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Why usability will drive ECM software in 2015

Usability is the priority in ECM software. Vendors will face a day of reckoning if they push technology that isn't user-friendly in 2015.

You may have noticed that 2014 has been a very interesting year in the world of enterprise content management (ECM)....

Cloud software providers started aggressively adding enterprise-class features into their packages. Traditional vendors began marketing cloud technologies, both real and make-believe. The biggest change this year has been the dramatic ascent of information governance to the center of the conversation.

That is all peanuts compared with what will happen in 2015.

The reality is that 2015 will be a make-or-break year for many companies and new technologies. Everything until now has been a mere prelude to next year's show. The only question is whether it will be a big hit or a bomb.

Information governance hits it big

Why has ECM flat-lined since the 1990s?

The ECM industry has focused on efficiency and risk for decades. But information governance is reminding the industry that information has inherent value and should be treated as an asset. Like any asset, information must be managed to fully realize its value.

In 2015 that message is going to take off. It will not be because of marketing. It will be because of case studies showing the benefits. It will be the realization sinking in that if attention is paid to streamlining the capture and classification of content, the efficiency and risk mitigation benefits naturally flow afterward.

The cloud becomes critical

Security is hard. Having an on-premises system doesn't make a system more secure. Just ask Sony. When Sony was hacked, every system was hacked. When the hackers got the keys to Sony, they got it all, not just email.

The reality is that the best security experts want to work for cloud companies. That is where the challenge, money and prestige are right now. It is the rare company that has a better security team, much less security systems, than an established cloud vendor. Cloud vendors are attacked daily, forcing them to continuously learn and improve.

One pixelUsability tops the list of ECM vendor software
to-do's

In 2015, we are going to see more vendors providing solid, enterprise-level, ECM offerings in the cloud that companies can not only use but also trust. This will be a mix of new vendors entering the field, cloud vendors enhancing their capabilities, and established vendors finally making the jump to the cloud. Conversations are happening at all levels now, and by the end of 2015 an acquisition process that doesn't seriously consider at least one cloud vendor will be the exception.

This is not to say that the cloud will take over the ECM market in 2015. It means that cloud vendors will be on even footing with traditional on-premises offerings. Think of this change as like the transition that occurred when open source went from being a feature to being a business model in the eyes of buyers.

Putting work first

The previous two predictions share something in common. The key to their success to-date has been their focus on helping people get work done. The trend that I have seen everywhere -- and I do mean everywhere -- is the realization that we haven't succeeded because helping people do their job hasn't been the priority.

Why has ECM flat-lined since the 1990s? The ECM industry has not focused on making it easier for people to get work done. Database software, on the other hand, is abstracted in such a way that it helps people do their job. And for all of the headaches it creates, email also makes it easier for people to do their job.

Don't believe me? Turn off either one and see what happens. Work simply grinds to a halt.

In many organizations, if you turn off the ECM system and dump content onto a file share, workers would continue to be productive. Some would rejoice. Who wouldn't be happy? People can use scanning technologies to process invoices, collaboration spaces to execute projects, and any number of adjacent systems to place content in a repository.

Translation: People who don't use ECM but use a technology of which ECM is a part will be upset.

In 2015, the needle is going to shift. We will see more companies insisting on technologies that address their business problems, not their content problems. Content management for the sake of content management does not work and that realization will finally take hold.

That seems like a lot

It's a lot to expect. That is where the "break" part of make-or-break comes into play.

If vendors continue to substitute information governance in their discussions for records management and e-discovery, CIOs will become so disenchanted that they will ignore anyone who uses the term information governance.

The industry can insist on not listening to people and try to push ECM over solving problems. Vendors and integrators can insist that nothing is wrong. Denial is powerful.

But usability is the ultimate priority in ECM software. Vendors will face a day of reckoning if they push technology that isn't user-friendly in 2015.

Next Steps

What’s disrupting traditional ECM?

Will 2015 bring more complexity in ECM software?

This was last published in January 2015

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How important is usability in your choice of content management technology?
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It should be the number one consideration. If the tool doesn't improve productivity and business outcomes, then what's the point? Unfortunately cost often trumps everything else. 
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When people need to use tools that are arduous, one of two things happens. Either the tool is used sub-optimally, or other means of doing the same thing are devised and the tool is rarely, if ever used. When it comes down to spending money on a "solution", one of the key determinants needs to be that it actually works for the organization in the way the organization needs it to work. Making it a challenge helps no one.
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