happy dog through a magnifying glass
Microsoft's announcements during the recent Virtual Summit reflected broader changes in information management and the digital workplace PHOTO: Rodion Kutsaev

A change has been afoot in the information management and digital workplace space which anyone who has attended a conference in the last year can attest to.

Whether during the recent SharePoint Virtual Summit, various AIIM conferences, the J. Boye conference in Aarhus, Denmark last fall or others, some broad trends have emerged that I think are worth discussing. The changes Microsoft announced for Office 365 and SharePoint Online during the recent summit provide a nice lens to examine the broader topics.

1. Office 365 Is Replacing Stand-Alone Monolithic ECMs

I don't subscribe to this view 100 percent, but think we can agree the enterprise content management (ECM) market is continuing to consolidate. Many jokes were made at the AIIM conference about where ECM products go to retire ....

SharePoint Online and OneDrive together still don't offer the breadth of features to replace legacy stand-alone systems in niche use cases such as pharmaceutical, aerospace engineering or legal. However, with every release, SharePoint matures as a document management platform and its metadata management has shown significant progress. 

With ecosystem partners providing add-ons to compensate for missing pieces, and the maturation of new offerings such as Flow and PowerApps, even if Office 365 does not replace all of the legacy repositories for a large enterprise, like any good cloud product it could provide an integration layer over the top of them. And for small to medium businesses, it could be all they ever need. 

2. Putting Employees First and Developing a Comprehensive Digital Workplace

Last fall at J. Boye Aarhus someone suggested the potentially heretical notion that companies should put employees first, not the customer. Virgin's Sir Richard Branson has been saying this for some time, but J. Boye was probably the first time I heard it within the context of the digital workplace. 

The concept makes sense. Employees who are engaged and empowered with the right tools and access to the right information will provide good customer service and act as brand ambassadors.

The Office365 suite, when used in total as with the top tier enterprise licenses, provides the core of a full digital workplace. Delve, Outlook, SharePoint and OneDrive, Teams and Planner, Flow and PowerApps, Power BI, Yammer and Skype for Business: it’s all there for you to build a highly collaborative digital workplace, with Groups placed firmly at the center of the action. (Or at least a digital workplace for "knowledge workers" — someone with more integration experience will have to tell me how difficult or easy it is to integrate third party apps for task-based process workers to get work done.)

3. Consumerization of IT and Information Overload

We hear a lot about how workers need everything available on mobile these days. Apps are where its at and we should all get used to playing with working on lots of different apps.  

Again, I don't completely agree with this premise. 

We've seen a lot of start up activity aimed at integrating or aggregating data from the multiplying sources we work with, in part because the app proliferation is resulting in complications for workers searching for information. 

And while the SharePoint Online app provides a nice user experience for Team sites and the new Communications sites, I don’t think the mobile option is that easy if you have built an enterprise portal, especially an on premises one. 

Microsoft has released new Graph APIs which will help its hybrid strategy and may help bridge this on premises / in the cloud divide. Delve offers another potential solution. The solution is available on desktop or mobile, and if its machine learning works as promised, it holds the potential to deliver a truly personalized portal, surfacing the information and data from my specialist line of business apps.

4. Business Process Management Flows into Robotic Process Automation

SharePoint workflows built in SharePoint Designer have always lagged behind specialist add-on tools like K2 and Nintex — and that's OK. SharePoint was never sold as a business process management suite, complete with simulation and process optimization functionality. 

However, with Flow for Office365 and PowerApps, automation in the Microsoft cloud stack could move up to the next level. While Flow allows for simple use cases such as document approval workflows and more, the addition of PowerApps — which can still be seen as more of a business power user 'script writing' toolkit rather than a full-on software development platform — can take business users to the next level without getting IT involved.

5. Security Trumps Everything

Joe Shepley, fellow CMSWire contributor and VP at DocuLabs, recently gave a talk about subsuming all information management functions under the information security umbrella. He said he's already seeing this happen with his clients. 

Information security should always play a BIG role in our industry, and in the entire digital world for that matter, so this could indeed be a needed paradigm shift.  

As information management evolved from divisional records management to enterprise-level evangelism, it has rarely (if ever) received funding for programs based on the argument that great information management practices provide a great business benefit for the organization. 

So if we'll get funded by turning the message to great information management is actually a risk mitigation exercise, to ensure when we a breach happens we know what has been taken and can act appropriately, then I say sure, let's all go work for the CISO.  

Looking at this through our Microsoft lens, some organizations might suggest putting their information in the Microsoft cloud increases such risk, but with encryption at rest and secure key management, data loss prevention, information rights management, and enhanced access control with multi-factor authentication plus consideration of data sovereignty requirements, you may find Microsoft's cloud services offer a cost effective way of boosting your security and reducing risk.

With changes like those mentioned above and more changes inevitably to come, one thing we can all agree on: working in the information management field these days is definitely not dull.