than ever information is the resource of any business in this new era. And open your eyes for the dynamics inherent to information. Information as a meaning creation process itself. The next question is which ExM tool will help us in this?

Connect with Filip on Twitter and LinkedIn. More about the Antwerp Port Authority.