Content management is going through a significant change driven by factors like cloud computing, machine learning and the push towards content services. I've been speaking to leaders in the content management field to get their take on the transformation underway and hear where they think the industry will go next. Today we speak with Chris McLaughlin, chief marketing officer at Nuxeo, provider of a content services platform. As CMO, McLaughlin guides Nuxeo's go-to-market strategy and is responsible for all aspects of Nuxeo's marketing worldwide.
Businesses Striving to Differentiate Based on Customer Experience
Lane Severson: It’s an exciting time in the content management industry. Businesses are adopting capabilities like cloud and machine learning, and developing innovative ways of working like DevOps and agile to experiment and deploy new solutions more quickly. It seems like we might be at an inflection point where we start seeing something that could legitimately be described as transformational. What are you seeing in the industry that gets you excited these days?
Chris McLaughlin: There are lots of reasons to get excited about the content management industry today. Indeed, you used the term “transformational,” so let’s talk about some things we are seeing that are, in fact, truly transformational.
First, there is a renewed focus on the customer experience. Many would argue that maintaining a superior customer experience is the one true source of sustainable competitive differentiation. More and more customers are coming to us asking how they can better utilize their content — and the information they already have about their customers — to provide a superior customer experience.
You mentioned agile and DevOps and you mentioned that businesses are experimenting and deploying new solutions more quickly. They absolutely are: this is another transformational trend that excites us at Nuxeo. Customers are building new apps and services completely differently than before. Today it is all about low-code development and rapidly assembling microservices to build new and compelling applications.
What is exciting for us is that content is often a critical microservice for these new apps. Many customer interactions begin and end with content. So, as businesses are seeking to be more agile in how they develop and deploy new apps, next-generation content services solutions are playing a critical role, either as a key component of a larger app or as the platform upon which new content-centric apps are built.
Lastly, if we are talking about compelling customer experiences and bridging across silos as well as microservices and building apps in entirely new ways, then the other key trend we have to talk about is modernization. Simply put, our customers are looking for new content capabilities to help drive their digital transformation initiatives. Legacy ECM [enterprise content management] solutions aren’t going to get them where they want to go.
Yes, cloud and machine learning are exciting and new. But, a next-generation content services platform should be architected for the cloud, not retrofitted for it. Machine learning should be a building block for new business solutions, not simply a fun tool for tagging images. This is why customers want more. And this is why customers are looking to modernize their content capabilities with modern solutions like Nuxeo.
Severson: When I think about the issues that come up every time I talk to a client, both information security and customer privacy are at the top of the list. Do you see anyone who is really cracking the code on this issue? What are best-in-class firms doing to address this issue with content management?
McLaughlin: Information security and customer data privacy are issues too large to be addressed solely by any one content services provider. However, I believe that content services technologies do play a critical role here. And a couple of leading trends spring to mind when speaking about security and privacy.
The first is around accountability and highly granular auditability. Simply put, one way to ensure information security and customer data privacy is to be able to ensure accountability on the part of those who have access to that information. Content services platforms offer highly granular audit capabilities that enable us to know who had access to what content and when. Unfortunately, most security breaches are not the result of external agents or “hacks,” but are instead the work of people authorized to access the system. Therefore, ensuring accountability through detailed audit information is a key point of control.
Second, with regard to data privacy, we have been working with some of our financial services customers around an innovative concept that ultimately gives their customers control over their own information. With this approach, customer information is encrypted with a key that is specific to the customer. If the customer then requests to revoke access to this information — say under a subject-access-request for GDPR — you can simply revoke the key and all of the related customer information becomes instantly inaccessible across any number of systems and solutions.
Content Projects Move Beyond Archiving
Severson: Gartner claimed last year that ECM is dead and content services are the way of the future. In my mind ECM has always been a strategy that had a variety of technologies that supported it. But semantics aside, how do you see a content services approach providing value to the industry?
McLaughlin: I agree, it’s not semantics. Way back when we started down the ECM path, it was a strategy for better managing all types of unstructured information. Somewhere along the way it became synonymous with a set of technologies and an entire industry.
That being said, what I believe Gartner means is that the previous approach employed by vendors to address ECM is dead and that customers are looking for newer, more modern solutions that better meet the needs of today’s enterprises. So, let’s talk about the legacy approach to ECM and then why content services is different.
Most legacy ECM offerings feature a single repository and are based on dated, client-server architectures that scale vertically on expensive hardware. They typically offer a suite of applications, many of which have been cobbled together from the vendor’s acquisitions. They feature proprietary technologies and, while many now offer RESTful APIs, they are largely closed systems and are difficult and expensive for clients to integrate. Indeed, they were really designed to manage text-based documents and images. In short, the ECM approach was to get all of your documents and images into a single system and then provide a robust, but expensive, set of tools with which to manage your content.
The modern content services approach is fundamentally different. It recognizes that content will live in a variety of different places and provides broad connectivity to different systems and content repositories. It is built on a modern, cloud-native architecture that can be readily deployed anywhere and scales efficiently on commodity hardware. It features open, standards-based APIs and a flexible metadata model that makes it easy to integrate with virtually any other modern application. It offers out-of-the-box connectivity to a broad array of common business and productivity apps to deliver content wherever it is needed. The modern content services approach supports agile development and DevOps, providing a low-code platform for rapidly building content-centric apps. And, of course, it provides robust capabilities to manage both text and non-text content types, such as audio and video.
