ECM software and collaboration apps -- oh, my! But where's the ROI?

For many firms, the question is, "Where is the ROI with ECM software?" AIIM's president talks about the market and ever-elusive return on investment.

As the volume of content explodes, companies need to to better manage their information. They have turned to enterprise content management (ECM) systems as well as collaboration technologies to get a handle on the steady streams and to automate processes, satisfy governance and compliance requirements, and even to make common projects among workers easier to accomplish.

But many of the technologies designed to make work easier can make it more difficult. Companies are still struggling with ECM software's usability problem, where the features are rich but sometimes hard to use. And while collaboration software is great in theory, but in practice, workers are often overwhelmed by application fatigue and resist opening yet another application to get in touch with a colleague. They just want to use email or some other application that is already entrenched in their work processes. For many companies and workers, the question with these technologies is, "Where is the ROI?"

SearchContentManagementtalked with John Mancini, president of AIIM, the organization devoted to information management, in advance of the AIIM 2015 conference, about these questions, including his predictions for content management, the state of the market today, and how companies, workers and customers can derive return on investment (ROI) out of information governance.

What is the 'end of geocloud neutrality,' and how is it changing content management?

John Mancini: National governments are starting to put restrictions on the cloud, so the geographic location of the servers [where your content resides] is something to incorporate into your cloud strategy. Those legal questions related to jurisdiction, access, producing that information under what conditions, whose rules trump -- all that stuff is getting more complicated.

Also, in terms of governance, these strategies have to be cognizant of the hybrid nature of the cloud now. If people had difficulty thinking about governance for digital and paper-based information, you've added a third element now, which is cloud-based information. Governance strategies that go across all of those [are] a pretty complicated mix.

You have talked about security shifting from a company's perimeter to the information asset itself as well as the device. What do you mean?

Mancini: In the past, the way we thought about security was to build barriers at the edge of an organization and protect from intruders getting through the walls. You still have to do that.

But the problem is that, with mobile devices, and the cloud, you have more things occurring outside the usual four walls of the organization. Now it's about protecting this information asset itself. Will it be viewed on a mobile device or sent around by email? How will it be used, and what kinds of constraints do I want to place on that? How can I track, audit and control within the asset, not just contingent on the device?

Any ability to control information on the fly should be done within the asset itself. You have to control the perimeter, the device and the asset, and that third piece is something most companies haven't addressed yet.

Now, let's turn to what you call the "commoditization of file sync-and-share services." What do you expect to happen with the market that Box has spawned?

Mancini: A limited number of these services can survive. But it's fewer than the number there now. Some have acquired new capabilities: Box has added audit, metadata, retention schedules -- all sorts of things that go beyond basic file sync and share. They have to go beyond the basic functionality associated with the platform. Box and Dropbox are doing that.

The other aspect is that Box has put a lot of effort into becoming a content platform that other apps can plug into and to make that as easy as possible. You add that up, and the IPO did well because other people saw that file sync and share, add ECM capabilities to that platform, do so in a way that is easy for users to adopt. And on top, make the system open enough for other apps to plug into and there is a play there. It shows from the bump in the Box IPO. There is an appetite for content management [and] collaboration solutions that are easy to use, user-centric, and relatively easy to deploy and yet have fairly robust capabilities. Users are expecting that they can adopt a Lego-build mentality.

You also predict that collaboration will "steal the show" from social platforms. How so, when collaboration technologies have been relatively slow to take off in the enterprise?

Mancini: A lot of people have thought that Facebook-like capabilities within the enterprise [were] the equivalent of enterprise collaboration.

Collaboration has to be more than just [Facebook] for it to have sustainability in the enterprise. The thing emerging now is collaboration in the workplace, not Facebook in the enterprise, and the rewards are greater when it occurs in the context of work processes, in the context of creating a document in the first place, for example, which for most organizations is still dreadful: We send around a document in tracks. We use that as a proxy for content collaboration.

Yes. Is that to say that users don't want to have yet another app open on their screens unless that app is core to their existing work processes and the way they work?

Mancini: That's a very good description. Companies have deployed social solutions independent of the way people get work done on a day-to-day basis. The volume of the work isn't going down, so collaboration gets weeded out instead of being used.

In online customer communities, collaboration and crowdsourcing have helped spawn new product ideas, and in healthcare, it has helped bring diseases closer to a cure. Is that the true ROI of collaboration in the workplace?

Mancini: Social technology worked so well for product innovation because -- exactly -- it has business value. It wasn't abstract social, but rather social technology in the context of innovation. That is collaboration in the context of business process.

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