The enterprise content management system as we know it is about to undergo a transformation and take on a new purpose.

Content management vendors have been scrambling to throw as much social technology as they can into their systems by inserting a social engagement layer on top of the existing document repositories that have long been a fundamental necessity of the modern enterprise.

But the sea change of social applications for business use was underway long before these vendors added comments, “likes” and activity streams to the CMS. What’s more interesting is to ask why they are scrambling to add social and collaboration functionality. Why have they been trying to move even closer to the end-users?

Today’s workforce increasingly makes its own choices about which applications to use for productivity and social. Consumerization and BYOD have severely limited the opportunity for existing IT-centric content management vendors to move into the social and collaboration market in any meaningful way. It’s not about selling to the IT department anymore; it’s about appealing to an entirely new type of workforce that was bred during the rise of the service economy.

Employees are calling the shots these days. There’s no doubt about that. But how are they changing the role of content management? Here are the two big trends I’m seeing.

The Reign of End-Users and the Invisible CMS

Dropbox has over 50 million users that upload over a billion files every two days. Box has 11 million active users, penetration into 82 percent of the Fortune 500 and there’s an endless influx of new “Dropbox for the enterprise” players. Evernote has 20 million users and the list goes on.

Employees are choosing their own productivity applications and the adoption rates are putting even some of the most successful enterprise applications to shame.

The traditional enterprise content management market can do little to stop this. And few consumer-workers will choose a heavy IT-centric content management system over newer, cooler options that have consumer technology DNA at their core.

As employees use an ever-increasing array of apps to do their work, the enterprise content management players are going to have to find ways to get content to the end-points (read: apps) that employees rely upon the most. Box OneCloud is a great example of this strategy in action. It puts all of your content at the fingertips of employees who spend their days in a variety of unique, but integrated applications.

If you’re a sales executive working in Salesforce most of the time, you should be able to access much of the content you need without leaving that ecosystem. Why? Because jumping through hoops to access your content interrupts your workflow, and hinders productivity.

The same goes for the VP of Marketing, who wants to access content while working in Omniture, or the Director of Operations who wants to pull up the revenue projections while working in Freshbooks so that she can save back revised data and share it with the CEO.

Sure, that means the Enterprise CMS needs to integrate with thousands of endpoints. But the upside is that your technology now fits your users like a glove and your CMS gives you one system that can serve many users in just the ways that make sense for them.

In effect, the CMS goes with you, no matter what productivity apps you prefer to use. In fact the app becomes the interface for the CMS, which is nearly invisible in the background.

The more apps an employee chooses to use outside of the IT department’s offerings, the more we need to rely on the Enterprise CMS to tie everything together in the background.

Engagement Trumps Access In a Service Economy

The USA and European Union have undergone a fundamental shift over the past few decades. We now operate in a service economy. In fact, in 2011 the services sector made up as much as 75 percent of the US gross domestic product.

In the early days of the service economy, the typical employee spent a lot of time on low-level information processing of some sort, like signing and filing documents, or organizing a library of digital content. Today we’ve managed to automate a lot of that legwork and now we spend our time sharing knowledge and creating new ideas.

That’s why engagement with other human beings (instead of access to information) has become the focal point of modern business. Think of all the tools we use to collaborate now: Skype, Yammer, Jive, phone calls, SMS, MMS, whiteboarding apps, comment systems, activity streams and so on.

The difference between knowledge sharing and information processing is significant. The Enterprise CMS has always been great for information processing and organization. But it never gained steam as the collaboration hub that many vendors imagined.

Knowledge implies that you are utilizing personal and organizational context to add value on top of some foundational information. Thus, today’s employees have good reason to utilize newer social technologies that were purpose-built for this function -- these collaboration apps help them to add value on top of foundational information.


I would go so far as to say that knowledge and ideas are the means of production in the modern economy. By fostering collaboration across all the people that form an organization's collective knowledge we are generating economic value, net-new services that other people will pay for.

Engagement and collaboration are how we make the magic happen. Content management wasn’t built for this, however, it still has an important job to do.

The Enterprise CMS As Connective Tissue

The Enterprise CMS has the potential to become the connective tissue for other apps that foster the type of social engagement the workforce needs right now. It needs to push information to the fringes of your business, where your employees are engaged and creating value.

Some vendors will fight against this trend, but end users won’t accept anything less than choice and variety in their productivity apps and one CMS is never going to keep pace with today’s vast app stores and developer ecosystems.

Thus, the Enterprise CMS as we know it will recede into the background and establish itself as the foundational element, the connective tissue of every productivity, social and collaboration application that modern end-users access on a daily basis.

The Enterprise CMS is by no means dead ... I would argue that it’s moving on to its next life as something much more important. It’s becoming the humble servant of the enterprise; the software that gives meaning, purpose and validity to the bevy of new social and collaborative apps that business users are adopting at great scale.

That’s sounds like a big job and a big market opportunity to me.