In my previous post (Part 1), we looked at the appeal of Apps, and why we grew to love them. Now, let’s look specifically at the impact that Apps have to the ECM software industry.
Impact to the ECM Industry
With over 25 years under its belt, the ECM industry (with its Document Management pre-cursor) is a relative dinosaur in enterprise software terms. It was established as an industry, about the same time as ERP, and before CRM, BPM or eCommerce. So, as is the case with any other respectable octogenarian, we are pretty set in our ways. Yes, we may introduce new functionality or attach another technology segment under the ECM moniker every now and then, and we will endlessly debate if ECM, EIM or Process Services is the right name for it, but fundamentally we are still delivering software the same way we always did.
But change is afoot: Whether we like it or not, the “Appification” culture described in [Part1] is challenging the fundamentals of how the software market works, including ECM, and how relevant it remains to the enterprise of the future. And in Darwinian terms, we’ll have to either evolve to survive, or we will face extinction.
There are two main areas where “Appification” has profound impact to the way we operate today: The way we design products, and the way we take products to market.
Impact to ECM Product Design
“Appification” brings fundamental cultural change, to the way software is conceived, designed and delivered. Every core design element is challenged, as well as every classical development and delivery methodology.
- The “Apple” effect: Apple’s “Design Thinking” principle, threw the rulebook away when designing the first iPods and the first iPhones. They became icons of usability where less was more: who would have envisaged an electronic device with no buttons, just a glass slab? Where ALL functionality and behaviour is software controlled? Where accelerators, proximity sensors, hand gestures and voice command, would become the interaction controls, instead of a mouse, a keyboard, switches, levers and knobs. How many enterprise, and in particular ECM, solutions offer similar UI experiences?
- The “Singularity” principle: For years, enterprise software vendors prided themselves on the functionality breadth of their offering. The more features, the more capabilities, the better. Apps challenge that: What is the most critical element of software design? The User Interface and usability? The richness of functionality? The quality of information? Apps’ “task-oriented design” challenges that principle: “Do one thing, very well”. They are designed to remove complexity and isolate distinct elemental functions, and then deliver these in the most intuitive manner possible. What ECM functionality do you include or exclude from an App? How many Apps would you need to provide a complete “set”?
- The “EFSS” effect: “Enterprise File Sync & Share” has been one of the most disrupting apps in the ECM field. Even though there are clear overlaps, it did not set out to challenge the traditional ECM vendors, as such, it created a completely new market of its own by addressing just four fundamental requirements that traditional ECM couldn’t: Free and backed up storage space in the cloud; content accessibility from everywhere; ability to share larger files than email could, outside the firewall; and transparent synchronization of content across multiple devices (desktop and mobile). Box, Dropbox, Evernote, OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Picasa, iCloud, etc., all became a thorn on ECM’s side, because users liked the functionality they enjoyed in their personal space, and wanted to bring the same capability to their corporate environment. Now ECM has to step up and deliver that.
- The “Nightly Update” effect: I have about forty apps on my smart phone, and it seems that at least half of them get updated on a weekly basis. Some, more often than that. Updates just happen, without any involvement from me, without any need for IT support calls, without scheduled downtime, without any need for training. App users are not only looking for the same experience from their Enterprise software, but they are looking for the tools to offer this experience to their own customers. The days of the 18-month deployment cycles are truly over. ECM needs to support similarly fast, agile development cycles and continuous improvement, as apps do.
- The “Device” conundrum: Vendors can no longer dictate the device that their software will run on. Apps have completely transformed user expectations around being device agnostic: They expect the same App to behave appropriately, whether they are using it on a smart phone, a tablet, a desktop browser, or their hotel room TV. The name of the game is “Responsive Design”, where apps understand what device they are deployed on and adjust according to the operating system, the device format, the interaction capabilities, the connectivity bandwidth, security, etc. Enterprise software has a long way to go before it’s truly device agnostic, and introducing device independence in large suites of functionality, like ECM, does not come cheap.
Impact to ECM Go-to-Market Strategy
Whilst the ECM Engineering teams are grappling with the product design changes forced above, Sales and Marketing also need to completely re-think their approach to the market, in order to move into the Apps market space. Here are some of the key decisions they will need to make:
- Who is our “App” customer? ECM vendors have to consider two distinct App target audiences. One audience consists of the internal Enterprise users, for whom the ECM vendor will have to provide specific apps and UIs, in order to access the repository and its services. The second audience relates to their client organisations’ own customers. The ECM vendor will either have to supply App development SDKs and tooling for the organization to create their own customer-facing apps, or work with channel partners and integrators to deliver specific vertical line-of-business apps on top of their platform.
