The very nature of content is changing. After years of convergence and consolidation, we're seeing a new way of thinking about enterprise content management (ECM) emerge -- what's possible and what it means for business.

The future of ECM is Deep Content. This new form of information-rich content is highly-structured and human-readable, yet also computer-ready. With deep content, metadata is often content, often very structured and nested, and sometimes carrying very large payloads. 

If you take a step back and look around, how many old paper-based or paper-inherited process do you see? They are everywhere in the corporate and government world.

The deep content approach offers tremendous value. It transforms documents into software in order to improve the way we work, create new lines of business and get a new level of insight, agility and actionability on business processes.

From ECM to Deep Content

To understand where we are going, we need to understand where we came from.

ECM is an umbrella term used to describe a set of related but different disciplines: document management (which evolved from records management), case management (which evolved from workflow and document management) and digital asset management. These three disciplines have slowly converged to manage digital files, be that pictures, scanned paper, archived electronic documents or pictures. 

Web content management and customer experience management are different categories of software than ECM, closer to marketing automation than ECM. 

Let’s look at some of the shifts in software solutions that are changing the traditional landscape of ECM.

One area causing excitement is in where files and assets are stored and how they are managed. Extended file sharing's emergence aimed to help us share and collaborate easily. ERoom and SharePoint pioneered this area, only to be replaced by Dropbox, Box, SharePoint Online, Google Drive and gazillions of other followers.

This technology changes the way we work together. Solutions like these are mobile driven and strive to make the cloud our new hard drive. And judging from the adoption rates, they are succeeding. This file-driven content contains very little metadata, and in the cases when metadata is present, it isn’t anywhere close to the user -- for good reason.

So that's the first major piece of the new ECM market: where to put the files.

The other major part of ECM hasn't dramatically changed. It's the metadata-heavy, highly-structured, information-centric, often process-driven content. It's how we store information in a way that's usable by software. It’s traditional document management and case management content applications.

Over the next year, three major trends will change this:

The Cloud

We all produce content online, often using web or mobile applications. This content is naturally structured from inception. What used to be Microsoft Office forms (or worse, paper forms) are now web forms and, amazingly, this content is structured.

Even taking a picture with our phones to post on Instagram automatically generates a hundred pieces of metadata without us thinking about it. So people now produce a massive amount of metadata (either knowingly or not). More and more this metadata is becoming the content itself, which holds tremendous value.

Big Data

Big Data is about analyzing massive stores and large streams of data to find patterns, identify trends or detect fraud / non-compliance. Once the analysis is done, it outputs very rich, very deep content that people need to exploit -- whether by sharing it, collaborating on it or working on it. This content isn't anywhere close to a Word file, it's highly structured content that we can use to feed collaborative processes, sharing rules, search engines and custom applications.

Internet of Things

Wearables are starting to create a massive amount of data and content. We're still in early days for this trend, but can already see interesting applications.

Take an early example: body cameras for police officers. These wearables attach to a police officer's uniform to record everything taking place. This has great potential to change the way evidence is presented in court cases. The device records long video streams, which include many other bits of information such as position, speed, etc., creating content with rich metadata. 

Surveillance drones are a similar example. Other IoT-type applications will provide this large amount of information with complex, rich information and content structure. We haven’t even seen what the Apple Watch will bring to the table.

These major trends drive change in the nature of content, the depth of information and how people expect to interact with it in the enterprise. A system designed when a 100KB tiff file was large cannot handle this. These new models, structure and nature of content bring an impressive range of new applications, but also place pressure on content management systems and their ability to handle today’s business depth and complexity.

Businesses also need to enable people to interact with this content in new ways. This is becoming live data, that needs to be served interactively in very different contexts (including mobile, among others). The average document management or record management application deployed over the past 10 years is mainly storing frozen content. And we're not talking about consumer applications, but core applications for the enterprise.

The Age of Deep Content

Deep content can be described as "software eating documents." It's the way documents are represented in a digital world, where we can remove the physical metaphor and boundaries of content to embrace the fact that it's software. We no longer need to stay limited by paper-inspired processes (in many document management applications we still discuss terms like cabinets or fileplans!). Now we can go all digital and reinvent processes without these inherited physical limits and without carrying metaphors from the “real” world.

To take it one step further, deep content is what enables the digital transformation of human processes. It's the way to link people and computers easily (try that with a Word document) so they can work on the same information. It’s the future of content and it will dramatically reshape the ECM industry. We've already started with file management and now we are seeing it with the rest of the stack.

How many developers are using new platforms, or bare NoSQL databases and a custom stack to create new repositories? Or to ask the question in another way: how many developers would start their new content-heavy application, delivered as SaaS through the cloud, on a major legacy platform? None.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image  by  marfis75