Crystal Ball Gazing … Enterprise Content Management 2020


With a few big ECM related announcements over the past couple of weeks … Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and IBM Advanced Case Management topping the list, I thought I would do a little crystal ball gazing and set my sights on the future.  This is always fun and a bit risky at the same time.  Consider Thomas J. Watson, Sr. who despite very scant evidence is widely credited with saying (in 1943): “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”.   I supppose we’ll never know for sure if Watson said it or not, but despite the risk of being wrong, I share my perspective on what ECM will look like in 10 years.

In today’s ECM … You find the document you need

The Document is King

ECM as we know it today started as a way to control paper and evolved to electronic documents.  From there it grew into something that could support the document sharing and creation processes and then into electronic business process creation, management and optimization.  It has increasingly been enhanced and expanded in a number ways … most notably with better search, process and compliance technologies.  Even today, nearly 30 years after the founding of FileNet (who is largely credited for inventing the industry in the 1980s), the document is the center of the universe with everything else in supporting roles.  It’s become so easy to create and share documents we’ve lost a critical value point along the way … the context.  Endless hours are spent searching for documents without the ability to know which versions are trusted and are an accurate representation of the business context.  We’re at a tipping point of a business realization and content utility – while critical to the success of a business, a document is still only a communication medium useful for the ability to track thinking and provide historical value.  A document is a form of communication, not the end goal of a business.  Workers, in their roles, are what supports the end goal of business today.  Successful businesses and their employees need technology to support their roles and to enable deliverly of savings and new revenue.  Today … these same workers are expected to produce results AND manage / find documents.   This dynamic will change over the next 10 years, driven in part by advances in collaborative, social, case management and other ECM related technologies. 

 The Context (or worker role) is King

In 2020 … The document you need finds you.  ECM will evolve and minimally exist as we understand it today.  The concept of ECM will have changed because it’s no longer about “content,” rather it’s “worker role” or “context” as the central planning aspect.  ECM as we knew it in 2010, will have become more than content repositories, process, records and searching.  Workers, and their business roles are the central aspect, with all processes and communication flows either inputs our outputs in context to these roles.  Some examples are:

  • Inbound and outbound communication are expanded to include voice and text from any source (unified communications becomes table-stakes).
  • Processes are defined, developed and optimized around supporting role execution.
  • Composite information dashboards are the interface across systems and processes and deliver in-business-context information on demand.
  • Information is organized, trusted, proactively managed and self described.
  • Certain basic ECM problems have been “fixed” and no longer top priority ECM issues (retention, disposition, eDiscovery, search result quality).
  • Institutional knowledge is managed as knowledge, not documents.
  • Content Analytics is the norm where Ontologies describe trusted semantic relationships from both internal and external information sources.
  • Processes and system interactions become truly dynamic and can “learn” from historical execution to recommend streamlining options.
  • On-premise, appliance, cloud and hybrid delivery models all interoperate and are invisible to end-users.

I could go on for pages but if anything remotely like this crystal ball vision comes true … the implications for all ECMers are significant.  Technologies like Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Lotus Quickr, IBM Advanced Case Management, IBM Content Analytics are amomng those that will drive the next generation of ECM usage and adoption within business context of businesses, processes, workers and roles.

Time will tell if I am right or not.  In the mean time, leave me your feedback … what does ECM look like in 2020 in your crystal ball?  I’d love to see what everyone else thinks about the future of ECM (right or wrong) … after all it was the same Thomas Watson who said: “The way to succeed is to double your error rate”.

10 thoughts on “Crystal Ball Gazing … Enterprise Content Management 2020

  1. Dear Craig:
    The document you need finds you. Bull’s eye!
    As we all become content consumers and creators at the speed of light, day in and day out, the central idea is to become magnets of the information we need. As I see it, we will have our own nested metadata so the information spider will catch us at the right time with the right content.
    http://www.ecompex.com has some interesting insights on ECM automation.
    Thanks for your crystal ball gazing
    Sergio Velez

  2. Pingback: Crystal Ball Gazing … Enterprise Content Management 2020 | Digital Asset Management

  3. I’m hundred percent right with your vision. Context will only be possible if processes are streamlined and optimized to the most simple actions to be done by the worker. Let’s hope, less stress!…

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  5. Very thought provoking vision Craig.
    And when you consider every worker is wired and compound that with the social digital foot print and wireless, information is following us. And as ECM systems continue to evolve, infoservers will dynamically and transparently create documents relative to that individual, group or organization’s specific requirements. Companies that recognize and exploit the technologies that enable this convergence will certainly benefit. And when one considers the portability and delivery of information going on now, (perhaps a part of the justification for HP buying Palm and the amazing response to the iPad, other than being a neat gadget), it’s all contributing to your vision of documents following you. Trusted documents? Important indeed, and a discussion that you have also recently brought on!

  6. Craig,
    I couldn’t agree more, business context is what is missing in most ECM systems. Most of the time the document context is generated outside of the ECM (e.g. generated by the email interaction of people using the document).
    I don’t agree that adding more complexity to ECM is the answer (like Advanced Case Management), the answer is to provide easier to use, end-user controlled tools that are not developer centric – simple tools that merge document management and process management, and put the business in control.
    Google Wave is more a harbinger of things to come than Advanced Case Management.
    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

  7. why assume the document at all?
    What is a document but a collection of ideas and concepts that “go together” as defined by some grammatical and idea vectors?

    BI for unstructured information can extract basic concepts today. SemWeb annotators can identify and markup relationships today. How much more is needed before I provide a vector (or several) and a custom “document” is generated for me?

    In that sense a document is “just” a very complex report.

    Check out my thoughts on the Future of ECM here:
    http://cfour.fishbowlsolutions.com/2010/05/17/the-changing-face-of-enterprise-content-management/

  8. Craig, we are in facinating agreement. The real facinating concept here is that of content in its various forms….structured and unstructured finding its way to a user in one of the users various contexts. Everyone typically will function thorughout a day in various contexts. a worker supporting a specific function for a specific business unit, while also a consultant for another function for seperate business unit. Context will be fluid and the exciting part is the exploitation of this flexible context will drive VALUE. And possible the best part, will drive new opportunities not yet understood nor percieved as valuable.

  9. Pingback: Watson and The Future of ECM « Craig Rhinehart's ECM Insights

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