ECM at the 'tipping point:' Managing enterprise content in the mobile era

Editor's Note: In this two-part Q & A, consultant Geoffrey Bock speaks with ebizQ's Peter Schooff about the combining mobility and enterprise content management (ECM). Here, in Part I, they talk about the benefits and challenges of mobile ECM. In Part II, they discuss ways to develop a successful mobile ECM strategy. Bock is principal of Bock & Company, which focuses on digital strategies for content and collaboration. This Q & A, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for clarity, length and editorial style.

ebizQ: How has mobile technology impacted enterprise content management?

It's pretty clear right now that it's been an explosion of endpoints. We've really hit the tipping point in terms of the number of mobile devices out there. We thought the Web was going to be big; we knew it was going to be global but we [thought we] would all be tethered to our desktops or our laptops. Now suddenly we can have the same web experiences in our pockets or on our tablet devices. So the whole focus of content is suddenly changed. We're now looking at how you can deliver content to people in motion.

This has led to a campaign, or a mantra, where [people are] saying that you have to design for mobile first. You have to reconsider how we're presenting content. Again, you want to again create the content once and distribute it everywhere. Some people are trying to look for what I call a blended experience.

There's also a realization that if you're in front of the desktop, you're having time to focus on what you're doing, whereas if you're mobile, you may well be "snacking" on information. You just have a minute to check something, to check your email, to look at what the order is in a priority queue. Or you're sitting at a bus stop and you want to find out about some news or something. So there's a much more of a kind of interactive activity that's going on.

But at the end of the day, the content still needs to be managed. It still needs to be organized, edited and tagged, published. It needs some kind of interaction. So all the things that we've always talked about that are important for enterprise content management are even more important when we get to looking at the impact of mobile technology. The systems that we have to manage enterprise content in mobile channels though are going to be changing quite a bit.

ebizQ: What are the challenges facing ECM in regard to all of these "work-anywhere" mobile devices?

Let me come back to this notion [that] this content still has to be organized, managed and tagged. You still need to have someplace in some environment where you are, in fact, are controlling the content, where you are, in fact, delivering the content, and where you can always go back and get access to it. You'll have multiple people in your organization in charge of managing all this content that's flowing through your ECM systems.

Now this brings up an interesting question: Why would we want to mobilize our workforce? Why do we want to mobilize our customers, other than that it's probably a fun thing to do and people are going to have these mobile devices in their pockets?

I think what's important to realize is that the mobile channel really changes how people interact with information. We talk a lot about empowering customers through moments of engagement. Having the information in your pocket or having the information that you need on your tablet, presented in a way that's useful, suddenly makes you much more powerful. It's going to allow you do many more interesting things, in terms of personal communications, or many more impactful things.

These moments of engagement are going to be best delivered by mobilizing key task and activities. Take, for example, what the sales experiences is like when you go into an Apple Store. Suddenly, a salesperson could come out and meet you right as you're walking into the store. When you finish with the transaction, you don't have to find the cash register; you just complete the transaction while you're standing in the store and you walk away.

This makes for a much more impactful experience. It doesn't take time for writing or waiting in line. The person who serves you is also the person who sells you the stuff. That's the end of the story. It really changes the whole sales experience.

What we're now seeing in the Apple Store is what I think is going to happen more and more as we get to many more other sales environments, or business environments, or even social environments. We see this now to some extent when we want to look for a restaurant with Yelp, or we want to meet with friends and we can automatically locate where the friends are. This process is going to keep forward more and more and more.

[In addition,] it's going to actually drill down into sort of core business activities. [For instance,] when a person comes to the door and delivers a package, that information that the package has been delivered doesn't have to go through many other people in the sales chain to be recorded, but rather is automatically then recorded in the enterprise systems. So it'll change the way work is going to get done.

ebizQ: Now what does this all mean for how we're going to manage content?

It means, I think, that we're going to have to begin repurposing and refactoring content. Up until now, we've been very much interested in producing webpages, producing a lot of information that looks nice in a Web browser, or perhaps even managing our business and office documents and having some way to organize them and find them when we need them.

When we go to thinking about working on a mobile device, we're going to have to start focusing about the granularity of the content, how structured it is. We're going to start thinking about the information architecture for the content, how we're in fact organizing that information and how it all makes sense to us in a holistic view. So we're going to have to be thinking about a whole range of different content types including audio, visual, snippets, press releases and FAQ [frequently asked questions] responses. Each organization is going to need to think through a lot of the different content types.

And then, as part of this whole focus on information architecture, we're going to have to begin thinking about how we're tagging and organizing our content. What are the actual tags that we used to define that content and make it visible to systems that are going to come along and actually process the content?

So we'll need to think a lot about the purposes and where that content is going to be used. Part of this tagging that is actually quite implicit right now, and it's very exciting, is that people are beginning to do a lot of geocoding. It's very easy now to encode location into content. And one of the real challenges that we're facing is how to think about how we can use location to make the content much more informative and much more impactful.

Again, there are many models around particular people who are beginning to do very interesting things with location and geocoding. This leads back to the last point I want to mention: In terms of the challenges facing ECM, it turns out that integrating with back-end business systems is going to become even more important than has been in the past.

It used to be that you could basically build a website and if you could just organize your content so that it looked good and it appeared on a web browser, well then, you could probably get away with having a web content management system. Or if you had an ECM system and you could actually access your business documents through a web browser, that would be good enough.

The point is: When we get to mobile and we look at what the real impact of mobile is going to be on ECM, we're going to have to think about how we integrate with these back-end business systems and where the content is going to come from and where it's going to go.

And this is going to lead to a set of technical conversations around web services and the business requirements to have a flexible and extensible infrastructure. That just doesn't happen overnight. You really have to plan for it and you really have to think through how you do it.

READER FEEDBACK: Has mobile impacted your organization's enterprise content management strategy? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at

About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at

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