Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Problems Waiting To Be Solved

The entire ECM industry is focused on a number of problems today, ranging from compliance and collaboration to SharePoint integration and process optimization. However, there are many other pressing issues that will need to be solved that do not get the same headlines as yet. Note that this is not a list of trends which would surely include mobility, e-discovery, or social media but rather a list of problems waiting for a solution:

1. Too much information
Until recently, IT departments were focused on getting us access to information. Now we have it and we already drown in it. We have passed the tipping point and our IT departments are no longer about providing information but rather about how to reduce the amount of information that users have to deal with without compromising their capability to get their jobs done.

2. Metadata
The problem with content is that – unlike structured data - it is meant for humans and not for machines. In order to make machine processing at all possible, metadata is necessary. And for decades now, we have been trying to convince users to add metadata to content assets – with no success. Users won’t do it. Period. And so we have to come up with reliable and consistent ways of automatic generation of metadata.

3. Storage
Storage is cheap and so we just buy more of it, right? Yeah, dream on! Storage might be getting cheap as measured by $/MB but the data is growing at a faster pace than the storage capacity. The culprit is the proliferation of recording devices e.g. security cameras, smartphones, etc. and the growth of file format size. Just think about the data explosion caused by the switch to High Definition format for video.

4. Social compliance
At the time when most organizations are just coming to grasps with the compliance challenges represented by e-mail, social media introduced a new security, compliance, and liability nightmare that cannot be avoided. You may disable access to social media sites from within your organization but that will merely frustrate your employees. It will not prevent them from going out there and talking. Today, we simply have no control over possible liabilities on Twitter or Facebook.

5. Desktops
So, you think you have a content management infrastructure? You think you have a handle on compliance and information governance? You have deployed collaboration, social media, and intranets to capture your corporate memory? Well, think again. Most of your information resides on desktops and mobile devices and not on servers and repositories. Not managing the desktop and smartphones represents a major hole in your content management strategy.

6. Security
Content security is another issue that to date has not been taken seriously. Yes sure, we have a secure repository with access control, strong authentication and maybe even encrypted file system; however, as soon as users have the right to read a document, the repository’s security becomes irrelevant and they can do whatever they want with it. For years we have tried to solve this issue with digital rights management but that approach has little traction today. Yes, your repository might be secure but your content is not.

7. User interface
The primary interface with our content today is the QWERTY keyboard – an interface that has been designed more than a century ago to slow down the typist to prevent jamming. Well, it doesn’t seem right that we should continue this folly. The new era of user interfaces is likely going to be rich in experience, contextual, and based on a data entry different from the typing today. Just think Minority Reports and you get the idea.

8. Electronic Trail
Not long from now, everything we ever do will be recorded. Not could, it will be recorded. Every keystroke will be captured, every word in a conversation will be recorded, and every movement we make will be tracked via GPS. We will either end up in an Orwellian society or the legal environment might have to change. But in the mean time, technology will need to deal with the immense volumes of records that need to be stored, secured, retrieved, and correlated.

9. Content types
There is a lot of content in your organization that is still living in content silos. Just think of voice mail, maps, surveillance video, usage patterns, or meeting conversations. There are many more content types that need to be included in our content management strategies and cross-referenced with others to be of any use.

10. Formats
You know the frustration – you try to play a video file and you get an error message. The codec is missing, the language is wrong, or the screen resolution does not fit. If video is expected to become the next big thing in communication, the format Babylonia will have to be united. The current battle between Flash, HTML5, and Silverlight is another example of a format war that users couldn’t care less about.

11. E-Signatures
You mean that a hand-signed document transmitted via fax is legally binding and an electronic signature via strong authentication is not? Are you serious? Forging a hand-signed signature is much easier than breaching an electronic signature security. This will have to change.

12. Privacy
We are just a few years away from a point where everything will be monitored and recorded for posterity. Are you sure that the sensitive e-mail you have just deleted in your gmail account is really gone or has it been merely removed from your account? Pretty soon, all objects – and possibly all people – will be equipped with an RFID chip and everything will be tracked. Just imagine the consequences if somebody were to hack into the information regarding everything you have ever done.

Those are some of the challenges that will keep us busy in the years to come. And this list is likely not exhaustive.


  1. Good post. I particularly liked the paragraph about metadata. Finally someone has confirmed what I have expected.