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Posts Tagged ‘DMS’

ECM is dead. Long live ECM…

December 2, 2013 7 comments

It’s Autumn. The trees are losing their leaves, the nights are getting longer, it’s getting cold and grey and generally miserable. It’s also the time for the annual lament of the Enterprise Content Management industry and ECM… the name that refuses to die!

At least once a year, ECM industry pundits go all depressed and introspect and predict, once again, that our industry is too wide, too narrow, too complex, too simplified, too diverse or too boring and dying or not dying or dead and buried. Once again this year, Laurence Hart (aka Pie), Marko Sillanpää, Daniel Antion, John Mancini and, undoubtedly, several other esteemed colleagues, with a collective experience of several hundred years of ECM on their backs, will try (and fail) to reconcile and rationalize the semantics of one of the most diverse sectors in the software industry.

You will find many interesting points and universal truths about ECM if you follow the links to these articles above. Some I agree with wholeheartedly, some I would take with a pinch of salt.

But let me assure you, concerned reader, that the ECM industry is not going anywhere, the name will not change and we will again be lamenting its demise, next Autumn!

There is a fundamental reason why this industry is so robust and so perplexing: This is not a single industry, or even a single coherent portfolio of products. It’s a complex amalgamation of technologies that co-exist and complement each other, with the only common denominator being an affinity for managing “stuff” that does not fit in a traditional relational database. And every time one of these technologies grows out of favour, another new discipline joins the fold: Documents and emails and archives and repositories and processes and cases and records and images and retention and search and analytics and ETL and media and social and collaboration and folksonomies and cloud, and, and, and… The list, and its history, is long. The reason this whole hotchpotch will continue to be called Enterprise Content Management, is that we don’t have a better collective noun that even vaguely begins to describe what these functions do for the business. And finally, more and more of the market (you know, the real people out there, not us ECM petrolheads…) are starting to recognise the term, however vague, inappropriate and irrational it may be to the purists among us.

And there is one more reason: Content Management is not a technology, it’s an operational discipline. Organisations will manage content with or without ECM products. It’s just faster, cheaper and more consistent if they use tools.

As I said, if you have an academic interest in this ECM industry, the articles above are definitely worth reading. For my part, I would like to add one more thought into that mix:

The word “Enterprise” in “ECM” has been the source of much debate. And whilst I agree with Laurence that originally some of the vendors attempted to promote the idea of a single centralised ECM repository for the whole enterprise, that idea was quickly abandoned in the early ’00s as generally a bad idea. Anyone who has tried to deploy this approach in a real world environment, can give you a dozen reasons why it’s really, really a very naïve idea.

Nevertheless, Content Management has always been, and will always be “Enterprise”, in the sense that it very rarely works as a simple departmental solution. There is very little value in doing that, especially when you combine it with process management, which adds the most value when crossing inter-departmental boundaries. It is also “Enterprise” in the sense that as a platform it can support both vertical and horizontal applications across most parts of an organisation. Finally, there are certain applications of ECM, that can only be deployed as “Enterprise” tools: It would be madness to design Records Management, eMail archiving, eDiscovery or Social collaboration solutions, on a department by department basis. There is no point!

That’s why, in my opinion at least, the term ECM will live for a long time yet… Long Live ECM!

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I buy, sell, market, service… When did ECM become a Monte Carlo celeb?

P1030993sI am writing this at 40,000 feet, on a morning flight to Nice, final destination Monte-Carlo, for what promises to be a very busy 4-day event. The European leg of IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit runs from 17-20 June at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, and in a strange twist of fate I am neither a speaker nor an attendee. I am staff!

The whole event is structured around the four commerce pillars of IBM’s Smarter Commerce cycle: Buy, Sell, Market and Service. Each pillar represents a separate logical track at the event, covering the software, services and customer stories.

Enough with the corporate promo already, I hear you say, where does Enterprise Content Management come into this? Surely, SmarterCommerce is all about retail, transactional systems, procurement, supply chain, CRM and marketing campaign tools?

Yes and no. It’s true that in the fast moving, high volume commercial transaction world, these tools share the limelight. But behind every new promotion, there is a marketing campaign review; behind every supplier and distributor channel, there is a contract negotiation; behind every financial transaction there is compliance; behind every customer complaint there is a call centre; and behind every customer loyalty scheme, there is an application form: ECM underpins every aspect of Commerce. From the first approach to a new supplier to the friendly resolution of a loyal customer’s problem, there is a trail of communication and interaction, that needs to be controlled, managed, secured and preserved. Sometimes paper-based, but mostly electronic.

ECM participates in all commerce cycles: Buy (think procurement contracts and supplier purchase orders and correspondence), Sell (invoices, catalogues, receipts, product packaging, etc.), Market (collateral review & approval, promotion compliance, market analysis, etc.).

But the Service cycle is where ECM has the strongest contribution, and its role goes much beyond providing a secure repository for archiving invoices and compliance documents: The quality, speed and efficiency of customer service, relies on understanding your customer. It relies on knowing what communication you have previously had with your customer or supplier (regardless of the channel they chose), it relies on understanding their sentiment about your products, it relies on anticipating and quickly resolving their requests and their problems.

