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Invisible, Ubiquitous, ‘Intelligent’: Enterprise Content Management in 2018

Guest Blog By: John Fisk, SAP

In planning for an Enterprise World session about the future of ECM with Michael Cybala from OpenText, I spent some time thinking about what the market expectations will be in 2018, and how new technology might enable those possibilities. As prognostication is always more fun than working, I thought I would share a few of the ideas that emerged from the exercise. Some are mundane, and some are far-out, but I’d be very interested in feedback on any level– so please comment freely! (Note – these thought are only a personal perspective, and do not reflect any future product commitments by either SAP or OpenText)

Invisible ECM

Over the past seven years, SAP and OpenText have developed a product portfolio built on a simple value proposition: integrate content and ECM capabilities directly into SAP processes and applications,
combining ‘seamless’ UIs, integrated data hierarchies, unified access controls and many other features into a unified solution. This integration has resonated with every industry in every region,
and we believe our joint solutions are the best in the world, but there is still a long way to go. Over the next five years,
customers should expect that the ECM platforms of today become ever more deeply integrated with all major applications. And key point is that this integration should become deeper, more pervasive,
and ever more invisible to end users
. Most of the time,
they should be blissfully unaware that they are creating, sharing,
or accessing content managed by a central ECM system. In a perfect world, the right content is always available when they need it, in familiar applications and systems of engagement. By 2018, I expect an ever deeper set of native integrations, repository abstraction layers, APIs and web services will enable applications to instantly and invisibly find the content and functionality needed in almost any situation.

Ubiquitous ECM

A related theme is the ubiquity of ECM. ECM capabilities will be made available across an ever-expanding set of devices, interfaces and UIs. In 2013 terms, that means end users can access this functionality view web, email, paper, text, mobile, tablet, desktop or application-specific views. By 2018, one might imagine that this includes a slew of voice-driven interfaces, a wide range of social media tools, digital agents or even robotic assistants. Who knows,
maybe by then home deliveries of milk will be made by robotic ‘deliverymen’ and accepted by an authorized home security system,
which, after reviewing the entire digital record of the cows health and production information and delivery records, will accept the food with a digital signature. Or surgically embedded retinal projectors will present media to end users directly on the inside of their eyeball…. Oh yes… I am getting ahead of myself… But let me opine that for almost any sci-fi scenario you can imagine concerning information access and presentation one can imagine, ECM and other technologies, will be critical enablers.

‘Intelligent’ ECM

And that brings us to ‘intelligence’. Note the apostrophes please – we are clearly still a long way off from what anyone might call true intelligence – but here we just mean ability to improve process efficiency by the use of more advanced technology. Today, many leading ECM solutions offer little more than a crude method to attach static content to a process. Almost all other steps to support content-rich processes (think accounting, procurement,
contracts, HR, etc) require a lot of mundane human effort. SAP and OpenText have advanced the ECM market by integrating ECM UIs, data structures, access controls, etc with SAP processes, embedding OCR/ICR capabilities, and combining workflows in order to ‘intelligently’ present content in the context of business process information. But again there is far more we can do and by 2018, I believe we will be starting to deliver genuinely ‘intelligent’ content management to eliminate almost all mundane work from processes. I know what you are thinking – we have been hearing this promise for years, and most of the individual technology pieces have been available for years – but only now can we combine these more advanced capabilities with a system that offers an underlying integration between structured and unstructured information. In short, combining tools such as semantic analysis, rules-based decision engines, ICR, fuzzy search, and – most importantly – integration with related structured content (i.e. Big Data) may finally yield a practical system that can ‘understand’ the meaning and context of content, and ‘intelligently’ make basic decisions about it. It would be a revolution long in coming.

Evolving Underlying Technology

All of these changes depend on the continued evolution of Enterprise Information technology. At the deepest levels of the stack, SAP has embarked on a journey to reinvent the underlying infrastructure for enterprise information with the invention of our HANA in-memory database. Keeping all enterprise information in a single, real-time data base has many benefits such as IT simplification, speed, and ability to keep ‘one version of the truth’ for both production and analytic data. These are all relevant to our vision of 2018, but one of the most intriguing possibilities that HANA enables is the possibility to fully automate transaction-analysis feedback loops. In the past, analysis was conducted on different systems and a different cycle from process transactions. But by integrating process information, unstructured content, and the ability to run analysis on all of that information, we have an environment where information can be captured, analyzed, integrated with process workflows, transactions executed further analysis conducted, and then content generated and output in a matter of seconds.

So What?

Technology is great, but why does any of this matter? Well, consider one obvious example – the laborious process of applying for a home loan today, with reams of documentation going back and forth between the lender and the borrower in elaborate and tedious due diligence process. In advanced banks, almost all relevant data about an individual credit and employment history is already available digitally in various backend systems, and all the forms can be created dynamically. There is no reason that by 2018, this process cannot be completed within seconds, far more accurately and efficiently than today.

Or a little further out, imagine how digital personal assistants might evolve, and if they were able to automatically interact with the vast amount of digital information surrounding an individual. Assistants might be able to automatically interpret email and spoken requests to schedule meetings, arrange doctor visits, handle insurance paperwork, develop simple legal agreements, etc etc. But this would require systematic ways of managing data and unstructured content, analyzing it through various lenses, and then taking actions. Again it may sound sci-fi today, but the technology pieces are ready. The world just needs someone to put them all together and surprise us.

What do you think?



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