There is an unseemly hubris in content and collaboration software.
It is the assumption that knowledge and innovation can come out of them. As if our companies were some sort of orange to be squeezed into a pitcher and served up as a healthy and tasty accompaniment to breakfast. The trend has a long history that is still being played out today though we see some hints of change. ERP, MRP & Supply Chain systems took the principles of the assembly line and applied them to business processes – from how things are made to how they’re transported from here to there. These gave rise to HCM systems which took the same fundamental approach and applied it to how people – human beings – are managed and placed and categorized and “quality assured” in an organization (that last part being your annual review).
The fundamental assumption and fatal flaw in all of these software “systems” is that process – those recipes of business – are actually what make the product, bring in the revenue, and service the customer. They rely on a terribly thin lie; that the process is understood, the recipe is known and all that is left to do is find more efficient ways of executing it. It is shake and bake business. If we just automate our phone help desk with push-button easiness and route exception calls overseas we’ll increase success in business.
In many ways we’re the victims of our own technological success. We’ve succumbed to “Small Earth Syndrome”. The industrial and information revolutions are said to have shrunk the planet. That’s a lie. They extended our reach but they did not shrink and they did not simplify.
Complexity has increased magnificently and terribly in order to access our large planet. Sophistication of our systems increased to handle the complexity. Each new permutation of observer-induced cybernetic feedback was identified as the last bug to fix, rolled into our software systems and re-re-re-released with great fanfare. And all the while the information was coming in – a tsunami made of 8 billion individual spigots left running and our collective sinks overflowing. We see huge potential in this ocean of information. Our flaw is in thinking that our old assembly-line thinking and linear systems can classify, index and handle it if only it gets just a bit more efficient.
This is not what brought us the revolutions in industry and information. Intentional collaboration – directed, focused and goal oriented – gave us superior suspension in horse buggies, line-cook short-order restaurants and enterprise content management software systems. Accidental collaboration – interaction with information and insight regardless of original intent – gave us the GPS system from people listening to Sputnik and doodling calculations that determined its location in the sky, then reversing those to calculate positions on earth. Accidental collaboration gave us Big Data, Big Insight and will drive the next phase of innovation.
2012 is gone and there are plenty of entertaining and profound retrospectives from Google’s Zeitgeist 2012 to your very own Facebook year in review. But it is much more interesting to look ahead and anticipate where the market will go based on the trajectory established in late 2012. Therefore we have performed some deep textual analytics, data mining and business intelligence operations on forward looking data sets to arrive at the following conclusions.
2013 is the year business adoption of social media starts in earnest. For many years, technology and innovation have far outpaced business adoption. As niche players grew into success over the last 2 years, big business interest in the revenue of thos spaces grew as well. 2012 was a year of many notable social acquisitions by big firms. Facebook bought Instagram, Microsoft bought Yammer, LinkedIn bought SlideShare, Salesforce bought BuddyMedia, Google bought Wildfire, Oracle bought Vitrue, and IBM bought tealeaf to name a few. Undoubtedly you could name others. Such acquisitions are leading, rather than trailing, market indicators. As the big companies buy innovation, expect them to monetize their purchases by driving those social technologies deeper into their customer lists and solution stacks.
2013 is the year organizations move from infants to juveniles along the maturity spectrum. While social technologies enjoyed the limelight among marketers and consultants, the rest of the organization yawned and continued with business as usual. That meant email. Despite pockets of enlightenment, most businesses are just now dipping their toes into the ocean of social business. Like toddlers at the beach running towards then away from the surf, they are curious about what is out there and convinced that it is amazing. Yet, as the 2012 IBM Tech Trend Report demonstrates, they are cautious and fearful as well. Combine a maturing business user with available technology and 2012 – the year of introduction – completed and the stage is set for businesses to do some growing up.
2013 is the year big data meets big social content and has a social intelligence baby. The match has already been made. The sheer power of distributed compute systems like Hadoop when brought to bear on the sheer magnitude of social data produce amazing insights. But outside of some basic ERP optimization or network bandwidth allocation, most businesses have largely been left scratching their heads with what to do with all this new information. Big data has yet to regularly produce actionable insight from all that information. 2013 is the year that unstructured content is brought into the mix. The combination will produce a small but promising technology trend – social intelligence. It will undoubtedly be named something else. And what we mean by “social intelligence” is not the best time to post your tweets. Rather it is the synthesis of big data intelligence, social CRM, CXM, enterprise knowledge and unstructured data that produces the contextual lens through which business decisions are made. The burgeoning cloud backup market is getting a handle on all the unstructured content in the business. As they add indexing, search and sharing to their offerings – as pioneers such as Digitiliti have already done – the availability of enterprise knowledge will become independent from the snags and barriers known today as “check in pages”. As APIs and integrations become productized the combination of these centralized knowledgebases with big data warehouses will be tapped by enterprising reporting engines and genius data scientists. There will be many small niche players in this area in 2013. But those will be snapped up in 2014 and we’ll see a growth in maturity in social intelligence – or whatever it is called – in 2015.
