Friday, June 23, 2006

Web Self Service Environments

A long week with an inordinate amount of time on planes and at airport departure lounges (thank heaven for iPods) - but a productive one I hope. On Wednesday I co-presented with my colleague Shelley Leftwich a webinar for AIIM (link will be here) that focused on the next generation of Insurance WebSites - and though there was a lot that was specific to Insurance, there was also much that is worth thinking about in any large enterprise:

  • Moving from static sites that are little more than huge brochures to self service environments is a major new undertaking not an upgrade to a WCM system

  • It's no longer about WCM its about integrating back office applications via the we to our customers - you probably already have enough WCM, its the intergrations to the back office and usability issues you need to address now (along with keeping information dynamic and meeting regulatory requirements)

  • We need to be sure who our customers are and what their priorities are - as opposed to assuming we know, or pushing our own priorities. Almost everyone got this wrong last time round - usage and churn monitoring of customer facing sites is a very good idea

  • It's better to do one thing really well - rather than everything mediocre (see as an example of doing one thing well) - too numerous are the examples of those that who do nothing terribly well, but spend a fortune doing all these things to a mediocre standard

Value of Traditional ECM vendors

Whilst in Las Vegas (fortunate to watch the sun set over the Nevada desert as we flew in - quite an experience! as was staying at the new and very nice TheHotel at the Mandalay) I was reminded of the important role that the traditional ECM vendors still have. As I/we focus more and more on the infrastructure vendors such as Microsoft & Oracle, its easy to forget that companies such as OpenText deliver deep integration to ERP systems with associated reporting capabilities - they also have deep dive expertise in Pharmaceuticals, likewise FileNet in Governement etc. Some of the major ECM players are without doubt losing their way - but others such as OpenText and Documentum are doing an excellent job of repositioning to offer substantial value in the new environment.

The major ECM vendors are not going away - their role is changing though to adding value in terms of domain expertise or specific horizontal functionality on top of the infrastucture.

Records Management & ECM

Wherever there is an ECM project, somewhere there is a Records Management project on going - oddly or interestingly enough they are almost always disconnected and not considered part and parcel of the same thing - this came up in a number of meetings and conversations this week. I think that:

  • Compliancy drives RM initiatives and crosses many boundaries not just unstructured data management - the best case scenario
  • The industry has done too little to explain the synegy between ECM and RM
  • DM & ECM vendors don't get RM and never have, but have made a lot of money in RM failed projects in the past - more established buyers are very leary of mixing the two together again (most probably scenario)

Its something that deserves a lot more thought - as though there are major differences between RM & ECM - I firmly believe that any projects should embrace to a fair degree both issues - if they are done separately there is seldom a positive outcome.

July Plans

I will be on vacation next week so the blog will be quiet - and when I return I will be preparing for a trip to Bangalore via London in mid July. I am partly dreading the trip due to the long haul and time differences that just knock the stuffing out of me. But hoping to get a lot done, and really looking forward to meeting with all the ECM guru's in India and getting their perspectives - its where I can come down to earth, and my 'expert' status is challenged thoroughly! Our ECM and Search Leads are just incredible and I know I will return with a much better perspective on things than I arrive with.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Oracle Annoucements on ECM

Not going to say much about this weeks big annoucement from Oracle, as I have had some involvement throughout the process and have long been an advisor to Oracle. Sufice to say that I agree 100% with Connie Moore of Forrester in her quote regarding this - it's a landmark event.

I have long held the view that the core management of unstructured data should be at the database/infrastructure level. That does not mean that there is no room in the picture for dedicated specialists such as OpenText, Documentum and FileNet - far from it I think if they embrace this and reposition accordingly they could see their businesses grow substantially. Whether they do or not (in fairness OpenText already is doing so) is a different matter.

Just an end of week observation - I have run into 3 major project situations this week - none of which was labelled ECM, but each of which turned out to be. Again I am not sure this ECM labelling works, except for those of us already 'in the know'.

There are a whole bunch of specialist business processes that work around and utilize managed data sources (structured or unstructured) and some of those processes are very content specific (Web Content Management and Records Management for example) - some (many even) require specialist applications to drive them, but whether this is ECM or not is my issue. ECM for me is 'Enterprise' Content Management, the central service that sits beneath these applications and processes, that stores and manages the lifecycle of content.

The rest are specialist business applications that feed from the content repositories.....

Its been a long week - and next week is Florida/Texas/Nevada - some very interesting times I am sure but as the Wipro Lear Jet is currently in the shop, it will be economy on AA, Jetblue and United for me :-(

Oh and also next week (Wednesday 2pm EST) - You can listen to my nasally English tones as I will presenting a webinar (with my colleague Shelley Leftwich) for AIIM on Next Generation Customer Service Web for the Insurance Sector.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Imaging the theme of 2006?

