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As we head into a new year and a new decade, I thought it was an appropriate time to build on my blog from earlier in 2019 The Future of Work Part 1 and take a look at what might be just around the corner in 2020 as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Digital Workers start to gain traction in real world business transformation solutions and applications.

There is much to think, and maybe worry, about as we enter a new decade with the continued presence of  political and social pressures that would have been hard to predict 10 years ago but are really influencing how people think about technology and if they should be pessimistic or optimistic about what the future holds. The Economist just wrote a year end special report on the contemporary worries of the impact of technology. A very worthy read if you subscribe online or can still find a copy on the shelves.

However, to me the challenge is much clearer and well defined and has been worked on actively by vendors in the ECM and BPM space for many years. The defining trend at the intersection of business and technology over the last 10+ years has been the drive for worker productivity (we could have called it “digital working” I guess – it is the same thing!) especially in white collar processes where costs are high and transformation to new business models hard to execute irrespective of the IT budget companies throw at their challenges. This is where the combination of content and process technologies has real proven impact and can continue to be leveraged as companies under take digital transformation projects to support new business models.

Achieving new levels of white collar worker productivity means making more of the workers more productive more of the time – essentially spreading expertise that used to be resident in one or two departmental “experts” to a much broader number of people but in a simpler and easier to consume way. This spreading, or democratization, of expertise can be achieved through better sharing of information, automation of work tasks and processes and adding intelligence and machine learning to many steps in what used to be manual processes.

Gartner just announced their Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020 and at #3 on the list is what they call the Democratization of Expertise – defined as “wider access to technical expertise (e.g., ML, application development etc.) or business domain expertise (e.g., sales process, economic analysis etc.) for users via a radically simplified experience and without requiring extensive and costly training”

This Gartner definition aligns with some of my thoughts expressed in The Future of Work Part 1 and  I believe the journey to a democratic work environment is going to be long and hard and full of business process automation challenges the many of the people who will read this blog will be very aware of and well prepared for. This combination of technical expertise and business domain expertise is really what information management has always been about.

My view is that in this brave new world instead of working the way some dark technology system says  workers should work, these digital workers will be given the power to work the way that is best for them – best for their customer, their supplier, their business partners – whomever their stakeholders are. The desire of corporations to build fixed business processes that provide predictable outcomes, hard coded into massive systems and technology platforms is breaking down due to AI and Machine Learning technologies. This could be seen as impending anarchy in the workplace, but the tools and skills exist today to bring an appropriate level of structure to digital business processes without constraining the creativity of a new generation of digitally aware workers. The concept of well trained “digital workers” being able to consume the services and application they need, when and how they want, is no longer an information management dream – solutions exist today that help workers collaborate, manage and process all types of work objects and “cases” in the way they believe will generate the best outcomes.

Companies will need to build a digital process environment where workers inside and outside the corporate firewall can pick the apps they feel will help them do their job best. And the chances are that, as with any normal distribution, some people will have the skills and capability to adapt to this new environment very quickly, the majority of people will do “OK” and 20% of the people will struggle to make the transition so this basically becomes a change management challenge more than a technology challenge.

If we make a broad assumption that a large percentage of the 20% that struggle will be retiring in the next 3-5 years then our focus should really be on how to leverage the 20% of leaders to capture their skills and best practices to enable and train the 60% in the middle of the curve.

Normal Distribution Curve

So, tools that offer flexible choices in task selection for digital workers but then map and analyze the best practice and the most productive end to end processes will be in high demand. These will include tools that analyze what information is accessed and when and how to complete a set of tasks with the highest quality outcome. There will also be a need to analyze tasks and map the timeline and sequence of task execution.

Many of these tools exists already, some have been packaged into solutions that focus on specific types of work like insurance claims processing or fraud investigation, others are available to be easily integrated with existing platforms like Salesforce.com, SAP etc.

Irrespective of the tools available the key will be the availability of skills and expertise in business process and information management techniques that transcend technology and, although these will need to be upgraded, there are many very well trained and skilled practitioners who already have deep knowledge of how to assemble digital processes and work practices. The AIIM community of professionals has a robust set of best practice, education courses and real world experience than can help organizations large and small in the continued pursuit of white collar productivity and transforming their workforces into true digital workers not just human robots!