- Who is our buyer? IT is no longer the default target buyer for ECM platforms. The Apps culture has created a whole new set of buyers who are empowered to make purchasing decisions, outside the constraints of IT procurement. Human Resources, Marketing, Operations, Risk Officers, Compliance, etc., all have an expectation to choose their own tools, just as they choose to download a new app on their smart phone. Talking to these new buyers involves learning a whole new set of vocabularies, and a business outcome focused dialogue that does not rely on feature and function details. Few ECM vendors today have the capacity and the vertical domain expertise to carry these business conversations in a credible way. As a result, developing partner ecosystems with the relevant granular domain expertise, has to be a key component of the new go-to-market strategy.
- How do we license apps? Most ECM vendors, have grown in the era of perpetual, inflexible, buy-once licensing. App users are expecting significantly more flexible licensing terms, which are mostly subscription based. And, while it’s relatively simple to come up with a subscription-based licensing structure, it will still require fundamental changes around invoicing, revenue recognition, renewals, compensation strategy, etc. On top of that, Apps are not designed for the high-value low-volume models that Enterprise software was established on. That model will need to turn on its head, to keep ECM components relatively inexpensive, and finance the product through volume sales.
- Try-before-you-buy? App users are spoilt for choice: They are used to downloading an app, trying it out, testing it, and if it is perceived as adding value they may decide to license it. ECM vendors need to start offering wider choices, if they are going to compete: Free trial downloads (the Open Source market has a distinct advantage here); more Proof-of-concepts to get users to explore the value and complexity in business terms, Real live pilots that continue into production or can be safely scrapped; Agile development cycles that allow customers to fail often and fail fast.
- How do we scale down? Traditional ECM markets are all about scalability: ever increasing content, ever increasing user bases, ever increasing processing capacity. Of course you can buy more capacity, more storage, more throughput. Music to our ears. But that is a one-way street, they were never designed to support flexible scaling. The new market models, primarily established by the Cloud providers but also evidenced in Apps, expect the ability to scale up or down on demand. In ECM terms, it’s very unlikely that the content volumes will scale up and down (except in the case of major ROT clean-ups, or periodic Records Management dispositions). But scaling the processing capacity to accommodate seasonal fluctuations, scaling user numbers to accommodate temporary workers and 3rd parties, scaling infrastructure to accommodate migrations, testing and consolidations, are all unpredictable usage-models. How will ECM vendors split their monolithic “All-in-One” pricing, to allow for “Pay-As-You-Use” revenue models? And how will they reconcile traditional investment and R&D budgeting, with unpredictable and varying revenue streams?
Adopting an “Appification” strategy
ECM vendors have some tough decisions to make, if they decide to play in the App economy. They need to decide, strategically, what their end-goal is and decide if this is a viable market model for them.
- Just because you can, does not mean you should! That’s the first step: Will vendors really commit to moving into the App market, or will they chose to remain a more “traditional” ECM vendor? There is certainly enough market scope for both, at least for the next few years, but the gap will get bigger and the window of opportunity smaller. To borrow a phrase from a colleague of mine: “You cannot be a little bit pregnant”, when it comes to “Appification”. It’s either all-in or all-out.
- If vendors choose to follow the “Appification” path, which App game do they want to be in? There are three fundamental variants, and they will have to decide which combination they will invest in: App Interfaces, requires them as a vendor to deliver their products to the end-users through apps. That typically means providing access to the ECM platform and functionality through a set of native “App” user interfaces. A lot of ECM vendors already have mobile interfaces to complement their standard desktop UIs. App Solutions, fits vendors that want to target specific with line-of-business apps. Few ECM vendors have been able to play that game successfully. It requires deep investment in vertical or horizontal domain expertise, it creates a very complex maintenance model since they have to keep a large portfolio of Apps in sync with changes to the core platforms, and they are in constant competition with System Integrators and customers’ own IT groups, who think they should have ultimate control of the business users. The final App space is App Tooling. Giving the market the services, development environments, integration capabilities and necessary tooling, to develop their own Apps on top of a core platform. This targets a more modern, microservices-based, component-based, architecture which supports agile development models, but it also creates a whole new ecosystem of buyers, mainly architects and mobile app developers, which does not represent the traditional sales market, or support infrastructure, of ECM vendors.
