I was at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco last week, where I answered questions as a panelist, moderated another panel, heard many excellent presentations, and joined in many engaging discussions. On the plane ride home, I took some time to piece together the individual bits of information and opinion that I had absorbed during the two-day event. This reflection led to the following observations regarding the state of enterprise content management practices and technologies.
Up With People
Many content software vendors are now focusing on people first, content second. This is a huge shift in perspective, especially when voiced at a content management conference! Kumar Vora, Vice President & General Manager, Enterprise at Adobe was the first person to proclaim this philosophical change during his opening keynote presentation at Gilbane San Francisco. He reported that Adobe has shifted its business philosophy to focus on serving people and their needs, as opposed to thinking about content first. Many other vendor representatives and attendees from end user organizations echoed Kumar’s emphasis on people during the event. It is too early to say definitively what this radical change in perspective means, but we should see more user friendly enterprise content management tools as a result.
Keyword search has largely failed end users and incremental improvements haven’t been able to keep up with the explosion in newly created content. Jeff Fried, VP Product Management for Microsoft’s FAST search engine actually proclaimed that “keyword search is dead!” The business world is at a point where alternatives, including machine-generated and social search techniques, must be explored. The latter method was on many attendees minds and lips, which should not surprise, given the shift to people-centric thinking identified above. Social search will be an increasingly hot topic in 2009 and 2010.
Microsoft SharePoint 2010 has the potential to completely shake up the information management market. The next version of SharePoint will likely include a raft of (as of yet unconfirmed) Web Content Management features that have been missing or rudimentary. In her keynote address, Tricia Bush, Group Product Manager for SharePoint said that the promise of content management has not yet been realized and that her team is focusing diligently on the opportunity. This increased emphasis on content management is contrary to the first trend that I described above, and the negative perceptions many hold of SharePoint may increase unless Microsoft also better enables people in SharePoint 2010 (it is rumored that the product will also see substantial additions to its currently limited social collaboration functionality.) Those placing bets should do so knowing that Microsoft intends to, and probably will, be a major force in enterprise information management.
Simplicity Trumps Complexity
Enterprise applications and systems managed by IT departments continue to grow in complexity. As this happens, end users turn to simpler alternatives, including consumer oriented Web 2.0 applications, in order to get work done. The “problem” is that these consumer applications aren’t approved or controlled by the IT function. The opportunity is a potentially large market for software vendors that can create enterprise ready versions of Web 2.0 applications by adding security, reliability, and other attributes demanded by CIOs. For those vendors to succeed, however, they must retain the simplicity (intuitiveness and ease of use) that are the hallmark of consumer Web 2.0 applications.
Communication Beats Publishing
Communication applications are increasingly being used by end users to collaborate, because enterprise content management applications have become too complex (see the trend immediately above). Additionally, communication tools are favored by end users because they can use them to simultaneously create and distribute content. This increased speed of content publication also accelerates general business process execution, allowing users of communication tools to be more productive than users of formal enterprise content systems. Communication tools will continue to become an important and growing back channel that employees use to share content when overly complex publishing tools impede or fail them.
Having one’s ideas validated by a reputable peer is always rewarding. John Mancini, President of AIIM, published a blog post in the time between when I first formulated these thoughts on the flight home from San Francisco last week and when I published this post today. Reading John’s post should encourage you to believe that the trends I (and he) have described are for real. The question for all of us now is how will we respond to these emerging realities.