I am writing this blog sitting in one of the more unique locations for an industry trade meeting that I have ever experienced – The Churchill War Rooms in London. You can always rely on AIIM and its President Peggy Winton to pick interesting places to draw a crowd. My previous AIIM Advisory Trade Member (ATM) experience in London was held inside of Tower Bridge! Being in London at the height of all the Brexit drama and debate does make you feel a bit like heading for a military bunker but we are not here to discuss Brexit (thank goodness) but rather to apply some serious information management experience and talent to the future of our industry and more importantly to The Future of Work itself! 

I am fascinated by the intensity of debate on the future of work. Recently I attended a presentation by the politico-economist Paul Mason on the future of work and his new book The Radical Defence of the Human Being. I have reviewed AIIM’s latest report on the Digital Workplace by John Mancini (excellent video summary by John >> here) and numerous articles in The Economist and more mainstream press. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and other technology solutions are leading to a fascinating overlap of discussions that range from the technocratic to the wider social impacts. 

In my opinion, the future of work and the emergence of the digital workplace is possibly the number one issue facing both businesses (large and small, global and local) and their technology vendors. The very serious social and economic issues associated with how people will work in the future, the replacement of human tasks by “robots” (of both the physical and virtual type) and the relentless trend toward online commerce and services are creating critical questions that essentially remain unanswered. 

So, what did the information management industry’s leading vendors at the London meeting think the answers are? Well… AIIM did an excellent job in assembling a panel of end users from some high profile organizations that were able to speak very eloquently on the challenges confronting them in information management – from basic records management and archiving to the critical issues of serving global customers with information in almost every conceivable format. The panelists were top quality speakers from The Church of England, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and The International Criminal Court. They explained real world problems for which there are no easy answers – for information access, management, analysis and processing. 

It’s obvious from the discussion that the “digital workplace” is the end game, and that reaching that goal is a journey of many steps. But the real challenge seems to be figuring what steps to take when and how. Implementing advanced RPA solutions ahead of getting control of the thousands of documents that exist in your Dropbox or OneDrive folders would sound a bit foolish, because surely even robots need to know where the information is in order to execute a process step or two! Or implementing advance content intelligence and AI across all sources of information when you can’t even address your customer emails in a timely manner would make no sense. 

The immediate challenge, and one that vendors can help solve, is more around the practices, methodologies, processes and approaches that help their customers embrace more productive ways of working in planned steps on a digital workplace roadmap. Each conversation with the customer should acknowledge that even though there may be similarities, each company’s roadmap will be different in some way and therefore the future of work at each organization will also be different.

I believe it is every vendor’s responsibility to have an opinion and vision on The Future of Work as it pertains to their technology and solutions – and that doesn’t mean a technology pitch which focuses on product features and functions, but a well thought through vision for how their products and solutions can help their customers achieve specific steps on their roadmap to a digital workplace. Examples could be case management solutions for a range of critical business tasks that are related to complaints irrespective of the source of the complaint (web, social media, email, paper, voice etc) that automates basic manual tasks using RPA technology and executes predictive analysis on incoming complaints to match a specific customer service professionals skillset and maybe even their personality to the “tone” of the complaint. 

The roots of these solutions that help customers achieve their digital workplace vision are very much in the technologies many of us know well – the capture and identification of content, the management of information, the automation of manual tasks using business process automation technologies, etc. However, the narrative around these solutions has changed and its absolutely critical that vendors who once painted themselves as “Enterprise Content Management” or “Document Capture” solution providers now reinvent themselves. They need to recast their Go-To-Market Strategies, Positioning & Messaging and their Pipeline Development efforts to reflect this new world and the journey towards the digital workplace.  Having an opinion and vision for The Future of Work is no longer optional, it is imperative and should be front and center in all vendor positioning, from the web site to the sales presentations – anything less will condemn them to the back row in an increasingly noisy and hectic market place. 

To read our latest views on the Information Management market and the evolving role for Content Services and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – download our presentation from the recent AIIM & Nuxeo Webinar here >> https://www.slideshare.net/MartynChristian/undrstnd-group-aiim-nuxeo-webinar-information-management-solution

 

 

 

Over the years I have seen some great examples of what I call “Market Momentum” – this is when the needs of businesses are deliberately accelerated by vendors into a storm of interest, marketing excitement, showcase customer success and sometimes, just sometimes, not always…. a little bit of overblown hype!

I remember the early days of Microsoft NT and SQL Server – when the industry giants at the time, IBM, Sun, Oracle, were blown away as Microsoft’s marketing machine went to work to establish a new price/performance standard for database servers in the market. Or years later when Salesforce.com grabbed the CRM mantle from Siebel Systems and Oracle to generate an overwhelming interest and demand for Cloud-based customer engagement and management solutions.

