Workflow’s 2014 Outlook

After another year of relentlessly inflating the corporate IT balloon with unfathomable amounts of information shared and accessed on innumerable mobile devices connected to every conceivable business-critical process, 2014 figures to be the year companies finally get serious about bringing some order to the madness — or else.

This wonky data dirigible can only take on so many more devices, databases, interfaces, applications or social media snippets before it bursts, spilling intellectual property — to say nothing of red ink — all over the digital landscape and rendering the original purpose of all these IT systems and devices essentially moot. Good luck summing up the ramifications of sailing past this tipping point in 140 characters or less.

Despite its big promise and big hype, Big Data is quickly becoming a Big Problem. It’s one thing to embrace the Digital Troika — mobile devices, social media and the cloud — to collect and share all the stuff you want and need to know. It’s another to manage and cull it — lots of it, as in 90 percent of all the data in the world, which has been created in the past two years alone — in order to deliver actionable information on the fly to the people who needed it yesterday without compromising the security of the data and the processes.

Forget a New York minute. Every 60 seconds, Facebook users share more than 680,000 pieces of content — some comment or link or photo or video that has relevance (a sales lead, a threat to the brand, a testimonial, an advertising opportunity connected to a geolocation) to some company or organization somewhere. More than 2.4 billion people are online today, and another couple hundred thousand will join the party in the time it takes to read this article, and almost all of these newbies will be accessing the Internet for the first time via a mobile device.

This reality is impacting every element of business process and enterprise content management application development as well as the implementation of these systems as the foundation for an efficient, secure and responsive workflow connecting all these disparate business processes.

In 2014, context — more than content or cash — will be king.

The big picture

“Mobile, social, cloud and big data are disruptive forces that are fundamentally changing the way we live and work,” said David Millen, vice president of business process and decision management for the IBM Software Group. “This brings a wealth of opportunity to those businesses that recognize this inflection point and strive to innovate.”

But therein lies the rub. How do you innovate when you’re just trying not to suffocate? Where do you start?

Every year at its annual Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, the IT research and advisory firm unveils a “Top 10” list of industry trends that it believes will be most important and strategic for organizations in the coming year. These are the issues that its analysts project will have the highest potential for disruption to IT departments or the overall business, require significant investment and pose a serious risk to companies that are late to adopt.

This year, David Cearley, a vice president and Gartner fellow, said the combination of information, social, mobile and the cloud — what Gartner calls the “Nexus of Forces” — will create new and highly lucrative opportunities in 2014, but only for those companies with the advanced programmable infrastructures capable of executing at Web-scale.

“The things that (we’re) talking about here are not just about mobile as some niche,” he said. “This becomes a fundamental and primary part of your world. We’ve got to change our thought processes and design points around that.”

Gartner predicts that through 2018, the ever-expanding variety of devices, computing styles, user contexts and interaction paradigms — exemplified by the prevailing “bring your own device” zeitgeist — will double or triple the size of the mobile workforce and put “tremendous strain” on IT and finance organizations within companies of all sizes to support it. At a certain and rapidly approaching point, this “everything everywhere” strategy will become unachievable, Cearley said.

To retain some control over their IT systems amid all this mobile chaos, Gartner advises companies to review and, when necessary, update and extend their policies on employee-owned devices. And while most organizations have established policies for employees accessing their networks through company-owned devices, it’s important to set policies that define clear expectations around what employees can and can’t do with those devices, balancing flexibility with confidentiality and privacy requirements.

“People are always the weakest link,” said Michela Menting, a cybersecurity senior analyst at ABI Research. “(Most) companies have no oversight over what people do on their own devices. And a lot of cool productivity tools, like cloud-sync services, are free (and) easy to use, … but there is a massive lack of knowledge about security.”

This desire to be all things to all processes at all times is not only placing a lot of pressure on CIOs — or owners, in the case of small businesses — but creating huge demand for mobile enterprise content management applications that do all the things that IT can’t or cannot afford to do. This, in turn, begets more complications as companies work to integrate these new mobile apps with their existing IT infrastructures.

ABI Research predicts subscribers of enterprise content management apps will grow at double-digit rates through 2018 to more than 110 million users. Smartphone subscribers will grow at about 12 percent a year, while corporate-liable tablet subscriptions will soar more than 21 percent over this same period.

Whether it’s basic cloud storage and productivity applications such as Dropbox and Cubby or mobile content security apps from Content Raven and Watchdox, employees are going to keep adding these new apps to their mobile devices with or without IT’s consent.

“Mobile content management is yet another solution in an already complex enterprise mobility marketplace,” said Jason McNicol, a senior analyst for enterprise at ABI Research. “The key challenge and opportunity is integration of MCM into enterprise infrastructure to address IT security needs while also ensuring a good user experience from the mobile devices.”

Measure twice, cut once

With so much at risk and so many variables to consider, the temptation is to take the kitchen-sink approach: Take out the checkbook, attach yourself at the hip to the software vendor that offers a little — or a lot — of everything to handle and resolve every possible ECM or BPM need and contingency, and hope for the best.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Workflow.

is an editor and analyst at BPO Media.