The Next Big Thing...Again

Two years ago, in the very first of these KMWorld White Papers, I floated a radical idea: that content management was poised to supersede all other forms of “data” management as the single most important value-enhancing, wealth-creating, asset-leveraging, technology-aided effort that any modern business could possibly attempt. Last month, I somewhat meekly (for me) suggested that my self-fulfilling prophecy had come to pass: that the term “Content Management” is now the equivalent of, and interchangeable, with “Information Management.” Now I’ll say it with a little more force: Content Management is all that matters.

Michael W. Harris, SVP of Worldwide Product Marketing, Strategy & Corporate Communications, FileNet, sets the stage: “Our customers’ problems are all about driving a decision, whether that means answering a question about a loan approval, or telling an agent how much to pay on that insurance claim, or telling a constituent whether his tax is going to increase next year, and why. What they need is a framework to drive a correct decision quickly.”

And the fuel for that drive is content. “Our strategy is to drive the unity of content management and process management and workflow,” continues Harris. “We discovered this: Customers know they’ve got a content management problem. They know they’ve got to assemble documents into folders, and store them. But the new question they’re increasingly asking is ... Why?”

And it turns out there are several reasons. “They need to comply to regulatory requirements, sure,” says Harris. “But they also need to comply with their own business rules and make sure that the content management serves the business process in the best possible way.” Content management that is not designed from the ground up with the sole purpose of complying and serving the business process is misguided. And it is doubtless that many such misguided content management efforts have been launched over the years. This notion that content is the driver for business process is relatively new and radical.

“We were considered a little bit ‘out there’ by some of the financial and industry analysts three years ago. But we knew we were on the right track because we were validating it all along with customers,” says Harris. They heard over and over that unstructured content is tied together with the business process, rules and workflows that define how business operates. “Within three years, ALL customers will demand enterprise content management that naturally includes process management and connectivity with their line-of-business systems,” he predicts.

And Harris warns that “customers won’t be satisfied with a one-off solution that’s related only to ‘publishing, formatting and viewing’ content. Which is unfortunately what too many products offer today—there’s not enough of an ROI to convince (customers) to deploy” these non-process-savvy solutions enterprise-wide. Of course, this is the core message that FileNet would be expected to deliver: Its new P8 architecture is predicated on the linkage between content, process and connectivity. But it’s more than an empty product pitch. This unified view of the world accurately shows how inextricably linked content and process has become.

Here how it has progressed:

Level One of the problem is: “I need to publish documents to the Web.”

Level Two of the problem: “I need to publish documents to the Web in a way that complies with all the regulatory rules I’m forced to work under, and be able to do so in a structured, repeatable way, because I have to do it all over again tomorrow.”

Level Three of the problem demands that I can aggregate all the various documents and other forms of information and present it in such a way that conforms to “the way we do things.” (For example, in order to pay an accident claim, all the various documents have to be in the proper folder, in the proper form, so that the people in my company will process that claim and get the guy paid.)

Moving up a notch to Level Three-and-a-Half: “The customer needs to receive positive assurance that the interaction was valuable to him. So there needs to be immediate impact on all the systems and processes that touch the customer.” So, for example, if I call with a customer service problem, and a resolution results from the call, I want to go online and view that resolution-update in my account.

All the above is mechanics. It’s plugging access into information, tab A into slot B. Important stuff, and not as trivial as it sounds when you’re a multi-million dollar, international insurance company, say.

But it’s Level Four of the problem that will kill ya. It’s the “DEFCON 5” of business process, and we’re only just scratching the surface of preparedness. There’s not enough duct tape and plastic in the world to solve it without getting the basic message straight in your mind. Level Four is: “Take all the above, and Do It Better.” And believe me, just doing it at all is hard enough. This is where many enterprises spend most of their time, money and energy.

But facing Level Four means getting a new definition of the role of content. “We have a concept of ‘Active Content’, says Harris, apologizing not a bit for introducing a new slogan to the vernacular. “Content can’t just be about capturing and archiving. It can’t just be about creating a PDF and making it viewable. Content has life! And it has to interact and react with other business processes across the organization to truly have value.”

It’s hard to avoid the Dr. Frankenstein imagery—“it’s alive!”—but there’s a strong argument to be made that the transformative moment for document management—when it changes from its steady state to something different—is when content is seen as an active participant in business process, not a dead, passive object. Making this leap will be the life-altering challenge for business in the next three to five years. Some will make it; some won’t.