Of course this never happened in the Enterprise Content Management (ECM), now “Content Services” market, much to chagrin of CEO’s at Documentum (who tried hard but ultimately were a mid-tier B2B solution vendor who managed Wall Street expectations extremely well), FileNet (who  never invested enough in marketing and sales to drive the market awareness and adoption needed) and others who endured the slowest burn growth market of all time.

Geoffrey Moore explained this massive market momentum acceleration in his book Inside the Tornado – it seemed a bit of a fantasist ride for most software industry veterans but talking to peers who worked for Microsoft, Siebel, Salesforce.com etc.  when it happens it really is a wild ride of unbridled enthusiasm with vendors feeding on the newly established projects and budgets from  the customer – and sometimes everything just comes together for a year or two to create great growth and a degree of hype that vendors love to wrap themselves in if they possibly can.

Now that ECM has moved to Content Services, and Business Process Management (BPM) has been unleashed into the world of digital business automation and doused with the jet fuel of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)… are we about to see another of these market momentum accelerations?

This week I spent an hour with an executive of one of the world’s leading RPA vendors – stories of doubling employee headcount, 100%+ revenue growth, building subsidiaries in 20 countries around the globe, customer events with double the number of expected attendees…. this all started to sound very exciting to me.

Next week in Las Vegas, IBM’s customer conference  THINK! will be held for the first time – I would expect attendee figures to possibly be as high as 35,000 – and at the center will be a huge push for digital business and business process automation with keynotes from such information management luminaries at Geoffrey Moore  himself, Aaron Levie, CEO of BOX and  CIO’s from companies like American Airlines and Bradesco Bank. One doesn’t normal associate IBM with surfing the market momentum wave, yes, they try hard and create innovative solutions like Watson but at their heart they are a business process automation company – always were, probably always will be – with thousands of business consultant, business process technologies from database to analytics and everything in between.

My point here is that the ECM and Information Management markets that we know so well and have been around forever were always driven by workflow, business process automation, and robotic process automation before anyone ever coined the RPA term. Managing information at rest is interesting but the cost savings and productivity benefits are slim pickings BUT when information moves, inside companies or outside to customers, to vendors, to supply chains – now the productivity improvements and cost savings of managing those workflows and processes better can be immense.

It was always my belief that when the market understood that business process automation was where the real value in information management is then there would be a big shift and acceleration in growth…maybe this is the time?

My RPA company executive made me smile with thoughts of a tornado like future for vendors I work with today who have worked diligently to build solutions that manage  content and its associated business processes for many years – it doesn’t matter what you want to call it but automating workflows that accelerate business and increase productivity is what is going to make people, companies and even whole economies successful in the years ahead – market momentum is indeed a beautiful thing!

 

Martyn Christian

Founder & Managing Partner, UNDRSTND Group LLC

 

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley set in AD 2540 a new world order has emerged while older, lower castes struggle to find their identity. I cite this book and author because for the past 18 months or so I have been blogging and speaking at conferences about the need for the digital content industry, to embrace major strategic change of direction at a vendor level – essentially to find their own “brave new world”.

At Docville in 2016 and again earlier this year, I spoke about “What Is Your Next Best Action?” and “Building a Growth Strategy” in my keynotes speeches and in our  UNDRSTND Group blog I have called attention to the echo chamber in which we seem to live and our indecisiveness as an industry but finally I really do believe that things are getting better and that we are now quickly moving beyond the “green shoots” of a new industry narrative and strategy for Enterprise Content Management. The brave new world is upon us and its exciting.

Some recent events have caught my eye and really give me hope:

