We can't keep doing things the old way any more

John Mancini has been a 'guru' to the document and content management industry for as long as DM magazine has been around - our editor Dave Tyler caught up with him at PFU’s ICC

David Tyler: You have been reporting on research around this sector for longer than anyone else, I'm sure, and you've seen various buzzwords and trends come and go. What are some of the biggest changes that have happened, and maybe are still to come?
John Mancini: It is my belief that digital transformation is fundamentally enabled by what we do in the capture arena, and this is an incredibly exciting time to be in this space - but it is perhaps somewhat different from what we have got used to. When I first came to this industry and to AIIM, it was all about document management and workflow as separate and distinct products. In the early 2000s we saw a consolidation based on 'featurisation' of all these components. All of a sudden all these independent companies and products were combining into 'platforms'. This became what AIIM originally termed Enterprise Content Management - and that worked pretty well for maybe ten years or so.

The next changes were driven by all the different concepts of what content management was really about - things like SharePoint, DropBox and Google Docs. I remember back in 2007 when Microsoft Office SharePoint Services was first introduced, an awful lot of people in this space were saying 'Well, I don't know exactly what Microsoft is doing, but it's not ECM!' Well, we know how that ended up - they changed the curve.

We've now moved into a world where content capabilities are consumed in a much more modular fashion than they ever were before. We're in an era characterised by consumer and cloud and mobile, we have data exploding all around us, new AI and machine learning tools emerging - where is it all headed? This is digital transformation: it's the way organisations are thinking about how they go along on this ride, how they facilitate this ride, how they optimise it moving forward.

DT: I know that overall you feel very positive about how the information management arena is changing - but are there challenges ahead as well?
JM: Sometimes it feels like I'm living in the middle of a Black Mirror episode: any time things change dramatically - and we are right in the midst of things changing really dramatically right now - society struggles with what those changes will mean. We have to look not just at the opportunities out there, but also the challenges that those opportunities will create.

The first key thing to consider is that technology change is accelerating faster than our ability to incorporate it. That is a fundamental thing to keep in mind in terms of the disruptive times we find ourselves in. On one hand, things are incredibly convenient in ways they never have been before. But a downside of the proliferation of apps, for instance, is that it is creating a society that is very isolated, very focused onto itself. And look at how we've all struggled with passwords - and now we see facial recognition and we all think 'Thank God, I don't have to struggle to remember all those passwords any more…' So that seems like a positive - but all the potential negative implications of using facial recognition haven't really been fully incorporated as yet.

I don't want to sound like a fear-monger - I honestly do tend to be more of a glass-half-full kind of person! My point is really that at the heart of all these scenarios is information, and information has emerged as perhaps our single most important asset, moving forward. It is least as important in our organisations as finance, as the people, as the physical assets that we have, that we understand what information assets we have, and we know how to manage them, and how to incorporate them into our organisation in a predictable manner.

DT: At the same time as the industry itself is evolving, we are all having to cope with an almost unimaginable acceleration in the volumes of information being created by IoT, AI and other emerging technologies: is that challenge a good or bad thing for our sector?
JM: I talk a lot about what I call 'information chaos', which is both driving and frustrating a lot of the journeys that organisations are on. Firstly, we know there is a lot of information, and the growth rate is massive. Research I've done suggests that people are expecting data to grow by a multiple of 4.5 over the next two years. We are going to be looking at volumes the likes of which we have never had to deal with before. We will have to change how we look at managing information when the scale is this big - you can't manage that sort of growth in the traditional ways we've used in the past.

To add to that challenge, I've asked organisations what percentage of all that data is unstructured or semi-structured - what we in this industry now call 'content'. And the answer again remains consistent, at between 60 and 65% - that is a fundamental inflection point, that again means we have to change the way we look at information moving forward. That degree of volume, and that degree of variety, simply can not be handled with the old ways.

IDC have also looked at data growth, from the perspective of where is the data coming from, and where does it need to be managed. They have a concept of a 'core' - traditional and cloud data centres; the 'edge' - which is all the hardened infrastructure that you manage in your organisation; and then 'endpoints'. And their central focus is this: the increasingly critical role of endpoints and the edge. And that takes us right back to what Fujitsu have been talking about throughout this conference: that's where the action is, and that's the point at which we have to automate. Because if we don't automate there, we will never automate later.

"I talk a lot about what I call 'information chaos', which is both driving and frustrating a lot of the journeys that organisations are on. Firstly, we know there is a lot of information, and the growth rate is massive. Research I've done suggests that people are expecting data to grow by a multiple of 4.5 over the next two years. We are going to be looking at volumes the likes of which we have never had to deal with before. We will have to change how we look at managing information when the scale is this big - you can't manage that sort of growth in the traditional ways we've used in the past."