In closing, the image above is a word cloud that highlights terms from forward looking technology queries posed by journalists looking for help writing their stories. It covers December, 2012 and more than 7600 words. If the news is to be believed, 2013 will be a year where business has a deep need for expertise, data, security, people who can execute (make) and information is at the heart of it all. There is also a proliferation of smaller topics that form a milieu rather than remain on the periphery. Taken all together, 2013 will be a year of learning to use what we have to drive insight we have always suspected was there. Cheers!
Those of us who come from the ECM world have been “business process sensitive” for a long time. We have written, designed and implemented process centric content systems for many clients around the world even if they were covered under different names. This is because we realized early on that business content is always the input to or the output from a formal or informal business process. This is true even if it doesn’t have an encoded SOA, BPM or JMS structure behind it.
We called it workflow. We called it integration. That’s because it was. (tweet this)
The big challenge is that business processes are as complex as human interactions. Business processes documented in Visio or some other workbench tool represent the optimal flow of information and tasks from one point to another. But exceptions to these rules are rampant. This is because humans are complex creatures and we will often do either whatever it takes or whatever is easiest to achieve a goal. The path we pick depends on a massive amount of external factors – our mood, our interest in the task, how deep is our stake in the outcome, if we’ve had our morning coffee… This has given rise to complex event processing (CEP) and similar systems that acknowledge this complexity. They attempt to brute-force their way through millions of contextual premises in order to work through to a single conclusive result. That result is often the answer to the question, “what is our next step?” Consequently, encoding processes for content / context centricity is often an exercise in triage and attrition rather than total state awareness with full exception handling.
The social revolution has taught us that people create the process they need at the time. (Tweet This!) They figure out the path they need or want to achieve their goal. This path is often not the most efficient but it is often the one that enjoys the most adoption. This continues to pose challenges to systems inherently based on predicting and improving human efficiency by assuming that we can become more machine-like.
I suspect that this same concept explains (in part) why legacy ECM is having its lunch eaten by the much simpler and less sophisticated cloud systems like Box, Google Docs, slideshare, Dropbox and even facebook. They focus on the goal – sharing information with others. They leave the “how to make it happen” up to the people who figure it out. It might be emailing a link. It might be a social invite via the service itself. It might be via web based plugins (e.g. via wordpress or linked in). The point is that the services leave that responsibility up to you.
This is not to say that the way the legacy ECM systems integrate and share information with processes is wrong. It works, but it’s restrictive and often cumbersome. And let’s face it, we chafe at things that were not our idea. We hate being told that there is only one way we have to do something. This is why systems such as cloud ECM are enjoying a heyday: they let the humans be human and simply make the content easily available. (tweet this!)
This article originally appeared on CMSWire. There is an evolution happening in the world of content management. The giant platform systems that have worked to consolidate every functional permutation into one program are simply too big. They have so much computational flexibility and capability that they have become unwieldy. After all, massive flexibility is not the goal. Machine code and a compiler are the most flexible options open to computer users. But nobody in their right mind wants to build a business solution that way. The result is legacy ECM dinosaurs offer the convenience of a “buy” solution but force customers into a build situation. It is the worst kind of bait and switch. Waves of startups and cloud ECM firms are taking advantage of dissatisfaction and disrupting the dinosaurs.
One indicator of disruption in a market is that legacy vendors in that space start fighting over the smaller pool of the high-end market. This is because the high-end market is the only place left where they can compete. The mid-sized and low end markets are overtaken by more relevant, agile and less expensive (aka “elegant”) alternatives. Meanwhile the legacy vendors scoff at the startups and their lack of “enterprisey blah-bitty-blah functionality”.
It is the same as dinosaurs snickering at those hairy mammals for how very small and un-dinosaur-like they are. So the dinosaurs fight with each other over who gets invited to dinner. Incentives and swaps are offered in an effort to jockey for a better seat at the table. Meanwhile the start-up mammals are exploding in population. They’re smaller, agile, easier to deal with and have almost no bloat. The Stegosaurus of legacy ECM decries the mammals’ lack of truly impressive spine plates. And it is true. The mammals lack some features and functionality that the dinosaurs have perfected. But the world is changing. There is very little need for spiny ridges anymore.
Cloud content management is one of several specials of small furry animal that are happily eating the dinosaur’s lunch. They have thrown away the starting assumptions of the dinosaurs and focused on a particular need. That content can be successfully and sufficiently managed in the cloud is just one assumption they’ve adopted. That businesses value convenience over complexity completeness is another.
Consider another evolution in business: Agile project/product management. This methodology values atomic tasks, minimum viable products, continuous iteration and explicit tracking. Everything is modular, measurable and minimal. You do only what is needed to solve the current problem (aka “story”) and let the rest stay in a backlog until it is pulled forward by an explicit need. This approach to solving problems places an emphasis on the minimum rules, tools and technology that are needed and deemphasizes the extras. As a result, you will see agile boards in highly productive offices that are full of very low tech – post-it Notes and 3×5 cards and push-pins. It is low tech sure, but high tech is not needed to achieve the goal. Adding it only increases friction with users, the time it takes to perform a task and management overhead.
