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Mobility, cloud computing, social networking and increased demand for collaboration have all fundamentally transformed the way people work--and that's creating new challenges for business and IT professionals as well.

“We’re moving from a synchronous to an asynchronous work life,” says Alan Weintraub, a Forrester Research principal analyst whose specialties include enterprise content management (ECM) and information governance. “In the ‘work-anywhere future,’ work is something you do, not a place you go. We don’t need a physical place to work; we just need connectivity.”

Among the biggest factors influencing the shift: The growing demand to connect mobile devices to networks so that employees can work together no matter where they are. "We no longer have this world where connectivity is limited" based on physical location, say Weintraub, who was among the speakers at Forrester's recent "Embracing Digital Disruption" conference. "The new world is, 'I collaborate everywhere. I have Facebook, I have LinkedIn, I have Twitter.'"

His colleague Brian Hopkins notes that, for many companies, that scenario is already a reality. "I had an executive tell me recently, 'Our offices are a ghost town,'" says Hopkins, a Forrester principal analyst who focuses on emerging IT trends affecting enterprise architects.

And the basic tools are already available, Hopkins adds: "Vendors are creating the capability to work on any device—your iPhone, your iPad, your PC. You're able to do work where it makes the most sense for you and where you'll be as productive and happy as possible."

Success in this new environment requires that employees be able to connect using any device, on any network, from any location, at any time. Providing such "anywhere, anytime" connectivity can create great business value, the Forrester analysts say.

At the same time, that kind of connectivity also creates the potential for some significant new IT headaches."Mobile is the new face of engagement," says Weintraub. "But that system of engagement has to connect with your systems of record," including ECM systems.

And that's the challenge. It's no secret that more and more companies today are adopting the "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) approach, in which employees use their own smartphones, laptops and other tools at work. But now many mobile professional are bringing their own applications as well.

For instance, many information workers now share files outside their organization's official ECM systems via easy-to-use cloud-based apps such as Dropbox and Google Docs, which don't necessarily connect to their ECM systems. In other words, "the business is going around IT and deciding what the system of record is," Weintraub says. Meanwhile, of course, IT managers worry about the company losing valuable or confidential information.

In Forrester's view, organizations need to provide employees with simple, secure ways to obtain the information they need regardless of what device they're using. A growing number of vendors now offer tools for easy file-sharing, but with varying levels of access. "You need to think about what content you want to be loosely managed and what content you want to be tightly managed," Weintraub says. "The higher the value of the content, the more control is needed, and the more trust is required" in terms of which employees should have easy and unrestricted access to it.

Forrester expects that approach to become the dominant approach to content management by 2020. "The future is about transparency and ease of use," Weintraub says. "We want to get to a point where users don't think about it. If they want to store a document, they store a document and it's accessible when they need it," but it's also governed by the controls that satisfy IT.

Weintraub recommends that organizations interested in moving toward that future start by developing mobile, cloud and file-sharing strategies that align to business needs. Next step: "Create a content management environment that does not disrupt the business," he says. "Try to get the business requirements in there." Finally, establish good governance "to ensure integrity and trust."

READER FEEDBACK: Has your content management strategy changed to accommodate for mobile access and collaboration? ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for SearchCloudApplications.com at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at astuart@techtarget.com. Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail editor@ebizQ.net.

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