- Whichever App game they choose to play, ECM vendors will need to build an ecosystem of App expertise: User Experience designers, solution domain experts, agile developers and project managers, distribution partners, DevOps support, Cloud-first architects, digital marketers, SaaS finance experts, etc. Every segment in the business will need a set of new or complementary skills, and they are not skills that can be learned easily. They will need to be acquired.
- And the final strategy point is relatively unique to ECM vendors: The information we keep is hardly ever transient. It’s volume driven, regulatory controlled, security-sensitive and persistence-critical. None of these characteristics are native to the world of Apps. Which makes the separation of functional strategy and Information management strategy critical. – Any level of functional innovation provided at the App level, has to remain cognisant of the Information architectures it needs to access, reference and maintain.
There is no doubt that “Appification” is affecting not just ECM vendors but the whole of the Enterprise software market. ECM vendors have a choice: Either they will adopt an App strategy that fits their profile, or they will languish in the ever-decreasing pool of “legacy vendors”.
“Appification” is not a project, it’s a fundamentally different way of software life. The problem however for all of us in the ECM market, is that it’s a new, scary life, and it requires fundamental changes across the whole of the organization: Cultural, financial, and operational. Every department from product design to sales and marketing, to HR, to support, need to take a leap head-first into a massive transformational exercise. How many ECM vendors have the capacity, the investment capital, and are committed to undertake that transformation?
I was privileged once again to participate in AIIM’s Executive Leadership Council in December, and this time the theme was “the ‘Appification’ of the ECM Industry”. Given that “appification” is not yet a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, that was always going to be an challenging discussion! I will leave it to AIIM’s paper (which I will link here once it’s available) to align the different interpretations of the theme from the multiple contributors at the ELC event, but I offer here my own contribution.
Let’s start with the basics. The closest I found to a reasonable definition of “Appification” was provided by the IGI Global Dictionary:
“The replacement of Websites and Web pages with programs that run on mobile operating systems and mobile devises. With appification instead of the Web being a user’s primary user interface, it becomes an underlying service layer for apps, which become the new user interface.”
It’s an OK definition, but it does not go far enough for me. “Apps”, in the form of readily downloadable, simple task applications, mostly on mobile devices, have become a phenomenon that has dramatically impacted buying behaviours in the software market: Everyone who ever owned a smartphone, has downloaded an App at some point in time. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to the “millennials, or Generation Z, most of us use a smartphone. These same users are looking for similar experiences in their corporate environment.
So, for me “Appification” looks at the impact of the “App” cultural phenomenon on the software industry and, in the context of this forum, particularly to the ECM software market.
Why did we fall in love with Apps?
It’s difficult to understand the impact of Apps to the enterprise software market, without understanding first the reasons they became so universally successful at the personal market. What were the reasons that the mass population of smart phone and tablet users fell in love with mobile apps?
- Availability: “There is an App for that” is the defining slogan of the App generation. With over 2.5 million apps to choose from on each of the main platforms (iOS/Android), users are spoilt for choice. A simple search and one button, gives you access to exactly the functionality you need.
- Portability: We carry Apps with us all the time. From the handy units conversion app, to our banking services, to maps and GPS, to our digital darkroom. Everything is readily available wherever we happen to be.
- Self-service: We don’t need to ask permission from anyone, especially from IT, to install a new app. We just do. We don’t need any special skills, we don’t need training programs, we don’t need elaborate configurations. 30 seconds later, it just works.
- Price: We also don’t need permission from anyone, to spend $1.50 to buy an app, let alone install a free one. Not even our spouses would bat an eyelid at the typical App price. Contrast that with a typical IT budgeting and procurement cycle for enterprise software.
- Usability: App designers thrive on usability. The fact that most apps have no need for training, and intuitively deliver value through an interface that is constantly improved, has dramatically challenged traditional software design by putting the user right in the center of the design.
- “Ghost” contracts: When was the last time you read the terms & conditions of an App? We are so used to just clicking the “Accept” button, that the small print has completely disappeared from the App experience. Press the install button and use it. Acceptance of contractual terms & conditions is implicit!
- Provider vetting: There is an underlying assumption that when we download an App, someone has vetted that app for security and malicious code. Rightly or wrongly, we very rarely agonise about installing a new app on our phone of tablet. We just assume that it will mostly play nicely with the other apps on our device, and it will not suddenly take over the device to cause World War III on our behalf.
- Continuous improvement: The overnight, unsupervised, software update. Unlike enterprise software, it just happens and we mostly let it. No planned downtime, to regression planning, no trial runs. New features just appear on our little screens and we (usually) welcome them.
