Interview: Nuxeo and The Transformation of Content Services

A longer version of this Q&A first appeared in CMSWire.This is the first of a two-part interview with Chris McLaughlin, the chief marketing officer at Nuxeo, a content services platform provider. Part Two of this Q&A with McLaughlin ran November 15, 2018.

Content management vendors, including Nuxeo, are going through a fundamental change.

Content management is going through significant changes, all driven by factors like cloud computing, machine learning and the push towards content services. Doculabs Practice Leader Lane Severson has been speaking to leaders in the content management field to get their take on the transformation underway and to hear where they think the industry will go next.

Over the course of the year, we’ll be posting interviews by Lane of industry leaders at Alfresco Software, IBM, Veeva, Microsoft and others.

This is Part One of a Q&A with Chris McLaughlin, the chief marketing officer at Nuxeo, a content services platform provider. McLaughlin guides Nuxeo's go-to-market strategy and is responsible for Nuxeo's marketing worldwide.

ECM vendors should focus on the customer experience.

Lane Severson: It’s an exciting time in the content management industry. Businesses are adopting capabilities like cloud, open source software (OSS), machine learning, as well as innovative ways of working, like DevOps and Agile, to experiment and deploy new solutions more quickly. It seems like we might be at an inflection point. What are you seeing that gets you excited these days?

Chris McLaughlin: There are lots of reasons to get excited about the content management industry today. Indeed, you used the term “transformational,” so let’s talk about some things that are, in fact, truly transformational.

First, there is a renewed focus on the customer experience. Many would argue that maintaining a superior customer experience is the one true source of sustainable competitive differentiation. More and more customers are coming to us asking how they can better utilize their content—and the information they already have about their customers—to provide a superior customer experience.

Modernizing application development with low code development and assembling micro-services.

You mentioned Agile and DevOps and you mentioned that businesses are experimenting and deploying new solutions more quickly. They absolutely are: this is another transformational trend where customers are building new apps and services completely differently than before. Today it is all about low-code development and rapidly assembling microservices to build new and compelling applications.

What is exciting is that content is often a critical microservice for these new apps. Many customer interactions begin and end with content. So, as businesses seek to be more agile in how they develop and deploy new apps, next-generation content services solutions play a critical role, either as a key component of a larger app or as the platform upon which new content-centric apps are built.

Lastly, if we are talking about compelling customer experiences and bridging across silos as well as microservices and building apps in entirely new ways, then the other key trend we have to talk about is modernization.

Simply put, our customers are looking for new content capabilities to help drive their digital transformation initiatives. Legacy ECM [enterprise content management] solutions aren’t going to get them where they want to go.

Content services should not be retrofitted for the cloud.

Yes, cloud and machine learning are exciting and new. But, a next-generation content services platform should be architected for the cloud, not retrofitted for it. Machine learning should be a building block for new business solutions, not simply a fun tool for tagging images. This is why customers want to modernize their content capabilities.

For a view of the future of ECM, see Lane’s post earlier this year: A Look Ahead at ECM in 2018, from Both the Vendor and Customer Sides.

Severson: When I think about the issues that come up every time I talk to a client, both information security and customer privacy are at the top of the list. Do you see anyone who is really cracking the code on this issue? What are best-in-class firms doing to address this issue with content management?

McLaughlin: Information security and customer data privacy are issues too large to be addressed solely by any one content services provider. However, I believe that content services technologies do play a critical role. A couple of leading trends spring to mind when speaking about security and privacy.

The first is around accountability and highly granular auditability. Simply put, one way to ensure information security and customer data privacy is to ensure accountability on the part of those who have access to that information. Content services platforms offer highly granular audit capabilities that enable us to know who had access to what content and when.

Information security is strengthened with audit information.

Unfortunately, most security breaches are not the result of external agents or “hacks,” but are instead the work of people authorized to access the system. Therefore, ensuring accountability through detailed audit information is a key point of control.

Second, with regard to data privacy, we have been working with some of our financial services customers around an innovative concept that gives their customers control over their own information. With this approach, customer information is encrypted with a key that is specific to the customer.

If the customer requests to revoke access to this information—say under a subject-access-request for GDPR—you can simply revoke the key and all of the related customer information becomes instantly inaccessible across any number of systems and solutions.

Severson: Gartner claimed last year that ECM is dead and content services are the way of the future. In my mind ECM has always been a strategy that had a variety of technologies supporting it. Semantics aside, how do you see a content services approach providing value?

McLaughlin: I agree; it’s not semantics. Way back when we started down the ECM path, it was a strategy to better manage all types of unstructured information. Somewhere along the way it became synonymous with a set of technologies and an entire industry.

That said, what I believe Gartner means is that the previous approach employed by vendors to address ECM is dead and that customers are looking for newer, more modern solutions that better meet the needs of today’s enterprises.

The legacy approach to ECM often features a single repository and is based on outdated client-server architectures.

Let’s talk about the legacy approach to ECM, and then why content services are different. Most legacy ECM offerings feature a single repository and are based on dated, client-server architectures that scale vertically on expensive hardware. They typically offer a suite of applications, many of which have been cobbled together from the vendor’s acquisitions.

They feature proprietary technologies and, while many now offer RESTful APIs, they are largely closed systems and are difficult and expensive for clients to integrate. They were designed to manage text-based documents and images. In short, the ECM approach was to get all of your documents and images into a single system and then provide a robust, but expensive, set of tools with which to manage your content.

Modern content services should be both standards-based and flexible.

The modern content services approach is fundamentally different. It recognizes that content will live in a variety of different places and provides broad connectivity to different systems and content repositories. It is built on a modern, cloud-native architecture that can be readily deployed anywhere and scales efficiently on commodity hardware.

The modern approach features open, standards-based APIs and a flexible metadata model that makes it easy to integrate with virtually any other modern application. It offers out-of-the-box connectivity to a broad array of common business and productivity apps to deliver content wherever it is needed.

The modern content services approach supports Agile development and DevOps, and provides a low-code platform for rapidly building content-centric apps. And, of course, it provides robust capabilities to manage both text and non-text content types, such as audio and video.

Regardless of type or where it is stored, the content services approach is to provide access to all content for any app, process, service or solution that needs it.

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. Don’t you think that the magic happens when you combine flexible process engines and a scalable archive?

McLaughlin: Static content that sits in an archive typically doesn’t add a lot of value to an organization. However, there are times when a simple archive can fulfill a critical need.

For example, many financial services organizations are required, by regulation, to keep vital records and information for a designated period of time and are subject to stiff fines and penalties if they don’t. Similarly, oil and gas companies and utilities rely on archives to provide ready access to critical information, like SOPs and emergency shutdown procedures. The “magic” happens when you marry process and content and this is why Content Services Platforms combine core process and content management capabilities.

There are processes that consume and there are processes that create content.

I’ve maintained there are two different types of content-centric processes: those that consume content and those that create content. The former tend to be more structured, transactional processes that are driven by content. Think of your typical loan origination or claims process where various content items enable a loan officer or claims processor to make a decision about granting a loan or handling a claim.

The latter tend to be more dynamic, collaborative processes that are designed to produce more complex content. Think of a clinical trial for a pharmaceutical company or of a large-scale engineering project for a hydroelectric dam or nuclear power plant.

At Nuxeo we’re really focused on enabling knowledge workers to be more productive, bringing better information to business decisions, and providing new insights to transform businesses. This happens at the nexus of content and process, when we move beyond simply storing information and actually put content to work.

Lane Severson Q&As on the Future of Content Management

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.