Sep 19, 2011 Fastman

Darwin has a lot to answer for…

Can it only be 150 years since Darwin published On the Origin of the Species and in doing so cemented a fundamental change in how we understand the world came to
be as we know it now?   150 years – an infinitesimally small fraction of a single raindrop of the storm that has been the history to date of our world.

Take yourself back to the 1820’s when Charles Babbage first proposed the machine that we now know as the Difference Engine.  A good 30+ years before Darwin’s theory was published and before even the now famous voyage of HMS Beagle (1831-36).  What a different world Babbage must have lived in and yet in that design Babbage established some of the basic principles of machine based computing that remain with us today.

Fast forward to the 3rd quarter of the 20th century and those of us fortunate enough to be employed in the “data processing” industry were learning all about virtual storage, what floating point registers were, and how decollators and bursters worked (look it up……). Was it really new or just a new way of doing familiar things?

Through the seventies, eighties, nineties and into the 21st century these new ways evolved from the age of the mainframe, through mini-computers, client-server systems, PC’s and now into the world of smartphones and tablets.  Enterprises spent billions of
dollars implementing and operating complex systems that created, processed and
stored ever increasing volumes of data.

Where at first we dealt with data mainly as pieces of “structured” information, by the early nineties we were having to increasingly deal with documents and “unstructured” information first in isolation but by the middle of the decade as core parts of critical business systems and processes.  The age of the word processor was both upon
us and already receding as a discrete concept.  Mainframe systems and even mini-computers were under siege from LAN based departmental systems.

Through this all the techniques, tools and processes to manage this information were evolving. The age old practices of record keeping were being applied to electronic
files and companies like OpenText and Documentum quickly moved from start-up to
established enterprises.  ECM pioneers took their industry from a screaming adolescent to university (well, OpenText started there!) and on to mature workers earning their keep in the corporate world.

So now we have Social. Call it social enterprise, call it Systems of Engagement, or call it whatever you want but all over again we’re taking another step into the unknown.  Challenging the established and re-inventing how we create and manage information.

But of course this is not new at all.  I mean, these social systems have been around
for almost as long as the web.  Just not as part of the business IT landscape and to some extent supressed through the 00’s as businesses dealt with post dot-com technology indigestion.  But now we have a new generation of industry leaders demanding that these tools be provided as part of the businesses they are leading and guiding; people who have become used to having them in their everyday personal lives.

And that is the challenge we as ECM practitioners face.  We know how to deal with unstructured data in the traditional sense; we know what tools to use, what methods to apply, and how to effect change inside enterprises to support them.  It’s not always easy but we know how to do it.

However we’re still figuring out how to deal with “Social” content.  That’s the challenge we face over the next 2-3 years.  Just as Darwin described, we need to respond to our changing environment and evolve.  The question is in to what.

Published by Fastman September 19, 2011