When you're choosing document management software (DMS) you have to look to the future. Whichever platform you select will impact the way you do business for the next five to 10 years at least -- so don't  be shortsighted when making your decision.

Enterprise content resides on all web environments and so integrations between DMSs and Web CMSs are becoming crucial. So the importance of “future-proofing” document management was top of mind for me when I attended Amplexor’s Future of Document Management event in Belgium last week. Amplexor designs, builds and runs DMS projects for enterprises. With over a decade of experience in the Enterprise Content Management field, it knows who the visionaries in the field are. On Nov. 20 it got them all in one room.

The three gurus of Enterprise Content Management -- John Newton, CTO of Alfresco, Jeroen van Rotterdam, CTO of EMC IIG and Erik Pelemans, business group lead, Office Division, Microsoft -- were asked their views on the future of document management. 

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As can be expected from these giants of the industry, they delivered. And I suspect the attendees will be discussing the opinions they shared for a long time. Below are some key takeaways:

What is the Digital Enterprise?

Digital business is not the decade-old concept of e-business in a new wrapper. It is a radically different and more disruptive change.” -- Gartner, What the Board of Directors needs to know about Digital Business. To keep up, you’ve got to think about digital engagement of customers, digital innovation of products or business models, digital engagement of employees or partners, digital customer lifecycle or automation.

What’s the Future of Document Management?

Both Newton and van Rotterdam started out with a global macroeconomic view. They focused on what has affected the productivity of knowledge workers in the last decades, and which challenges digital enterprises will face in the next 10 to 20 years. Pelemans took a different approach, explaining that Microsoft can’t predict the future and instead showing what Office 365 could offer today.

The usual suspects from future of IT presentations were touched on, including how Moore's law correctly predicted processing power, storage per user, display capability and bandwidth.

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The speakers got off the beaten track when they exchanged views on the impact a new global recession this decade would have on the agility of the enterprise. And how a DMS can help by providing an open and flexible platform in the cloud.

IT bolstered productivity during the 90s, said Newton. Enterprises made software and systems like ERP, CRM, etc. part of their business processes. During the late '00s, large digital enterprises' productivity began to decline. The installed systems were too rigid to sustain productivity. The procedures and processes lacked flexibility, and the software evolved too slow to accommodate changing needs. This resulted in productivity loss and a decrease in agility -- a quality crucial for surviving the next global crisis.

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Document: What’s In a Name?

Van Rotterdam looked at the the future of document management by taking five factors into account:

  1. Volume
  2. Consumption
  3. Legislation
  4. Collaboration
  5. Cloud

His presentation started with a scientific approach: a critical examination of what the exact definition of a document is -- or should be. Wikipedia defines a document as “any concrete or symbolic indication, preserved or recorded, for reconstructing or for proving a phenomenon, whether physical or mental” -- a hard definition to work with when you want to predict the future.

Van Rotterdam defined a document as "a logical container of information.” This can be a tweet, a part of an MSWord document (container), a video, a presentation, etc.

All three presenters agreed that the volume of documents is increasing rapidly. Thirty-six percent of a typical knowledge worker’s day is spent looking for the right information. Only 56 percent of the time do these workers find the information required to do their jobs according to the IDC. Search is obviously a crucial element of a DMS: as documents proliferate, search will need to become increasingly sophisticated to accommodate the needs of knowledge workers.

Beyond Search: Contextual Delivery of Information is the Way Forward

The simple act of an employee logging into a system provides a great deal of information. For this reason, EMC is investing heavily into big data and recommendations. The company is investing significantly into analytic models to ensure that content is easy to consume. A context-aware DMS will be crucial for future productivity.

Technology does not exist in a contextual vacuum. Legislation like the Patriot Act has an impact on cloud and authorization rules, dictating that they become more advanced and context aware. The future can bring a more dynamic system of storing and processing information in the cloud, as well as more nuanced forms of authorization, taking context and circumstances into account. Consider this nuance of authorization in the case of a medical emergency: when you’re bleeding on the street, privacy models on access to medical information might be altered.

The Future Enterprise Goes Beyond Four Walls

Information will not be confined to four walls in the enterprise of the future. As enterprises increasingly work with externals and customers, the process of collaboration will need to be automated with partial access to documents outside of the enterprise. A flexible and fine grained container model will enable such collaboration.

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Cloud, Cloud, Cloud

Each speaker agreed that the impact of cloud can’t be overstated. They identified two main drivers: total cost of ownership and agility. The speakers focused mainly on the latter aspect: agility.

EMC IIG launched its cloud solution this past August. It can now onboard new customers in less than 20 seconds, at almost no cost. Customers can begin working with the software immediately, without any coding. Underscoring the importance of the cloud for the future of the digital business, EMC is changing to a new business model: subscription. Microsoft is doing the same with Office 365.

While all three agreed on the major boost to agility provided by the cloud, there were differences of opinion about how. In one memorable moment, van Rotterdam completely disagreed with Newton on the question of testing. While Newton argued that the quick deployment in the cloud made testing unimportant, van Rotterdam countered that testing became even more crucial. He emphasized that he now had more test code than product code.

As previously mentioned, Pelemans devoted his main focus on demonstrating Office 365’s capabilities. It was interesting to note however, that SharePoint didn't come up once in his talk. This lends more credibility to Pettru Tolvanen's prediction from #JBoye14: “the next version of Sharepoint is Office 365, and it is already here. Share Point 2015 will just be a fancy service package.”

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Pelemans touched on integrations with Yammer for collaboration, as well as how Microsoft is picking up on building more authorization functionality. Its approach to this is different, asking the question: ”how much can we allow not to be managed” to accelerate the pace of change? On processes, Pelemans emphasized, "The power of your organization is not your process, but your people. They can think out of the box."

The Future of DMS as the Future of Digital Business

The biggest challenge currently facing IT? Solutions that aren't used. As a result, 6 percent of budgets are shifting from IT to business, every year. Rather than just thinking in terms of separate “solutions,” businesses need to start thinking in terms of networks. Information travels three times faster in a network, a network filters better, a social network helps to provide you with the right information.

During the final panel, the audience voted on what would be the most significant functionality for the success of document management in the future. Here are the results, in descending order of importance:

  • More intelligence and automation
  • More personalization and contextualization
  • Improved usability
  • Smarter search
  • Better social features
  • Better mobile access

The conversations over excellent Belgian drinks after the sessions finished reflected the attendee’s passion for the technology being discussed. Regardless of the views expressed, there was one thing we agreed on: document management is the crucial foundation for a digital enterprise to succeed in the future.

It’s a dynamic industry, and the future is coming fast -- I look forward to being part of what’s coming next!