- Device proliferation: “I want it on my desktop / web / tablet / iPhone / Android / Xbox / TV / Fridge”. Apps are ubiquitous. Chances are that the app which securely holds all your passwords and bank details, synchronises them between your iPad, Android phone and your desktop. And you have instant access to your banking app from all three. And when you run BBC iPlayer or Netflix, you expect to continue your movie where you left off, even if you are watching it on your brand new refrigerator.
I don’t think anybody would suggest that these are the defining characteristics of the average Enterprise software suite. Enterprise Software, including ECM, fails on each and every one of these aspects. It just can’t deliver this experience today. We tend to attribute a lot to the “millennial” generation and their upcoming expectations from the corporate environment, but it’s probably fair to assume that all of us would like to enjoy this “App” experience in our working environment.
Following soon: “Appification” Part 2 – How do Apps influence the ECM market?
Every so often, an idea comes along that stops you in your tracks.
Innovation is happening at the speed of light all around us but most of of the time it consists only of incremental, evolutionary thinking, which takes us a little bit further in the same direction we were going all along. We have become fairly blazé about innovation.
And then you spot something that makes you sit up, pay attention, change direction, and re-think everything. I had one of these moments a few weeks back.
The name “EpyDoc” will probably mean nothing to most of you. Even looking at their existing website I would have dismissed it as a second or third-rate Document Management wannabe. Yet, EpyDoc is launching a new concept in April, that potentially re-defines the whole Data / Content / Information / Process Management industry, as we know it today. You know what happens when you mix comets and dinosaurs? It is that revolutionary.
I have lost track of the number of times over the years that I’ve moaned about the constraints that our current infrastructure is imposing on us:
- The arbitrary segregation of structured and unstructured information [here]
- The inherent synergy of Content and Process management [here]
- The content granularity that stops at the file level [here]
- The security models that protect the container rather than the information [here]
- The lack of governance and lifecycle management of all information, not just records [here]
- The impossibility of defining and predicting information value [here]
…etc. The list goes on. EpyDoc’s “Information Operating System” (a grand, but totally appropriate title), seeks to remove all of these barriers by re-thinking the way we manage information today. Not in small incremental steps, but in a giant leap.
Their approach is so fundamentally different, that I would not do it credit by trying to summarise it here. And if I’m honest, I am still discovering more details behind it. But if you are interested in having a taste on what the future of information management might look like in 5-10 years, I would urge you to read this 10-segment blog set which sets the scene, and let me know your thoughts.
And if, while you are reading through, you are, like me, sceptical about the applicability or commercial viability of this approach, I will leave you with a quote that I saw this morning on the tube:
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”
(President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903)
P.S. Before my pedant friends start correcting me: I know that dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic… 😉
Some of my old FileNet friends reading this article will smile… I realised today to my surprise, that it’s over 11 years ago that this simple concept was first articulated, and went on to form the basis of our compliance messaging, transitioned into IBM after the acquisition, and was presented in many conferences and briefings. The result of a quick brainstorm before a breakfast briefing for Bearingpoint, at an off-site annual kick-off session, the picture on the left is a scan from my original notebook where it first appeared, in January 2004. I have evidence of this still being included in presentations as late as 2011. In the world of PowerPoint slides, does that make it a classic?
Now, it may be an old message, but it is as valid today as it ever was. And since I’ve never written about it in this blog I thought it was worth re-introducing it to a whole new audience.
What does a company need to do, to be compliant?
There are three very fundamental and very explicit stages for an organisation to achieve a “compliant” status. These apply equally to every vertical industry, be it Banking, Insurance, Telco, Retail, Pharmaceutical, etc. And they also apply equally, if “compliance” refers to regulatory compliance in a Nuclear plant, financial compliance, or Health & Safety at a local school.
Step 1 – The Present: Become compliant
What do you need to do today, to comply with the rules and meet the regulations? What changes in procedure, what risk controls, what equipment checks, what training? This stage includes designing and implementing everything that a company needs to put in place, to be able to certify that today, it is compliant with each regulation the law currently subjects it to. Implementing this stage requires the company to (a) identify and understand which regulations are relevant and what they are expecting (b) identify possible areas and processes where the company is at a risk of not compliant with the regulations, and (c) implementing any changes necessary to remove those compliance risks.
