ECM and Zombies
Image by April McGuire – @octipuff – Used With Permission.

ECMS’ are graveyards and they are a dead end. They may be called digital landfills or “deep archives” or enterprise document management storage systems.  But they are where content goes to die.  Content that is coughed up by these information catacombs is a husk withered by the desiccating lack of context and lurching through presentation memes that were full of life in a previous digital age.  (JOKE: if deep archives are content graveyards what does that make eDiscovery lawyers?)

The goal of information management is to foster re-use, sharing, and to decrease the extreme amount of re-creation of existing (but hidden) content that goes on in organizations.  The idea of businesses saving information its own sake is silly.  Look a bit deeper and there’s always a reason, rationale or ROI lurking nearby.  It might be to manage risk.  It might be to foster accidental collaboration. It’s never “because we like spending money on storage for stuff we’ll never use, never want to use and poses no risk to us if found.”

So what’s the point of ECM?  The big vendors – IBM/Oracle/Microsoft/OpenText/EMC etc keep searching for their purpose.  Right now it’s web engagement.  A couple of years ago it was a one-giant-size-fits-all portal/platform/wcm/collaboration story.  Before that it was WCM, Invoices, Documents.  The story changes.  Analysts help that story change with each new wave, quadrant or expensive report on industry trends they put out.

It’s a tired but true platitude that we are generating more information than ever before.  We’re swimming in it.  Mining it for value and reusability is tough.  We’ve tried our hands at baked in search engines.  We’ve tried integrated search engines.  We’ve created metadata schemas that are inhumanly complex and disposition rule frameworks written by lawyers for lawyers and delivered to us mere mortals (to our horror).  We’ve coined new compliance and reusability standards (SCORM, DoD5015, CFR 2111) and even developed new integration standards (CMIS) because we realized one size doesn’t fit all.  Unfortunately CMIS tries to solve the problem by pulling one too-big platform together with three or four others (gaaaahhhhh!!!!).

So what SHOULD be the point of ECM?  ECMS’ should exhibit, not exhume. ECMS’ need to curate information. They need to tap into social power to do it.  Nothing else (yet) scales.  But they wont.  So it is left to the start ups.

Look at all the start up trends getting funding and getting acquired. There are TONS in the content/info distribution, content branding and content app-ification space.  A quick review of TechCrunch at the time of this writing shows 6 articles on content related startups.  Twitter acquired Summify today. Hmmm, sounds like someone with a lot of content (twitter) acquired a technology that helps raise personal relevancy to the top of the heap (summify). How many ECMS’ make those same claims? (answer – all of them in one way or another).

Others have pointed out that the legacy brands still carry “trust” with the buyer (e.g. the old saying, “you’ll never get fired for hiring IBM”).  But this “trust factor” is aging as fast as the Boomers who control the purse strings. Millennials give trust first then take it away. Legacy trust carries less weight with these new buyers and influencers – especially when it comes with the IBM/ORACLE/MICROSOFT/EMC/OPENTEXT price tag attached.

Your action: adopt a new mindset.  You are the Sommelier.  Seek to exhibit.  Museums have vast areas of storage with amazing collections.  The exhibit curators understand what will be interesting to the public; what will challenge them; what is an old favorite or a needed reminder.  Adopt that mindset and then appreciate your content managers the way you appreciate an amazing gallery.  Empower your content managers, your “corporate librarians” your “archivists” to pulse your community and display, showcase, advertise and foster an ecosystem where the past is not all rot but is rather an inspiration.

Millennials Challenge Boomers On Enterprise Software

Millennials by missmeng flickr creative commons attribution
Millennials by Flickr user missmeng. CreativeCommons: Attribution
I am a Gen Xer.  I am sandwiched between the two biggest generations of American history.  On the older side of Gen X you have the Boomers – 76 million or so people born between 1946 and 1964. On the newer side of Gen X you have the Millennials – 78 million people born between 1980 and 2000.

According to TimeWarner research in 2007, Boomers value function over form.

Similar research about Millennials 5 years ago found that they are aggressively connected socially through technology and that content takes center stage for them.  5 years ago they were advertising and content entrepreneurs that are moving into the mainstream.  The study also stated that “Success with young people as customers flows from one’s success in attracting, retaining and engaging Millennials as employees.” (cites below)

Skip ahead to 2012.  The characteristics of the generations identified 5 years ago are at the core of what we experience in business today.  Enterprise software promoting function over form is prevalent in the back offices of major corporations.  5 years ago, 37Signals blogged that enterprise software sucks because the buyers aren’t the users.  Less than one month ago the situation looked similar according to IT Mobility startup Moesion.  Think about those enterprise software buyers.  They were management leaders and CXOs empowered to spend 6, 7 or 8 figures on a single enterprise software platform  – whether for CRM, HRMS, ERP or ECM.  USA Today found their median age was 55.  Forbes found the average age of CEOs across industries was 50 years old.  They are Boomers.  They are function over form folks.  They find value in the feature list rather than the user experience. There are exceptions.  But the exceptions prove the rule.

The market is changing as the Millennials – the largest generation in US History – take over purchasing power and become the leading influence on market expectations.  The trends in social media started before the current trends in social business.  Millennials were adopting social media technology as students, well before they started careers. But this too is changing now.  If you have employees or peers 32 years old or younger, you have Millennials working for you.  Millennials are in the workforce and have started to rise to positions where their expectations can exert force in the enterprise. Witness the rise of the flexible work week, bring your own device allowances and the explosion of B2B social business software.  There would be no explosion of social business software if there was not a market to sell into.

The shift is happening now.  If the adoption curve of the iPad and adoption rates of smart phones have taught us one thing,  it is that form is gaining on function in the market.  Feature bloat is not as important to the market as simplicity and the ability to do the one or two things I actually need.  Agile development methods focusing on minimum viable products rather than soup-to-nuts feature lists bring more options to the market more quickly that happen to be substantially more affordable – even free in many cases.

For example, the social analytics and buzz tracking market represents a slow shift of big enterprise to intentionally engage in the social networking world.  Lithium Technology – a leader in social business monitoring, buzz-tracking and customer engagement just today announced that it secured an additional $53 Million in serried D funding.  This is a huge vote of confidence in the new mode of social business – driven by Millennial habits.  It is also a huge vote of confidence in the focus and depth of new technology.

Boomers are not giving up the purse strings any time soon.  But expectations are driven by the market and the Millennials have more weight to throw around there.  Belief – what we think – drives purpose – why we do what we do.  How we do it is driven by our expectations which accelerate or thwart adoption of technology, business processes and tools.

Business has no choice but to go along with the changes in belief from the Boomers to the Millennials.  The ground is moving whether big business wants it to or not.  This is a tectonic shift in the market.  It is underway right now.

All businesses are faced with a stark choice in dealing with this shift.

They can treat it as an earthquake and deal with their crumbling foundations.

Or they can make it a renaissance and participate in the blooming boom.

—————– Sources and Cites ————-

Generational stats taken from the book, “The Millenials” By Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, 2011, B&H Publishing

TimeWarner Boomer Research: “Money’s – Baby Boomers’ Hopes and Dreams”

TimeWarner Millennial Research: “Insights about Baby Boomers’ Children – The Millenials”, “Want to Be A CEO? Stay Put”, Wendy Todaro, 3.31.03

USA Today, “Does Age Matter when you’re CEO?”, Del Jones, 9.11.2008