Fragmentation, Social Business, and Where We're Going From Here

By Bryant Duhon posted 01-15-2014 10:44


Alan talks about why ECM hasn't lived up to the promise of a unified content infrastructure and offers his opinions on social business and where the content industry is heading in this AIIM 2014 sneak peek of his keynote presentation:

The Fragmented Enterprise: ECM in the Era of Social Business

You can hear his keynote on Thursday, April 3 and 8:30 -- it's going to be a great start to the final day of #AIIM14.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe is the Research Director for Social Business at global analyst firm 451 Research. He has over 25 years of experience in the information management and consulting industry, providing strategic advice to numerous enterprises, government departments and suppliers around the world. By design or default he has become an opinionated and sometimes divisive industry skeptic, fortunately he is also a passionate sabre fencer and a jobbing actor - so he figures that at a push that he can sword fight or talk his way out of most tricky situations. Follow Alan on Twitter for sword fighting and social business insights: @socialbizalan.

Q: Your title has a little (un?)intended black humor in it. ECM was supposed to bring all content across an organization under one umbrella – eliminating fragmentation. We’re not there yet, was this goal too ambitious or too ambitious with the existing tools to date? [

Pelz-Sharpe: The goal of one master file, stored and managed in one location and shared through multiple channels was a worthy ECM goal, but it proved to impractical for most. I think it’s still a valid goal for the most critical and high-risk business information but that accounts for probably less than 10% of an organization’s information load. I don’t think it is a problem with the tools as such, more one of governance, culture, and common sense. Everything needs to be managed, but to a greater or lesser extend. Some information needs incredibly tight control; other information just needs a sell-by date on it.

Q: Why the fragmentation?

Pelz-Sharpe: The repository was the holy grail of ECM systems, but now we have repositories everywhere, on our laptops, smart phones, our Dropbox/Box/Hightail/SugarSync accounts, etc. Figuring out what we have to work with is becoming a huge and relatively new challenge. But fragmentation has come in many more forms, through BYOD (bring your own device), an increase in home working, the growth of road warriors, cloud and mobile computing, smarter devices, and flatter organizational structures. It’s all just come together at once, a bit like the Polar Vortex, and just like the vortex has dumped a pile of problems in its wake. 

Q: What’s the most interesting thing about the content industry today?

Pelz-Sharpe: The most interesting thing about the content industry is figuring out what that even means anymore. Certainly there is a core market that will remain fairly unchanged in the foreseeable future (case management, forms processing, accounts payable, etc.) but at the same time we are seeing the beginning of the end of traditional big business applications. We are seeing that whole (and massive) world re-evaluated, lighter weight, modular, task-oriented, easy-to-use, low cost, cloud/mobile apps emerge to compliment, challenge, or even replace legacy applications. Building the next generation of lighter-weight specific applications will involve processes and content in most cases, so that is where many content management vendors today are refocusing their efforts.

Q: Give us your thumbnail definition of social business.

Pelz-Sharpe: Business that leverages the power of the crowd and the cloud would be the glib answer – and essentially that’s what it boils down to. Businesses are aware that connections exist between their customers, products, and employees – connections that, if identified, could dramatically improve both margins and overall efficiency. But finding those connections and valuing them is hard, and always will be. Hence today we are seeing most social business activities focused on discrete and critical activities, be that monitoring the launch of a new product, or better supporting an engineering team on a tight schedule.

Q: What’s the link between ECM, social business, and the implications of the “Internet in every pocket” untethered world?

Pelz-Sharpe: The link is tying everything back to a measurable business process, all the new technology and new ways of working are of zero value unless you can do that. That is the big lesson of the initial failure of enterprise social networks (ESN’s) brought us (for example) – social for social’s sake is fun but not something I want to pay for, seems obvious but it was a painful lesson for many vendors and investors. Tie that social/collaborative support to a line-of-business and improve that line-of-business then the checkbook comes out. Some real world examples we are starting to see emerge are in the world of better hospital patient monitoring/diagnosis and triaging customer support in real time via social networks

Q: What unresolved issue or key challenge do you think is the key to making social business a positive?

Pelz-Sharpe: The recognition that technology needs to be human centric - rather than the other way round. I like to reference the Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon in this regard, as he stereotypically personifies much of the legacy thinking in our industry. Sheldon believes everything can be automated, everything can be done faster, and the world would be better without changeable, fickle humans. Tech for its own sake is on a short tether and the really smart money in Silicon Valley is recognizing that today, tech increasingly needs to meet specific business and job needs rather than just be fast and shiny (think IBM Watson). It needs to meet requirements in government, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing – tech increasingly needs to support the critical work that we do, not attempt to replace it. You can’t process-map people.

Q: Let’s end on an up note; What’s a positive opportunity this new world holds for us?

Pelz-Sharpe: I don’t really do positive… this is a hard one! Actually I think there are huge opportunities opening up, ways to better engage with customers, citizens, and employees. No matter how you cut it, computers will always come back to 1s and 0s – yes or no – humans have a thousand variations between and change with the wind, that’s what makes one company succeed, another fail – it’s what saves or loses a life – the next era of enterprise computing will be easier to use, adapt to our needs, and will be super reliable anywhere anytime – that gives me hope.

#AIIM2014 #AIIM14 #enterprisesocialnetwork #ECM #SocialBusiness