The Future of Content is Cognitive

According to Gartner, most enterprises have no cohesive strategy or sufficient controls across redundant systems and redundant content. Why? Perhaps it’s because regardless of the potential value of content, 90% of business leadership thinks structured data is more critical toward success – although literally every connection to an enterprise customer is based on content interactions, not data. The term ‘Business Intelligence’ nearly always leads the list of technology-oriented search strings entered by business executives, while ECM appears infrequently. Sponsorship of ECM as a strategic business asset is still limited.

Maybe when ECM dashboards explain the value of content either at rest or in motion we’ll attract more attention from the boardroom. Yet ECM is a fairly substantial software market worth billions of dollars even without detailed analysis and business leadership interest. Maybe anecdotal evidence of efficiency gains, cost cutting, or risk management suffice in keeping IT buyer’s interest. What hasn’t yet resulted from all those years of investment and experience is the collection of usage statistics, valuation, benchmarks, or success measures that uniformly predict value from adopting either ECM strategies or suites. The actual history of ECM in practice. Stats.

Instrumenting ECM in the Age of Analytics

To date, instrumentation of ECM has been incompatible or incomplete – made more difficult by the numbers of repositories, users, processes, and integration with other systems. Something has to change for ECM to become more essential as a business resource equal to ERP, CRM, or Business Intelligence. The first step is to ensure that ECM analytics are engaged – to collect historical information and to aid understanding of changes that did (or should) occur. If a system maintains no sense of history, changes can’t be qualified as improvements.

It isn’t enough to use one company’s history of ECM practices to fuel Cognitive Content. More evidence from more implementations is required. Starting with visibility and ranging through search, classification, semantics, sentiment… any analytics that score content and the people who create and consume it from Historical, Contextual, Predictive, Performance, and Cognitive perspectives.

There are three key markets that ECM components address: regulated/records/archive, transactional, and collaborative/case management/cloud. Yet in any one enterprise there are often several vendors and systems in play across those use cases. IBM is a qualified leader in each area, yet finds business appetite for adding more cost and complexity (and new enterprise license agreements for on-premise software) to be low. But there’s still reason to believe a single platform can encompass business content better than siloes. One strong argument for ECM consolidation is the resulting ability to put business content under a uniform set of processes, policies, and analytics to enable change as business needs evolve. Because becoming a digital business demands change – especially in managing unstructured data better.

A Cognitive Platform from IBM is the answer for both trimming down to an essential set of content services and increasing business agility. We’ve got the best business case for consolidation and a single-vendor set of solutions. It’s turning ECM’s future away from ‘managing all content’ to ‘managing critical business content’, adding sensing and cognitive capabilities so the technology investment enables a quantified business strategy that delivers measurable outcomes. ECM will soon be defined as an analytics platform connecting callable content services to drive the most value from business information. One that connects many information sources and can automatically ‘play’ solutions templates and assess their present value quickly via instrumentation and analytics.

Platforms Make More Sense

So, the first step of driving Cognitive into the ECM story begins at the platform level – by allowing sensing to take place well beyond metadata, user roles, and access. This is critical for consolidation to happen in ECM – that analysis of information and its value to the business can happen much more easily from a single point of focus rather than in a loosely-coupled or highly-federated information infrastructure. The two terms – Context and Valuation – should be part of the conversation about where ECM is going. They also are critical enablers of Cognitive.

The recent announcement of Cognitive Capture as part of DataCap Insight Edition is the first stage of ECM maturity toward cognitive content. By applying a combination of advanced imaging, natural language processing, and machine learning technologies, IBM Datacap Insight Edition can automatically classify and understand the document just as a trained employee would – including format and structure, and words and numeric information – and make the content within any document agile enough for the business to quickly and accurately determine the right action to take and what other information is related.

The key capabilities are understanding the overall context; capturing segments of information to be moved and managed and related to other data; and correlating it all in terms of semantics, processes, and industry. We know what the data and process models look like for loan origination and we can associate information effectively even if it originates on a paper form.

This is important in:

Banking and Finance – where different business lines such as Retail/Commercial banking, Lending, and Investment banking require similar documents for differing contextual reasons

Healthcare – where doctors and hospitals are transferring hand written notes and images into electronic health records for analysis or filing.

