The Real Story Group published its annual report on the enterprise content management industry last week. We talked to Real Story Group (RSG) Principal Alan Pelz-Sharpe, who outlined some of the main findings and who argues that the industry has already passed a turning point which will result in some established and newer trends gaining ground in the year to come.

The first thing to be said, apart from the fact that it has turned a corner, is that the document management industry is growing, says Pelz-Sharpe. The RSG research shows that far from hitting the industry, the current recession has seen many enterprises sticking with traditional vendors.

Pelz-Sharpe also points to the level of activity in and around newer cloud-based offerings. Enterprises looking for solutions that provide efficiencies to carry out their business dealings with reduced work forces see the cloud-based offerings as one possible solution.

There is also a growing awareness amongst enterprises of the need to manage their information resources better. While many will recognize the need for change, companies will be looking at specific areas where they need to change -- an example being the need for better payroll administration -- and as often as not, this requires specific solutions, rather than monolithic systems that cover everything.

The result is that 2012 will be the year when applications come into their own, a trend we noted late last year in Forrester’s ECM Wave report.

Pelz-Sharpe goes on to focus on a number of areas where considerable change is taking place and will continue to take place over the course of the year:

SharePoint

SharePoint, including SharePoint 2010, has found its niche. There was tremendous excitement around both the 2007 and 2010 releases, but it has found its place and the world has moved on.

In many respects, the selling point of SharePoint when it was released was that Microsoft was able to market it as something that was easier to use than other systems, but the emerging cloud-based products are out-SharePointing SharePoint and pushing themselves as applications that are easier to use and manage than SharePoint.

Pelz-Sharpe goes on to say that with the recession, enterprises are also looking to perform more process orientated work: they need to manage contracts or correspondence. While SharePoint definitely plays a role in those work streams and enterprises are using the workflow capabilities, it is not a business process management application per se.

He says that when we talk of business process management (BPM) applications, we are talking generally about a big process engine with execution language and thousands of processes running every hour. In these scenarios, SharePoint doesn’t really have a role.

Enterprises are looking for BPM to better manage the time of their workers. They are also looking for more visibility about who is doing what with any contract at any point in time, and what stage the contract is in. SharePoint won’t provide the level of detail that this requires.

Document Management

Pelz-Sharpe observes that for straightforward document management, enterprises are either going to already proven traditional vendors or sticking with what they have and improving it as needed.

Businesses can see a clear value in document management. If there is a problem in the enterprise, it is easy to see how a document management system will provide the solution for their problem. With the newer social technologies, the case is not so obviously clear.

While document management may not have the glamor of social applications or social media in general, it can provide an obvious answer to an obvious problem. He points to how enterprises are looking to the low risk and easy deployment that these traditional vendors provide to solve their problems.

There is one caveat here, he says. There is also considerable interest in cloud-based file sharing applications like those from Box, ShareFile or Huddle to provide file sharing across the enterprise where enterprises are looking for collaboration functionality, while SharePoint, if you look closely, is being used in a lot of instances as an electronic file cabinet.

As a result, Pelz-Sharpe concludes, document management  provides enterprises with a way of doing more with less human resources, and in a recession where enterprises are employing less staff, it's coming into its own.

Mobile

It would be hard to pinpoint any trends in any technology at the moment without mobile technologies being mentioned, and the area of enterprise content management is no exception.

However, Pelz-Sharpe says, there is a problem that companies are only starting to identify and that has little to do with the technologies themselves.

Mobile workforces will definitely grow over the coming year, but how much of that is accidental rather than planned remains to be seen.

Large organizations are taking the growth in mobile technologies very seriously, mainly as a result of the proliferation of devices and the fact that employees are trying to access content through them.

Whether they should be doing that or not is one issue, Pelz-Sharpe continues, but it's also important to remember that the mobile workforce is not just sales people anymore. Mobility has reached right across the enterprise from the highest executives down.

The result is that changes to mobile document management will have to happen at an organizational level, rather than at a technology level, as to a large extent the technologies are there to enable this kind of working.

Pelz-Sharpe says the question is not whether the technology is mobile compatible, but whether the organization is mobile compatible. By this he means whether the organization has installed technologies that make it possible.

The reality is that in most cases the bigger products have multiple systems, multiple silos, multiple security directories and multiple levels of importance. The management issues here are enormous, the most important of which is the development of a coherent strategy to make mobile access possible.

Questions that need to be answered are "how difficult is it to access all the systems I need from a mobile device? Does the company want them to work together, and do they want them bundled into a portal environment?"

Pelz-Sharpe points to this is the biggest strategic challenge that organizations have had in the ten years since enterprise architecture was an issue, and asserts that while companies are working on this, it will be three or four years down the road before coherent strategies emerge.

HP and Autonomy

One of the most striking deals of the year in the information management space was HP’s acquisition of Autonomy.  We have already seen a lot of confusion following the US$ 11 billion deal and questions of what to expect from it have arisen.

Pelz-Sharpe says that confusion has yet to be resolved, but believes there could well be some nasty surprises in store for enterprises directly affected over the coming year, making this is one of the issues to follow.

The concern is not around what will happen with IDOL and how it will work within the HP stable -- we have already seen it add IDOL to TRIM -- but the question that no one in HP has yet answered what will happen to all of the products purchased through this deal and what will happen to enterprises that are currently using Autonomy products.

Autonomy bought a lot of companies before it was bought by HP and there are a lot of people using those products. The concerns are how these assets will be looked after and what will happen to those customers who bought multiple products.

Is HP going to continue investing in them, is it going to support the customers spin them off or will it close them down? Pelz-Sharpe says in the current climate at HP, it is unlikely that all these will be supported and that quite a number of Autonomy customers are likely to get a nasty surprise over the course of the year.

Documentum

Also to watch over the year is the evolution of Documentum. It is EMC’s stated intention to bring the whole thing to the cloud and that process is likely to continue over the coming year.

The next major release -- the core content server will be cloud-based -- and how that plays out is anyone’s guess, even the people in EMC.

He adds that as Documentum has a huge install base, it will take a long time to change over, but new customers will be cloud-based from the word go. It will stop being sold on premise over the next two to three years, although the older customers with on-premise installations will be supported for the length of their lifetime.

There’s a lot more in the Real Media Group report on what’s likely to happen over the course of the year, so it's worth a look. Unlike many similar reports, this one is focused on user needs rather than vendors, so if you’re looking at investing, it is definitely a helpful read. It can be bought for US$ 875 from RSG and is available for immediate download.