The opening keynote at #AIIM16 here in New Orleans was a thought provoking experience for me and I suspect the other 1000 or so people in the audience. John Mancini, President of AIIM, presented an interesting retrospective on the last 20 years of the ECM market, drawing comparisons between 1996 and today. Some absolutely magical memories such as Microsoft Office 95 being installed from a fancy new CD Drive or more likely using 45 floppy disks to account for the 88Mb needed!

But it wasn’t so much the journey and how we got here as the future and what happens next that really asked the hard questions. As businesses all around the world struggle to cope with the consumerization of IT, the impact of cloud and mobile and the emerging Internet of Things, it is clear much has to change in terms of the corporate mindset, investment strategies and execution if companies are going to thrive, or even just survive, in this new world.

Mancini did an excellent job laying out the cultural and technological challenges that face both vendors and buyers in the audience but it wasn’t until he started sharing some financial data that it really hit home. Did you know that the combined valuations of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google surpass the entire GDP of South Korea? And did you know that the valuation of UBER at an amazing $68bn is bigger than General Motors at $50bn!

Yes we all know that the world is under-going a “digital transformation” as a result of the mobile revolution and the ability to “appify” almost any business or consumer facing process these days but translating this to the reality of our business strategy and plans appears to be a real challenge. In my meetings here at #AIIM16 the biggest issue seems to be the lack of detailed research and planning on how this “digital transformation” is going to affect the business of existing ECM vendors. Surely if the impact is going to be so big and so transformative then every CEO of every software company and ISV in the ECM industry would be spending lots of time figuring out what are the strategy implications and what it means to transition to this digital world (versus being “born digital” like Google, Facebook etc)…. but apparently not, which brings me to the Echo Chamber analogy.

An Echo Chamber (according to Wikipedia – the born digital Free Encyclopedia) is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system. At the end of Mancini’s keynote, a very wise audience member asked the question “Are we all just in the Echo Chamber or are we doing something about this challenge?” I think we may just be sitting in the Echo Chamber because despite numerous examples and reminders the ECM industry doesn’t seem to be taking the situation seriously. One example – an AIIM member said that Dropbox and cloud based content sharing solutions are banned in his company… but 20,000 Dropbox accounts are registered to his employees using their company email addresses! Another example – SLACK, a provider of “Team Communication” apps founded just over 3 years ago that shares documents and messages in a weirdly Lotus Notes like solution, has raised $540mn already and was cited as the sort of vendor AIIM would like to attract. I suspect sadly they don’t know what AIIM is and why it would be important to them because they are too busy spending their $540mn building a truly digital business. If Dropbox, SLACK and many other examples of “born digital” content management offerings are so prolific and growing so fast how could anyone running an ECM solutions business not be thinking very, very hard about what it means for them and their business…. unless they are living in the Echo Chamber I guess!

At UNDRSTND Group we are working with clients where we are challenging their thinking by reviewing their strategic positioning, their growth initiatives and how they believe they will grow value in their business as the world around them undergoes this digital transformation – I just hope I don’t have to go into the Echo Chamber to have the conversation, I may never come out!


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