Ron Miller is a familiar face for most of us in the content management world. I always bump into him at conferences, and it’s always a pleasure to hear his take on the current state of the industry. He wasn’t expecting my request to turn the tables, and interview him during the Gilbane Boston conference. He didn’t know if he would have good answers for my questions: “I'm just a humble scribe,” he told me. Well, as I suspected, the discussion was interesting and his perspective was incredibly insightful. At the end he laughed and said he was surprised at how much he had to say. There's nothing like a red velvet lounge to inspire you to riff on the topics you know best.
[JZ] Big data had a prime place at the Gilbane conference. What did you think of the keynote presentation and other discussions on big data this morning?
[RM] I disagree with the keynote perspective that big data is more hype than substance. There's a place for big data in any size company. You just have to know where to look for it.
I saw Andrew McAfee speak at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston last June. He said there are two ways to make decisions: use your gut, or use the data. If you're the CEO, which way do you trust? If you use data, you'll make more intelligent decisions. That’s the premise behind Moneyball.
If you have information, you should use it. If you understand that data has value –- that's the missing link. It's about finding ways to interpret data and make it simple.
Google has a site that slices and dices world mobile data (Our Mobile Planet). You can select your data criteria by checking some boxes and it gets down to an impressive level of granularity. When you're done, you can create a graph and then share that graph -- and it's so easy to do. That's the kind of thing that has to happen with big data - it has to be dead simple and relevant. People get intimidated by big data, and think they need to be a data scientist. They don’t always.
An app that could take business data and make it as simple as Our Mobile Planet would be the next killer app. You need the right tools and the right data sources. The missing link right now is the tools.
Content Management Trends
[JZ] You've been writing about technology and content management for some time now, so you have perspective into the trends that are unfolding. How do you separate the hype from the substance? What trends are you seeing in the content management space?
[RM] When you look at all the trends out there, they're all linked - social, mobile, big data, Cloud. We're able to create more content because we're social, so there’s more data. Because we consume content with mobile, the Cloud becomes more relevant. There is a lot of hype and buzz around these things, but it's also what's really happening.
Within the buzzwords, there's an actual thing that is very real. Like Web Experience Management. That term popped up out of nowhere 18 months ago. Now it's thrown about easily, sometimes inaccurately and out of context, and that can create confusion. But there is an underlying grain of truth to the concept.
It's funny. When I write about things like Cloud and social, I sometimes get vitriolic reactions. There's a lot of old school people out there who feel threatened by the new trends.
I recently posted a link to an article with the caption “Why won't email die?” I thought it was obvious that email creates a lot of problems. It’s not a good collaboration or document management tool, and it's used for that in reality. That results in ridiculous amounts of unnecessary storage, if you think about large enterprises where a single document can be emailed around hundreds or thousands of times. It surprises me when this isn’t obvious to other people. I also don't understand the aversion to change. Yet I received a comment wondering what is wrong with email and why wouldn't I want to use that.
With enterprise social, it's very difficult to measure success. The benefits can be truly intangible. How do you measure increased innovation, for instance? It's more than simply counting the number or participants or how much they've posted. That doesn't really get at the real business value.
For enterprise social, the real benefits are:
- Flattening of the hierarchy. Employees can engage with a C-Suite person in ways that were never possible before. Good ideas can bubble to the top. Smart companies recognize this, and the walls start to come down a little bit.
- The ability to generate and work out ideas in an open format that didn’t exist before. You can start to easily identify experts, and foster innovation.
How do you measure these benefits? There’s a lot of measuring that happens on social networks, but what do the measurements actually mean?
An executive at an analytics company recently told me that there’s an increased level of sophistication after enterprises deploy social tools. That desire to measure what's going on doesn't tend to happen until you have a certain level of maturity.
[JZ] What was the big buzzword at the recent SharePoint conference?
[RM] Cloud. Microsoft was all in on the cloud this year. And they were bragging about SharePoint in the Cloud because it was the same as SharePoint on premise. One thing people like about Cloud is easy access and simplification. What people need is a simpler, more work focused system. I don't think they want a reproduction of SharePoint or Documentum in the Cloud. With this, you're not changing anything, you’re just changing where it's hosted.
Traditional content management vendors recognize cloud and mobile as being important. This is why EMC bought Syncplicity, for example. These vendors see what to do and where they need to go. I don't think they'll all be able to make that transition, but they clearly are trying.
AIIM has been talking about a shift in focus from systems of record to systems of engagement -- that has a huge impact. There’s a different dynamic in terms of what you're managing. With systems of engagement, there’s a tremendous amount of content - some of it valuable, some of it not. That's where big data comes in, and content management becomes even more relevant. How do we manage the kinds of information we're using now? This is different from just managing office documents.
Managing the Information Fire Hose
[JZ] Content is contextual. Some content can be extremely valuable to the enterprise, but a lot of it is clutter and noise. Part of the "management" becomes separating the wheat from the chaff in the face of large volumes. How do people get to the value of a content management initiative?
[RM] Search is more important than ever. Being creative about search is more important than ever. In SharePoint, for instance, you can create content by embedding a query in a web page, so the page populates based on the search terms automatically.
You can also created embedded social objects, so anything with that hashtag populates a page automatically. This helps break down information a little bit so people don't necessarily have to explicitly think about how to track this information because the system is doing it for them.
Think of TweetDeck and the Twitter fire hose. How do you follow 2000 people? I have one column for the 50-100 people I pay closest attention to, and one column for the fire hose. I could break it down further, but that provides a way to deal with the onslaught of information.
I have TweetDeck notifications in a corner, and ideally it provides a way to let me have serendipitous discovery. The goal is to manage the stream without losing the magic.
You need to solve the search problem in more clever ways. You can’t just put a few keywords in a box anymore.