It was not so long ago that we were excited about metadata and indexing, data capture with optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent character recognition (ICR) and the integration of document management systems with workflow. Today, we have different driving factors for change in our industry. It may be a sign that the tools have matured. The advent of cloud computing, the integration of mobile devices and the demand for commoditization of services are leading us to review document management solutions in a different way.

The pursuit for efficiency was our primary motivation in the last two decades. Automating manual processes was the goal. We struggled with proprietary file formats, capturing information from old document images and building rule-based workflow. We wanted the processes to work faster, with fewer errors and at lower costs—and we were willing to invest to achieve that.

History often illuminates the future for us. On a recent chaperone trip for my daughter’s high school sophomore class to Lowell, Massachusetts, it struck me how history is repeating itself. The 32-foot drop of the Merrimack River through Lowell, which provided energy for the textile mills, gave way to electricity and newer forms of transportation. Factories can now be situated anywhere in the country with lower labor costs. Almost 100 years later, most of our garment industry is overseas. We are following a similar trend with information technology (IT) solutions and services. Many argue that quality will suffer. We will see. It is important to note that sometimes we complain about the quality of our clothing, but very few of us would want to pay a higher price.

Commoditization implies a standard way of producing software products. Many IT professionals believe that software engineering is still part art and part science, which is where it distinguishes itself from manufacturing. However, it is almost impossible to clearly define where the science ends and the art begins. Consequently, many of us, and rightfully so, are feeling that we are wandering into unchartered territories, but keep in mind that uncertainty often leads to opportunities.

With commoditization, we move into the world of a global workforce and managed services where corporations can offer 24/7 services with no interruption. There are many implications for this new world. For document management, it will require that all documents be stored electronically with good metadata so that they can be retrieved from the cloud anywhere in the world for review and processing. The lower cost of storage and the consolidation of major providers are helping us to get there. Advanced privacy measures will make sure that US client confidentiality is maintained around the world—imagine the healthcare industry.

I encourage you to acknowledge the change at hand and take advantage of the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum to share your views and challenges with your peers, to evaluate solutions from a different perspective and to reassess how you can make contributions to your organization. Change can be unsettling and uncomfortable, but I am sure you will make the best of it.

Fred Kam sits on the advisory board of the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum. He is the information technology (IT) director of client reporting with UBS Financial Services, Inc. He is responsible for the monthly statements and daily confirms for all Wealth Management Americas’ clients. He has been with the firm for 20 years. He graduated from the University of Sydney in Australia, with a master’s degree in engineering science. For more information, visit

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