Step 2 – The Future: Remain compliant
This is the part that is often forgotten, and ends up costing organisations millions in fines: Looking at the future. Becoming compliant is not enough, it’s just the first step. As an organisation, you need to ensure that compliance is sustained consistently in the future. That every system, every procedure and every employee remains within the controls and guidelines specified by the legal regulations or the company policies. At a manual level, this involves regular training for employees and regular testing of all the various controls and devices implemented in Step 2. The best way to implement Step 2 however, is automation. Putting in place systems and processes that not only monitor the company’s compliance, but that enforce it. The less a company relies on individual employees to maintain compliance the less likely it is to fall foul of compliance breaches through human error. Automation reduces training requirements, reduces management overheads, and it reduces wasting operational cycles for testing and reporting.
Step 3 – The Past: Demonstrate compliance
The final part of the process is looking at compliance retrospectively: Are you able to go back to a specific point in time, and demonstrate to a regulator, and auditor, or even a customer, that you operated compliantly. Are you able to shoe what decisions were made, what policies were in force, who made the decisions and what information they had available to them to support that decision? This is all about Records Management and audit trails. It’s about maintaining evidence of your compliance that is complete, accurate and irrefutable. Preparing for that retrospective compliance review in the future, should be a core part of the design of any compliance system implemented today.
So the meme Become – Remain – Demonstrate (or even “Achieve – Sustain – Prove”, as the alternative version that our U.S. marketing folk seemed to favour) summarises the three key steps that you need to remember about structuring a compliance programme. If you are faced with a new regulation, new management, or even a new mandate to create or replace IT systems for compliance, use these three steps to validate if your compliance strategy is complete or not.
Unless you live in a cave, you will have not failed to notice that mobility has taken over our life. As I write this, I’m sitting in a train full of commuters who, almost to a man, are holding a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop. The odd ones out, are reading a book… on a Kindle.
There is no denying that mobility is an established phenomenon and it’s here to stay. The IT industry is actively embracing it as the new Amalthean horn (alongside that other nebulous revolution – The Cloud). With Mobile First (IBM), The Mobile Imperative (Gartner), Enterprise Mobility(Accenture), 3rd Platform (IDC), etc., etc. .. one by one every major vendor and analyst is releasing their “mobile” strategy that will drive growth in the next 3, 5 or 10 years. And undoubtedly, it will.
But is our current obsession with mobility, really that revolutionary? Is the change in our culture and behaviour really so sudden and dramatic? Prompted by a very stimulating conversation at AIIM’s Executive Leadership Council (see the recent paper: The Mobile Reality), I decided to look at the historical milestones of computer mobility. Its heritage, if you like. The picture it paints is very interesting.
Let’s look at the impact of mobility on a decade by decade basis.
The starting point. Computer access was restricted to a single physical location, determined by the location of the computer machines themselves. Access was granted to few, selected, highly trained computer boffins, who were responsible for allocating the computing resource on a time-share basis, and deliver the results to the outside world. There is zero mobility involved at this stage.
The 70’s introduced the first layer of mobility to the organisation, and it had a transformational impact. “Dumb” terminals, could be distributed across the organisation, connected with RS-232 serial connections. Mobility was location-based, since connectivity was hard-wired and employees would have to physically go to wherever the terminal was, in order to access it. Systems became multi-user giving selected, trained, specialist users simultaneous access to computing power on-demand. Suddenly, computing power and business applications were no longer constrained by the physical location of the computer, but were distributed to core departments across the organisation.
The ‘80s saw the introduction of PCs. A hub-and-spoke revolution, where autonomous business machines could execute tasks locally, wherever they were located, and could communicate transparently with each other and with centralised servers. More “intelligent” connectivity through network cables introduced the client-server and email era. Mobility moved outside the constraints of the physical building. With the advent of “a PC on every desk”, users could work anywhere within the organisation and could communicate with each other, from building to building, and from town to town. Or copy their work on a floppy-disk and continue their work on their PC at home.
In the 90’s mobility went through another revolutionary phase. PCs gave way to laptops, work would be taken anywhere, and modems could allow dial-up connectivity back to the office. Location, for users that had been issued with a company laptop and modem access, was no longer constrained to the confines of the organisation. They could easily work connected from home, or from a customer site anywhere in the world. Mobile phones became a corporate tool, eventually obliterating phonecards and phoneboxes, and wireless handsets, brought telephone mobility within the home. All that mobility created its own cultural revolution, bringing faster on-site customer support, home-working and flexible hours. At the same time, the internet and world-wide-web broke out of the military and academic domains, and the first commercial internet applications started appearing.
