By Danny Molhoek, Managing Director & Country General Manager UK and Ireland, Lexmark
As technology has evolved and developed so has the way businesses have been run. Now, as we move through an age shaped by the forces of the cloud, social, Big Data and mobility, business leaders are looking at how these are impacting their organisations. In addition, the combination of these technologies is collectively making the Internet of Things possible.
These four technology trends together provide the building blocks for what IDC refers to as 'The Third Platform'. CIOs and line-of-business executives find themselves in the midst of unprecedented opportunity and risk, as the shift occurs towards a set of core technologies that, taken together, form a new platform for industry and enterprise innovation and growth.
The impact of this transition is not limited to the IT industry, but reaches anyone doing business in today's world. A rapid and massive convergence is underway that is bringing together elements including: mobile devices and applications; hosted IT infrastructure, software and content; Big Data analytics to provide insight into business management; and social media to connect internally as well as with partners and customers.
Likewise, Business Process Management (BPM), Imaging and Print Management (IPM), and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) are also coming together for the greater benefit of business. The convergence of BPM, IPM and ECM is one key way that organisations can compete in the brave new world defined by the emergence of IDC's Third Platform.
These three application areas have traditionally been quite separate, particularly BPM and ECM. So the converged world also requires changes in thinking if it is to be realised. This is especially true as offices are becoming more digitised and increasingly automating workflows, approvals, and other traditionally paper-based processes. This transition aligns very well with all four of the individual elements of the Third Platform and their combined nature.
In many industries, cloud-enabled services are becoming the default choice for the majority of business operations. Where this is the case, business processes, content management and document imaging need to be cloud-enabled, operating seamlessly with whatever cloud service is in use.
This provides the benefit of scalability and 24/7 access, but needs to be balanced with all the proper security and compliance elements required. This will vary depending on the industry, the department and the service in question, but must remain a key consideration for a converged content management strategy on the cloud.
The naturally scalable and diverse nature of the cloud means businesses can find services that can be customised to meet their exact needs. This includes what processes and content to keep locally and what can be placed in the cloud.
Social media has changed not only the way we communicate with friends, but also with colleagues and organisations. This is led to social technologies becoming embedded in a growing number of enterprise applications.
From a customer relationship management perspective, content needs to be incorporated into these enterprise applications – either through manual input or automatically pulled from other systems – and processes need to be in place to streamline these interactions.
Internally, platforms incorporating social networking are enabling real-time communication and content sharing between colleagues as well as and more transparent communication. They are also acting as resource hubs and search platforms, especially for larger organisations.
But this 'social everything' phenomenon creates an integration challenge for enterprise IT. So, when ECM, BPM and IPM go hand-in-hand from a social perspective, they can boost the effectiveness of these platforms by linking together the workflows and data that flow through them.
When it comes to 'Big Data', the benefit of a converged approach is that it means content from different systems is more readily available. For analytics to be effective, there needs to be access to as much data as possible in a clear and readable way.
However, traditionally information has been stored in very siloed applications and business departments. This can make it difficult for an organisation to get a clear picture of the whole business at any point in time.
Going forward the focus needs to be on breaking down these barriers, enabling analysis across systems in order to better report on the business as a whole. This approach also means it is easier to identify bottlenecks that are occurring between departments and see how processes from one department impact on another.
Add to this the increasing desire for more real-time reporting and analysis and it is obvious how data collection, business processes and content management needs to be working in perfect harmony in order to deliver this vision.
The mobile workforce revolution has been aided by the continued development of powerful portable devices including tablets and smartphones. But this proliferation of devices adds complexity, as it means content and applications are spread across different devices and operating systems.
Additionally, mobile printing has been a challenge for some businesses, so the increased use of mobile devices has led to a drop in personal print volumes. This is due, in part, to the fragmented and closed nature of many mobile platforms.
When BPM, ECM and IPM are managed from a single, integrated perspective, many of these challenges fall away as the business looks at content and how to manage it using a single view. This means it doesn't matter what device the content is being viewed on or how it is captured, processed or outputted.
When considering the convergence of the four technology trends outlined above and how it aligns with the growing convergence of ECM, BPM and IPM within an organisation, it can appear overwhelming.
But the modern business environment now involves complex interactions between content, people and policies in an information intense environment. Systems need to handle masses of unstructured data including email and document attachments, image scans, audio and video files, as well as data feeds from external systems. This volume of information needs to be handled efficiently and transparently.
Imaging and Printing continues to evolve from being primarily concerned with paper-based output to how data and information is connecting business processes. This mindset change requires an ongoing evaluation of not only IPM, but also the BPM ecosystem that supports it.
The convergence of BPM, ECM and Imaging and Printing is helping businesses to be more effective in addressing social, cloud, mobile and analytics. In such a scenario, the physical device extends from being an output device to a business processing tool for paper and digitally based data, documents and content. This rapid pace of change requires every system to support the Third Platform of the computing landscape that takes into account cloud, mobility, big data analytics and social, as well as traditional document processing.
The benefit of thinking about these four technology trends together, rather than separately, is that it gives businesses a holistic view of the information in their networks, thereby transforming it into a true value add. Ultimately this can help drive enterprise innovation and competitive edge.