busy intersection filled with people holding umbrellas
Digital transformation and content management may seem at odds, but they intersect on an important point: the customer experience PHOTO: Alex Block

At first glance, “content management” and “digital transformation” would seem to be terms headed in opposite directions.

As we bring 2017 to a close, it will come as a surprise to no one that the enterprise content management (ECM) world has been on a bit of a roller coaster. How could it be otherwise when Gartner started the year with the pronouncement that “ECM is now dead.” And in case that wasn't clear enough, Gartner analyst Michael Woodbridge helpfully amplified his message by adding that ECM is “kaput, finite, an ex-market name, at least in how Gartner defines the market.”

Putting ECM to Bed

Now this didn’t really come as a surprise to me, nor frankly do I really disagree with it. A personal note: I got caught in a bit of whirlwind back in early 2015 with a report titled “Content Management 2020: Thinking Beyond ECM” that featured the somewhat evocative subtitle, “When Riding a Dead Horse, Dismount!” Well, at least it was evocative in the content management field.

But still, Gartner’s “dead” commentary put a bit of an exclamation point on the utility of ECM as a market-defining term.

Digital Transformation Rides the Wave

It has also been an interesting year for “digital transformation,” but for different reasons. Compared with attitudes toward content management, sentiment around digital transformation is headed in the opposite direction. 2017 brought a continuing crescendo of voices hailing “digital transformation.” And that crescendo shows little sign of abating, at least if one looks at the Google search trend on the term over the past five years:

mentions of "Digital Transformation" on the rise

Unfortunately, the very real need for digital transformation in the face of massive current and looming technology-driven disruption has gotten somewhat confused in the face of countless assaults by marketing teams labelling everything under the sun as “digital transformation.” I’m reminded of some of our past marketing overindulgences. It wasn’t that long ago that I walked by a scanner on a show floor with a big sign that said, “The Knowledge Management Scanner,” whatever that means.

The Common Thread: Radically Redefined Experiences

We spent a fair amount of time at AIIM this year discussing both content management and digital transformation. And as we move into 2018, I’d like to try harder to connect the dots between the two, and in the process hopefully give a bit of new life, new meaning and clarity to each. I think customer experiences (and I’m including both external customers and employees in this definition) are at the core of this renaissance and this intersection.

Most organizations and departments have a mandate to continually improve operations. A conventional “change agenda” involves better tools and technology, better behaviors and better processes, all focused on generating better efficiencies and improved productivity.

Ultimately, digital transformation is more than conventional change. Digital transformation is about doing things differently — and doing different things. Digital transformation begins by shifting your focus from the inside-out to the outside-in. Digital transformation success or failure fundamentally rests upon radically redefined experiences with customers, employees and partners. The transformation that organizations need to make is not a technology transformation, but rather a business transformation — although technology is a part of any business transformation.

From Content Management to Information Management

As time goes on, content management capabilities are going to be viewed much less as a monolithic “solution” and much more as part of a broader set of intelligent information management strategies that will guide enterprise technology investment decisions.

If organizations want to meet the digital transformation challenge of understanding, anticipating and redefining internal and external customer experiences, they must focus on the following four strategies (there are also technologies tied to each of these, but that’s a story for another day):

  1. Modernize the information tool kit.
  2. Digitalize core organizational processes.
  3. Automate compliance and governance.
  4. Leverage analytics and machine learning.

I think 2018 should be an interesting year.