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“Content” technology predictions for 2010

When Hugh McKellar (KMWorld editor in chief) collared me at the KMWorld conference in November, and asked if I would like to write a piece on the CMS Watch predictions, I said without any hesitation, “Yes, of course!” Little did I know at the time that I would subsequently be spending a couple of weeks in the cold and darkness of a deep Finland winter, with little appetite to wake up each morning, let alone write a 1,250-word article on my day off. However, life plays tricks and the semi-somnambulant, dark Nordic environment oddly enough proved to be an ideal location to consider prophecies and predictions for the New Year.

First, a little background: CMS Watch has a tradition (four years is long enough to establish tradition in the Internet age, I believe) of publishing a top-10 list of predictions concerning what we might broadly consider the “content” technology sector. So for content technology, think enterprise content management (ECM), knowledge management (KM), Web content management (WCM), search, etc. As it so happens, our top 10 consists of 12 predictions, and nobody here seems to have the slightest idea why, but, hey, that’s tradition for you! The predictions themselves have usually generated a fairly large amount of debate so by the time you read this, it is quite possible you might have already seen the list. With that in mind, I shall not do you the disservice of simply republishing the entire list; rather, I thought I would  take three of the predictions and dive into them a little deeper, share with you the thought process that led there and open them up for further consideration.

One last thing before diving in: I want to be clear that these predictions are the work of the entire analyst team at CMS Watch and not just mine. After many weeks of arguing, sulking and insulting one another, we came grudgingly to an agreed set of predictions. If you like, though, you can consider the more likely ones to be mine  and the wilder ones to be the work of my colleagues. So without further delay, let’s look a little deeper at a few predictions.

Internal and external social and collaboration technologies will diverge.

Many collaboration and social networking vendors are struggling to support internal (behind the firewall) and external community scenarios off the same codebase. In 2010, most will give up the struggle and acknowledge that those business scenarios have fundamentally diverged. We will see more separate offerings from the same vendor, with increasingly different user experiences, security models, performance goals and so on. At the same time, vendors will add and promote integration hooks as more customers seek to “move” discussions and collaboration across enterprise boundaries.That particular prediction was one we could have made and postdated a few years ago when social media/Web 2.0/networking first emerged. The reality is that supporting and managing social interactions in a public environment is a very different thing from doing so within the walls of the enterprise. As any KM pro knows, the dynamics of interaction between a closed and controlled culture vs. an essentially anarchic one are dissimilar. Bottom line, we have been waiting for this one to happen.

Multilingual requirements will rise to the fore.

Many firms are now recognizing the need to localize applications and content across cultural and geographic boundaries. Though the technology has been around for a while to enable that, a mindset shift is propelling the requirement forward. For some firms, it is the perceived or actual threat of competition from countries such as India and China. For others, it is the recognition that employees and partners operate more effectively in their native language rather than using English as a second language. For still others, it is the potential to sell outside of the saturated English language market. Many collaboration and social computing vendors in particular will get caught flat-footed in their assumption that application interfaces need only support English.Of all the trends I have observed in 2009, that is the strongest by far. Put simply, the need and desire to support and develop multilingual Web sites, in tandem with the growth in managing multilingual enterprise content (sometimes to support needs such as English/Spanish, Spanish/French, sometimes to integrate foreign acquisitions) are widespread. The fact is the world has thrown off the idea of English being a universal language. The Internet era, rather than push us toward the goal of English as the lingua franca, has given us the tools to revitalize and re-recognize native tongues. (See related article, “Finding Your Language Wallah,” on page 1.)  I think that is a good thing, but for KM professionals it opens a whole new set of challenges. Certainly our experience working with global organizations suggests that KM is very low on people’s priorities. Simply getting their head around managing multilingual versions of the same content and the horrors of localization are dominating the agenda.

Mobile will come of age for document management and enterprise search.

Does your ECM package come with its own mobile app store? In 2010, it might. Smarter phones, more bandwidth and an increasingly mobile workplace will push the traditionally more staid document management and search vendors to develop richer mobile interfaces. Meanwhile, major enterprises (and vendors) will need to adapt their search and information access strategies in the face of mobile application search, with a new emphasis on precision over recall, and a fresh look at faceted results.Of course, nobody wants to check in a hundred documents on his or her iPhone, but surely in this day and age, information access should be independent of device. And although that reasonable expectation may be difficult to fulfill for an array of technical reasons, workers are using mobile devices such as smartphones and PDAs far more pervasively then they ever have in the past. Vendors are getting wise to that, so giving knowledge workers mobile search access to their corporate information repositories can be a highly visible win. How many people will actually use such applications is debatable, but nevertheless it is something we expect to become common, at least as an option in 2010.

So in summary, there is really no rocket science behind these predictions. We are big believers at CMS Watch that the future is driven by good old-fashioned user requirements, not vendor and pundit hype cycles. However, even with close observation of what is happening in the user community, predictions are tenuous and flaky. Sometimes you get the subject of the prediction right, but the timing wrong, and sometimes you just get it plain wrong. In the latter half of 2009, I worked intensively with our global clients, and the one thing I can say for sure is that the industry continues to grow. Incompetence is rampant, skills are scarce and technology solutions are a little like warm ice cream on a cold day (better in theory than in practice). In short, 2010 will not be that much different than 2009, and likely not that much different from 2011. In fact, the differences are usually slight, often irrelevant, but occasionally profound.

We hope that our predictions are somewhat a reflection of the reality we face today. In some cases, they may be more like goals and aspirations than actual predictions, but we throw them out partly for a bit of end-of-year fun, but also in the hope that they help guide debate in the right direction—a direction that leads back to the needs and desires of those who  are impacted by information technology, rather than those who simply wish to sell it.

Here is the link to the CMS Watch’s predictions for 2010: cmswatch.com/Trends/1760-2010-Technology-Predictions 

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