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The Dawn of the UX Age in ECM Software


The user experience (or UX) of enterprise content management software is something that has, for a long time, been overlooked. This isn't unique to ECM. Profession and industry specific software has seen decades of clumsy, ugly, highly specific programs that clunk along doing exactly what they're supposed to do, with no regard to whether the person operating it might find it easy or even, god-forbid, enjoyable to use.

ECM has, in effect, suffered from PowerPoint syndrome. Everyone has to use it, but no-one has to like it.

Well, not any more.

In my last blog, I spoke about the growth of mobile and cloud computing, and those two advances have suddenly made UX extremely important for ECM systems providers. While some of the more seasoned ECM providers have simply migrated their existing systems to cloud architecture - creating more accessible content libraries across a large number of applications acquired over years of mergers with other providers - the newcomers are using the cloud as a starting point and building outwards. Instead of seeing content as secondary to the program itself, cloud and mobile architecture allows developers to start with the content and build a UX around it.

This is a dramatic shift that shouldn't be underestimated.

Embracing content moves ECM away from being an arcane skill into something that is accessible to everyone; even something that can be put into the hands of customers themselves. This allows for a whole new set of functions, with collaborative working, web content and digital asset management, and customer driven secondary interfaces overshadowing traditional ECM functions, like content migration and storage. Like all drives for convenience, the difficult core functions become virtually invisible, and the result for ECM is innovative cloud-based software that is built on collaborative functionality.

For those of us used to complicated suites like FileNet and OpenText, this may sound like a lofty aspiration and nothing more, but this kind of software is already very much with us. Where a few years ago you might have had to scan a document, encrypt it, archive it, email it to a client, wait for feedback, act on the feedback, and then start the cycle again, there are now already apps that will allow you to scan, store, encrypt and send a document using your phone's camera, share it with a client, and work on it together, in real time, without even sacrificing security.

These combinations of functions are seemingly endless and will be hugely disruptive to traditional ECM. Some industry leaders are already calling solutions like Box Relay - a joint venture between IBM and EFSS vendor "Box", that combines cloud workflow management with cloud content - the end of the ECM era, and in cutting edge markets like Singapore and California, these systems are already the norm.  It is certainly beginning to seem like anything that isn't rooted in the "sharing economy" is yesterday's news, and millennials will be working on systems that treat ECM the same way as the last generation of software treated code - something complicated that lies hidden at the heart of their productivity software, but that doesn't really need to be understood.

However, the first major burst of these programs only began in 2016, and no obvious market leader has yet emerged (arguably). Moreover, the cause of the biggest problem with legacy ECM software is also an asset that will never truly be out of style: specialisation. There will always be industries where the specialist analytical power of traditional ECM suites will simply never be met by the broader generalist solutions of this new breed. 

So, what is the upshot of all this for the modern job applicant?

The short answer is, it depends on your skillset. If ECM is merely another string to your bow, then the ease of use and increased productivity offered by modern content-led suites will simply make your life easier, and make your customers happier. However, if you cut your teeth on solutions like Documentum and IBM, and have grown into a seasoned ECM professional, you will be pleased to know that these newcomers, built on accessibility, are incredibly easy to use. You will be even more pleased to know that in an age of candidates who see ECM as a thing of the past - a curio to post on their Instagram account and mystify their friends - for companies who still need the raw specialized power of traditional systems, you might just be the hottest property on the block.



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