With the millennium Y2K scare out of the way, mobility re-invented itself again. Website access and intranets, meant that every employee could access the corporate environment regardless of the physical machine they were using: A corporate notebook, home PC, Internet café, or hotel lobby, would be equally useful for checking emails, writing the odd MS-Office document, or finishing the latest marketing presentation. Virtually every employee had remote access to the organisation, and was actively encouraged to use it to reduce travelling and office-space. Internet commerce became universally accepted transforming the retail market. Computer form factor started reducing, with lighter notebooks and PDAs with styluses, touch screens and hand-writing recognition (remember Palm and Psion?), became the first truly portable devices. Mobile phones penetrated the personal consumer market, while Email and text messaging (SMS) started replacing phone calls, as the preferred mediums for short conversations. ADSL networks brought affordable broadband connectivity to the home, and the first 3G networks and devices allowed internet connection “on the go”.
Which brings us to today: Enter the iPhone and iPad generation, where the preferred device factor is smaller (smartphones), more portable (tablets, phablets) and more universal (Smart TVs, Wifi Cameras, etc). Mobile connectivity became a bit more reliable and a bit faster, using faster 3G and 4G networks on the street. WiFi Fibre optic broadband at home, in fast-food restaurants and at coffee chains, brought faster downloads and HD streaming. Consumers are moving to apps as the preferred interface (rather than websites) and internet access has become accessible to everyone and the preferred customer interaction medium for many businesses. The delineation between personal computing and work computing has more or less disappeared, and the internet (as well as the office) can be accessed almost anywhere and by everyone. SMS text messaging is still prevalent (but virtually instant and virtually free) but asynchronous email communications declined in favour of synchronous Social Network access, Instant messaging (Skype, Twitter, FB Messaging, WhatsApp) or video chats (Skype, Lync, FaceTime, Hangouts).
But we’re not quite there yet! The much heralded “ubiquitous” access to information, or “24×7” connectivity, is still a myth for a lot of us: While I constantly have to worry if my phone should connect via 3G or WiFi (a cost-driven and availability decision), while I can have internet access on a transatlantic flight, but not in a commuter train, while my broadband signal at home drops the line every 20 minutes because it’s too far away from the telephone exchange, while my WiFi router signal at one end of the house does not reach the dining room at the opposite end, and while I need a 3G signal booster at home (in a 450,000 people town) because none of the mobile networks around me have strong enough signal, mobile connectivity is not “ubiquitous”, it’s laboured.
Having lived and worked through 30 years of mobility transformation, I would argue that today’s “mobile revolution” is more evolutionary than revolutionary. What we are experiencing today is just another step in the right direction. Mobility will continue to have a transformational effect on businesses, consumers and popular culture, just as computer terminals transformed the typical desktop environment in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and as modems enabled home-working and flexible hours in the 90’s and 00’s. I expect that in the next 5 years we will see true “permanently on” connectivity and even more internet enabled devices communicating with each other. I also expect that businesses will become a lot more clever and creative with leveraging mobility.
Nevertheless, I don’t expect a mobile revolution.
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but I thought it would be best to wait for the deluge of 2014 New Year predictions to settle down, before I try and look a little bit further in the horizon.
The six predictions I discuss here are personal, do not have a specific timescale, and are certainly not based on any scientific method. What they are based on, is a strong gut feel and thirty years of observing change in the Information Management industry.
Some of these predictions are more fundamental than others. Some will have immediate impact (1-3 years), some will have longer term repercussions (10+ years). In the past, I have been very good at predicting what is going to happen, but really bad at estimating when it’s going to happen. I tend to overestimate the speed at which our market moves. So here goes…
Behaviour is the new currency
Forget what you’ve heard about “information being the new currency”, that is old hat. We have been trading in information, in its raw form, for years. Extracting meaningful value however from this information has always been hard, repetitive, expensive and most often a hit-or-miss operation. I predict that with the advance of analytics capabilities (see Watson Cognitive), raw information will have little trading value. Information will be traded already analysed, and nowhere more so than in the area of customer behaviour. Understanding of lifestyle-models, spending-patterns and decision-making behaviour, will become the new currency exchanged between suppliers. Not the basic high-level, over-simplified, demographic segmentation that we use today, but a deep behavioural understanding of individual consumers that will allow real-time, predictive and personal targeting. Most of the information is already being captured today, so it’s a question of refining the psychological, sociological and commercial models around it. Think of it this way: How come Google and Amazon know (instantly!) more about my on-line interactions with a particular retailer, than the retailer’s own customer service call centre? Does the frequency of logging into online banking indicate that I am very diligent in managing my finances, or that I am in financial trouble? Does my facebook status reflect my frustration with my job, or my euphoric pride in my daughter’s achievement? How will that determine if I decide to buy that other lens I have been looking at for my camera, or not? Scary as the prospect may be, from a personal privacy perspective, most of that information is in the public domain already. What is the digested form of that information, worth to a retailer?
