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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

 

The state of the art in marketing practices continues to evolve at a breakneck pace in our social, mobile, viral, info-tainment, personalized experience and short attention span driven world.  And the small software and services companies that we work with at UNDRSTND Group are finding it challenging to keep up.  So, let’s think about this practically and pragmatically, because for these B-2-B technology solution businesses, marketing is just a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

 

If you don’t have a thought provoking, compelling and actively updated Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Web presence does this make you a bad company? No, of course not, but expectations are high for many that use these tools.  So, for the person who relies on Twitter for much of their news and interaction with the world at large, your failure to engage them on that platform could be problematic, if they are good target for your solutions.  But if you repeat this line of thinking for every viable channel of communications to your target audience it can become overwhelming and beyond the means of a small software and services company to address.

 

The story is similar on the content front.  Thought leadership blogs or more ambitious white papers are popular today.  Other people respond best to short videos but they better be entertaining and professionally produced which can become expensive.  And many people would prefer to consume complete self-discovery experiences on your website where they learn most everything they need to know about your offerings at their own pace without having to interact with a human and it better not be boring either (think about our experience as consumers on automobile manufacturer web sites exploring and building our dream car).  And of course, the pressure to constantly update material is greater than ever.  Oh, and have you implemented a chat function on your website?  Not yet? then you better get after it!

 

Now that we have shocked and depressed the small software and services business owner with a modest marketing budget, let’s get back to what we are trying to achieve with our marketing efforts and that is to drive revenue.  We’re not trying to win marketing awards or impress our neighbors with the cool company we are running … we’re trying to make our sales targets.  And to that end, let’s get practical and pragmatic with some ideas for how to make marketing work for us today:

 

  1. Less can be more. You’re better off investing in five really good marketing assets than spreading yourself too thin trying to have twenty pieces of collateral that end up being not compelling and become dated before you can circle around to all of them on a refresh cycle.
  2. Have a compelling website. It is the outside world’s window into your business.  So, don’t let that be a window into your cluttered garage full of old boxes and lawn equipment.  And remember that less can be more, so five really compelling pages is better than twenty pages of dated material.
  3. Drive them to your website. Once you’ve made sure that your website is good, use many of the other channels to drive people to your website.  A modest but compelling presence on social media that motivates people to visit your website is a good step.
  4. Multi-Channel Your Content. Do one really nice video to make sure to touch the YouTube crowd and reuse it across all your channels.
  5. Leverage other people’s content. Find well thought of businesses with larger marketing budgets with whom you don’t compete and ride their coat tails through thoughtful links and commentary around their thought leadership.
  6. Make marketing everybody’s job. Just about everybody in a small company can pitch it and help with your social presence.  The whole team should be active on social media building a following and promoting your brand and your message as part of their everyday jobs.

 

These are just a few high level practical ideas that we hope will spur your thinking and get you started down the road to successful marketing on a small budget in today’s world.  And if you still need help on this front, we’re always here at UNDRSTND Group.

 

Brent Bussell
Founder and Managing Partner
UNDRSTND Group