The convergence of ECM, big data, social and the cloud
Enterprise content management is probably one of the most needed technologies that never really took off. Even in large organisations with a definite and well-defined content management policy, there is still a lot of manual content managed by employees on their computers. Content is still send through email and stored in various repositories across the organisation.
Even within the industry, there are a number of different approaches to content management, ranging from web content management, collaboration, case management, business process management, records management and digital asset management. There are various viewpoints on which are the best way to manage the content, from folder based management to full text searching.
And while ECM vendors were jostling between one another and trying to get the optimum way to manage content in the traditional sense, they were overtaken by vendors in other industries. Most ERP and CRM systems today offer a level of content management, they might not be up to the level of a stand-alone ECM system, but they are good enough for most organisations. ECM vendors also lost out on social content, and although some in the ECM industry really really dislike the terms “Social ECM” and “Social BPM”, it is a reality of what is available and what business are looking for.
Social media content
The social media systems we use today, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, to name but a few, is disguised content management systems. While we were struggling with the management of emails and digital content, these companies got it right to manage status updates and tweets, images and videos. They did it in a way where the index data is managed automatically for the user, and the sharing of the content can be done on a per item base. With Google+ starting to make waves, we will be able to share content to specific groups of people from one interface. That is done without the many different layers of security that is being used in traditional content management systems. It is done without workflow processing and folder structures, and without the user being asked to fill in numerous indexing data in order to find their content again.
Not only did they get the management of the content right, they also got the interface right. They made it possible for people with little or no computer literacy to easily and quickly manage their content. Social media for me also lay the foundations of collaboration and how it should work. The ability for people to view and comment on content is but a small step away from full collaboration on content, and again, it is done seamlessly and without fanfare.
Most social media systems utilise a big data foundation. For me big data is unique in two ways, firstly, it is BIG, databases running at 150TB are more is cool and awesome and really appeals to the nerd in me. Secondly and more importantly, is the way that the data is saved. It is not saved in the traditional structured way, but in an unstructured way where the data is described per record as it is saved. I’m still not sure on exactly how this is done, and I’m playing around with Hadoop to better understand the principles behind big data and how it works.
The thing that stands out about big data however is that all data is stored as unstructured data. In our current content management environment, there is a clear distinction between content data and business data. Business data is seen as structured content, content data is seen as unstructured content. With big data, there is no such differentiation. In a previous post I talked about neutral content, working with content in smaller parts, not big content files. This type of management of content will fit very well in a big data system where all data in an organisation is managed in one place, and intelligence on the content can be done on a more holistic view in the organisation.
The role of the cloud
As I mentioned, the cool thing about big content is that it is BIG, and because of the size, it is not in reach of all but the biggest organisations. Cloud based systems will play a major role in making big data available to all organisations. One of the bigger stumbling blocks of the cloud at this stage, and especially the public cloud, is the security considerations. This however will be overcome, and with different layers of security and encryption of data that is stored in the cloud, it might even turn out to be safer to use than a private cloud solution. Most of the security leaks in an organisation are still from employees in that organisation, and although this might not change, outside intrusion into systems will be limited going forward.
But with cloud companies and solutions going mainstream, big data solutions will be available to any company that is prepared to pay for it. Organisations will be able to utilise cloud solutions for the whole organisation or parts of the organisation. What is still up to debate is how different cloud solutions will interact with one another. Will the payroll solution that is used integrate with the collaboration solution from another company, or will an organisation be tied down to one cloud provider for all of its requirements.
ECM going forward
This brings me back to content management, which I see moving to the cloud using a big data foundation. Content management will share the same database as the other systems in an organisation, which will make analysis and intelligence of data even more valid than today. And with the management of content, business processes and collaboration moving to a social media type of interface and interaction, the value of all data in an organisation will become more accurate and relevant. Content from social media channels will also become a part of the overall business content, and will be managed in this type of setup. Organisations will be able to relate a downturn of sales directly to who was involved in the product development and marketing, their thoughts and attitude during this process and how these products were received and are perceived in the market. There are already systems that analyse the tone of tweets, whether it is positive or negative, and this type of analysis will become part of the big data infrastructure and analysis.
Content management as it is today will change; it will need to change to stay current and relevant. Content management vendors did not drive this move, and will have to play catch-up fast to stay relevant. The convergence of these technologies, social media, big data and cloud computing will change the way that content management is implemented and perceived. Content management will become more invisible to the user as the underlying structure changes, but it will become more relevant as it will be used to analyse trends in an organisation.
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