The term “Digital Transformation” means a lot of different things to businesses today. It has to do with technology and the use of technology, sure, but it is also about new ways of operating, new strategies and new ways of creating innovation. The foundation to the digital transformation is the Internet and one of the most important building blocks is data. Dealing with data is now tied to the term “big data”, which I suppose in its simplest form is just a lot of unassociated bits of data. By themselves these data are not particularly useful, but do have a lot of promise if you can get that data to a form that is in some context and is delivered to someone or thing that has a need for that data at the time it is delivered. There is a whole series of post I did previously about the big to smart to small path of data, you can see the start of that 3 part series here. My point here is to think about what happens with that data once it is processed, distributed and combined with other data and concepts, written, spoken (video, audio) or any other format that exists. In other words what happens with it when it becomes business content?
If the current time is called the “information” age, as opposed to the industrial age, then it stands to reason that business content, the thing that moves that information around and makes it “consumable” would be very important to businesses. It also stands to reason that if business content is important (some would say critical) to doing business that it would need special systems to produce it, manage it, distribute it, and store it. Those systems would also be important and to be optimized for daily business use they would have some very specific requirements and functions. At this point in the post, I suspect a lot of you are thinking that I’m describing systems that have been around for a very long time and are very commonplace in businesses, called content management systems. On the other hand you also might be thinking that I’m about to go off in a completely different direction, or at least a direction that is different from the traditional. Now if you’re thinking content management, and you haven’t abandoned me by now because the topic isn’t that interesting, you should know that I am heading in a somewhat different direction. Not that I won’t get into content management systems for a brief few minutes though, because they also are a part of this discussion, if maybe one that is not quite suited to solve the type of problems we will discuss.
Enterprise content management systems (ECM) were designed to “manage” content, thus the name, and they’re good at managing or controlling content. From a compliance, security, control and even pre-formatted routing of content, the existing systems, while of course somewhat variable among each one, do a very credible job of all those tasks. The systems thrive on structure and control. In a world with structured information / content and the need to have strict control over it, that’s all goodness. The problem though, is when you start to think of the entire business as information driven, and you understand that sharing information and working together in a more collaborative model is the “new” way of doing business in this post-industrial, information age, control is counter to much (not all) of getting work done. In the industrial business you often heard that “information is power”, but now, in an ultra connected business environment that has shifted to “information sharing is power.”
Operating a business and making the ongoing operating decisions that are required of all employees requires data at the point of need, at the needed time and with the needed business context around that information. For several years I’ve talked about the need for decision support systems, which by definition are the conduit for business content to the teams and individuals that need that content. Business content management (BCM) systems are designed to be a critical part of a decision system by approaching the way content is managed and disseminated in a collaborative process. These BCM tools are designed to function differently than ECM tools and have very different use cases. The software tools that make up that category came from several other categories and evolved into the current feature set over time. Some came from the file sync and share category, some from storage and a few from ECM, but they all have evolved to include:
• The ability to store business content across multiple file types
• Provide a preconfigured open environment for users to access, sync, edit and share content
• Embedded and prominent collaboration tools centered around the content
• Integration to ECM and digital asset management (DAM) software through APIs
In some businesses you will find all three types of tools, ECM, BCM and DAM, while in others there will be only one or two. Each have strengths and specific use cases that make sense based on your purpose. This also varies somewhat by industry, with ECM often necessary in highly regulated industries or industries with unusual compliance issues. More and more though, you will find BCM tools in use, even in situations where the business itself isn’t providing an “official” solution. BCM is one of the most often “bring your own” types of software since it is so important in supporting business decisions and in getting work done. Many of us use BCM personal editions for our own content management needs and that experience bleeds across into businesses. Because of that it is a wise IT organization that embraces and provides an enterprise class BCM tool, since it is very likely that one or more of this type of tool is in use already in your business. Standardizing on a tool that meets proper security and compliance requirements while providing all the functionality of a BCM tool is very important and a much more realistic approach to IT management than either ignoring the need or even trying to block BCM tools in favor of existing ECM implementations. They are not the same and are being used to meet very different needs and requirements.