Regardless of type or where it is stored, the content services approach is to provide access to all content for any app, process, service or solution that needs it.
Severson: A huge failure of content management projects in the past was the focus on just archiving a final copy of a piece of content after the business process was over. Don’t you think that the magic happens when you combine flexible process engines and a scalable archive?
McLaughlin: Static content that sits in an archive typically doesn’t add a lot of value to an organization. However, there are times when a simple archive can fulfill a critical need. For example, many financial services organizations are required, by regulation, to keep vital records and information for a designated period of time and are subject to stiff fines and penalties if they don’t. Similarly, oil and gas companies and utilities rely on archives to provide ready access to critical information, like SOPs and emergency shutdown procedures. That being said, yes, the “magic” does happen when you marry process and content and this is why Content Services Platforms combine core process and content management capabilities.
I’ve always maintained there are two different types of content-centric processes: those that consume content and those that create content. The former tend to be more structured, transactional processes that are driven by content. Think of your typical loan origination or claims process where various content items enable a loan officer or claims processor to make a decision about granting a loan or handling a claim. The latter tend to be more dynamic, collaborative processes that are designed to produce more complex content. Think also of a clinical trial for a pharmaceutical company or of a large-scale engineering project for a hydroelectric dam or nuclear power plant.
At Nuxeo we’re really focused on enabling knowledge workers to be more productive, bringing better information to business decisions, and providing new insights to transform businesses. This happens at the nexus of content and process, when we move beyond simply storing information and actually put content to work.
An Intelligent Approach to Digital Transformation
Severson: Everyone wants to “digitally transform” their business. That means different things to different people. But at the core, organizations face challenges with their siloed processes and legacy technology investments and somehow they need to turn those challenges into opportunities. What tips can you offer to organizations struggling with this issue?
McLaughlin: Here are some quick tips and words of advice: First, begin with your customers and work backwards. Work to understand their unique needs and how best to service them and then deploy new products, services and solutions to meet those needs. Focus on the customer experience and on providing the best possible service. Remember also that your customers and their service needs may be fundamentally different than those of your latest competitor, so don’t get distracted by every new startup or app in your industry.
Secondly, selectively modernize your infrastructure. If your legacy technology investments are holding you back, invest in new technologies. But don’t buy into the fallacy that this means all of your previous investments need to be migrated to those new technologies or platforms. Take a more intelligent approach and move what you need to move. If you have something that works and it isn’t keeping you from transforming your business, leave it where it is. Legacy platforms can be expensive to manage and maintain, but they are also expensive to migrate. Look for newer technologies that can connect to and federate information from your existing systems without forcing you to migrate everything. Look also for new platforms that will enable you to quickly and easily build the new apps and solutions that will enable your transformation.
Finally, learn from the competition without chasing them. Devise transformational strategies that fit into your business, not into theirs. If you are an established global insurer with a value proposition that combines multiple policies for higher net worth individuals, then trying to chase a startup FinTech company that focuses solely on offering instant decisions on renters’ insurance is probably not a winning approach. However, learning how companies like these startups are building new apps and reinventing customer experiences is a great way to lay the foundation for your own organizational transformation.
One other thing that startups do right: they aren’t afraid to try new things and fail fast. Look for ways to build a culture that rewards experimentation and encourages people to stretch to the point of failure.
Severson: What would it look like if you were to imagine really good AI working in concert with all of these elements of content management we’ve been discussing?
McLaughlin: First and foremost, we don’t really need to imagine this, because Nuxeo has been using AI with our platform for well over a year now. We are in what I view as the second phase of AI adoption.
Our first phase began with AI technologies like Google Vision and Amazon Rekognition. Using these algorithms we have been able to “tag” images and videos that are loaded into the Nuxeo platform. This has been valuable, especially for our digital asset management customers, because it automates the process for loading new content, or assets, into Nuxeo. Machine learning technologies do a much more thorough job of describing content than users typically do. And that can make content and assets easier to find and reuse in the future.
In phase two, we have been focused on metadata extraction and enrichment. One of the key challenges of content management has always been that it can be very labor intensive to add content to a content management system. So, we are using third-party AI technologies, along with our own proprietary models, to create a trainable engine for metadata extraction. By being able to accurately identify and apply metadata to content, we can both automate the process by which new content is added to the system as well as greatly enrich the metadata for existing content. This is true in both our system or in other systems that we connect to and federate.
We also have begun to experiment with natural language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis, which we think can be incredibly valuable for case and correspondence management.
However, our industry is only in the early phases with AI. Ultimately at Nuxeo we imagine a world in which users won’t have to manually add content to a content management system. We imagine a world in which critical content and vital corporate records will be identified automatically and will be curated appropriately. We also imagine a world in which content management systems understand your role, your preferences, and what information you need to be effective. And that information will be delivered to you when you need it and how you need it. We also imagine learning business processes which intelligently adapt to changing circumstances and learn to automate routine actions and decisions.
In short, we envision a future where knowledge workers are freed from routine and manual activities, and can focus on more vital and transformational activities.