Insurance – where roughly half of all documents received are titled “correspondence” and need to be analyzed for content and classified appropriately.

By analyzing the content, IBM Datacap Insight Edition can identify which content to analyze at the point of capture, while continually learning about new document types for future use resulting in overall faster (and better) processing. It applies business rules to help organizations determine what needs to be done – whether a document should be passed to a line of business system or should initiate a case and workflow for additional actions. Content itself triggers multiple paths of workflow.

IBM’s product vision focuses on delivering the right information, at the right time, to the right users. For this outcome to happen in most enterprises, we need to make ECM easier to buy, to use, and to justify to business leadership. Part of what we’ll focus on in coming years is emphasizing the right set of functional capabilities – callable content services – designed to be leveraged in purpose-built solutions. So the future of ECM won’t as much be about suites as services – and IBM’s will include consideration of open source, competitor, and cloud connections. We’ll also deliver strategic support for enterprise development of a content services center of excellence – a shared services approach for better leverage and reuse of the technology.

The Beginning of Content Services

We’ve already created content services for analytics, capture, case management, archive, cloud file sharing and collaboration, and governance that can be adopted and adapted for any content architecture or buying occasion. We also have built connectors for adjacent analytics on unstructured data via Hadoop and Spark. We’ll continue to focus on our on-premise implementations and help future-proof those investments by enabling rapid assembly and adoption of new solutions whether built by customers or by IBM partners.

We’ll also continue to develop our strategic relationship with Box and will announce several new product and platform enhancements to underscore the value of cloud-based file sharing and collaborative processes to business leadership. We believe it will also open up secure customer-centric workflows for highly mobile processes like P&C Claims and global projects. IBM’s content services (like those delivered with Box) will also bring SMBs, geographies, and industries – beyond traditional high volume or regulated or transactional – into the market. This is a significant opportunity.

Managed services in the cloud and SaaS options will make buying ECM easier but also limit the costs typically associated with integration, customization, training, change management, and support. In addition, we’ll offer simple T-shirt pricing: S, M, L, XL, 2XL. This will offset the old arguments about complicated contracts, maintenance issues, and vendor lock-in. Business buyer response to the new delivery models are positive. But we need to move the needle further from technology to solutions and attendant business outcomes. That conversion is happening via IBM Case Manager, Mobile and Collaboration, and our deepening integration and development on Box.

Content Valuation is Your Next Best Action

The conversation about ECM must change – from one about all content to that of business content. The information that engages customers, informs regulators, inspires business partners, and enables employees. Business leaders recognize the difference between casual content and a contract or proposal or policy. But we still can’t engage them in a discussion about business content value. Because to say that optimized business content processes deliver known value (like new revenue or customer loyalty) in many implementations is an understatement. But to say they deliver predictable value in every implementation is a fallacy.

That’s because every company has enough differences in people, process, and information infrastructures to make predictions of ‘normal’ outcomes difficult. Admittedly, these differences sometimes represent competitive advantage, but more often signal silos and fiefdoms and other complexities that demand changes before realizing the full benefits of further investment. A Cognitive Value Assessment, though, can consider many similar organizations and their related complexities – and process efficiencies, too – and determine what constitutes ‘low hanging fruit’ that can yield the highest value and generate further support for change. Because Cognitive is synonymous with Change. And, often as not, businesses change is not based on internal drivers but external forces.

Better Practices Require Better Crowdsourcing

The analysts and advisors that suggest change usually have methodologies derived from multiple engagements across specific domains. This outside perspective is critical for Cognitive. Especially in ECM. What would be better than getting advice from professional services providers would query peers within an industry, geography, process discipline, etc. to understand how they’ve done something. Toward good or bad or fast or slow or rich or poor outcomes. There is a lot of detailed and credible information – and even ROI calculators – that suggest invoice automation is a profitable undertaking for many businesses with many suppliers.

How many other content type and their related people-based processes can also be optimized based on standard templates? A substantial number it seems, based on solutions definitions from vendors, partners, and services providers. But it might also be possible to glean the same recipe and success factors from published best practices provided to an industry organization like AIIM. A compilation of such stories and detailed assessments by analysts effectively ‘crowdsources’ ECM best practices. And creates a set of parameters that qualify as ‘rules of engagement’ across domains. Actual rules that drive decisions and can change as conditions or requirements demand. It’s a start.

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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