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  • March 29, 2016
  • By Marydee Ojala Marydee Ojala, Conference Program Director, Information Today, Inc
  • Article

Cleaning Out Your Closets with Enterprise Content Management

Enterprises are up to their eyeballs in content. Some of it is important, some is out of date, but there are those pieces of content that are vital if the enterprise is to survive and thrive. Enter content management. Managing content is somewhat analogous to all the stuff that piles up in your house. The longer you live in one place, the more things you accumulate. Most families don’t have retention policies in place for their personal goods. They don’t write policies and procedures regarding furniture, electronics, or the toaster they meant to fix several years ago that is now gathering dust in the closet.

Why do people decide to get rid of the stuff in their houses? It might be because they’ve simply decided they own too much; they’re tired of paying extra money to keep things they’re not using at a storage facility; they’ve been urged by a family member to stop what looks like hoarding behavior; or they’ve decided to downsize and move to a smaller house. Whatever the reasons, the decision to divest themselves of personal goods leads people to donate their goods to a charity or hold a massive yard sale. Maybe both.

Enterprises do not hold yard sales. The content stored is frequently, but not always, in digital form. Enterprises are better at replacing outdated computers and worn out desk chairs than deciding which pieces of content are no longer relevant to running the business. In fact, many may not even really know how much content they own or where it resides. Generally speaking, they don’t have the impetus of moving to a smaller house, although a merger or an acquisition might be the motivating force.

Cleaning Out the Content House

I’m indebted to Rohit Ghai, president of EMC’s Enterprise Content Division, for the house moving metaphor. In a lengthy conversation with me, he used the idea of moving from one house to another to explain why organizations need enterprise content management. They need to clean out their content closets and their information garages from time to time. When it comes to handling inactive content, companies need to consider “infoarchiving,” by which he means retiring the content rather than carrying it to a new house.

You might think that a technology company such as EMC would be very concentrated on automation solutions to cleaning out the garage. And that’s certainly a major component of enterprise content management. However, Ghai stresses that the human element carries equal weight. He believes it’s important to humanize the experience of working with business content. Enterprise content management is far from being a new concept. Companies have been accumulating information for years and managing their content has been a constant. For many, content management has been designed by IT departments and driven by regulatory requirements. It’s concentrated on compliance, with meeting the rules imposed upon them from outside.

Regulatory compliance remains a cost of doing business, but enterprise content management should move beyond that. EMC has over 25 years of experience in dealing with the exigencies of managing content. In Ghai’s view, the problem in the past was that the needs of people were ignored. “We automated the core,” he says, “but we ignored the human experience of interacting with the system.” Ghai is on a mission to change this.

The humans interacting with content could be employees, but they could also be customers, suppliers, partners, and regulators. For content management to succeed, people must enjoy a digital and, optimally, an experience-based interaction. Behind the scenes, a content management system should organize information so that searchability is enhanced without too much work on the part of the person seeking information.

Breaking Down Information Silos

One barrier to usability is information silos. Today’s workers do not want to constantly switch from one silo to another or from one user interface to another. Multiple systems are simply not intuitive and do not foster the cooperation needed to effectively run a business. Thus, a content management system should concentrate on changing the silo mentality, breaking down silos of content, and digitally connecting them.

How do silos get started? Ghai thinks it’s with people, even those involved with enterprise content management, taking a self-centered approach. They store data as their department, their piece of the enterprise, thinks it should be done. They don’t take a holistic view of it. What’s in the enterprise attic is different from what’s in the basement or the closet. Content ends up in many different systems.

Ghai advocates managing content in place, where it is at the moment. Add value to it in a modular way. Here Ghai switches metaphors, from house moving to baking. To add value modularly, you need to think about the difference between baking cakes and baking cupcakes. Modular content management lets you “eat what you want.” A change in how Documentum works exemplifies Ghai’s approach. “It used to be all or nothing,” he explains, “but after EMC bought Documentum, each app now specializes on individual use cases.”

Digital Transformation

A major change in the content management landscape has been digital transformation. It’s no longer just dealing with regulations, which Ghai terms “old hat.” Newer technologies, such as cloud computing and mobile devices, put unprecedented pressure on those responsible for content management. The IT challenges are real and enterprise content management can provide significant assistance in the process.

Digital transformation affects all businesses. Think of the things people used to do in person that they now do online. The retail industry has been hugely affected by technology. Online ordering, price comparisons, product reviews, and mobile payments are now the ordinary way people buy books, electronics, household goods, and almost everything else. Even groceries can be ordered online and delivered to your door—perhaps in the not too distant future by drone but currently by a non-digital truck.

Information that is “born digital,” with no paper equivalent, is increasingly the norm for enterprise content. It can be stored in multiple locations by numerous individuals working for different departments. Born digital information creates interesting challenges for content management.

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