Modern ECM for the Modern Enterprise

John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman, Alfresco
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John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman, Alfresco

New technologies are facilitating profound changes in the way people and companies work together. Pervasive mobility and cloud computing, to name just two, have affected our work habits and processes. Expectations of what we can do with technology have also changed. For example, I recently created a document and uploaded it to a secure, cloud-based content management system. A colleague at a partner company accessed the document and revised it on his smart phone while in the airport in Abu Dhabi. This sort of work process is now the norm and we expect the capability to exist.

This extended collaboration has great benefits for enterprises. No longer is collaboration bound by the firewall of an organization’s network- data and content can be accessed from a number of different touch points, both within and outside of the traditional firewall. Remote access, VPN, mobile devices and more extend the network of the digital enterprise; however, this presents a challenge. Legacy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems have not kept pace and do not allow for this extended collaboration.

ECM is in a state of disruption, with four major trends reshaping the entire field. Enterprises that adapt to new ways of working, the extended enterprise, the explosion in digital content and new IT infrastructure can reap the full benefits of extended collaboration.

"The extended enterprise requires a new approach to ECM that supports easy, controlled sharing of content and process inside and outside the organization"

New Ways of Working

The work-anywhere, anytime, on any device mode of getting business done puts pressure on IT organizations to support a new class of connected employees whose expectations for ease of use have been shaped by consumer web services. Today’s workers want to be able to find documents as easily as they can browse for books online. This is true for everyone, but particularly for Millennials, who are projected to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2020, according to BPW Foundation. And for these Millennials, today’s collaboration tools simply do not cut it. Recent Dimensional Research results indicate that 71 percent of Millennials face challenges with the collaboration tools offered within their workplace. The preferred method of collaboration for Millennials is chat or text. Most legacy ECM systems, which are already in failure mode due to poor user adoption, can’t keep up and lack support for inter-company sharing and remote access.     

Emergence of the Extended Enterprise

Organizations are extending their value chains and engaging more deeply with external collaborators. Product design, marketing, sales and service are increasingly being performed by remote contract workers and vendors that function as if they were part of the client firm. However, this type of collaboration only works if there is controlled, two-way information flow across organizational boundaries. Employees need enterprise collaboration solutions that work equally well both inside and outside the organization. Content must be able to flow easily between the different parties involved in the process while allowing for secure collaboration with external consultants, partners and vendors. Legacy ECM, historically limited by the firewall, does not serve modern enterprises which are not bound by the limits of IT infrastructure. This approach constrains productivity and growth as mobile workers struggle with VPN issues and external partners lack the access they need to collaborate. The extended enterprise requires a new approach to ECM that supports easy, controlled sharing of content and process inside and outside the organization.

Massive Explosion in Digital Content

We are in the midst of a content deluge. Gone are the early days of ECM when managing structured data such as documents and spreadsheets were the only requirements. IDC is projecting a stunning 50x growth in digital content from 2010 to 2020, with 90 percent of it in unstructured information such as emails, documents and video. The rise of social media and collaboration tools has also created a new class of enterprise content, and its distribution spreads across the spectrum. Common place today are videos that show a failed piece of equipment and its geo-location data; for example, the photograph of a competitor’s shelf display and resulting comment thread. And, the new generation of ECM must put content in context so that people and processes work more efficiently and effectively.

New IT Infrastructure

Enterprise IT changes slowly, but it is definitely on the move. Today’s businesses are keen to reap the cost savings of utilizing cloud-enabled computing and are adopting public and private cloud as well as “hybrid” cloud/on-premises deployments of core business systems. In tandem, the IT department is supporting a variety of new mobile platforms as companies embrace the work on-the-go ability enabled by today’s technology. A modern ECM system must enable knowledge worker’s expectations to be able to respond to emails, speak to customers and edit documents anywhere and at any time by supporting the full range of deployment options and device types. However, legacy ECM providers are trapped in software architectures from an earlier, more homogenous era. Their platforms are generally not built for cloud scale and offer only limited mobile support.

The Need for a New Approach to ECM

Looking at these four simultaneous trends as a whole reveals a completely changed world for ECM. New workers with new expectations are doing their jobs in new ways –while the volume of content explodes and the traditional IT architecture falls away. Next-generation ECM systems must support the now commonplace “work anywhere” norms as well as seamless, secure collaboration with external business partners. ECM needs to put companies in charge of their content strategy and provide flexible, hybrid deployment options to support their needs. Companies that adopt a new approach to ECM can unlock new business value from their content and empower people to do and share great work. 

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