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Editor’s Note: In this two-part Q & A, technology analyst and consultant Geoffrey Bock speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about mobile enterprise content management (ECM). In Part I, they discuss the benefits and challenges of mobile ECM. Here, in Part II, they talk about how BPM and ECM relate to each other and how 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: In your example [in Part I] of walking into a store and immediately being part of the sales cycle, that seems to overlap a bit with business processes. Where do you see ECM impacting BPM? Does it make sense to make them part of the same enterprise solution?

Bock:
I really think it does. But I also think you have to be clear about what you mean by BPM.

Business process management is one of these ideas that's been around technology for 10 or 15 years. It’s the idea that you could organize work into processes and you could process-enable your work so that you can go from one step to another, things can happen in parallel and then deliver an end result.

BPM has had a very big impact in terms of the whole movement of re-engineering corporations, making IT much more productive, taking costs out of work processes by linking together the key steps of how people do work and how people and organizations are able to work together around formally defined processes.

I'm a bit of a technology historian and I can't get away from what’s implicit in your question: Are they going to be the same, or are they going to remain different? I think it's important to point out that we are really starting with two separate kinds of systems. Your ECM systems are very much file-oriented and your BPM systems are very much database-driven.

So you have two separate pools of technology that really came to the fore 10 or 15 years ago. There's been a continuing struggle over these past 15 years to try and align the two, because, after all, we're just reconsidering how work gets done. Along the way, the large ECM vendors have come up with an interim solution, which is often called case management, which is a way for offering organizing documents into structured business situations.

The BPM vendors, for their part, have extended their capability to manage content and to attach different kinds of content to processes. For example, enterprise resource planning [ERP] systems can go out and reach into file depositories and bring out purchase orders or bills of ladings or other kinds of form of business documents and put them in as part of the process.

Now to your question about are they ever going to be part of the same enterprise solution: I think going forward, yes, they will be. But it's going to take awhile for the BPM and the ECM threads to evolve. This is going to be part of a whole process that I'm going to call “reimagining a digitally driven solution.” You have to go back and read redefine some of the core pieces of the systems in order to get them to align and come together.

We do know how to do that. They're some of the key building blocks of the web but you'll hear technologists talk about RESTful web services as being very, very important, but I think this is going to take some time.

The other thing that's going to be driving this whole process, and that will also serve as a constraint and a brake, is the issue of what it means to operate within an enterprise. Specifically, in a large enterprise, there are policies and procedures, there are rules and regulations. A large enterprise is a very complex organization that is continually trying to streamline and enhance its processes. To the extent that large enterprises focus on redefining their processes, they're going to want to make them more and more digital. They're going to want to mobilize many more of their processes.

I believe that large enterprises are going to focus on these moments of engagement that deliver tangible business results. These moments of engagement are going to actually be part of the convergence of ECM and BPM. When you strip back the architecture, do you think about what's really happening? Because what we really want to do is to develop rich and informative back-end services that can be surfaced via mobile devices or surfaced on desktops, or on kiosks, or on tablet devices.

It will be many different kinds of experiences, but it'll be a much more rich and informative back end. We're really looking for some of the flexibility that's going to come from bringing ECM and BPM together. We're still a little ways away.

ebizQ: What are some of the bigger mistakes you've seen companies make in trying to rollout ECM into the mobile environment?

Bock:
I don't want to claim that I have a complete catalog of mistakes that people make. I've seen a lot of companies make a very quick-and-dirty first effort and I think that's the right way to begin.

But I think it's also important to realize—and many of the visionaries do realize this, but it's important to reinforce with business management—that the first mobile app is not the last. We're really just at the beginning of the mobile revolution and this is going to be an ongoing revolution over the next five to 10 years. Certainly, as the as a capabilities of devices change and evolve, as new ones come to market, as we even have a fight over what are the different operating systems—and we haven't had a real operating system fight in the IT space for the last 15 or 20 years—so there's going to be a lot of evolution.

Another common mistake, or sort of a quick-and-dirty solution that many people embrace, is to basically go off and do screen scraping. You need to get your data from some place. You can't get it from your systems, so you basically scrape the screens of your HTML data.