The Difficult I Can Do; The Impossible Takes Longer

My two kids are ages 7 and 9. Because of the secret influence of alien intruders sometime in the ‘90s, my kids—like all kids their age—intuitively understand computer games. They don’t need a manual. They don’t do the “orientation” training that games come with these days. They just, know, somehow, how to play these damned games. (My seven-year-old son can also beat me at chess, but that’s due to good genes on his mother’s side.)

I noticed the other day that they were playing this particular game a lot, and seemed to be always somewhere in the first few levels. “Is that all this game does?” I asked. “Aren’t there more levels?”

“Oh, yeah, but it gets hard after the Really Bad Monster level, so we start all over again.” Their response right now is to play it safe. They’d rather play in the familiar fields than risk venturing into unknown territory. Educators tell me that their reluctance is age-appropriate, and once they’ve conquered the easy stuff, they’ll eventually move on to where the really good stuff is. I told my kids this, and they gave me one of those “parents are so dumb” looks. Why should they move on? They are perfectly happy to win the battles they know how to win. Why take on the unknown? Despite the imperative to transform business processes—“Better Living Through Content”—the everyday management of content still remains a key point of pain in today’s businesses. And as if all those transactional documents, contracts, invoices and expense reports weren’t bad enough, God gave us e-mail. The management, storage, access and risk management aspects of e-mail are mucking up the works for an awful lot of well-meaning document and records managers.

Starting life as a software development effort in a hardware world, KVS was originally part of DEC, then of Compaq, before being spun out by its management group as a solutions provider in its own right. Serving initially as an archiving solution for Microsoft Exchange, KVS has always seen the inherent problem and the need for a solution in the massive amount of e-mail being created daily—make that hourly—in every business under the sun. KVS has (since about 1999) sold archiving software for more than 1-1/2 million mailboxes. But they didn’t stop there.

“There’s obviously value in storing information,” says Mary Kay Roberto, VP and General Manager, North America, for KVS. “But there’s much more value in being able to use that information to the benefit of the organization.” The key is finding out how all that information that goes into the “vault” (their product is brandnamed “Enterprise Vault”) becomes valuable to some specific responsibility in the organization. “Our approach is to build specific views into (the unstructured) data that are templated around a vertical function,” Roberto explains, with the current emphasis on compliance by financial services companies required by the SEC and other regulatory arms, and for legal departments that need to reply to court subpoenas, etc. Pretty targeted, pretty specific stuff.

What’s key—and very interesting in the context of this White Paper—is that KVS views the content repository as a single, centralized vault that contains raw information that can be either extremely relevant or not, depending on the business process demanding the information. An e-mail about a lunch meeting might be seen as innocent junk to me, but that meeting might have been called in the course of a thread of e-mails that discusses a subject the SEC might find sensitive—“Dear Martha, how’s Tuesday for you? Wednesday will be too late, if you know what I mean....”

As we’ve been saying, it’s not merely content that matters, it’s the context in which it’s applied in the course of doing business. Without that context, the mere publishing, storage and retrieval of content is meaningless.

But there’s one more inescapable conclusion: If practically every little e-mail is important to somebody, then that has to be one honkin’ humongous vault! It is, and if Sony has anything to do about it, it’ll get more honkin’ very soon. Sony, according to Michael Hall, product development and marketing at Sony electronics, has partnered with KVS specifically because of this enlightened view of the repository as a source of value to various functional users, and that value varies depending on who’s doing the searching and why. It’s not a mystery, then, that Sony is one of the leaders in creating a larger, more reliable near-line storage medium from the emerging next-generation “blue laser” technology.

“We see ourselves at the very center of the enterprise. Behind the scenes, maybe, but absolutely critical,” says Hall, and I couldn’t agree more. “We choose partners, like KVS, who can leverage our storage capabilities to make the content useful to a business’s goals.”

Content at the center of the enterprise, and driving every business process? Sounds like a brave new world. Get ready.

To find out what the other participants in this White Paper have to say about the intersection of content and process, quickly turn to page 11.

Andy Moore is an editor by profession and temperament, having held senior editorial and publishing positions for more than two decades. Moore is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of KMWorld (formerly ImagingWorld) Magazine. Moore also acts as a contract editorial consultant and conference designer. As KMWorld’s Specialty Publishing Editorial Director, Moore acts as chair for the current series of “Best Practices White Papers,” overseeing editorial content, conducting market research and writing the opening essays for each of the white papers in the series. Moore, based in Camden, Maine, can be reached at andy_moore@verizon.net

KMWorld Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues