Mobile is the next great frontier for ECM. It's also going to be incredibly disruptive. Here's why. 

Managing Enterprise Content Management

Vendors have traditionally taken a heavy-handed approach to the "management" part of ECM, locking down content and dictating its movement through highly structured workflows. This made sense in the client-server paradigm, where security meant keeping information and collaboration within the firewall.

But over the last few years, the needs of today's organizations have changed dramatically: the workplace has exploded beyond the office walls, and workers increasingly need to be able to access and share crucial business content from anywhere, on any device.

To help realize the vision of the mobile workforce, ECM vendors need to fundamentally rethink their philosophy on what it means to "manage," building platforms that enable -- rather than restrict -- the extensibility of content.

The Demand for Mobile is Everywhere

The demand for mobile access to business tools and information is coming from the bottom-up and top-down -- users and IT departments alike are seeking solutions that extend securely beyond the desktop. Knowledge workers naturally expect the devices that they use in their personal lives -- iPhone, Android, Blackberry -- to facilitate productivity at work.

Forrester estimates that by the end of 2010, 30% of employees will have downloaded at least one business application on to a smartphone they use for work. Forward-thinking IT departments are also looking to enable a more mobile workforce: approximately half of North American and European companies support a multiplatform mobile strategy, so while Blackberry is still the dominant device when it comes to IT endorsement, platforms like iOS, Android and Windows Mobile are rapidly gaining a legitimate foothold in the enterprise.

What Does This Mean for ECM Vendors?

It means that vendors that do not embrace mobile are out of step with a massive transformation taking place in the enterprise, and those that do will have a significant competitive advantage. And given the explosion of different device types being adopted by prosumers and supported by innovative IT departments, having a mobile strategy that's limited to a single platform -- for instance, if SharePoint were only to support Windows Mobile -- is not going to cut it.

The winning solutions will be platform agnostic, catering to the heterogenity of devices in today's and tomorrow's organizations. When making technology purchasing decisions, IT departments are already beginning to evaluate software solutions beyond their desktop capabilities. Across software categories, solutions like Yammer, GoToMeeting, Salesforce, Jive and Logmein are all offering customized mobile applications -- given the central role that content plays in all business activities, it is absolutely imperative that ECM solutions follow suit.

The New Challenge for ECM

Here's the challenge: as mentioned earlier, traditional ECM systems have been built to control content, not extend it. Furthermore, feature-bloated platforms that are tied to on-premise servers won't translate well to a mobile environment, where users require a streamlined, digestible presentation of information that can be accessed in the fewest taps.

This is a problem, but it's also an incredible opportunity to rethink and redesign how content is presented and consumed. Across software categories, the mobile phone's form and inherent size limitations are helping to accelerate a broader shift from cumbersome, overloaded platforms to more streamlined, user-friendly and sexier business applications.

When designing for a mobile environment, vendors need to decide which functionalities are most important to the mobile worker, making it easy for users to access, share and collaborate around content. They should think about how content is presented and surfaced -- is a lengthy file hierarchy useful, or will a real-time newsfeed of the latest content and collaboration activities better surface information?

Mobile + ECM + Cloud

Mobile devices are also a huge driving force for cloud technologies, because they're the device category that makes the cloud absolutely necessary. We are closer to the promise of the mobile workforce than ever before, with near-ubiquitous internet access and a broad array of sophisticated mobile devices, and cloud-based software solutions that don't rely on local storage and are extensible to mobile devices are the last crucial piece. Cloud content management solutions that support mobile platforms will eradicate local storage issues, and with open platforms also offer limitless possibilities for integrations with mobile productivity suites like QuickOffice, or CRM solutions like Salesforce mobile.

Mobility is the next great frontier for ECM, but it means that vendors will need to create more streamlined, simplified and user-friendly interfaces. It demands that they become platform agnostic, even at the risk of offending their own ecosystems. And it requires a new form of delivery: ECM vendors are just now embracing the cloud; going "all in" will be essential to offering a meaningful mobile strategy that empowers a truly mobile workforce. 

Follow our continuing coverage of Information Management Agility including: