Enterprise content management (ECM) can't seem to get any respect. In just the past few months, several researchers have independently warned the whole space is being disrupted by forces outside of enterprise control.

Alfresco, which has long offered on-premises, cloud and hybrid options, just produced a new report to look at these forces are and how they are disrupting the landscape. To find out more, we talked to Alfresco co-founder and CTO John Newton.

While ECM is in a state of disruption, Newton claims the basic material needed to carry out business tasks remains the same. That basic material is content.

Changing Realities

Last week Nuxeo CEO Eric Barroca pointed out that ECM systems will have to manage what he describes as ‘Deep Content’ or content that improves the way we work, creates new lines of business and enhances insight, agility and action ability on business processes. He claims there are three major technology drivers behind this, notably cloud, big data and mobile.

But the new paper from Alfresco, published last week, identified four disruptors in the ECM space. Newton said mobile and cloud are pushing organizations to work differently with content and that ECMs need to adjust accordingly.

The rate of digital innovation is now so fast that legacy ECM platforms that were designed for document management and other kinds of static content can’t keep pace anymore, Newton said. Moreover, enterprises need to rethink about how they are going to manage content in the digital world.

"These technologies [ECM] were architected at a time when users and content stayed behind the firewall, on servers and PCs,” he said." They may paper-over their aging technology with cloud and mobile acquisitions, but that is more about being able to say, “we have that!” than offering integrated, next-generation solutions."

The Alfresco report focuses on four trends:

1. New Ways Of Working

The rise of mobile, social and cloud technologies is not only changing where and how we work, but also the processes around that work.

IT departments need to support new, connected technologies, as well as users whose expectations around technology and the ease-of-use associated with consumer web services. They also want to be able to work collaboratively and remotely without having to worry about security. Many ECM projects fail due to poor user adoption because the existing systems are cumbersome, non-intuitive and lack support for sharing and remote access, the report notes.

The challenge, Newton explained, is to keep users connected to business processes and continue to make the enterprise more efficient and secure, while also enabling increased productivity.

“Document management and ECM platforms must enable productivity on any device, integrate with the content tools of choice for users, work inside or outside the firewall, and deliver consumer services use cases that users expect today — as well as the traditional ECM use cases,” Newton said.

2. Extended Enterprise

Enterprises are being transformed by a growth in connected activity and information flow: They are no longer stand-alone entities. The ability to share content and process across the extended enterprise is an imperative for modern ECM systems, which must also address the needs of growing numbers of remote and contract workers, and enable engagement of customers through the Internet of Things.

These new connections are creating a need for controlled, two-way information flow across organizational boundaries.

The challenge here, Newton said, is to enable an extended enterprise, where business processes and content extends beyond the firewall without affecting security and control.

ECM has to allow content, metadata and business processes to move outside firewall to the extended enterprise. It has to be flexible enough to extend security to users who are not directly controlled by the IT department. An ECM solution must make an enterprise itself more efficient, more compliant and more productive, Newton noted.

3. Digital Content Explosion

IDC estimates there will be a 50 percent growth in new content this decade alone, with 90 percent of that unstructured in emails, documents and video. Big data is making it even harder and a lot more complex as more varieties of content enter the enterprise. All of it has to be governed and managed  — and it also has to be searchable.

For smarter working, users also need to see the context of the content, which includes all the ancillary things like comments, preferences, geo-location data as well as contextual data to drive business processes.

Here, organizations need to look at how they can integrate social content into ECM strategies so that they can automate processes and make the enterprise more efficient, without losing control.

“ECM has to be able to handle social content and content from mobile devices, enrich all content with social context (such as “likes” and comments), and even be able to publish out content to social networks, so that it can be shared more broadly. ECM must also be able to handle new rich media in ways that are appropriate to the medium, with richer views and appropriate actions,“ Newton said.

4. New IT Infrastructure

The majority of legacy systems were not built to scale for the cloud and have limited mobile support. The cloud sparked changes in IT infrastructure, and now mobile has continued that process.

Although some companies are moving all of their content to the cloud, others are opting for hybrid solutions with some content stored on-premises and other stored in the cloud. IDC estimates that by 2020, 13 percent of all data will be stored in the cloud, 61 percent will be stored on-premises and the remainder will be “touched by the cloud” (i.e., processed or transmitted).

ECM vendors need to build systems that are able to support traditional on-premises systems, but also support virtualized environments, private cloud deployments and full public cloud deployments.

Companies want to be able to deploy them on traditional IT hardware behind the firewall, in private clouds, or even spun-up in seconds in the public cloud. And everything must be able to stay in sync, no matter how an enterprise chooses to deploy, Newton said.

Without some kind of concerted enterprise action this problem is only getting to get worse. Over the past 12 months, multiple studies have shown managing data in the enterprise remains a major challenge.

Even with the emergence of digital business, the focus on enterprise content management for many hasn't changed. From automating paper-based processes, providing consistency around outbound content, addressing compliance and regulatory issues, maintaining intellectual property and enhancing collaboration with colleagues, there remains a great deal to do.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image  by Yogesh Mhatre.