Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Lost Art of Content Management

After leaving the ECM space a few years ago, I had the chance to see how companies, those that don't sell content management products, manage their content. What I discovered is a disturbing mess.

In most companies, content like documents, spreadsheets, images, and more is left unmanaged. Thanks to cloud-based office suites like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, sharing documents has become incredibly easy. You no longer need to send documents via email (which was a mess by itself), and you don't have to put documents in shared folders either. Nowadays, you can share documents right from where they were created. Unfortunately, most people's default sharing location is their personal folder. 

That's right, most knowledge workers share their documents directly from their personal folder - with some disastrous consequences. By not using a shared, well-organized repository for their documents, many issues arise. As each worker controls their own sharing permissions, they tend to be either overly restrictive or overly open. Sharing with everyone by default creates obvious security vulnerabilities. Sharing only with a specific list of individuals is more secure, but it prevents new colleagues from leveraging the content later.  

The concept of a central repository is quite simple. It is a structure of containers (folders) from which documents inherit their properties, including access permissions. When organized logically, it is easy to navigate. If, for example, you need to find all Engineering projects from Q2 2022, you'd navigate through the folders Engineering -> Projects -> 2022 -> Q2 to find them. Since you might not know the project names or topics, relying on search would be a poor option, not to mention dealing with those pesky access permissions (you can;t find what you can’t access). This is where the hierarchical structure shines. A decent content management system handles access permissions while helping employees navigate the structure and locate relevant content without the need to search. 

Another effective content management tool for organizing content is tagging or classification. It allows users to find content using filters as an alternative to hierarchical navigation and search. That is how good content libraries are organized. Unfortunately, few bother to tag content today. 

With no efficient way to find and organize documents, employees are left to manage links to documents on their own. I've seen some crazy approaches forced by necessity - extensive browser bookmark collections, documents full of links, and browsers with over 100 tabs open. The only alternative is search, assuming you know what you are searching for. Search will not tell you 'What else you should know when working on this project.

When an employee leaves, their documents are typically inherited by their supervisor. However, supervisors rarely have the time to review those documents, so they end up in a subfolder, never to be looked at again.

It's a nightmare. 

Of course, you can create a shared folder structure in Google or Microsoft; you can even use tags. In reality, though, few people do that because nobody told them to do so. The IT department doesn't pay any attention to this issue (although they should) because they are too busy supporting hundreds of cloud apps, from Anaplan to Zuora. 

Knowledge workers don't worry about content management because they don't know any better. They were promised consumerization, where using software at work should be as easy as using Facebook at home. Nobody thought they needed training. But it turns out, they do. Without proper training, you end up with a mess. 

This chaos has opened the door for a range of new companies. Project Management software like Asana or Wrike is essentially a bunch of shared folders with a dashboard on top. Brand Management software like Brandfolder and Bynder are just simple digital asset management systems in a shared container. Intralinks Deal Rooms are shared folders marketed to investment bankers. Seismic is just a shared folder with better tagging. All of these could be created in a regular content management system like Box. The reason these companies exist is NOT because Box is lacking some features. 

Box understands the concept of content management and has built a fantastic product. However, Box, along with other content management vendors (sorry, I use Box and so I like to pick on it), has failed to create a market. Yes, there are companies in regulated industries like Life Sciences and Financial Services that are so heavily regulated that they have no choice but to use a content management system. But most companies don't see the point. Instead of using Box, they end up purchasing Asana, Brandfolder, and Seismic and then wonder why they have high IT costs and low productivity.

That is the problem that Box should be solving. It should establish a market by educating companies and knowledge workers on the importance of managing information. It should stop chasing the latest trends like generative AI because those won't result in a single new customer. The key to creating a market is explaining to people why they need to care about managing content.

Because right now, nobody cares. 

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