Interview: IBM, the Future of ECM and Placing Content in the Hands of the User

A longer version of this post first appeared in CMSWire.

While companies get value from their content, they must focus on security and also comply with regulations.

Organizations are looking for better ways to get value out of their content while also protecting customer security and complying with a myriad of regulations. This is the second of a series of question-and-answer interviews with key industry players that we’ll be posting over the next few weeks. In addition to this post connected with IBM, you’ll see interviews with industry leaders from Alfresco, Box, Microsoft, OpenText and Veeva to get their thoughts on the changing face of the content management industry.

Today we speak with Michael Gilfix, Vice President, Digital Business Automation at IBM, to understand his perspective on the ECM market. Gilfix has general management responsibility for IBM's software product portfolio including business process management, decision management and enterprise content management.

IBM believes organizations are looking at technology to help them scale and innovate more quickly.

Lane Severson: It’s an exciting time in the content management industry. Businesses are adopting new technology capabilities like cloud and machine learning. At the same time, they’re adopting new, innovative ways of working through DevOps and agile to experiment and deploy new solutions more quickly. What are you seeing in the industry that gets you excited these days?

Michael Gilfix: We’re seeing businesses of all types look to apply software to help them scale within their industries to innovate faster, enable self-service, drive deep personalization, improve worker productivity, and deliver more competitive, differentiated service. With software digitization of their business operations comes a tremendous opportunity to leverage content to their advantage. All of these things are driving cloud, artificial intelligence, and DevOps/agility.

Severson: There’s a lot of pressure on organizations to deliver products and services at a higher level of quality with better customer experience and lower costs. There’s also pressure to provide value to shareholders. Where should clients be looking in their portfolio for high-value opportunities?

Digital-first companies serve their customers by building self-service processes and providing deep personalization.

Gilfix: Yes, this pressure comes from not only their shareholders, but from competitors who may be digital-first or are using digital to obtain an advantage. Digital businesses have tremendous scale with leaner operating costs. Organizations are under pressure to change their operating profile in order to keep pace. This touches all aspects of the organization: customer service, vendor management, supply chain management, finance and accounting, [as well as] sales and marketing.

These organizations need to look at new ways of serving their customers via self-service, deep personalization and better transparency when it comes to operations. They need to do this while also rethinking how work is done within their own organizations with an expectation of a dramatic increase in productivity.

Severson: Information security is on everyone’s mind. Do you see anyone who is really cracking the code on this? What are best-in-class firms doing to address InfoSec and privacy issues utilizing content management?

Organizations should use content management tools to protect information.

Gilfix: These are top issues … so much so that the government has stepped in and contributed with regulations like GDPR in the European Union, which has global ramifications. This is forcing organizations to take a much closer look at how they manage and protect information.

Content management is a great tool to help address these sorts of requirements. A good content management solution should provide fine-grained control over information access (by role or by audience), preserve information integrity, enable customized retention policies and support effective information search. See related GDPR post: How to Make it Easier to Comply with GDPR.

Is ECM dead and "Content Services" the wave of the future?

Severson: Gartner claimed last year that ECM is dead and content services are the way of the future. Where do you see the content services approach providing value to the industry?

Gilfix: As long as people work with a variety of business data, there will be a need to manage that data, and hence a need for ECM. I agree that ECM isn’t a thing, it’s a collection of technologies that evolve to support the management of business data in the context of an organizations’ business operations. Content Services is just an evolution of what people are doing to solve these ECM problems.

The focus of Content Services should be to create applications that leverage the content.

I see Content Services shifting the focus away from lifecycle management and search towards enabling the creation of applications that leverage the content. The value of content is always in the context of the application: what the users do with that content, what role they play, whom they serve. This is why technologies like case management played such a historically prominent role, since they enabled a class of application that made use of that content for knowledge worker workflow.

The value of content services will be to ensure that ECM remains a vital component to modern business applications that are being created in an organization. But the new terminology of “Content Services" also is creating a lot of confusion for organizations that think they have to throw out their existing investments or radically overhaul them to get this application-centric benefit. This is not the case. A content services strategy should complement and extend these investments to simplify application creation.

See related post: IBM Think 2018 Preview: Automating Content Services.

Severson: A huge failure of content management projects in the past was the focus on just archiving a final copy of a piece of content after the business process was over. We talk to people all the time who have not found value from their investment in content management. The value happens when you combine flexible process engines and a scalable archive. What do you think?

The value of content should be measured by what the user does with that content.

Gilfix: The value is about putting content in the context of what the user does with it. This is what I call “the application.” What tools does the customer service rep need to find that content? What tools does the legal department need to handle an information request? What do we offer the end customer who wants to do self-service?

All of these scenarios necessitate the need to create business applications that leverage content in context. Business process workflows are the #1 ROI projects for content management. These enable businesses to address a more holistic, 360-degree view of how that content is used beyond just archiving.

Successful digital transformations focus on the customer journey.

Severson: Everyone wants to “digitally transform” their business. That means a lot of different things to different people. At the core, the issue facing organizations is they have lots of siloed processes and legacy technology investments and somehow they need to turn those challenges into opportunities. What tips can you offer organizations struggling with this issue?

Gilfix: These days, everyone is talking about implementing the “customer journey.” They look at their business processes through the lens of the customer and use that lens to rethink and reorient how service is delivered. While this approach is incredibly valuable to align the organization on what’s important, it is also a tremendous effort to understand what the journey should be and then getting everything to line up.

Severson: We can imagine a world where Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes a common part of the enterprise toolkit. What would it look like if you were to imagine AI working in concert with all the elements of content management we’ve been discussing?

Gilfix: The hot thing in the industry today is to look at how to leverage software-like automation to help businesses scale. You can’t implement a digital channel without some manner of automation to enable self-service or service personalization. Likewise, businesses are struggling to handle growing volumes of customers and partners without the equivalent growth in staff.

Artificial intelligence is now an important component of information management.

Enter AI as one of the ingredients fueling this automation. Everyone today is awash in information overload. Customers want to zero in on what’s important; a service rep wants to quickly digest the most important bits of information needed to resolve a customer request.

AI is helping organizations sift through all this information, alleviate the tedium and extract the signal from the noise.

Content management is a huge untapped opportunity for AI. Tons of unstructured data is sitting in repositories or being touched by content management technology. AI promises to help improve extraction rates, customer understanding, and, ultimately, service.

Lane Severson Q&A Series on the Future of Content Management.

Other blog posts in Lane Severson's 2018 content management interview series:

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.