Security models will turn inside out
Today most security systems, algorithms and analysis, are focused on the device and its environments. Be it the network, the laptop, the smartphone or the ECM system, security models are there to protect the container, not the content. This has not only become a cat-and-mouse game between fraudsters and security vendors, but it is also becoming virtually impossible to enforce at enterprise IT level. With BYOD, a proliferation of passwords and authentication systems, cloud file-sharing, and social media, users are opening up security holes faster than the IT department can close. Information leakage is an inevitable consequence. I can foresee the whole information security model turning on its head: If the appropriate security becomes deeply embedded inside the information (down to the file, paragraph or even individual word level), we will start seeing self-describing and self-protecting granular information that will only be accessible to an authenticated individual, regardless if that information is in a repository, on a file-system, on the cloud, at rest or in transit. Security protection will become device-agnostic and infrastructure-agnostic. It will become a negotiating handshake between the information itself and the individual accessing that information, at a particular point in time.
Oh, and while we are assigning security at this granular self-contained level, we might as well transfer retention and classification to the same level as well.
The File is dead
In a way, this prediction follows on from the previous one and it’s also a prerequisite for it. It is also a topic I have discussed before [Is it a record, who cares?]. Information Management, and in particular Content Management, has long been constrained by the notion of the digital file. The file has always been the singular granular entity, at which security, classification, version control, transportation, retention and all other governance stops. Even relational databases ultimately live in files, because that’s what Operating Systems have to manage. However, information granularity does not stop at the file level. There is structure within files, and a lot of information that lives outside the realm of files (particularly in social media and streams). If Information Management is a living organism (and I believe it is), then files are its organs. But each organ has cells, each cell has molecules, and there are atoms within those molecules. I believe that innovation in Information Management will grow exponentially the moment that we stop looking at managing files and start looking at elementary information entities or segments at a much more granular level. That will allow security to be embedded at a logical information level; value to grow exponentially through intelligent re-use; storage costs to be reduced dramatically through entity-level de-duplication; and analytics to explode through much faster and more intelligent classification. File is an arbitrary container that creates bottlenecks, unnecessary restrictions and a very coarse level of granularity. Death to the file!
BYOD is just a temporary aberration
BYOD is just a transitional phase we’re going through today. The notion of bringing ANY device to work is already becoming outdated. “Bring Work to Your Device” would have been a more appropriate phrase, but then BWYD is a really terrible acronym. Today, I can access most of the information I need for my work, through mobile apps and web browsers. That means I can potentially use smart phones, tablets, the browser on my smart television, or the Wii console at home, or my son’s PSP game device to access work information. As soon as I buy a new camera with Android on it, I will also be able to access work on my camera. Or my car’s GPS screen. Or my fridge. Are IT organisations going to provide BYOD policies for all these devices where I will have to commit, for example, that “if I am using that device for work I shall not allow any other person, including family members, to access that device”? I don’t think so. The notion of BYOD is already becoming irrelevant. It is time to accept that work is no longer tied to ANY device and that work could potentially be accessed on EVERY device. And that is another reason, why information security and governance should be applied to the information, not to the device. The form of the device is irrelevant, and there will never be a 1:1 relationship between work and devices again.
It’s not your cloud, it’s everyone’s cloud
Cloud storage is a reality, but sharing cloud-level resources is yet to come. All we have achieved is to move the information storage outside the data centre. Think of this very simple example: Let’s say I subscribe to Gartner, or AIIM and I have just downloaded a new report or white paper to read. I find it interesting and I share it with some colleagues, and (if I have the right to) with some customers through email. There is every probability that I have created a dozen instances of that report, most of which will end up being stored or backed up in a cloud service somewhere. Quite likely on the same infrastructure where I downloaded the original paper from. And so will do many others that have downloaded the same paper. This is madness! Yes, it’s true that I should have been sending out the link to that paper to everyone else, but frankly that would force everyone to have to create accounts, etc. etc. and it’s so much easier to attach it to an email, and I’m too busy. Now, turn this scenario on its head: What if the cloud infrastructure itself could recognise that the original of that white paper is already available on the cloud, and transparently maintain the referential integrity, security, and audit trail, of a link to the original? This is effectively cloud-level, internet-wide de-duplication. Resource sharing. Combine this with the information granularity mentioned above, and you have massive storage reduction, cloud capacity increase, simpler big-data analytics and an enormous amount of statistical audit-trail material available, to analyse user behaviour and information value.
