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A New Approach to Content is Needed

By John Newton, co-founder, Chairman and CTO, Alfresco

We are all keenly aware just how much technology is changing the way business operates.  Mobile technology and cloud computing in particular have revolutionised our work habits and processes. In turn, our expectations of what we can do with technology have also changed.  We now expect to work anywhere, at any time on pretty much any device we choose.  So, whether I’m in the office working from a desktop computer or using my smartphone in Abu Dhabi airport, I now expect that I can continue working on exactly the same documents, despite the differences in location and device.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems have long been the backbone for helping businesses on their way to doing this, providing a place to store, move and manage information within the organisation.  However, many of the original – or legacy – ECM systems have not kept pace with changes in the way we work, failing to keep up with the technology that underpins those changes.  ECM is now in a state of disruption with four major trends forcing a reshape of the entire field and mandating a new approach to managing content.

#1    New Ways of Working

The work-anywhere, anytime, on any device mode of getting business done puts a lot of pressure on IT teams to support a new class of connected employees, whose expectations for ease of use have been shaped by consumer web services.  Information workers want to find documents as easily as they can browse for books online.  The approach to work by Millennials in particular is shaped by these expectations.  Over the next five years, organisations will increasingly need a solution that will support this more dynamic working style as, according to BPW Foundation, Millennials are projected to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2020.  Currently most legacy ECM systems, which are already in failure mode due to poor user adoption, can’t keep up and lack support for inter-company sharing and remote access.

#2    Emergence of the Extended Enterprise

Organisations are extending their value chains and engaging more deeply with external companies, such as suppliers and distributors.  It’s becoming increasingly common to see product design, marketing, sales and service performed by remote contract workers and vendors that function as if they were part of the client firm.  However, this type of collaboration only works if there is controlled, two-way information flow across organisational boundaries.  Legacy ECM, historically delimited by the firewall, does not serve modern enterprises which are not bound by the limits of IT infrastructure.  This approach constrains productivity and growth as mobile workers struggle with VPN issues and external partners lack the access they need to collaborate effectively.  The extended enterprise requires a new approach to ECM that supports easy, controlled sharing of content and process inside and outside the organisation.

#3    Massive Explosion in Digital Content

We live in a data centric world, where the sheer volume of information and content flooding IT systems is leaving many organisations battling to manage it.  This tidal wave of content being created isn’t going to go away anytime soon, IDC is projecting a stunning 50 times growth in digital content from 2010 to 2020, with 90% of it in unstructured information such as e-mails, documents and video.  The rise of social media and collaboration tools has also created a new class of enterprise content that is shared with a supplier, the video of a failed piece of equipment and its geo-location data, and the photograph of a competitor’s shelf display with resulting comment thread.  It’s crucial that the new generation of ECM must put content in context so that people and processes work more efficiently and effectively.

#4   New IT Infrastructure

Sometimes trying to change enterprise IT is like changing direction of a supertanker: it changes slowly, but it is definitely on the move.  The IT in today’s businesses is being transformed by the adoption of public and private cloud along with “hybrid” cloud/on-premises deployments of core business systems.  In tandem, the IT department has to manage support across a variety of new mobile platforms to meet growing demand from workers.  The problem for old ECM systems is that they are trapped in software architectures from an earlier, more homogenous era.  Their platforms are generally not built for cloud scale and offer only limited mobile support.   By contrast, a modern ECM system needs to support the full range of deployment options and device types.

The Need for a New Approach to ECM

Looking at these four simultaneous trends as a whole reveals a completely changed world for enterprise content management.  New workers with new expectations are doing their jobs in new ways – while the volume of content explodes and the traditional IT architecture falls away.  Next-generation ECM systems must support the now commonplace “work anywhere” norms as well as seamless, secure collaboration with external business partners.  ECM needs to put companies in charge of their content strategy and provide flexible, hybrid deployment options to support their needs.  Companies that adopt a new approach to ECM will be able to unlock new business value from their content and empower people to do and share great work.

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John Newton_Alfresco 1

About the author:

John Newton, Co-founder, CTO and Chairman of Alfresco, has had one of the longest and most influential careers in content management. In 1990, John co-founded, designed and led the development of Documentum®, the leader in content management acquired by EMC®.

For the next ten years, he invented many of the concepts widely used in the industry today. In addition, he built Documentum’s marketing and professional services organizations in Europe. John has also been an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Benchmark Capital and was one of the founding engineers at Ingres® where he helped develop the world’s first commercial relational database.

 

1 Comment

  • avatar image
    Reply Keith Wheeler, 10 December 2015

    These are all very valid comments. There are issues however with “what these new workers want and what they need”.
    For example in #1 you state: “find documents as easily as they can browse for books”.
    Browsing for books doesn’t require security, authorization checking, finding documents typically means, do you have the right to see this content, do you have the right to even know it exists, what format do you have the right to view the content.
    Businesses spend much resource in their structured data systems, building warehouses, tuning, managing, creating strategies to manage the data. They tend to spend much less resource managing their content, understanding how it will be used and they blow off the idea of merging strategies of structured with unstructured. It is treated as an afterthought, a cost to be minimized instead of a center of knowledge, source of information about your customers.
    In #2 the extended enterprise, here the fault again I believe lies with the business. They treat web content, collaboration and enterprise content as disjointed and disconnected ideas. The tools exist, they integrate and they scale, companies refuse to put together a strategy that treats all data, all content as something valuable to more than one entity inside the company. In some cases larger companies are starting to get a handle on the problem but unless it shows an immediate ROI they can the project for another one off that just exacerbates the problem.
    In #3 I will say you are spot on. Data (both structured and unstructured) continue to explode. The CxO suite is woefully unprepared and uneducated in how to handle or what to handle. Manufacturers trying to improve quality and predict component failure must deal with gigabytes per hour of data from one unit, how long is that data valid, can we get what we need in one pass and dump it? Do we have to store it for a period of time, if so where, what makes sense.
    In #4 much of my last 10 years has been dealing with ECM system decades old. Still fulfilling their mandate, still scaling larger than the enterprise needs but with few features, few as you said web and mobile capabilities. These system are fine up to a point and those using them are hoping for retirement before something else is needed. But the corporations who are still running them need to wake up, folks it is great you installed that system in 1982 and the last code update was 1987, it is great it runs and you have 1200 applications integrated to it, but you have to move, you have to update, you have to adapt, change and you have to do it with as little turmoil inside as possible. Most of the time, the problem is again ROI, or no budget. Especially in government accounts.
    Most of the modern ECM systems are evolving, some of them scale but not many. While a revolutionary change is needed, budgets, adoptions, existing integration and business processes dictate it will be a slow evolution.

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