It used to be that “being connected” meant a full Rolodex of high powered contacts. But today, it most likely means that a person is connected to a wide network of public, corporate, and personal content. The basics of the technology, such as smartphones, have been available for a number of years, but the explosion of social networking sites, easy-to-use applications for platforms like the iPhone and Blackberry, and more mature enterprise content management (ECM) solutions means that the content is more accessible than ever. Only a few years ago the idea of mobile content management was a novelty; today it is mainstream. Social media tools like Facebook push that even further when over half of their communications are via mobile devices.
Mobile content management generally comes in three flavors: accessing content remotely, managing content that is in the public infrastructure, and capturing information while mobile. Insight Research estimated that mobile content management accounted for $8B of revenue just in 2008.
One of the most obvious applications of mobile content management is the ability to access documents, drawings, and other information while being away from the office. Water and sewer authorities, for example, are using mobile content management applications to access their engineering and CAD drawings when they go in the field to look at pumps, water lines, and other equipment.
Early adopters of mobile content management systems typically used standard PC applications that were linked via wireless networks back to the centralized ECM system. Either through the use of VPN or thin-client technology, the mobile user ‘looked’ the same to the ECM system as a local user in the office. Bandwidth considerations often limited the ability to transmit large amounts of information so systems commonly used special technology to optimize the bandwidth or reduce the amount of data being transferred to the mobile PC.
The Unites States is somewhat unique in that most of our content is delivered to a PC. But in the rest of the world, mobile telephones far outpace PCs for delivering content. A variety of reasons drive this: in Japan, desktop computers and monitors took up valuable space in smaller homes and consumers flocked to smartphones as small, inexpensive ways to stay connected. In Europe, high density population cities not only made wireless infrastructure relatively inexpensive to build, but regulations and taxes meant that internet users paid on a per-minute basis to be connected. In less developed area such as China, the cost of building a wireless communications network was dramatically less expensive than building expensive copper and fiber connections to buildings.
The new generation of smartphones is changing that in the US. Even as phone sales in the world declined in the last year, smartphones with the capability to run full browsers and content management applets from vendors such as Alfresco grew by a remarkable 47%. RBC analyst Mike Abramsky even predicts that smartphone sales will exceed PC sales as early as 2011. (Other analysts say we passed that earlier this year.) These new platforms are opening a new audience to mobile content management, but they are placing enormous demands on the existing infrastructure: a typical iPhone and Android user, for example, consumes a whopping 1000% more bandwidth than even a typical other smartphone user.
But content isn’t just about pushing it to a mobile user: commercial and government agencies are increasingly turning to the use of public infrastructure tools like blogs, Google Docs, Facebook, and LinkedIn to publish and collect information. The one weakness is that these systems have very little in the way of tools to manage the content, especially in the areas of records management. This ‘records management of the public infrastructure’ is critical for some applications. For example, the FBI has a LinkedIn page that can be used for recruiting and Clorox has a Facebook page that can be used to share product information. In both cases, formal records may be produced that must be managed. Such tools are just beginning to appear, but will be critical as the lines between private and public sources of content continue to blur.
Mobile scanning teams have been available almost as long as mobile shredding operations, but today’s wired world means that content can be captured almost anywhere and at any time. Researchers experimenting with wearable computers and video cameras have estimated that an entire personal lifetime of video recording every waking moment might be captured with about a petabyte of storage. Just a few years ago the prospect of managing gigabytes and terabytes seemed far-fetched and many companies now manage databases of multiple petabytes. As more information is captured in mobile environments, the enterprise content management systems will continue to evolve to provide tools that capture, manage, and retrieve the content.
Mobile content management is just the next logical step in content management. Just as early imaging systems broke the barriers of sharing documents in the central file room, today’s mobile content management applications are letting content be managed securely outside of the traditional in-house network.
Having a plan to support mobile users and policies to deal with records produced by mobile devices is a necessity today. For those with litigation and regulatory requirements, the ability to show a comprehensive plan can’t wait until a lawsuit. Mobile computing is pervasive today and so should your ability be to manage the content.
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