[Technology] is going to have to evolve as people who are building mobile devices get more and more access to some of the back-end services that are running in companies’ infrastructure. That's going to be very, very important. But thinking that you just build a mobile app that’s based on screen scraping technology and let it go at that is really just an invitation to disaster.

So I think companies that begin the road to build mobile apps—and most companies should do that—have to also realize that they're going to have to continue to invest in the mobile application development space, not only for producing the device-specific experiences, but also for building out the management infrastructure to manage mobile devices, mobile applications and management capabilities, and for integrating with the relevant back-end services.

Then, finally, there is a technology trade-off between building mobile web apps and building native mobile apps. I don't have a good rule of thumb there. I think it depends on specific situation of what you're trying to accomplish, how much interactivity, what your whole user model is. But you have to think through a lot about what your customer experience is going to be and why you were investing in one particular customer experience or another, and what business benefits you expect people to get from that.

ebizQ: Having covered the mistakes, what would you say is the key to a successful mobile ECM strategy?

Bock:
Well, I think the key to a successful mobile ECM strategy is very much similar to a key to successful ECM strategy.

You have to begin by taking the big picture, realizing that you're investing in a comprehensive digital strategy that really looks at the end-to-end experiences extending, maybe, over a five-year vision.

Then you have to break it down into a set of manageable chunks—maybe three-to-six-month projects—that really map to this vision. But it's important to have the larger vision in terms of overcoming your different information stovepipes that have probably grown up in your organization and then figure out how you're going to be bringing them all together. These manageable chunks become individual three-month or six-month projects, each of which are then identified with specific business value along the way.

Now one of the things I've been delighted to see with the evolution of a mobile strategy is really what's happened in the Northeast here over the last year, and just in the general area of disaster response. A couple of years ago, we had some very bad snowstorms and the basic complaint was that the utilities were not providing anybody with any information. What [customers] got was always out-of-date, not timely, [information that] really didn't address our immediate concerns.

What I've seen over the last year or two is much more emphasis on the part of utilities to reach out to their customers, to tell us what's going on, to let us know how we can get in contact with them, to really exploit the digital channels for connecting with their back-end systems—particularly in moments of crisis when the lines are down or a snowstorm is roaring in or whatever.

And what that has meant for those of us in the Northeast is that we are no longer communicating with a faceless unresponsive organization, but, rather, we know what's going on. We know that if we're without power, we'll have a basic time of when they think we'll be able to get it back on—even if it's such just bad news as [that power restoration will be] a couple of days down the road.

The point is that we know what this digital strategy needs to be. It's simply a matter of organizations sitting down and doing the strategic planning that they need to do, and then coming up with the manageable chunks and processes to deliver on that.

Now along the way, organizations—and particularly the IT people within the organizations—are going to need to develop their overall information architecture and information architecture it has another set of constraints and concerns in terms of defining the information types to finding the different technical attributes of this information but basically knowing how to manage it. Once you know how to define and manage this information, you'll be able to figure out how you can re-factor it and deliver the different bits of information just when you need it to different mobile devices.

[Another big] key to a successful mobile ECM strategy is really adopting a flexible and extensible ECM solution. There are a range of products and services now on the market, but if you go to plan and develop what you're going to build on, you need to continue to look at flexibility and extensibility both from a technical perspective and also from a business perspective.

That means, from a technical point of view, that you have the different content and this content is defined in a very granular fashion that you can deliver on the business request. On the business side, it means being able to describe what the customer experience is going to be, what the problem is, and what the solution you want to deliver to them is going to be and how many clicks and taps you expect them to go through.

When you can do that, you can begin to bring together this incredible amount of information that we have in our digital infrastructure. You can really begin to digitize the overall customer experience and deliver on the promise of these moments of engagements that I think are going to be so powerful going forward.

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



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 pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insider’s guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPM’s use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

ebizQ's other BPM-oriented content includes podcasts, webcasts, webinars, white papers, a variety of expert blogs, a lively online forum and much more.

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