As a long-standing ECM advocate, I have had the privilege of leading the Service track content at this year’s IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Monaco. A roller-coaster two month process, during which we assembled over 250 breakout sessions for the event, covering all topics related to commerce cycles, and in particular for customer service: Advanced Case management for handling complaints and fraud investigations; Content Analytics for sentiment analysis on social media; Mobile interaction monitoring, to optimise the user’s experience; Channel-independent 360 degree view of customer interaction; Digitising patient records to minimise hospital waiting times; Paperless, on-line billing; Collaboration tools to maximise the responsiveness of support staff; and many more.

A global panel of speakers, with a common goal: putting the customer at the very centre of the commercial process and offering the best possible experience with the most efficient tools.

More comments after the event…

Looking for Mr. Right – Revisited

I was reading a recent article by Chris Dale, where he gave an overview of Debra Logan‘s “Why Information Governance fails and how to make it succeed” keynote speech. It’s difficult to disagree with most points made in the session, but one point in particular caught my attention. Chris transcribes Debra’s thoughts as:

“…we are at the birth of a new profession, with hybrid players who have multiple strands of skills and experience. You need people with domain expertise, not just about apps and servers but data and information. The usual approach is to take people who already have jobs and give them something else to do on top or instead. You need to find people who understand the subject and teach them to attach metadata to their material, to understand document retention, perhaps even send them to law school to turn them into a legal/IT/subject matter expert hybrid.”

In parallel, I have also had several conversations, recently, relating to AIIM‘s new “Certified Information Professional” accreditation (which I am proud to possess, having passed their stringent exam). It is a valiant attempt to recognise individuals who have enough breadth of skills in Information Management, to cover most of the requirements of Debra’s “new profession“.

These two – relatively unrelated – events, prompted me to go and re-discover an article that I wrote for AIIM’s eDoc online magazine, published sometime around June 2005. Unfortunately the article is no longer online, so apologies for  embedding it here, in its entirety:

Looking for Mr. Right

Why advances in ECM technology have generated a serious skills gap in the market.

ECM technologies have advanced significantly in the last ten years. The convergence of Document/Content Management, Workflow, Searching, web technologies, records management, email capture, imaging and intelligent forms processing, has created a new information management environment that is much more aware of the value of information assets.

Most analysts agree that we are entering a new phase in ECM, where medium and large size organizations are looking to invest in ECM as a strategic enterprise deployment in order to leverage their investment in multiple business areas – especially where improving operational efficiencies and compliance are the key drivers, as these tend to have a more horizontal appeal across the organization.

But as ECM technologies are starting to become pervasive, there is a lot of confusion on the operational management of these systems. Technically, the IT department is responsible for ensuring the systems are up and running as optimally as the technology permits. But whose responsibility is it, to make sure that these systems are configured appropriately and that the information held within them is managed correctly as a valuable asset?

Think about your own company: Who decides how information is managed across your organization? With ECM, you are generating a virtual library of information that should be used and leveraged consistently across departments, geographical boundaries, organizational structures and individual responsibility areas. And if you include Business Process Management in the picture, you are also looking for common, accountable and integrated business practices across the same boundaries. Does this responsibility sit within the business community, the IT department or as a separate internal service function? And what skills would be required to support this?

There is a new role requirement emerging, which is not very well defined or understood at the moment. There is a need for an individual or a group, depending on the size of the organization, who can combine the following capabilities:

  • identify what information should be managed and how, based on its intrinsic value and legal status
  • implement mechanisms for filtering and purging redundant information
  • design and maintain information structures
  • define metadata and classification schemes and policies
  • design folder structures and record management file plans
  • define indexing topologies, thesauri and search strategies
  • implement policies and timelines for content lifecycle management
  • devise and implement record retention and disposition strategies
  • define security models, access controls and auditing requirements
  • devise schemes for the most efficient location of information across distributed architectures
  • devise content and media refresh strategies for long-term archiving
  • consolidate information management practices across multiple communication channels: e.g. email, web, fax, instant messaging, SMS, VoIP
  • consolidate taxonomies, indexing schemes and policies across organizational structures
  • etc.

And all of this, for different business environments and different vertical needs with a good understanding of both business requirements and the capabilities offered by the technology –  someone who can comfortably bridge the gap between the business requirements and the IT department.

People who can effectively combine the skills of librarian, administrator, business analyst, strategist and enterprise architect are extremely rare to find. If you can find one, hire them today!

The closest title one can use for this role today is “Information Architect” although job descriptions with that title differ significantly. More importantly, people with this collective skill set are very difficult to find today and even more difficult to train since a lot of “best practices” in this area are not established or documented.

This is a wakeup call for universities, training agencies, consultants and people wanting to re-skill: While the ECM technology itself is being commoditised, more and more application areas are opening up which will require these specialist skills. Companies need more people with these capabilities and they need them today. Without them, successful ECM deployments will remain difficult and expensive to achieve.

The more pervasive ECM becomes as an infrastructure discipline, the bigger the skill gap will become, unless we start addressing this today.

