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Traditionally, the focus of electronic document solutions has been on the large, paper-intensive processes that exist in the front office. The common back-office challenges of contract management, employee file management, and accounts payable ended up last on the list of priorities. However, digital transformation has put pressure on all parts of the organization to improve their processes. With information technology (IT) backlogs, corporate legal, human resources, and accounting users are often forced to find solutions themselves. In the past, this meant using more configurable enterprise content management (ECM) platforms or easy-to-adopt enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) solutions. Today, new vendors are filling this gap with out-of-the-box operational content solutions focused on these back-office processes.

Operational Content Solutions Emerge

Digital transformation has placed pressure on every department within an organization. Managers are asked to do more work with fewer resources. One way to do this is through process automation. Managers should easily be able to address resource-intensive processes, such as answering audits for required human resource documents or tracking the expirations of contracts. These managers feel that a solution should be available; they just don’t know where to start. Their research used to take them down a winding path to ECM or EFSS, but with the emergence of operational content solutions, they are quickly finding the answers to their specific challenges.

Operational content solutions focus on content processes that exist in every organization, such as managing employee files, contracts, and accounting invoices. These solutions answer the manager’s question directly. For example, a contracts solution will allow them to “draft contracts from a clause library.” They don’t talk about how you can “author a document using compound documents.” Both sound the same to those that speak ECM, but only the first one is easily understood by the end user. The ease of access to information about these solutions using language the business user understands has allowed companies, like Exari, PeopleDoc, Esker, and dozens of others, to grow quickly in isolated vendor landscapes.

Don’t Forget Information Governance

Unfortunately, these solutions forget common information governance principles. Growing quickly and overlooking the lessons learned by the ECM market, the focus is often on the daily process rather than addressing the needs for retention, compliance, and audit. Some of these systems do not include audit trails that would identify who may have made changes to a file or a document. Many of the systems support records management, but most support only document-age-based retention, like when a document was signed. Support for retention associated to events in the future, like an employee’s departure, are not supported by these systems. Most do nothing more than claim to support e-discovery by making documents easier to find.

These limitations are nothing new. At one point, every ECM platform had to add these features. When EFSS solutions first emerged, they did not include these features either. We should expect operational content solutions to add them as well over time. This change will require end users to insist on support for information governance.

Market Fragmentation Continues

Today, it’s obvious from the growth in these new operational content solution markets that customers know that they have choices now. With five of the traditional ECM vendors in a state of change, 2017 will transform the way organizations look at managing content. While traditional ECM vendors posture to take advantage of the changes in the ECM vendor landscape, they may miss the fact that customers are finding new solutions to address their content needs—it’s no longer just customized or configured ECM solutions. Out-of-the-box operational content solutions are here to stay.

Marko Sillanpaa is co-founder of the blog Big Men On Content and the founder of BMO Consulting. He has been working in ECM for over 18 years for vendors like Documentum, EMC, Hyland, and SDL Trados and systems integrators like CSC and Accenture. Follow him on Twitter @MSillanpaaBMOC.

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