I still can't really get over how many imaging projects we are getting involved in and hearing about, and how this one area of ECM is currently so dominant. Analysts long predicted the decline of imaging, yet it remains the bedrock of ECM, and the bread and butter of so many vendors. And certainly from my perspective at least appears to be growing.

One observation though is that people are maybe spending too much money, or more accurately getting too much functionality to undertake Imaging projects. Commonly the focus from the client perspective is on the ECM repository, with scant regard sometimes being given for the capture and ingestion phase of the process. (This also reflects analyst coverage from the likes of Gartner & Forrester).

In honesty, I think most imaging systems are pretty basic in terms of functionality, but pretty complex in terms of ability to manage the scan and read and workflow needs. To put it another way, I don't think ECM tools are needed in most cases - better are transactional solutions either from imaging specialists such as FileNet or Hyland, or Database backend solutions from IBM or Oracle (IBM also is an imaging specialist). Full ECM solutions can be overkill, and are sold on the promise of a unified approach to managing all forms of content across the enterprise - a worthy goal but one that is seldom realized.

Its a shame that the brilliance of capture software vendors Kofax and Captiva (now EMC owned) is so often ignored in the general industry press, who are currently enamoured with ECM 'platform' vendors. Images are pieces of fixed content, not collaborative documents, and generally need to managed as large data files, they need to viewed and routed. So the imaging transportation and storage systems used, need to be optimized for this purpose, not for collaborative ECM. Likewise to ensure that the image is properly managed and routed, as much information as possible should be captured at the scan stage via OCR & ICR (much better these days than many seem to realize) and used to provide an intelligence data layer for the images.

With all the progress at the capture end, in many if not most cases you can capture everything in colour, in ocr(able) formats, and not overload a workflow or storage mechanism. You can also do an amazing amount of intelligent and automated indexing and reading of the copy before ingestion.

Comes back to that dillema I still have, is ECM a reality or a myth? Fact of the matter is that best of breed still makes sense in most cases, and platforms can be more of a burden than an effort saver. Ironically platforms can also end up costing considerably more than a BOB option, and with open standards and web services becoming ever more common, there is often little to be gained now from going this route. So for me at present, if you want to do Imaging look for an Imaging dedicated vendor.

All that said, I do feel guilt for my years as an industry analyst pushing and cajoling vendors to go the ECM way - I confess I do now think that doing one or two things really well is much better than doing 10 things averagely.

Offshoring ECM - I had meant to mention this previously but forgot. Apoorv my colleague has published a brilliant and thorough piece on how to consider and go about offshoring ECM services. Link to the article here. I really do think this is a long overdue topic for discussion and Apoorv is a real expert in this area. My hope is that he and his team will be publishing far more in the coming year and sharing with the ECM community some of the great lessons they have learned. Also worth noting the funky and intersting illustration that accompanies the piece.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ECM - Content Sharing?

A blog posting that requires much more thought!

Sitting on my desk today awaiting my perusal are two huge tomes detailing US Government IT acquisition processes (don't worry its available to anyone) and a thought provoking article sent to me by fellow blogger Alice Marshall.

Somehow or other two key themes jumped out at me from a quick read through of these items:

  • Those that hold information don't feel all that strong about the need to share it
  • Performance based tracking and logistics is essential

On the one hand two very different topics, yet there is a deep connection between the two of them. Firstly we need to acknowledge that people don't like sharing. It is a good Christian principal, but like many good Christian principals the reason it needs to be spelled out so clearly, is that most people don't like to do it. It was this attitude that meant so many KM systems fell into disuse in the 90's, and frankly gave KM a bad name. People don't want to share, and you can't make them.

Yet for any IT system, particularly those focused on information, records, documents etc, sharing is the underlying principal of success. To have success though we need to monitor usage patterns, and ensure that people are reusing and sharing information. Also to ensure that where bottlenecks are occuring they are identified quickly and resolved. So in this regard I tend to think the great ECM term 'capture' comes into play more so than sharing. I strongly believe that we are times a little too nice and democratic when it comes to Knowledge management and ECM - frankly you have to capture information - then make it available. Nobody seems to have much of a problem in using resources that are easily and readily available they just don't want to make the effort to supply the ready resource.

This leads to the second point - how to measure the success of ECM & RM specific projects. Failure is fairly easy to measure - redundant content, dynamic content turned static, under use or miss-use etc. Most of the time though it is pretty simple, a centralized repository that should have become the hub for dynamic information interchange, is just a repository - a dumping ground, seldom used and now just one more dumping ground for content amongst many others.

