Is Your Investment in ECM Future-Proof?

Once upon my career, I led a team of enterprise architects. Among the many responsibilities we shared, none was more important than the strategic analysis of IT investments. The goals of the annual (and sometimes more frequent) exercise: 1) decide what technology to eliminate; 2) what to keep with confidence; and 3) what we felt was somewhere between. It was an admittedly pointless Principle of Thirds.

That’s because the investments never added up to anything close to thirds. Though maybe at one point there might have been better balance between them, by the time I started to make recommendations the outcome had already become sadly predictable. We’d almost always spend way more budget tending to the ‘not sure’ technology than I’d hope. As in: “Not sure where that $4M USD went.”

That’s not actually true. I know where it went. Shifting development sands. Over-passionate or temporary sponsorships. Mediocre end-user adoption. Lack of integration. Too many overlaps with other systems. Too boutique. Too regional. In some ways, this is where much of the budget for IT disappears even today – in the cracks between what’s ‘got to go’ and what we ‘have to have’. It’s a tough job to place big bets on hazy middle ground. And, that region of investment has been troublesome to many business leaders, too. Because it’s an area fraught with fiefdoms, limited visibility, even less measurement, and few success stories.

The simple fact is that when it gets down to funding, most of the ‘wiggle room’ for innovation won’t come from pulling the plug on flatlined technology. Those savings (+/- 10%) almost automatically get taken from the IT budget. So, innovation will come from smarter decisions about managing in the middle – bringing the best of it forward to add new value. Maybe it shouldn’t have been about money at all – maybe it should have been about potential. That’s where IT and LOB alignment needs to take shape.

What’s an enterprise architect to do? Or even an IT leader or line of business sponsor? Ignoring for the moment that I represent a vendor, take this advice from an experienced advisor (which I also am): make strategic technology investments informed by a new principle of thirds for the digital business era: what serves the customers best, what enables agility (and competitive advantage), and how we can manage the value (risk/reward potential) of information better.

With all of those in mind, few technologies qualify as ‘future-proof’ the way that cloud file sharing and collaboration does. And, it meets the needs of end-users, enterprises, and customers all at once – a rare principle of thirds we couldn’t have predicted back in the day. So when IBM talks about its partnership with Box, and the related benefits of a strategic integration with ECM products in our combined portfolios, it’s important to recognize that we’ve both considered all the history lessons learned from the past – and have recognized how vital confidence is to your IT equation.

Even knowing how hard it can be to place bets on the future of technology, I doubt there’s a content services combination with more potential to idealize interactions between people, processes, and content than the near-term or strategic solutions architected by IBM and Box. It’s a future I am betting part of my career on – and one that should easily qualify as ‘have to have’ for many enterprises. In that recommendation, I have all confidence.

About Toby Bell

Toby has over 25 years of leadership experience in technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. He's managed people, products, projects, and profits equally well. His work history ranges from marketing and communications to software design and development to global consulting to technology research and analysis to business leadership. He has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker for Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, and their clients. Toby Bell has spent over 30 years as a global technology executive with experience ranging across enterprise technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. His perspectives about idealizing the interplay between people and emerging content, analytics, and process technologies stem from a balanced career as an enterprise end-user, industry analyst, and vendor in this evolving marketplace. Toby has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker on behalf of Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, IBM, AIIM, and their respective clients.
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