Information Management, Instead of Fighting Content Management, Simplify It
Here we are in 2013, staring 2014 in the face as the holiday season slowly descends upon us. As I look back over the year, it seems like many others in the Content industry. As I look further back, the years seem to blend together.

That is a problem.

All of us have been hard at work trying to bring rampant content under control. We’ve built and deployed all these systems that are pretty smart when they are used properly. The issue is that they never are used “properly.” Content Management Systems are too hard to use and people tend to skip them altogether unless they are forced into the CMS. This has led us into a cycle of build and replace in the Content Management space.

We always blame the technology right before we decide to bring in the same technology, only with a different vendor label. We hope that it will make a difference but it never does. People still prefer their desktops and network file shares. If we ever want to succeed as an industry, we have to learn how to add a layer of simple on top of our CMSs without losing the smarts that we have worked so hard to create.

The Cloud’s Reality Check

The simple truth is that we have been coasting, if you could call all the pain we’ve caused “coasting.” For years we have been doing the same projects over, lamenting at annual conferences how painful this or that project was. We compared scars as if they were badges of honor. They aren’t.

If it wasn’t for the cloud, we would still be on the exact same trajectory. We would be complaining and trying to find new and innovative ways to “engage the users” in order to “drive adoption.” Lucky for all the people that we subject these smart systems to on a daily basis, the cloud appeared.

I’ve been a CIO and I can tell you that the pervasiveness of vendors like Dropbox and Box is simply amazing. One executive that I helped -- who wasn’t tech savvy in the least -- had DropBox installed on his laptop. It was just a tool that was part of his life. It was simple and made his life easier.

I could pull out any number of stories to show how these cloud apps are spreading virally. Vendors claim Fortune 500 penetration in the 90 percentile range while studies by AIIM show that almost 20 percent of IT shops claim to block those services. I believe the vendors because that mobile phone carried by the average knowledge worker doubles as a wifi hotspot.

Block that.

Our New Direction

To be honest with you, we are lucky. It is not easy to build a system that provides as much power as most CMSs out there. Even with feature bloat -- a very real problem -- it takes years to begin to hit a level of maturity where the feature section of an acquisition process becomes a trivia competition.

Learning Opportunities

That is the hill facing the cloud vendors. They are simple to use which makes adoption rapid. They just aren’t that smart yet. They have a very clear map of requirements, but delivering them in a way that keeps their tools simple for people to use is going to be a challenge.

All the traditional vendors need to rethink their approach. They need to make what is delivered now simple. They need to take all of the smarts that organizations love and make them simple enough to use that people are more than happy to use them.

Practitioners, those of us with the scars, have a key role. We need to focus on delivering simple. Projects are challenging because we deliver complexity. We need to deliver simplicity that protects people from the complex brains built into our solutions.

We are only going to get a few more chances to do this correctly. Soon, the cloud vendors will have built their solutions out to meet the needs of most organizations. They have a lot of money and they are spending freely. It is time for us to wake up and realize that things are not just changing.

They have already changed.

Title image courtesy of Constance Abram/independent youth (Flickr) via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

Editor's Note: Read more from Laurence in The Cloud, Making Content Management Omnipresent