This same Agile paradigm is driving the ascendancy of ECM cloud solutions. Lower the friction with users. Focus on solving one problem (e.g. sharing documents with colleagues). Don’t invert the relationship between business goals and the systems that support them. As soon as managing a content system becomes a business goal something is wrong. Managing content is not the goal of most businesses. It is a way to do business more efficiently. As such it is a support system; an important one to be sure. The legacy dinosaurs would do well to recognize that customers are wising up to what they actually need. Their risk of being caught without some piece of key functionality is being addressed by a market full of fill-in-the-gaps apps and integrations. The cloud content management systems are a next step in the evolution of information management. The dinosaurs will linger. Some are even trying out the cloud themselves. Some are making their own clouds. But without a change in mindset that better matches the customer’s thinking, their chances of making it is slim. Their food supply is running out. The mammals will watch as they fight each other for the last scraps.
UPDATE: Great news on the online file locker front. MP3Tunes wins their case against EMI and the music industry. The case revolved largely around deduplication and hash based file fingerprinting for single instancing of content. The case has implications for online video distribution and B2C cloud content management systems like Dropbox, box net and others. On the music front, iTunes, Google Music Beta and other digital lockers all stand to benefit. As consumers we all stand to benefit from being able to realize deduplication, speedy “uploads” (where a file fingerprint from your PC matches a file already on the server, you don’t have to actually transfer the file – you simply get access to the file that is already there). This is good for end users and good for the cloud locker providers.
ORIGINAL POST: One of the key value propositions of enterprise content management systems is the ability to store, reuse and remix content. ECM vendors like Oracle, Adobe, IBM, EMC, OpenText, Microsoft, Autonomy, Alfresco and others spend considerable time and effort building sophisticated features into their platforms that make storage, reuse and remixing content easier, more efficient and more robust. On the storage front, compression and deduplication are important ways that companies can manage the ever increasing amount of data that is created. These technologies allow files to be shrunk or in some cases, not even uploaded at all – if it already exists somewhere in the system. On the reuse front, search and indexing technologies as well as recommendation and discovery engines are important. These allow users to find what they are looking for, sometimes before they know exactly what that is. On the remix front, templating systems, dynamic and component publishing and compound document management are just some of the ways that ECM systems help users reuse content in ways that the original authors may not have ever imagined. All of these are certainly benefits from an data center, business efficiency and information management perspective. But things get uncertain where copyright becomes involved. This is why it is worth it for ECM practitioners to pay close attention to the ongoing Music Industry legal wranglings. The music industry folks have planted a stake in the ground and are trying to build a fortress around their content: copyrighted music. The music industry are still suing content management providers that deal with their content. Folks like Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, iCloud for iTunes and smaller players like MP3Tunes.com and others are the target of legal action by the content owners. It is spilling over into the non-music space too. Recently, cloud file sharing system DropBox was dealt a blow by users when they changed their terms of service. Users perceived that change as negatively impacting privacy and seeming to grant ownership of files to DropBox. While DropBox later clarified that the TOS change was just to allow the technology services to better operate, there is still some concern. The concern goes like this (take a look at the image above). ECM technology facilitates storage, searching and re-mixing. Storage involves copying the file from your computer to the server. Deduplication involves distributing a copy of the file to someone who may have a legitimate copy themselves, but the copy stored on the server is not the one they have on their computer (even if the hash is an exact match). Searching is fundamentally about enabling distribution. Re-use through dynamic publishing, templating and multi-channel distribution is about the creation of derivative works. All of these areas are where copyright lawyers and trolls see as the exclusive domain of the copyright holder. Privacy concerns arise when the ECM vendor or service provider receives a claim of copyright infringement and then must reveal the identity of the user or users who have access to the material in question. Think this doesn’t apply because you work for a big business? Think again. Look at a whitepaper from your company. Look at product documentation. Look at your corporate logo. Look at those Getty or Shutterstock Images in your Power Point decks. They’re all copywritten. Now a business using ECM is not likely to sue itself. But what about the value proposition of ECM? Enabling partners? Yep. Helping customers self-service their own requests? Yep. Making it easy for Marketing to do cross channel campaigns by re-using content? Yep. Many ECM systems store great presentations with licensed StockPhotos in them. As soon as you use the ECM technology to re-use and re-mix that presentation as a web site, printed material or downloadable deck you are risking the wrath of the copyright trolls. All of these have potential copyright risks if an overzealous copyright holder finds out or starts trolling for law suits. The problem only compounds as ECM technology moves into the cloud. The ECM industry sees the cloud as merely location-shifting the stored bits. This is much like your DVR at home. But copyright holders are seeing things differently and they’re taking the big-boys to court over it – at least in the music arena. At least for now. The trends in collaboration and information sharing are growing and accelerating. ECM technology is facilitating these trends. In some ways, copyright holders stand to lose money the more that content is shared and not purchased. So they stand in the way. They sue. Sometimes they win. The ECM needs to pay attention. They could be next. For more reading on these topics see: Are Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player Illegal?