Warmth is finally returning to the country and to the enterprise content and records management (ECRM) market. For vendors and end users, this means turning their attention to industry trends, new technologies and management issues. As always, the difficulty is in reading the tea leaves correctly to determine what is truly a trend. So here are some trends you can expect for this year.
Without any doubt, the big story in ECRM this year is the release of Microsoft's SharePoint 2010. SharePoint is the most successful product in the history of one of the world's most successful companies. It has been widely used in corporate and government organizations for a diverse array of applications. SharePoint is an infrastructure that includes functionality as a portal, collaboration, replacement for network shared drives and document/records management. In SharePoint 2007, Microsoft has had basic functionality for document and records management, but it can best be described as "check-the-box" type functionality that didn't compare to mainstream ECRM software from traditional vendors. Problems with scalability and true records management were often not discovered until after organizations had deployed SharePoint 2007. With the new improvements to SharePoint 2010, organizations are going to find a more robust product than ever before.
Most ECRM systems support integration to SharePoint. Some permit objects to be stored in SharePoint while others just use SharePoint's portal capabilities. With SharePoint increasingly controlling the user interface and the new features in SharePoint 2010, vendors are going to face new challenges in their awkward relationship with Microsoft. One other issue for vendors is that SharePoint upgrades from 2007 to 2010 will consume IT resources and dollars — potentially delaying new or expanded ECRM implementations. Fortunately, the upgrade from 2007 to 2010 is substantially easier than the upgrade from 2003 to 2007.
The last 20 years of ECRM deployments have largely focused on line-of-business or departmental applications. But today, organizations are realizing that they can gain cost savings in enterprise deployments. In any case, legal and regulatory requirements often mean that records management is critical to the organization and using the technology across the organization is the best approach. Many companies have multiple vendors in-house serving different departments. Moving to an enterprise deployment (with single records management administration) means difficult decisions about platform consolidation or integration between platforms. More often than not, organizations select a single software product and sunset the others. Upgrades to new software versions or changes to the user interfaces are common during these consolidations. As a result, software sales are likely to remain flat in 2010 even as services revenue continues to increase.
ECRM is the ideal platform to apply universal and consistent records management administration. Unfortunately, a lot of records are stored on shared drives or in unstructured SharePoint team sites. Getting those records into the ECRM system is difficult because they lack structure and metadata. Also, they are often duplicate documents and, even worse, not all of those documents are actually records.
A wide range of new technologies, collectively called "document harvesting," are providing tools to help address these problems. No vendor has a complete solution, but niche vendors, like Active Navigation and Vital Path, are acting as complimentary tools for leading software OEMs.
Return to ROI
Continued pressure on the global economy and tight credit restrictions means that every IT project is carefully scrutinized before being approved. Technology for technology's sake has given way to traditional cost savings and budget reduction. CIOs (and their bosses) want to see clear justifications of ROI before they will approve new projects. Expect payback periods of less than three years or even faster before most projects are being approved.
Cloud & SaaS
Not only do organizations want fast ROI, but they want to accelerate deployments and reduce their up-front costs. Cloud computing and ECRM software as a service (SaaS) are already fast-growing segments of the population, but this is going to increase at an even more accelerated rate. Microsoft is spending billions to build data centers that can host applications like SharePoint and their CRM products. A new version of Microsoft Office will run as a cloud model — further paving the way to make more organizations comfortable with data being outside the firewall. Even the federal government is getting behind cloud computing with a significant push. Former federal government CIO Karen Hughes noted that the government is good at buying systems but is weak at maintaining them. That is a sentiment that many commercial firms can empathize with as they move to more applications in the cloud.
An email archive that integrates to ECRM, records management and e-discovery tools has been common for several years, and the deployments will continue to increase. Organizations today are forced to select very strong point solutions, like Symantec's eVault, or use ECRM solutions from vendors, like EMC, Open Text and IBM, that incorporate emails along with other documents.
SharePoint 2010 will be big, but tablet computers like Apple's iPad will be utterly disruptive in the long run. Inexpensive portable devices will dramatically reduce paper data entry from some markets like healthcare. But the big thing for corporate IT managers is recognizing that tablets based on the iPad and Google's Android operating system do not run Microsoft Windows: ECRM systems that rely on Windows-specific thin-client implementations will have to be rewritten. Tablets also bring the concept of "always connected" to business operations. In the past, business users mostly were connected by email, but with tablets, they will have access to their entire corporate infrastructure.
In the US, we have mostly focused privacy on identity theft, but overseas (especially in Europe) privacy is considerably more evolved. Multi-national corporations are already faced with requirements that don't permit personally identifiable information to be stored outside of the country origin or kept beyond a certain time. So a life insurance claim for someone in France that is administered by a US company with data entry operators in India not only is difficult for the workflow process, but privacy rules may force organizations to stop doing business the same way. In some cases, it prevents the use of cloud computing or requires local cache servers to store personally identifiable information in the country of origin. It also changes the rules used for records management disposition and may require more metadata (and, therefore, more OCR or data entry) in order to comply. Privacy rules in the US are starting to strengthen, and organizations are looking to ECRM to help, but older system themselves often need to be modified too.
DAN ELAM [firstname.lastname@example.org] is vice president of IQ Group, a global management consulting firm focused on ECRM technologies. He is chair of AIIM's Emerging Technologies committee and former US technical expert to ISO.