Apart from feeling slightly proud that I highlighted in June 2005 something that Gartner is raising as an issue today, this doesn’t reassure me at all: 7 years have passed and Debra Logan is (and organisations are…) still looking for Mr. Right!

I am happy that Information Governance has finally come to the forefront as an issue, and that AIIM’s CIP certification is making some strides in helping the match-making process.

But I really hoped we would have come a bit further by now…

The Great Big File Box in the sky – help me out here…

October 20, 2011 4 comments

The internet is buzzing with the success stories of Dropbox.com and Box.net. How much they’ve grown, how much they are worth, who’s likely to buy whom, where does iCloud/iPages come into it, etc., etc.

Am I the only one who doesn’t quite get the point here? Yes, I can see how it makes file sharing easier and how it potentially reduces internal IT costs by outsourcing the management of large volumes of information.

How is this ever a good strategy?

We have spent the last 20 years, trying to educate companies on the need to organise their information rather than just dumping in on shared file drives. Classification, version control, metadata, granular security, records management, etc. Anything to convince users to think a little bit further than just “File, Save As” in order to minimise the junk stored on servers, to maximise the chance of finding information when you need it and maintain some sense of auditability in your operations.

So instead of moving forwards, we’re moving backwards! First Sharepoint and now these wonderful cloud services, allow us to shift our junk from our own fileservers to The Great Big File Box in the sky.  With no plan, no structure, no governance, no strategy, no security model, no version control or audit trail.

How is this ever a good idea? I plead ignorance – please help me understand this…

Did anyone go to an “all you can eat” buffet restaurant and not come out feeling bloated??

My first DMS kiss…

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

A recent tweet exchange with @pmonks and @pelujan (legends amongst the ECM Twitterati…) prompted me to dig deep into my past to find my first flirting with Document Management, a relationship that has lasted over 35 years.

The year: 1984

The venue: London, offices of a Greek shipping company

The actor: An impoverished first year BSc student

The platform: Perkin-Elmer (later Concurrent) super-minis, 32-bit architecture

The language: CoBoL with proprietary RDBMS and transaction processing

The screen: Green on Black

The medium: X.25 network, over a private leased London-to-Athens line

The gig: Long-distance telephone calls between London and Athens offices were costing the company a fortune. Also, the timezone difference reduced the effective daily communication window by 4 hours. The company was looking for a way to leverage their existing technology platform, to exchange messages between offices synchronously or asynchronously, without incurring additional telephone costs.

The solution: A database system written in Cobol, which allowed terminal users at either end to pick a recipient from a list or registered users, leave a message from the user to the opposite party and receive a message back. Since it showed a history of the messages exchanged between the parties, if both parties were on-line, then you could have a dialogue in real-time (line-by-line). If not, the other party would pick the message when they logged in and respond back. This was using a temporary database table. If either party wanted to keep a permanent record of the conversation, they would “archive it” in a separate table, holding metadata like start time, end time, from, to, a subject description, location, etc. Also, since I wanted to be able to exchange messages about code with other programmers in the head office, it had a primitive system of referencing external files on shared disks.

In today’s terminology, this was email, Instant Messaging, micro-blogging and Document Management system rolled into one. An early form of social collaboration. I designed it and built it in about two weeks and it was used daily. It was simple, crude but effective.

[A side note for the pedants: I know email systems were already around by then in the Unix community, but they were not commonplace and they certainly were not available on a business platform like the Perkin-Elmer. Remember, 1984: no TCI/IP, no Internet, no Windows, no PCs, no files]

Since then, I’ve worked on many more weird DMS implementations, before the Document Management market was even identified as such: A hand-crafted invoice processing system written in VB with Kofax cards and massive Cornerstone monitors on OS/2 machines; A bespoke DMS for commercial property agents, with distributed desktop scanning (property images) attached to workflow (rental review) cases; A bespoke DMS based on Uniplex and Informix 4GL for lawyers, a fully fledged DMS with version control and content searching on NeXT machines, using C, Informix and BRS-Search (free-text database), later ported to a disasterous Ingres implementation on Windows 3.11

By then Documentum came on the scene and I remember writing VB for a very early implementation of version 1 (effectively just a set of APIs) for a Pharmaceutical company. FileNet was already on the scene with the first notion of Imaging+Workflow as a single intergrated platform, but our paths were not to cross until a decade later.

Now, there is a point to this inane drivel, beyond self-indulgence…

In today’s confused ECM market, none of these early bespoke implementations would classify as proper “Document Management”. Yet at the time, they were all innovative, trailblazing, and large companies would pay good money to implement them. It created the legitimate (if schizophrenic) ECM market space that we live in and love today.

When I launched “Document Management Avenue” in 1995 – the first independent online community forum for DMS, for those old enough to remember – we were tracking over 300 products in this space. I still have the list somewhere. Today, most of us can only point at a dozen or so major ECM / EDRMS vendors.

There you have it. My own short history of watching the birth of ECM – The bespoke became product, which became open-source, which became commodity. The rest, as they say, is history… And some of us are still arguing what to call the baby 🙂

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