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Are Content Analytics turning the grubby ECM worm into a butterfly?

Colleagues that have known me for a while, have all heard me bemoaning the use of the term “unstructured” to describe text-based content. Without boring you again to tears, my main issue is that the ECM industry has been largely treating content files as amorphous “unstructured” blobs, ignoring the rich value that is locked inside these content objects.

For the last twenty years or so, ECM systems have been providing a cocoon, where documents and media files have been stored, preserved, secured, archived and generally left to their own devices. But we have been focusing in protecting the whole container, the box, based on the label it has outside and only looking inside the box, one box at a time.

There is change afoot! 2010 looks set to be the year of Content Analytics, which promises to finally unlock the value that is locked inside our gigantic festering ECM repositories. And if the early success signs of IBM’s new Content Analytics software is anything to go by, we are starting to witness a fundamental transformation in the way content is leveraged in large organisations.

Much in the same way that Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence transformed the bland data storage provided by databases in the mid-90s, Content Analytics is today bringing natural language processing, trends analysis, contextual discovery and predictive analytics to the “unstructured” world.

Purists will argue that these algorithms are not new and, to a certain extent, that is true. However, this is the first time that we are seeing these technologies applied easily, (i.e. with off-the-shelf products, without the need of a PhD statistician or linguist by your side…) in real commercial applications, to solve real business problems: Car manufacturers avoiding recalls with early fault trends analysis; Pharmaceutical companies recognising equipment failure trends much earlier; large multi-nationals saving millions in litigation fees, etc.

The ECM industry may still be thriving, but in terms of innovation it has reached a plateau that makes most of us uncomfortable (or complacent… depending on your point of view). Basic content management functionality is being commoditised with CMIS, OpenSource and SharePoint leading the charge. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the natural maturity curve for any 20-year technology sector. We’ve created a very big ECM cocoon and we’ve filled it to the brim with content worms. It’s time to innovate again!

Making no apologies for the crass analogy (it is March after all and, allegedly, spring is coming…), Content Analytics are starting to finally poke the cocoon, making the value of content slowly emerge, transformed from archived fodder into real business insight.

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