As I think about the challenges of managing content in the next few years, what are the wildcards of which we should be aware? What are the factors that will increasingly shape and structure the future environment in which we all must manage documents, content, and records? When I talk to current and potential customers of our technologies, what are the things they say that keep them up at night?
I’ve distilled these down to four buckets.
The first comes under the heading “They still don’t know what they don’t know.”
I say this with some degree of discomfort as the president of an organization dedicated to evangelizing this industry. But I am convinced, especially as we move into mainstream and mid-sized markets and as our technology moves to every desktop rather than the select few, that there is still an awful lot of education that needs to be done in our organizations about the value that we deliver and how we deliver it.
We did a survey this Spring of 400 organizations with 10 or more employees. These organizations were completely independent of AIIM. The people we surveyed “order, recommend, approve, or initiate hardware or software decisions.”
Two results from the survey really bother me. One bothers me because of how wildly consistent the results are with all the other surveys we do. The second because of how wildly inconsistent the results are.
Here’s question one. “How important is the effective management of electronic information to the long-term success of your organization?”
For 89%, the management of electronic information is either “important” or “extremely important.” So far, so good. Completely consistent with other surveys of executives connected enough with our industry to at least know that AIIM exists.
The second question was this. “How confident are you that your organization could demonstrate that your electronic information is accurate, accessible, and trustworthy?”
Let me start with a normal AIIM sample. Typically when we ask this question, 50% respond that they have little or no confidence in the basic information integrity of their organization. Only 23% are “very” or “quite” confident in the integrity of their information management infrastructure.
But with the non-AIIM sample, the results paint a far different picture. 63% say they are “quite” or “very” confident. Only 9% are in the little or no confidence band.
So what you have here is a vast universe of people who understand that information management is critically important to their success, but think that they are doing pretty well, thank you very much. Hardly a compelling “need” to either sell solutions into or to justify infrastructure investments in a tight economy.
Hence my first “things that keep me at night” point. There is still a vast need for education about the core benefits and value of our technology. Many of us have been doing this for over a decade and think everyone “gets it.” But that clearly is not the case.
My second set of issues comes under the heading, “Simple beats complex.”
Our industry has long been characterized by its technology rather than by what the technology can actually do. When you are a bleeding edge technology, used by just a few “experts,” you are a very different industry than a mainstream one.
When you are on the bleeding edge, you can push a lot of complexity onto your end users, who are so enthusiastic about the technology that they will put up with a lot. That’s not the game we all are in anymore. We are mainstream. Some vendors understand this, and some do not.
We recently asked this question of end users. “How would the following aspects of an ECM vendor or product affect their desirability? Pick the top 3.”
The top answers clearly reflect this mainstreaming of our industry. Ease of use. Ease of implementation. Ease of integration. I am convinced that the future of this industry lies in well-trained partners who are close to customers, deeply understand both what makes them tick and what the technology is capable of, and can get some of the friction out of this industry.
We have been characterized for far too long as an industry in which “simple” would never be part of our lexicon. Even the way we describe ourselves – Enterprise Content Management – suggests complexity. That Enterprise word is the piece of ECM that I am asked the most about. We all collectively need to help current and prospective customers understand that Enterprise Content Management is not some magic software elixer that you plug into a network and suddenly makes everything right. Nor, though, is it something so elusive as to be a nirvana that will never be achieved in this lifetime.
Rather, our collective success will depend on a network of solution providers well versed and certified by both the industry – hence our AIIM training program – and by individual companies in individual products and technologies.
Which brings me to my third point about the future: “As we focus on making things simple, we must resist the impulse to simply revert to past models. We need to think big.”
Clay Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody, a book I greatly admire about the power of new institutional and organizational models created by the spread of social networking technologies. I will also say that the subtitle of the book — The Power of Organizing Without Organizations – does give me pause as the president of an organization, but it is a great book nonetheless.
One of Shirky’s fundamental points is that you can’t look at old patterns and old practices to understand the revolutionary impact of discontinuous technologies.
The example he uses is not one that seems revolutionary, the steamboat. But according to Shirky, the first model for the steamboat was built upon an old metaphor – rowing. It sought to replace the human energy involved in rowing with steam energy – but kept the old model of a long line of rows. It wasn’t until Robert Fulton changed the model – taking a hint from grist mill wheels – and applied steam to a paddle wheel that the revolution took off.
The same thing is true of the impact of our technologies. Organizations that simply think of ECM technologies as a way to take people out processes and drive down costs are just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the revolutionary impact of ECM technologies. The revolutionary impact comes when we rethink and reinvent processes and products to take advantage of the technology. This is not easy. A friend once told me there are two things you never want to see made in person – sausage and legislation. I would add a third – complex organizational processes. But the real opportunity for organizations out there who were early adapters of ECM technologies is to take those painful lessons and leverage them and expand them to revolutionize processes.
Which brings me to my last set of issues: “The digital landfill is about to get a lot more complex.”
As I think about my own information management world, I am perhaps a microcosm of the challenge that will be sweeping across our organizations in the last five years.
It’s time for true confessions.
I can be found on Facebook and on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
I can also be found on AIIM’s own social networking site, InformationZen, which we set up 2 years ago over a weekend on a SaaS platform because my own IT department said it would take 6 months to get one launched.
I focus my Facebook instant updates on personal things, although there are people from my AIIM world who are Facebook friends.
I focus my work-related instant updates on Twitter and my blog, although there are personal friends who also follow me on Twitter and my blog.
I am a MAC person and have an iPhone. I get both personal and corporate texts and phone messages on my iPhone.
I get my corporate Exchange e-mail on Entourage. I get my personal email on my laptop on a Macmail account, although there are times when the personal overlaps into the business account and vice versa. I also have a gmail account in case the other two don’t work.
I have all my personal pictures from the past year on my laptop. I back up my machine to the network, but also to TimeMachine in case I ever need to restart my machine and also just to be sure
Pretty confusing, hunh? So what’s the point of my confession?
My point is that web 2.0 technologies or e 2.0 technologies or whatever you want to call them are radically transforming the landscape of our industry. My point is that as more and more young people come into our organizations, the challenge to differentiate between official and ad hoc content is going to become more and more complex. My point is that as we expect our workers to essentially be “on call” with their devices 365/24/7, the lines we like to draw between what is personal and what is organizational become so blurred as to almost become meaningless. My point is that as our workforces become more and more dispersed, and as we focus on deploying very powerful collaborative and team technologies, relying on a single rigid records management mentality toward classifying widely varying forms of content is not going to cut it.
My big point is that the defining principle for our industry, especially in the past 5 years, has been control, not access. My point is that we are all going to have some pretty thorny issues to resolve over the access/control continuum over the next five years.
Which brings me back to the big E word again – Enterprise.
I believe that the E in Enterprise Content Management will be all about thinking through a strategy and a governance structure and a policy environment and an information infrastructure that is flexible enough to accommodate the most informal of conversations, robust enough to support our mission critical processes, agile enough to implement solutions in a quarter rather than a year, and accountable enough to stand up to the toughest cross examination by a lawyer.
What do YOU think?
The following maybe also be of interest...
- White Paper: How to Overcome The Top 10 Excuses For Not Considering Document Management This Year
- AIIM Training
- AIIM Industry Watch on E-Mail Management