The IT organisation becomes irrelevant
The IT organisation as we know it today, is arguably the most critical function and the single largest investment drain in most organisations. You don’t have to go far to see examples of the criticality of the IT function and the dependency of an organisation to IT service levels. Just look at the recent impact that simple IT malfunctions have had to banking operations in the UK [Lloyds Group apologies for IT glitch]. My prediction however, is that this mega-critical organisation called IT, will collapse in the next few years. A large IT group – as a function, whether it’s oursourced or not – is becoming an irrelevant anachronism, and here’s why: 1) IT no longer controls the end-user infrastructure, that battle is already lost to BYOD. The procurement, deployment and disposition of user assets is no longer an IT function, it has moved to the individual users who have become a lot more tech-savy and self-reliant than they were 10 or 20 years ago. 2) IT no longer controls the server infrastructure: With the move to cloud and SaaS (or its many variants: IaaS, PaaS, etc.), keeping the lights on, the servers cool, the backups running and the cables networked will soon cease to be a function of the IT organisation too. 3) IT no longer controls the application infrastructure: Business functions are buying capabilities directly at the solution level, often as apps, and these departments are maintaining their own relationships with IT vendors. CMOs, CHROs, CSOs, etc. are the new IT buyers. So, what’s left for the traditional IT organisation to do? Very little else. I can foresee that IT will become an ancillary coordinating function and a governance body. Its role will be to advise the business and define policy, and maybe manage some of the vendor relationships. Very much like the role that the Compliance department, or Procurement has today, and certainly not wielding the power and the budget that it currently holds. That, is actually good news for Information Management! Not because IT is an inhibitor today, but because the responsibility for Information Management will finally move to the business, where it always belonged. That move, in turn, will fuel new IT innovation that is driven directly by business need, without the interim “filter” that IT groups inevitably create today. It will also have a significant impact to the operational side of the business, since groups will have a more immediate and agile access to new IT capabilities that will enable them to service new business models much faster than they can today.
Personally, I would like all of these predictions to come true today. I don’t have a magic wand, and therefore they won’t. But I do believe that some, if not all, of these are inevitable and it’s only a question of time and priority before the landscape of Information Management, as we know today, is fundamentally transformed. And I believe that this inevitable transformation will help to accelerate both innovation and value.
I’m curious to know your views on this. Do you think these predictions are reasonable, or not? Or, perhaps they are a lot of wishful thinking. If you agree with me, how soon do you think they can become a reality? What would stop them? And, what other fundamental changes could be triggered, as a result of these?
I’m looking forward to the debate!
I was having one of these left-brain vs. right-brain discussions with a friend of mine who works in IT and also happens to be a keen photographer, as I am. He asked me: “Do you consider yourself primarily a technologist or an artist?”
I could not answer the question. The obvious answer is “both”, but the more I think about it, the less sense the question makes. Is there really a distinction between these two? I don’t believe so. They are certainly not mutually exclusive.
Let’s look at an example of a software developer and a painter or a photographer or a writer: They all have to start with a vision, they all have to innovate and all have to be problem solvers. Just imagine yourself in an artist’s studio, a photographer’s studio or your IDE environment, and look at each process:
In painting, you chose your canvas, depending on the final purpose of the painting. In photography your format and your output medium, based on the audience. In software you chose the operating system and the market your solution is intended for.
Then you choose your primary crafting tool: Your paintbrushes or your pencils, your cameras and lenses or your coding language. And you start the creative process. Your lines of code are your brushstrokes, the same lights and shadows and colours make up your composition.
In art you use a palette of colours and you combine them to create new ones. In photography you have exposure techniques and filters and in coding you use code libraries.
You step back, you look at your masterpiece or test your code, and then you use turpentine, an eraser, debugging tools or Photoshop to correct minor mistakes.
I believe that not only software development, but most scientific undertakings are a form of art. If you are experimenting in a chemistry lab, or you are designing a marketing campaign, or designing a new electronic device, you will have to use tools and imagination to create something new. You will use subjective judgements to determine if it’s bad or if it’s good. And once you deliver it you will be critiqued by other people.
So, as a solutions architect, I use artistic processes to bring my visions to life. As a photographer, I use both technology and science to create new art. Can I ever de-couple art from science? No. If I did I would end up being bad at both.