Envisioning and shaping the future of work and business.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

ECM meets Enterprise 2.0 – 7 key trends

In the post "ECM in the age of the social web - new slide deck" I promised that I would put some words to some of the slides from my presentation "ECM Today - Trends & Reality". Well, here they are.

To start with, I define Enterprise Content Management (ECM) as:
"All the things that are needed - from vision and strategy down to digital nuts and bolts - to be able to manage all the content within an enterprise regardless of type, format and location throughout its lifecycle, from creation to retirement, so that the content can be found and used when needed by users."
ECM is not about managing content for the sake of managing content. What matters is that we can use the content, and get the information we need when we need it.

Most organizations say that effective information management – where ECM is a key component - is a key to their long-term success. Still, many organizations (top management) don't put information management and ECM on their top 10 lists. Why is that?

When a customer cannot find the information she needs on a web site to buy a product or service, she will likely turn to another company and web site to buy the product or service from them instead. This is quite easy to understand for most people. It is quite obvious that we need to make sure that the customer has all the information she needs to make the decision to buy our product or service. It needs to be there on the web site, on the page and location where she expects to find it, right at her fingertips. Unfortunately, the cause-effect chain that starts with an employee not beeing able to find information or spending a lot of time looking for it or recreating information that already exists is much harder to see than cause-effect chain starts with a customer not being able to find a product on a web site to lost profits.

In the light of the current shift taking place in most businesses in the developed part of the world, it will become even more important for organizations to be good at information management, and specifically ECM as the amount of unstructured content grows significantly faster than more structured content (data). Today, it is not enough to improve transformational and transactional processes to stay competitive. Businesses must also become better at collaborating and innovating to stay competitive. So, improvments efforts are slowly shifting more towards how they can improve knowledge work. Exactly how to do this is not clear to most businesses, as current methods and strategies do not apply.

We are also seeing that different technologies are converging. The engine, or the epicentral if you like, that is causing this conversion is the current development on the web with concepts such as social media, social networking, Software as a Service, Cloud Computing, and so on. The web is becoming an operating system for more and more businesses.

One major trend affecting ECM is the exploding volumes of what we call user generated content. Tools such as blogs and wikis have made production of content so cheap and easy that single individuals can make an income of it, and some are even able compete with the leading traditional media corporations. The usability, reach and low cost of these tools have also made business users, on their own initiative, introduce them internally for business purposes. These business people form what is sometimes called a “Shadow IT department”. It is the responsibility of ECM to provide a platform where the user-generated content can be created, managed and used and integrated with all other kinds of content.

Another trend is that a lot of the traditional content production workflows have been radically altered for a lot of the content that is created and maintained in a business. The read-write web, with tools such as wikis, are blurring traditional roles such as author, editor and reader. ECM needs to support this content production model. ECM is not only about content production workflows tied to business processes, but also about the everyday and sometimes ad hoc production, management and use of content that occupy knowledge workers.

With Software as a Service and cloud computing, content is now also produced, managed and distributed on the Internet, beyond the corporate firewalls. It means that ECM becomes even more complex. How do we manage and integrate content in internal systems with content that resides outside of the firewalls?

Today we also have much more open and structured formats for content than the traditional and opaque documents. Most documents formats today - such as OpenDocument or Office Open XML - are based on XML, with content separated from the presentation. So what is a document?

So, the notion of what a document is is blurring. The evolution of hypertext and the web makes it harder to determine what we mean with the term document. Besides the fact that we now have much more open and structured formats for content than the traditional and opaque documents, the distinction between the content and the user interface is also blurring due to the introduction of new technologies such as AJAX. We are seeing smart and dynamic content products that go beyond the passive and static nature of traditional documents. Content can be assembled from different sources into one container, with so called mashup technologies, where the individual pieces of content can be constantly updated independently of each other.

One of the more interesting trends is that the conversations we have about content is now often captured and associated with the content itself. New tools and technologies allow us to discuss and comment on content, as well as rating and recommending it to others. In the end, content is just something to talk about. It is used to feed the conversations that drive the operation and management of a business with relevant, timely, complete and actionable information. These challenge for ECM is that these conversations are also content and needs to be managed so they can be found and used when needed.

People are now also creating metadata embedded in the activities they perform, such as uploading and sharing a photo, or writing a blog post. They tag and describe the content to be able to share it with others and help others find their content. Popular services like Slideshare, Flickr and YouTube handles enormous amounts of content. By collecting a lot of metadata and using user profiling, they make possible for users to find and discover content they need or are interested in. So how do we take advantage of this for improving ECM?

The key message here that I want to make is that we are facing a new reality and that reality dramatically affects Enterprise Content Management and how we manage information within a business. We must study and learn about this new reality.

To tackle the challenges of ECM, we need to create an vision and strategy for ECM and ensure commitment to this from top management. Secondly, we have to establish some sort of governance for ECM which allows for common funding and decision-making for enhancing shared ECM capabilities. Finally, we need to build some kind of competence that can provide the required resources, skills and support to ECM initiatives. We can see this as a kind of shared service for ECM initiatives within the enterprise.


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