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– This blog is written by and posted on behalf of John Fiske

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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3 Comments

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  1. Christian Askland

    Hi!

    Great Blog. Great Ideas!

    And some of them are already coming through… In the “Intelligent ECM” space for example, we can apply this today with SAP Digital Asset Management, extraction of embedded picture information to detect EAN codes and from that assign the asset automatically to the right Article in SAP Retail, as one example. On that note we can also capture the embedded GPS information in assets taken with smartphone cameras or videos, which provides yet other intelligent linking mechanisms with content and process such as matching these with Functional Locations based on if the picture or video was taken in the proximity of the location itself.

    Similarly we are also seeing a trend in proactive customer communications with SAP Document Presentment which more and more gets tied to Business Intelligence powered by SAP HANA to get detailed profiling information that can be leveraged to further personalize customer communications. – Think highly personalized and interactive Bills, Statement, or Order confirmations etc. In the utilities industry we can also leverage this to detect anomalies in for example electricity and water consumption and then generate the right communication to the consumer, in their preferred channel. In the scenario of automated order confirmation we are seeing more and more combinations with customer intelligence and purchase behavior analysis to drive highly personalized up-sell offers on all orders confirmations.

    But then again in the 2018 context it is clear that the type of intelligence we can apply will also be much more advanced in terms of the evolving technologies and the paradigm shift we see in capabilities to analyze Big Data in real-time, which combined with ECM will provide event better ways of serving the content consumers with the right information, at the right time, and in the right channel. Here I also believe that ECM solutions will need to not just take advantage of- but also fuel and provide information through the intelligent analysis platforms with SAP HANA that then further will “train” the intelligence that serves the consumers.

    Finally, by 2018 – I think we will have re-defined what a “document” in ECM context will be. It will be much more than a static piece of unstructured content – that’s for sure…

    Again, Great Blog!

    Thx,
    / Christian

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  2. Thomas Demmler

    Interesting thoughts, John. Let me add some additional thoughts.

    Invisible ECM: I totally agree and I would go even further. What about the invisible ECM in combination with the invisible ERP? At the end you are a person with a role and you’d like to accomplish a task. You don’t want to care whether an ECM, an ERP, a BW, or any other major application is used. In my impression, SAP’s new Fiori approach goes in this direction. You as an end user do not feel anymore that you are connected to a powerful ERP backend. Fiori has in my opinion the potential to become this easy-to-use role based UI.

    Your “So What” thoughts. Here I’d like to act as devil’s advocate. “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.” “Assistants might be able to automatically interpret email …” As we all know from the news there is currently an ongoing discussion about collecting and interpreting personal data on a global base. This collection of data can be used for positive as well as negative purposes. Looking at 2018 I believe there will be a completley different set of rules and systems in place that govern the ownership and usage of structured as well as unstructured data.

    What do you think?

    Cheers
    Thomas

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  3. Roland Jäger

    Great blog, I am loving any predictions – especially in technology!

    Despite the fact that I treat myself by getting fresh milk from my local farmer of choice I share many of your prophecies.

    In a world with overwhelming content two things will be needed – even more urgently than today: The integrated view of contextual business content and the underlying technology platform to deal with the big and ever crowing data, be it on premise, be it in the Cloud or any combination of it.

    Will it be social? In 2008 we called it team collaboration, today it is social and certainly we will find 2-3 new terms for it till 2018. Nevertheless, it would be rather an integrated feature of a suite than a separate thing. To comment, rate, blog in context of your favorite business object (be it a customer, an engine, a vendor … you name it).

    Human interaction? I expect that we have widen the scope here: sure there will be phones and tablets of any sort. Desktop PCs will be around – still. But do not forget to pick up people in their current situation, state and location; so add smart watches, car infotainment systems or even the bathroom mirror. Your retina projector sound scary to me … can we agree on smart contact lenses?

    Big Data? Managing data Analyzing data and develop predictions in sub-seconds do faster do better decisions based on real data will make a difference. Example needed? A doctor in the country side have instant access to data of the next (or maybe all) university hospitals and can compare this current patient’s diagnose with others and find the best therapy.

    Integration? That’s the Holy Grail. People could and should focus on their duties in the greater business processes. And ECM is more like a service feeding the application with all the relevant business content. As well is Social. Getting the information governance of ECM, pair it with team collaboration of Social and integrate it into your process workspace. This enriched with analytics … instant access to all relevant information … that would drive productivity!

    Let’s meet at SAPPHIRE 2018/OpenText Enterprise World 2018/<place here your 2018 event of choice> and review our predictions 🙂

    Best,
    Roland

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