In the ECM space practitioners still talk about the same basic set of problems as they did back in 2000. The conversation has not really progressed; its just gotten more complicated.
Since 1996, I've watched leading document-management, ECM and similar trade-shows and conferences such as AIIM's change their focus from scanner sales and service to content management to big data that promises extraordinary new insights, savings, opportunities, etc.
Each year, the hardware and software does indeed get better at doing its thing. Even so, the questions from the attendees dont seem to change.
ECM conference attendees and here were speaking of practitioners and users, not vendors or consultants - tend to break down into three groups:
Group 1 attendees are looking for support for a specific technology / implementation. They tend to think in terms of whats possible by studying the solutions user interface.
Group 2 attendees are the old salts who have come to realize, among other things, that:
Group 3 attendees prefer not to think about technology, but instead focus on specifying the right solution in principle.
Theres not much to say to group 1 other than ask your vendor to make it work better for you. At broader industry events, most attendees these days are in groups 2 and 3.
Group 3 attendees get the major focus from ECM conference speakers. But what do they hear, year after year?
Its all true. And its all been true since as long as Ive been in this industry (20 years).
The proliferation of electronic documents, email, social media, file-sharing, open-source software, databases, web technologies and much more are beginning to close the door on the era of the fax machine, but there's a long way to go. Very notably, the fundamental questions and problems havent changed much since the days when the fax machine, mail service and FedEx was how information was communicated.
There are many complications in developing software and solutions for other peoples core business systems. Here Im going to focus on one concept that really should have taken off by now: a common portable container.
What would such a container do? It would have the following features (assuming conforming software):
By leveraging a single platform technology, users could begin to enjoy an ECM environment in which:
What is this technology? PDF. Yes, its been here all along, and its really the only candidate. PDF addresses all the requirements of a portable container format, and for most features, has done so for over a decade. So what's holding the ECM industry back?
Partly, it's the legacy (too many otherwise well-informed people think Adobe still owns PDF, but it's actually an ISO standard).
Partly, it's because PDF is internally complex, and thus more vulnerable to the Not Invented Here phenomenon.
Mostly, it's the fact that a standardized, fully-supported and broadly-accepted portable container format would provide users with powerful technology independent of any specific vendor, ending the era of vendor lock-in. Vendors don't like that, but customers do.
Over the next 5-10 years, expect to see PDF become the common portable container for a new era of smart, interconnected document and information management systems.
With real answers for information management needs, practitioners will finally be able to focus their questions on on best practices in general, and shed the handcuffs binding them to today's expensive, clunky and overlapping systems.
Duff Johnson is a 23 year veteran of the electronic document space. Author of dozens of articles, he has held top positions in several software and services businesses in the electronic document industry. Today, Duff is an independent consultant and the Executive Director of the PDF Association, where he coordinates several working groups.. He serves the PDF industry as ISO …