  • Upland Software’s acquisition strategy is well documented but their recent $24.4mn acquisition of Waterfall, a cloud-based mobile messaging platform, to fuel their customer engagement solutions strategy shows a more creative use of digital content technologies than some of their other acquisitions. This also makes Upland a $100mn revenue per annum player in what they call the “Enterprise Work Management” market.
  • Ephesoft became a VC darling recently with a $15mn raise from Mercato Partners that will allow them to attack the cloud-based document capture market with new vigor. Founded in 2010 by ex-Kofax executives you might expect Ephesoft to be suffering from the same challenges as the former independent document capture industry leader, but instead they are charging ahead and posting significant growth while others decline.
  • Nuxeo, founded in the early 2000’s in France raised $20mn from Goldman Sachs in September 2016 to help them expand into North America. This alone would have you ranking them as a vendor to watch but then recently they hired both Chris McLaughlin and Danny Pidutti – former FileNet and Documentum talents that have a strong reputation for leading transformative change in product and marketing strategy. No doubt some creative solutions and go-to-market strategies will follow!
  • M-Files, a Finnish company, raised €33mn in 2016 to juice up international growth and are now making big in-roads into the SME solutions space for digital content solutions and not just in accounts payable! They have a broad range of solutions templates on offer to speed the deployment of content management for customers and partners alike.
  • Hyland’s acquisition of Perceptive and the Brainware suite looks to be a smart move to re-energize their business and certainly makes them a force to be reckoned with globally. It’s great to see a private equity investor, in this case Thoma Bravo the long-time backers of Hyland, stepping in to help fuel growth not just look for synergies, efficiencies and cost savings.

These vendors each have a vision and are putting financial resources behind that vision and seeing positive results – this is not status quo, consolidation stuff! These examples help me to believe there is a strong case for growth in the ECM and related solutions space. The larger vendors who consolidated the market in the mid-2000’s (IBM, EMC, Oracle) have other priorities these days but customers still have a serious need to move information to where it is needed and allow their customers, employees and business partners to make better decisions faster. They see value in these types of solutions and modifying standard products to specific business processes is the way to gain market advantage in an increasingly competitive world.

I am looking forward to my upcoming client workshops and speaking engagements and I feel that I can confidently share that growth is back in the digital content and process solutions space – assuming you are living in the Brave New World and not on the Islands that is! 😊

Martyn Christian
Founder and Managing Partner
UNDRSTND Group

 

“Things Can Only Get Better” was the title of a 1985 anthem by mop haired Brit Pop icon Howard Jones (not to be confused with D:Ream another Brit band who also had a hit with the same title in 1993 which became the theme tune to New Labour’s momentous election win in 1997 that put Tony Blair in power in the UK for over a decade)…….
Although nobody was bouncing around singing or dancing in the aisles at this years Docville 2017 – International Networking Event for the Information Management Industry conference, there sure was a more positive outlook and some real world examples of growth, success and things just getting better I guess.
The conference was held this week in Brussels. Michael Ziegler and Heiner van den Berg did a great job hosting and preparing the event and making it a true networking event and not just endless presentations from sponsoring vendors. I was asked to keynote again this year and took a more upbeat approach than in 2016. I focused on growth strategies for vendors and ISV’s in the ECM, BPM and IM space, and offered some insights and advice on how best to move forward and be successful. The keynote preceded the 15 roundtables that are run continuously throughout the rest of the day and the conference concluded with a series of short summaries of the roundtable findings accompanied by some predictions.
Some key highlights from the roundtable summaries included:

 

  • Digital Transformation – the biggest challenge is getting employees within the vendor community to engage in the change process needed – not necessarily convincing customers.
  • New Solution Selling Model – vendors believe that to grow in the digital transformation world they need a new, more virtual sales process with inside sales, multi-channel marketing tactics and nurturing campaigns based on content marketing disciplines.
  • GDPR – it’s scary and most people don’t really know what it is even though it’s a year from becoming law in the EU with fines of up to 4% of total revenue for infringement.
  • ECM or Content Services? – the audience was split on whether this was an important distinction and definition change in the market or just Gartner trying to make more money from a moribund market segment.
  • Product Portfolio and Branding – it was estimated that in the next 2-3 years 50% of vendors in the community will significantly change their product portfolio (buy or build) or rebrand… or both.

Attendance was strong, I would estimate over 100 attendees for sure and the quality of attendee and dialog seemed to be better than last year when my keynote was a “wake up and smell the coffee” message. Also about 30% of attendees were attending Docville for the first time which is a really positive trend. New vendors and solutions providers coming into the market is a healthy sign. I had one conversation with an incredibly enthusiastic vendor who was building a great new product and wanted to raise money and expand as quickly as possible. It wasn’t like a Silicon Valley event with VC’s jumping all over Stanford MBA’s but it was a positive vibe and I think the ECM community in Europe may just have turned a corner.

 

And as Howard Jones said in his rendition of Things Can Only Get Better…

Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands won’t keep us from the things we plan

Lets hope the dreams of the attendees at Docville this week will all come true!

Martyn Christian
Founder and Managing Partner
UNDRSTND Group