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Google Wave killed the ECM star…

November 26, 2009 33 comments

I don’t get excited by technology much these days. I tend to have a rather cynical view about it – Typically it’s either been done before, or it’s a solution looking for a problem. But occasionally something comes along which makes me sit back and take notice.  I’ve known about Google Wave for a while now. It’s been heralded as an “email killer” or a “wiki on steroids” or a “collaboration on the fly” and various other profound marketing statements. So it’s been sitting in the “wait and see…” corner of my mind for a while. I’m particularly skeptical about products which are declared “game changing” before they are even released…

Yesterday however, I indulged myself in watching the 1:20′ demo video of Google Wave. If you have not seen it, get yourself a cup of coffee and some biscuits, lock yourself in a room, stick the headphones on and be prepared to watch a good movie. You’ll laugh out loud too! This isn’t your typical PowerPoint presentation or even product demo. It’s good fun and it’s important.

However, beyond the functionality that you see demonstrated, pay attention to the personalities of the presenters, the people behind the product. You will begin to understand why Google Wave is significant.  It’s not the technology, it’s the attitude that’s different.

“What’s this got to do with ECM?” you may ask… It has everything to do with ECM. If Google Wave succeeds as a corporate platform (and I see absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t), it will fundamentally change the ECM industry.  Why? because the ECM industry, and Document Management before it, was invented as a workaround to compensate for NOT being able to do what Google Wave does. Let me explain… let’s look at some of the fundamental capabilities of ECM and how they might change in Google Wave world:

1. Check-In / Check – Out: This was invented primarily to overcome the issues of multiple authors trying to edit the same document at the same time and then having to synchronise the edits. Google Wave’s real time authoring synchronisation, removes the need for asynchronous editing and document locking.

2. Version history: Each Wave contains a complete version history of its lifecycle. The “Playback” function allows users to go back in time and trace the lineage of any edit in the document. A much more detailed and granular approach.

3. Lifecycle workflow management: Author, review, comment, modify, authorise edits – all native to the authoring interface and contained within the Wave. With the development of agent/robots I can imagine adding a “Review-y” (when you see the video you’ll understand what I mean…) to the wave, which will make sure that the right people are invited/uninvited to wave at various stages, based on the type of discussion or queries raised. All with complete audit trail information contained in the wave itself.

4. Security: Here we have another paradigm shift: Forget for a moment the traditional Access Control Lists (ACL) that we are all familiar with in the ECM world. Although not explicitly demonstrated in the video, the fact that the protocol supports federation and has the intelligence to allow/disallow the relevant people in and outside the firewall to see parts of the wave, means that it supports contextual security. The Wave’s security model is (appears to be…) contextually adaptive. That means that it will define its access behaviour based on the context/domain that it appears in. So not only you can implement implicit access security, but effectively it comes with Rights Management already built in.

5. Search & retrieval: The search capabilities demonstrated on the video were impressive, and given that this is Google, I don’t think it will have scalability issues, somehow…

6. Publishing: Of course you can take a snapshot of the wave and create a traditional document or another wave, much like we do today. But here’s another shift… (If any of you have seen the Harry Potter movies, you will remember the newspapers with the moving video clips on the page?) Rather than publishing content to websites, blogs, etc. you “embed” the wave on the site. Which means real-time dynamic web-publishing rather than static. The same way that Google Wave obviates the check-in/out, review cycled of traditional ECM, it also eliminates the need for elaborate web content publishing cycles. If you need to use staged publishing (remember, the approval itself is embedded in the wave), it’s easy to have an embedding function that checks for approval and only presents the wave up to the previously approved point!

7. Process / BPM: Process engines can attach Waves as documents, so that’s not an issue. Forms are not an issue either as they are included in the Wave.  Where things are different, is that a Wave is the ultimate “active content”. It is an entirely even-driven engine, which adopts its behaviour to external events. So, by introducing “agents” into the Wave audience, you are effectively embedding both rules processing and predefined behaviours into the wave. Think of this simple example: you added a third party to your wave, asking them to complete a part of a form inside the wave. Since the wave is jointly monitored by both internal and external wave environments, as soon as the information is completed, your process agent (who is a participant to the wave and therefore also monitoring the wave live) immediately recognises this, removes the third party from the wave and continues the process. Remember, the whole audit trail is “recorded” inside the Wave itself!

8. email management: Redundant. The purpose of email management was to convert emails to document objects in order to apply document management rules and controls. As the wave replaces email but is a document in its own right, you get both functions effectively rolled in one

9. Imaging: Imagine embedding both a scanned image and it’s OCR’ed text rendition in a wave, where you have created overlay-ed documents – much like the Satellite/map views of Google maps. Remember, it’s the same people that invented both…

I can go on and on… Yes there are holes in all the above and there will be some niche scenarios where this will not work quite the same way. But for 90% of standard office communications and documents, I can see Google Wave turning the whole ECM industry on its head: My colleagues have heard me rant repeatedly about the need of a new ECM strategy that is no longer bound to the file / folder paradigm.  From what I’ve seen so far, a Wave is exactly that: a self-contained, self-governing multiple-content object, which includes both content and its associated behaviours.

As an ECM practitioner, am I scared? No, I’m excited – very excited! The ECM software, as we know it today, may change dramatically in the next 5 years because of Google Wave.  But the ECM practices and principles are still required. We just need to make sure that we adapt them to the 21st century. So ECM guys, roll your sleeves up, there is A LOT of work to be done here…

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