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Wanted: Practical Document Management Advice for Small Companies

Mar 2, 2015 3:52:00 PM by John Mancini


Going back a few years, I used this chart from Geoffrey Moore from Dealing With Darwin – internally we call it the two-humped camel jpeg -- to talk about some of the changes occurring in the enterprise IT space, and more specifically, in the content management space. 

The way to interpret this diagram is like this…(Per Harvard Business Review)

Most companies in the first category [Complex-Systems Model] have large enterprises as their primary customers, while many in the second tend to be consumer oriented, but the distinction is not as simple as B2B versus B2C. Rather, it is more deeply rooted in their contrasting economic formulas. In the complex-systems model, vendors seek to grow a customer base of thousands, with no more than a handful of transactions per customer per year (indeed, in some years there may be none) but at an average price per transaction in six to seven figures. In this model, a thousand enterprises paying a million dollars each per year generate a billion dollars in revenue.  By contrast, in the volume-operations model, vendors seek to acquire a customer base of millions of consumers, with tens or even hundreds of transactions per consumer per year, at an average price of relatively few dollars per transaction. Here it takes ten million customers each spending $8 per month to generate a billion dollars in annual revenue.

In the Content Management space, we clearly have lots of left-hump, right-hump confusion at the moment. 

When we say the phrase “ECM” we immediately create left-hump images – images of complex, expensive, mission critical applications driving high volume transactional processes.  Or images of case management systems that operate at scale, linking together disparate content and data repositories to create a consistent and rationalized view of the customer in context.

SharePoint originally entered the market as a project-team-focused collaborative solution dealt out by IT staffs to business people to handle very basic file share replacement functionality. Clearly a right hump solution. However, as time has gone on, and the scale and complexity of SharePoint has grown – and as SharePoint began to be viewed as a business platform rather than a document-sharing application -- it migrated into Complex Systems Land.  This confusion is clearly reflected in AIIM’s just released SharePoint Industry Watch, Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint – important strategy choices.

But since SharePoint came along, the market flipped again, and there’s another set of solutions like (just for example, NOT intended as an exhaustive list) Evernote, Box, DropBox, Google at Work, Office365, and M-Files clearly focused on right-hump land.  And truly opening up the market to thousands of companies and organizations who previously and justifiably viewed document management (or heaven help us, ECM) as something way beyond their means.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with EITHER the left hump or the right hump.  They are just different.  I like to think there are two questions we should ask about a technology solution – 1) is it good technology?; and 2) is it appropriate technology?

I was reminded of this Complex Systems/Volume Operations dichotomy last week by an article in Forbes, The One Thing That Can Transform An Idea Into A Phenomenon.

We like to think that disruption happens in Silicon Valley and other technological hot spots, but the reality is that things only take off when they gain traction somewhere else.  The true face of revolution looks more like The Good Wife than it does Homeland. Innovation doesn’t become real when you read it in Wired, but when you see it on CNN….Ironically, it is often the early adopters, usually hobbyists who have built a tight knit community around new technology, who are most resistant to spreading it....And that’s why we call people like Steve Jobs geniuses.  They are the ones who are able to see that the grimy bunch that collected around the Homebrew Computer Club could one day morph into a throbbing mass of soccer parents shopping for sleek laptops.  It’s the interface, not the mechanics, that makes an idea “insanely great.”

Think for a moment about small businesses with between 10 and 100 employees.  Just as a data point, there are 1,074,459 of these firms just in the United States. 

How many of these 1,074,459 companies would be interested in a left hump “ECM” solution?  Probably less than 1%.

How many could benefit from a right-hump “good enough” document management and workflow solution?  I would bet almost all of the remaining 99%.  How many of these have even rudimentary document management capability and how many are just utilizing a mess of unmanaged file shares and local hard drives? I’ll bet the ratio is 5%/95%. 

I was talking to some colleagues about this "keep it simple" challenge today and they came up with a good personal analogy that is extendable to organizations.  How many people use all -- or even a majority -- of the functionality built into Excel?  Answer -- probably just a very few finance types.  How many just want to do some pretty simple things with spreadsheets, things that are terrifically useful but not very complicated?  Almost everyone else.

I recently spoke with a legal clinic that had these fairly typically information chaos challenges:

  1. They process about 2,000 submissions per year (and 20,000 files needing back-file conversion)
  2. They don’t have a lot of IT staff and those they have aren’t terribly helpful with “document” questions.
  3. They have about 75 people on staff. Relatively few process the submissions, but a lot of the 75 access them.
  4. They need a solution that is 1) cloud-based, 2) easy to use, 3) able to scan directly into a repository (all submissions initially paper) using the MFPs they already own, 4) able to do so with full-text search (currently just static PDFs) and to automatically apply basic metadata, 5) able to check on who accessed which files.

Clearly this legal clinic needs mid-range right hump functionality.  Complex Systems Land is not even on the radar screen.

Which brings me to my point, and the points upon which I would like your help.

What does a company with 10-100 employees need to know to simply manage documents effectively and responsibly? 

How can they do this for less than $25,000? (Can they?)

Post a comment and let’s get the “Document Management on a Shoestring” conversation started.


We'd love to see you at AIIM15 in a few weeks.


Topics: document management

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