What will drive ECM and collaboration trends in 2016?

Cloud services will continue to reshape collaboration and content management trends in 2016. But not all companies can expect a smooth migration to cloud-based ECM.

For companies to become more efficient and intelligent about their operations, they often need to make some changes...

in how they interact with corporate information. This enterprise data needs to be digital, centralized and easy to access. These needs will drive enterprise content management and collaboration trends in 2016.

Digitizing formerly paper-based processes enables companies to eliminate manual footwork and boost operational efficiency, and enterprises are increasingly tapping cloud technologies to extend those efficiencies to their broader ecosystem of customers, suppliers and business partners, said Forrester Research analyst Cheryl McKinnon.

"More and more companies are ramping up to a digital way of working and that means things like email and clunky Web portals aren't cutting it anymore," McKinnon said. "We're starting to see a lot of pressure on enterprise content management (ECM) providers to either open up repositories to serve that extended use case, or form new partnerships ... to jointly offer these capabilities."

The drive to improve collaboration with people external to an organization isn't new. In a 2014 AIIM report Content Collaboration and Processing in a Cloud and Mobile World, nearly two-thirds of 464  respondents said it is "very important" or crucial. But in that same survey, 71% of respondents said there were shortfalls with external collaboration support, with 39% saying it was "quite bad."

At the same time, though, as companies seek new efficiencies and better use of data and insight, they are finding that centralization and collaboration are increasingly important. That means opening the four walls of a business to external partners, customers and other collaborators. In the recent AIIM ECM Decisions report, 29% of more than 400 respondents are rolling out mobile access, only 39% currently provide mobile access of any sort, and only 11% would describe that as universal access across all staff, with just 5% also providing mobile access to project partners.

Forrester's McKinnon said enterprises are making progress and garnering efficiencies by using cloud services to augment existing repositories. Demand is high for secure, mobile-friendly and easy-to-use file sharing services, which don't require building a new content silo, she explained. This dynamic presents an opportunity for user and newer cloud service vendors, and a challenge for traditional ECM and collaboration providers, who must adapt to meet this ongoing demand.

"We're going to continue to see this meshing at the edges between the content management and content collaboration markets," McKinnon said.

With cloud computing, collaboration platforms and other technologies driving ECM and collaboration trends in 2016, SearchContentManagement spoke with several experts about their predictions for ECM trends. Here's some of what they expect in 2016.

Hybrid cloud-based ECM growth 

Cloud use is on the rise in enterprises, but it's not expected to completely supplant on-premises in the near future -- and that means hybrid cloud-based enterprise content management will likely remain very much in the picture through 2016.

Forrester analyst TJ Keitt said enterprise demand is strong for cloud collaboration and productivity tools, listing email, team sites and social technologies, as examples. But he sees on-premises technology as essential to content management systems, which will continue to prompt hybrid deployments in 2016. Many companies continue to need to store content on-premises for data security, regulatory or customized processes that cannot be easily replicated in the cloud.

"For organizations that do a lot of custom development, a lot of bespoke work processes ... it's difficult to replicate those capabilities in the cloud environment, where the technology is not geared toward being a development platform," Keitt said. "At least in the near term, there has to be some middle ground, where some workflows remain on-premises and some go in the cloud."

Cloud-based ECM software has the additional benefit of being easier to deploy, configure and change.

"Many of the traditional suites assembled technology over the years through acquisitions and it took a lot of time to really integrate and come up with a consistent user experience, and that's where ECM has been kind of a struggle," McKinnon said. "These next generation platforms, which are typically architecture cloud-first, provide an opportunity to kind of start from a clean slate."

McKinnon expects the next wave of collaborative content management tools will do better at balancing security and user-experience. Cloud service providers have enjoyed an advantage when it comes to usability by getting real-time data on how clients use cloud services in the field.

"They're really focused on things like usability, reducing the number of clicks to perform key tasks, and they've got the data to back it up," McKinnon said.

Records management revisited

A push toward analytics and data driven decision making could prompt companies to rethink records retention policies in 2016, McKinnon predicted.

Traditional retention policies would classify idle content or corporate data with no business value -- such as employees'  "Let's go to lunch" email -- and tag it for disposal, but McKinnon said that in these new conceptions of information, data could have newfound value for providing analytic insights, which could draw correlations between, for example, lunchtime and closing sales.

"With all of these new analytics tools, the definition of business value is no longer going to be in the individual message of record or document; we're going to start to redefine it in terms of the aggregate," McKinnon said.  "We're likely going to have to rethink some of our traditional assumptions around what we delete and why."

Analytics advances

Content analytics has had some impact in the E-discovery market, powering new tools that can help nontechnical users review and process large volumes of content. These data visualization and drilldown tools are already helping companies reduce review times and legal costs, but McKinnon said the technology could soon help enterprises better manage information in general. Analytics can help organizations that are overwhelmed with data overload to organize and categorize that data.

"The play here is to roll out some of these analytics and data visualization tools for more broad content management use cases, such as getting a handle on five years of unmanaged digital documents in a file share," said McKinnon. "You can handle things more in the aggregate, instead of looking at each individual folder or file, so I think there's a ton of value there."

Machine learning

The concept of "smart" technology that could help users become more productive grabbed some headlines in 2015, and 2016 could be the year it begins to make an impact within the enterprise, Keitt said.

"We should have a better picture on the blend of intelligent assistants that carry forward machine learning, as well as cognitive or thinking machines, for helping employees do their jobs," Keitt said.

IBM is one example, with its Watson program and associated analytics products, which have the potential to draw on disparate data sources and draw conclusions for a variety of workers.

Microsoft's Office Graph, the back-end search tool  in Office 365, is another example. It tracks interaction between workers and content and makes suggestions based on algorithms. Those algorithms have been learning for roughly a year, and Keitt expects to see further development of its capabilities -- and if end-users will embrace those tools.

"It'll be interesting to see how the Office Graph and its associated applications begin going beyond just a curiosity to something that is effectively helping people in the course of their daily work," said Keitt. 

Slow start for SharePoint 2016?

Microsoft focused on the hybrid cloud-based ECM framework. While the company has a decidedly cloud-first approach orientation, it also has to accommodate a conservative customer base that remains primarily on-premises for a variety of services, including SharePoint.

Improved hybrid experience, with a federated search and easier deployment, has been billed as a key selling point of SharePoint 2016 -- but Real Story Group analysts predict that migration to the new product will be slow nonetheless.

"In previous upgrades of SharePoint, it took six to 10 quarters for new versions to reach a critical mass and we don't see that changing with SharePoint 2016 this year," said Real Story Group analyst Jarrod Gingras, during a webinar presentation of the research firm's annual predictions.

Office 365 churn?

Using Office 365 cloud services to set new collaboration trends was a central theme for Microsoft in 2015, but the Real Story Group said that roadmap is likely to receive mixed reaction from consumers.

"Microsoft is traditionally a very staid, predictable vendor and -- with Office 365 -- we think they're going to be a bit more willing to change faster," said Gingras.  "We've seen services added and then scrapped a few months later. For some vendors that's business as usual, but for Microsoft, this is not the SharePoint and Yammer we've grown up with."

Gingras anticipated some enterprises would likely embrace the potential of new cloud features, whereas others would be less enthusiastic about the new cloud-first business model.

"We think that with Office 365 expectations will need to be reset, and there will be a bit of frustration and user dislocation when it comes to Office 365 in the near future," Gingras said.

Next Steps

What's in store for content management in 2018

Cloud content management opens new doors for business  

The challenges and opportunities facing ECM

Dig Deeper on Cloud-SaaS online collaboration tools