The Year 2020: ECM As We Know it Will be Extinct

0515AIIMWe are heading for a seismic change in the industry and ECM as we know it will disappear. Yes, content will be everywhere, but content management will be reborn as an increasingly invisible concept.

Despite the dawning of a new era in ECM, the challenges organizations face in managing the data superhighway and its intersection of people, processes and information is not a new one. It has not changed. What has changed is the technologies and the time frames utilized to manage this intersection. To add to this change we are also in the midst of a phase of concern and disruption, painting what appears to be an unpredictable picture. There have been five marked eras in the managing of what we are calling the people/process/information intersection and each has come with a distinct technology wave to address the challenge — paper, micrographics, ERP, document management/workflow and ECM.

First we had paper, which is still here hundreds of years later, despite being constantly given the death knell. During the 1950s, microfilm and the micrographics industry emerged, primarily for documenting and recording. In the 1960s through to the 1980s, organizations automated a large part of the core back-end business processes, giving rise to a vibrant ERP business. In the 1980s and 1990s, organizations were sold the idea of the “paperless office” and replaced some high-volume mission-critical paper processes, such as claims processing in insurance. Closed local area networks were used to send the electronic documents to specialist workers within the enterprise. And so document management/workflow was born.

The fifth era, ECM, came with the arrival of the Internet. The maturation of core document management and imaging technologies heralded Enterprise Content Management, or ECM, in the early 2000s. Here at AIIM we grasped it with both hands and evangelized ECM as an emerging industry. Probably not the most user-friendly label, ECM served its purpose for a decade. ECM basically described a cluster of capabilities and technologies that organizations could use to capture, store, manage, deliver, and preserve the “content,” primarily images and documents, linked to processes that were document intensive and/or mission critical.

What comes next?

We are now entering the transition to the sixth era of managing people/processes/information. A combination of the knock-on effect of consumerization, cloud, mobile and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly bringing the ECM era to a close.

But this comes with its own challenges. Organizations are toiling with the notion of best practices and norms to live by in a world ruled by Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and Collaborative (MACC) technologies. At the same time solution providers that play a key role in the change are slaving to identify themselves as an industry.

With the sixth era in a very fluid state, three major disruptive forces are speeding up the whole process of change and thrusting organizations into a state of information chaos. Firstly, consumerization has put users in the driver’s seat. It has totally changed what users expect from applications and how they are delivered. Secondly, cloud and mobile have established the expectation of 24/7 anytime, anywhere access and what is expected of customer/employee engagement. Finally, the birth of the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything from white goods, automobiles and mobile devices are connected, has the potential to generate humongous amounts of data.

Take a look at the 2020 trendscape

The year 2020 is only five years away now and technology is evolving at astonishing speed. There are a number of important MACC-driven trends on the horizon that will evolve. These include new passages to privacy and security, ubiquitous broadband connectivity, bottom-up rather than top-down innovation, increased virtual and distributed work, a shortage of IT “connective” and analytic skills and an OPEX vs. CAPEX procurement model. We will also, without doubt, see regulation of the cloud by national governments.

So the good news first. Organizations are not being laissez-faire. They are already sitting up and recognizing that they will need strategies and systems in place to handle their information assets that are just as powerful as those used to manage their financial, physical and human assets.

On the downside, organizations are struggling to put these systems and policies in place during a time of such enormous change. Organizations, from the big to the small, are saying: “Our processes are broken, we are buried in information and it is killing our ability to satisfy our customers.” Neither does this center around a few specialized “document” workers. It sits at the very epicenter of the digital workplace. And so the doors to this enormous, but not insurmountable, challenge open.

Organizations are hungry for best practices

Amidst this discord, organizations are floundering, searching for best practices and norms to cope with the transition from simply managing information to making this information useful to their business and giving them a competitive edge in an increasingly cutthroat marketplace.

These best practices are essential in three key areas: new risk models, new success models and new uncertainty models.

First, with new risk models, organizations need to work out how they can tighten information risk in a time of flux, when the old rules no longer apply. Due to the huge and still growing volume of information, some have opted to refocus at the very heart of their system to minimize risk.

Understanding it is not possible to safeguard all the information, they work out which parts of the information are actually corporate assets and need to be protected. The old belief about control, largely centered around managing devices, has gone out of the window and new guiding practices have still to be created.

Next we have the golden chalice – the success model. How can organizations make the transition from information chaos to information opportunity? Information is at the center of this challenge and organizations must strike a balance between moving through the transformation and adhering to regulatory and compliance requirements. In a digital age, digital leadership is imperative and this is where many organizations fall at the first hurdle – they have a digital leadership drought.

Finally we have the uncertainty model. How do organizations better plan for the future? How do they actually deliver what users are demanding? No one is saying the answers are easy to find. But organizations need to take a fresh look at their approach to enterprise IT and digital services. Enhancing service, whilst staying within compliance of the increase in regulations, is not an easy puzzle for the corporate CIO. Those with old systems and software will soon see the need to throw out the old and upgrade, or find themselves on the IT road to nowhere.

The search for a new industry label

ECM is past its sell-by date. It no longer describes the metamorphosis that is made up of Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and Collaborative technologies. A new industry label is required to aptly describe this sixth era of innovative technologies and capabilities at the intersection of people, information, and processes.

Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t that ECM is no longer relevant to the information landscape. It is still a great way of explaining a set of capabilities that evolved from document management and workflow, and the technologies and capabilities needed to automate relatively static, document-intensive, mission-critical processes. But for me it is troublesome on three fronts. We normally use it as a noun as opposed to a verb. So it becomes something you buy and add on as opposed to an ongoing strategy. Secondly, it no longer stands up as an umbrella term for the content and information-centric technologies that are at the very center of the Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, and Collaborative era and finally you find it is almost exclusively linked to cost and people reduction.

So a new term is needed to describe a picture that includes many hues in 2020 that blur the lines between structured and unstructured information — content management, information governance, smart process applications, collaboration and social technologies, taxonomy and metadata, scanning and capture, content analytics, customer engagement, and search. Organizations will have to learn to combine analytics, collaboration, governance and processes to manage and utilize information assets in much more clever ways.

In the next five years, content management will become increasingly important as organizations look to create symmetry between security and analytics. But it definitely won’t be content management as we’ve come to know it. Neither will it be as simplistic as records management or as easy as bringing social media-style tools to the enterprise.

No, bringing a new intersection to the people, process and technology equation will require a great amount of thinking and planning. And believe me, that process has only just started. The road will inevitably be a long and winding one.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Workflow.

AIIM’s John Mancini believes that there is real value to be gained from content analytics – both in business insight and risk mitigation. But enterprises need to have a well-thought-out strategy in place to gain the biggest advantage.