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The AIIM/info360 conference mix:
Maturity and emerging technologies

The 2011 AIIM/info360 show and conference in Washington, D.C., in March marked a transition for this long-established conference: This is the last year the conference will carry the AIIM name as part of the event brand. Sold 10 years ago by AIIM to Advanstar and subsequently to Questex, the conference will be known as info360. This year's event drew more than 150 exhibitors and offered sessions in about 20 different tracks and topic areas.

Vendors were focused on content management, especially image capture and records management. In fact, many vendors' products addressed the conversion of paper to electronic form, or of documents from one format to another. The paperless age has not arrived by any means, a reality underlined by the large array of print vendors in the On Demand area of the exhibit hall. It almost seemed that paper was being produced by machines at one end of the hall, only to be consumed and converted by those at the other end.

Microsoft, Oracle and EMC pavilions reflected both the core products and offerings from partners-in the case of Microsoft, quite a lot of partners. Those three mega-vendors also had session tracks that presented product features and case studies. Attendees packed a large conference room to hear how Microsoft's legal and corporate affairs department is using SharePoint as an information management system to integrate collaboration worksites with centralized records management. (See related article: RM—the changing role of technology).

AIIM President John Mancini noted that there is a wide range of expertise and implementation in compliance, with larger firms being ahead of the curve in general. However, compliance technology has now become less expensive and less complicated, opening the door for wider adoption by small to midsize companies. He encouraged potential users to take a careful look at the options and to focus on their real needs rather than to assume that a specific brand is the answer. In many sessions, organizations exploring potential solutions were able to hear opinions from consulting firms, such as the Real Story Group, that help sort out the array of options.

Business intelligence (BI), especially the integration of structured and unstructured information through analysis, was also a topic of particular interest to attendees. While traditional BI is effective in quantitative analysis, the context and meaning of the data is made evident through unstructured data. Social software, which might have been expected to be a hot area, had a presence on the showroom floor and in sessions, but overall did not seem to prove as compelling to attendees as compliance and governance issues. It provided a sub-text for topics such as collaboration.

Although its session was planned months ago, a presentation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, nrc.gov) offered a timely lesson about the value of technology during a crisis. Thanks to a knowledge management system built on NewsGator's (newsgator.com) Tomoye collaboration platform, the NRC was able to locate experts to send to Japan after the earthquake in March. The broader goal was to help with decision-making and also to capture the knowledge of retiring employees. The session addressed the process of getting buy-in for the system and overcoming cultural barriers to knowledge sharing.

Google made a strong case for a broader vision of search technology. Search should not be about finding a particular set of documents but about bringing actionable intelligence to users. That includes the ability to expose attributes in search results such as contact or geographic information, detecting spikes in the number of hits on a topic over time, or annotating a result and sending it to a colleague. Dashboards that push a simple summary of data about a product launch, for example, can keep a user up to speed on issues and flag events that need immediate attention.

In one keynote session about IBM's Watson computer, which recently won a series of Jeopardy contests. IBM's Craig Rhinehart highlighted the difficulty of teaching a computer to understand language and respond intelligently. Some of Watson's technology is already in IBM's products, including text analytics solutions. IBM, which is about to celebrate its 100th birthday, has been in the content management business for half a century. Much of its recent work is focused on handling very high-volume information management needs, involving billions of documents.

Cloud computing cut across many areas of the conference, including dealing with "big data," improved collaboration and mobile computing. Sessions dealt with the implications of e-discovery in the cloud, security and control of information, all concerns of potential users. And although cloud computing might seem like just data storage at first, it is a transformative technology, claimed keynote speaker Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.net. He encouraged the audience to think of enterprise software as  "sexy," bringing powerful yet simple solutions for information sharing, collaboration and social interaction.  

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