Performance based tracking should be relatively straightforward for ECM, is content going in there, is it being re-used, is there redundancy, are other silo's dissapearing or falling into disuse as this one is become more and more dynamic?

Yet I know of no examples of tracking ECM success this way.......

Friday, June 02, 2006

Consulting: Big changes from small tweaks

I thought it time for a long rambling rant - this was written whilst in a thunderstorm flying somewhere over the US East Coast. So who knows maybe there is something deeper here, then again maybe not :-)

Its a difficult thing to write about in some ways but it really is at the heart of 'Doing IT Better'. Other things are equally important I guess but for some reason this is the one that seems in some indefinable way to cut to the chase.
Big changes can come from the very smallest of adjustments. its something that we all intuitively know to be true, yet its it also something that we find counter intuitive to a large degree. More effort equals more results seems to sort of make more sense. Yet just like in golf, less effort often produces better results. In the world of IT most people (myself included) often get bogged down in the sheer complexity of it all.

To illustrate what I am going on about, I am currently advising and working on a number of large imaging projects. They are big projects with highly complex needs to be met. Frankly knowing where to start at times can be a challenge, but even though these remain big and complex projects, substantial wins can be made through simple tweaks.

The concept of quick wins was one of the first I learned in consulting. To this day I look for quick wins at every opportunity. Why? Well it makes me look good to the client, but more than that it is a way of providing immediate and noticable value - when people see new light, and new ideas they get enthused and the bigger less exciting tasks get done with renewed energy. To do IT better though you do not neccesarily (sadly) need to employ expensive consultants - but it is always neccessary to think like a good consultant. It is the most singular trademark of any Partner Level consultant that they distance themselves quickly from detail, and instead focus on abstractly viewing complex situations. They see their role as to:

A: Limiting risk to both client and consultant
B: Challenging assumptions

One of my favorite throwaway phrases is - "If what you are doing isn't working, then do something different!". Again this is a basic and obvious concept, yet one could argue that in 9 out of 10 IT projects the client usually asks for more of the same. New software and hardware for sure, but basically more of the same, yet newer. Despite the fact that in these same 9 out of 10 cases, the client will tell you that last time round things didn't work out as well as they hoped. So to repeat, in most cases, people try to fix things by doing the same things over again in the hope that this time they will get it right.

For vendors this is often illustrated in RFP's, that ask the vendor to detail in endless depth their technical experience etc, but seldom challenge the vendor to think differently and creatively. Yet sometimes (often I would argue) simply challenging assumptions can bring about huge and very positive change.

In an imaging project for example, simply adopting a new file format at a different DPI will not meet all the needs of the RFP but can double or triple the impact of the final outcome.

There is a very old and dreadful joke about consultants that says " Lend me your watch and I will tell you the time". Its dreadful because often that is what consulting is, simply but elegantantly telling you what you already know and confirming your assumptions. Yet good consulting is the exact opposite - it is about challenging and testing your assumptions, and as a team coming up with a better and brighter way forward.

By focusing on the big stuff we often miss the small stuff. The way I view it is that if I and my team do a good job, then by the time the actual implemenation occurs our advice (hopefully) has become accepted wisdom, taken as common sense and its origins often forgotten. Yet in reality we have moved a very long way from the basic assumptions that started the project. Most importantly the chances of the projects success have increased enormously.

Many of the most profound insights get from a client are by simply reflecting back on the silences. Its a very psycho-analytic approach but the notes I am usually scribbling in my notebook during meetings, are notes to myself to highlight the things the client has NOT said. In my experience its here that the most valuable conversations are to be had. This is not to mock or play with the client in anyway, simply that if they have not made mention of simple thing such as the File format (for example) then they may not have realized the significance and impact such simple changes can make.

To put it another way, if we:

  • Note the silences
  • Treat everything of equal value - till we know for sure it is not
  • Never make assumptions
  • Explore extremes
  • Make sure we are clear exactly WHY the project is being undertaken

then we may just spot the little things that others did not. The little things that alone seem insignificant but are in fact catalysts for change. Those are the aha! moments, the moments that have the potential to facilitate real and positive change, the moments that good consultants live for..

ECM - hiding whats inside

The article Girish and I wrote for Intelligent Enterprise was published today:

Article Link

It picks up on many of the themes recently explored on this blog surrounding ECM and the infrastructure. As this is a very popular industry journal and we have been fortunate enough to get the cover slot, my hope is that it will prompt some debate.