Looking Back at Document Management

Looking back over the year in document management, one thing stands out. And that is that organizations still appear to be struggling under the weight of paper despite developments in enterprise technologies that should make managing all that information a lot easier. 

In fact, the view from December 2013 is much the same as the view was in December 2012, with some subtle but notable changes. The first of those changes is the growing importance of mobile, while the second is the demand for agile products that can respond to changing market conditions quickly.

Content Chaos

It's a safe bet that by the end of 2014 mobility and agility — and ways to enable both — will still dominate. However, maybe by then, more of the large vendors will have responded adequately to market demands. If they don’t, there are many smaller vendors that will.

Indeed, only recently, we explored the role of file sharing in the enterprise content management (ECM) market. We found that when business users determined ECM difficult to use, they moved to agile file sharing vendors like Box or Dropbox to fulfill basic collaboration needs.

But back to 2013. In the middle of the year, AIIM produced its annual industry watch analysis of the document management industry. The findings were based on 538 responses elicited from the AIIM community this past spring.

The report pointed out that ECM and document management space is still mutating. But it also noted that enterprises are still looking for a single system that will do everything they need to do — a challenge because information customers are accessing data in ways the traditional ECM deployments are finding difficult to manage.

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By adopting this one-size-fits-all approach to document and data management, there are large amounts of data that enterprises cannot manage or even identify in their content siloes. This is the so-called "dark’ content" that is creating chaos across enterprises.

What is striking about this is that the situation AIIM describes here is almost exactly the same as it was in 2012. To manage content, many enterprises have adopted either a “head in the sand” approach or have been caught like a deer in the headlights of a car, not knowing what way to turn.

For ECM vendors , this also poses a problem as the questions arises as to where they should be directing themselves and what technologies they should be developing.

The Challenge for ECM

We also saw that this is by no means a new problem. ECM has changed radically in the past 10 years since first rooted itself in the enterprise.

During that time, the report noted, ECM has moved from a tool or set of tools used locally to capture and manage documents to something that is now being used to push content out to both mobile devices and collaborative platforms in all corners of the enterprise and even beyond the firewall.

In practical terms, this translates to a number of questions that enterprises need to answer before they can move forward. They include:

  •  Which systems do we use for collaboration?
  •  Which for document process workflows and for emails?
  • What do we use of long term records management?
  •  Do we consolidate and migrate or connect and federate?
  •  Do we hook up to mobile devices through the firewall or do we use the cloud?

At face value, this poses a real existential crisis. But is it really? Is this any different than the crisis in enterprise information management that has characterized the ECM space since the beginning?

AIIM also identified another major problem that has been haunting the enterprise since the very beginning. In fact, this problem places a question mark over the purpose of document management and ECM systems in the first place.

According to research published August, the paperless office is as far away as it every was. Despite the growing number of technologies that facilitate easy, secure document capture using centralized, disparate and even mobile devices, the move towards the paperless office and processes is tediously slow.

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In fact the research shows that only 5 percent of the processes that could feasibly cut paper out of the workflow in paper-intensive organizations have been put in place.

Despite this, it seems that many enterprises have pushed the drive towards the paperless office much further down the wish list than before.

While this may be understandable in light of the pressure enterprises are under to make their entreprise mobile-friendly, ignoring digitalization has its risks, something Adobe discovered it when went looking to see where its new e-signature purchase, EchoSign, fits into the document management and ECM space.

The Problem With Paper

So what’s so bad about paper — apart from the mess, that is? It seems that more than 50 percent of all managers believe that digital workers are more productive workers and that burrowing through mountains of paper files is a waste of productive work hours.

 Adobe found that not only does paper create problems internally, it is also perceived as something that makes attracting customers more difficult. Some of the figures that emerged from the Adobe research include:

  • Digital workflow makes filing and managing documents easier (51 percent)
  • Working digitally is cheaper than working with paper (61 percent)
  • Digital processes facilitate customer wins and helps develop new business (32 percent)

Document capture is key to digitalizing processes. But over the course of the year, capture and mobile dovetailed to the point that by the end of 2013, enterprise focus shifted to mobile capture..

Enterprises Focus: Cloud, Mobile

This was highlighted by two pieces of research from Gartner and Forrester, respectively, which show that enterprises are prioritizing cloud, mobile and agile applications and are likely to do so for the next few years.

If Forrester’s Wave for Enterprise CMS,describes a market that is healthy, but segmented, Gartner described one that is growing with vendors forced to cater to demands for mobile and cloud capabilities as well as functionality for specific verticals.

This was the principal finding of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Content Management for 2013. It noted the emergence of lightweight cloud environments as vendors try to keep their clients from exploring the increasingly diverse functionality of some of the cloud-based file sharing environments that are quick to deploy and relatively cheap.

The Forrester Wave for ECM concurred with this. It found that ECM vendors are being forced to tweak their products to meet productivity goals in the enterprise. Here, too, Forrester found that flexibility and ease-of-use are now key requirements.

Meanwhile, smaller, functionality specific vendors are starting to eat away at the leadership position of the traditional heavyweights.

One other notable change that Forrester identified is the rate of change across the market. If in the past vendors were able to dictate the pace of change. The result was that change was very slow and probably added to the impression that ECM vendors are monolithic monsters with no place in an agile world.

However, the rise of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service offerings common, deployments are easier and involve a lot less initial capital outlay. The result is that change here is beginning to pick up pace and is likely to be a lot more pronounced in the coming year.

The Rise Of Small Vendors

Running parallel to this is the rise of small vendors who are starting to really punch above their weight. The market to a large extent is being driven by these vendors who are agile and adaptable, and who are developing case-specific content management functionality for enterprises.

Ted Burns of Hyland Software pointed out in that as a result of these changes large enterprises are starting to buy more like mid-market organizations.

They are looking for systems that can be installed much more quickly, modified much more quickly, and which reflect end-user roles and how they work …,” he told us recently.

But does this mean cloud computing and ECM in the cloud? Not really, he said. Over the past two years while we have heard much about the way ECM is heading for the cloud — look at Documentum as an example —it is important to distinguish between ECM cloud computing and the practice of deploying ECM applications in the cloud.

The two should not be confused. Ultimately, ECM will adapt, and if enterprises change they way they buy, or the functionality they are looking for, they will still be buying for the same reason they always did – content and data management.

The demand of agile, cloud-based solutions is driving the business of ECM to such a point that a number of vendors looked set to create a stir over the next year.

Hyland Software is using its foothold in the mid-size business market to push itself into the large enterprise space. However, Alfresco and Box are likely to create some of the really big headlines next year. Both have been clear about their intention to launch an IPO in the near future.

Box is sticking to its guns and should do so sometime in the first half to 2014 and has been building up its functionality and enterprise reach.

For its part, Alfresco really began to push its hybrid on-premises — cloud computing model in the US with the appointment of a new American-based CEO, Doug Dennerlinewho has a long history in Silicon Valley with Salesforce.com and, more recently, as president of SuccessFactors.

While there was talk at the beginning of the year that Alfresco might launch an IPO next year, that seems unlikely now, and could take another three years before it materializes.

These are only three of the dynamic, agile companies that are staring to dominate the market, but there are others — M-Files, which is beginning to make a real impression in North America, springs to mind  who are just as noteworthy and will make for interesting reading in the next 12 months.

The other issue will be how large vendors respond to this agile challenge and how quickly they can do it. If recent history is anything to go by, they won’t be able to respond very quickly at all. How this impacts on their market performance remain to be seen in 2014. Happy New Year!

Title image by Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock).