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Caught in the Generation Gap War! September 9, 2009

Posted by Sanooj Kutty in Enterprise Content Management.
Tags: , , , ,

Everyday I face a challenge many other more erstwhile ECM advocates also encounter – the Magical expectations from an ECM solution. Everyday, I try and educate that ECM is neither a technological wand nor is it the blessed and fabled ‘Harry Potter’ that allows it to annihilate the Voldemort called ‘Information Chaos’. Everyday, I return back to the same expectations and offer the same explanations. Only to find them fall on deaf ears or confused ears.

Change is never easy, I kept telling myself. Read many articles and blogs on such challenges and they all spoke the same story of change and acceptance. Simple enough, but, living  and leading a change is complex.

It’s frustrating for sure. It also makes you want to spank them. As the saying goes, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’. Yet, apart from the odd moments, I have managed to restrain myself, because, I always found justification in this painfully slow acceptance, ignorance or mere inability to comprehend ECM.

I had to find out what really stopped users and even technocrats from truly understanding what an ECM solution can do and how it must be done. I looked at the concept, looked at the software, looked at the hardware. I looked at project management, looked at program management, looked at vendors, looked at experts. I looked everywhere, but, always looked from within.

I had to step away. I needed to find my calm, my composure. I needed the vision. Himalayas was always an enticing option, but, I needed more than meditation. Neither did I have a Ferrari to sell. Nor was I a Monk.

Interestingly though, seeing my son grow up made me wonder how different his generation would be as he grew up from mine. I shuddered at the communication gap, the ideology clashes and the lifestyle differences. This made me flashback to my relationship with my parents and my grand parents.

And Lo Behold! I had the vision. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the new generation in its teens. Alive, energetic and rebellious to the traditional beliefs and methods. Fighting to find its place in a world dominated by Computer Data Processing (CDP). I knew now that ECM will face the same challenges every new generation finds against the older ones. There will be drastic changes. There will be improvement. There will be compromises.There will be disagreement and disillusionment.

So, what was this generation gap? Both CDP and ECM were IT solutions. Both are built on the same foundations much like the same genes. Yet, what made them so different that the strong presence of one hinders the progress of the other.

It was more simpler than I thought. CDP was built on a collective standard. Data was defined at an organisational level with individual inputs. Data was built on the black and white principles of 1 and 0. Content, though, had bigger challenges. ECM was seen to be enterprise, yet, somehow found itself being defined individually. An e-mail can be aggressive or diplomatic. A document could be fact or fiction. Content could be true or false or even confused.

Fundamentally, Content now differed from Data. Data was resident on databases that meant it had to be among a predefined type. As much as possible, it was from a defined set of values too. Content, though, resided on objects. Objects that could in itself be in various forms, although, these are mostly standardised and manageable. Content though never had any form, much, like water without a vessel. You never know what form it could be in.

How could Content be such a fluid concept when we have defined templates, organisational policies and standards? Well, take the case of a contract being written by Sales and reviewed by Legal. While Legal pulls out its shield and defends the safety of the content, Sales pulls out the sword and builds a competitive edge. This comes out very clearly in the way the content is written. Sales is willing to take a risk to close the deal while Legal can’t afford to do so. Add to this the various revisions that this contract would be subject to and you suddenly have no control over which one’s the final record.

Until a time comes when the older generation from the CDP era changes or moves on to hand over the reins to the ECM-Gen, ECM will continue to fight a long and hard battle. I am now at peace knowing that I am not fighting a battle, but a war. Gearing up to take it head on.

P.S. Luckily for my grand mom, I never played any musical instrument and so her ears are still safe and in tact. Sometimes, generations can avoid a clash 🙂


1. Pradeep Sagar - September 10, 2009

Very nice. Was initially a bit confused as to what you meant by “generation gap” but everything is well explained. “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the new generation in its teens” – I thought this was brilliantly put.

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