Friday, January 16, 2009

Will ECM Really Matter in 2009?

Spending the holidays away from the office doesn’t necessarily guarantee the rest and relaxation I hope for, but it almost always provides me with a better perspective when I return. Today, I’m reflecting upon that experience as I fly across the country for our annual business kick-off meeting. I can’t help but remember how many times my family and I found ourselves searching for content we needed - often struggling to get it from one device to another these last few weeks.

The ease with which we can capture digital memories is staggering. I must have recorded several hundred JPEG and RAW images by New Years day in addition to hours of generally awful video with my new Canon Vixia. My MacBook threatened to shut down if I saved one more file and wouldn’t even open a web page until I moved 50 Gigs of older photos off it.

I first tried copying data to a terabyte drive connected to my airport extreme, but even with N band WiFi I received a 37 hours to complete message and then saw the transfer interrupted. I finally gave up and just used a portable Western Digital drive and sneaker net. That was just the beginning. Not all the data we needed this holiday was on the same Mac or server and yours truly finally paid the price for not properly naming photos last year. I almost missed my ShutterFly card delivery deadline as a result.

Once again, the value of meta data has been hammered into my head. I need better ways (or habits) to keep track of all the stuff that makes up my digital life, both at home and at the office. My challenges with rich media certainly aren’t limited to chronicling my family either. We’re developing more audio, video and graphic resources than ever before to help our growing software and SaaS businesses. While we do a better job of categorizing content we make at work, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

I was excited to learn about some of the new features in iLife that Apple announced last week because I think they can help me address some of these content organization challenges. For example, being able to categorize photos by location using Google Maps could help me find them more easily because that metadata relates well to the way I remember things. In photo face recognition could be similarly helpful.

From a business perspective, I’d like to see how I can use this kind of metadata once its stored in our company’s ECM system. This might improve how we discover and share rich media within workgroups as well. Most ECM systems are capable of storing plenty of metadata, but I don’t think many get used much for this purpose. That’s because it’s a hassle for users to add it when all they really want to do is retrieve or save a file and move ahead with their job.

Applications like iLife or those which scan email messages can help automate the process of generating valuable metadata and make ECM much more beneficial for end users. In turn, this could make ECM systems more valuable to businesses, as they promote increased activity and a better chance for content to be shared and re-used. As the content we use to conduct business inevitably becomes richer it would seem that ECM should continue to have an important role to play – even if it’s just helping me find that image I need for the overdue brochure.

Obviously, ECM can do much more than this, but by leveraging enhanced meta data ECM performs an invaluable task. It helps build a better relationship between users and their data by creating improved context. This helps us better recognize and conceptualize data – turning it into actionable information we can more easily put to work.

Next week, I hope to look more carefully at some other data capture technologies that can help automate meta data creation and categorization. This might be a good way to address compliance requirements as well. In the meantime, why not try some of this yourself? Test drive Xythos on Demand with your own data capture tools for physical or electronic documents.

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