Posted by: mcgratha | December 21, 2010

The seduction of the species

Continuing the theme of the Future of ECM … trend #2 …

Experience is everything

User participation is absolutely essential to the successful deployment of an ECM solution. Without it, most fail or only achieve moderate success. This might seem like an obvious point, but is one that is often not fully appreciated.

There are many approaches to drive and improve user participation, with those that involve a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ usually achieving the best long term, sustainable success. Seeking inspiration for where ECM is going in the future, I’ve looked at the consumer world where there has been a massive and viral up-take of consumer devices (such as iPhone, iPad) and social networking applications. These devices and applications have inspired users and created a desire to participate and communicate.

To replicate this level of participation into the workplace requires a shift from providing users with a purely functional interface for ECM to providing them with an “experience”. It is important to seduce users, immersing them into an interface that is cool, sleek and sophisticated, creating an environment where users really want to participate with minimum effort required, and invoking a positive change in user behaviour around how they create, use and share information.

To this end, I believe that there will be a step change in user interfaces for ECM over the coming five years, creating a much more intuitive, rich and compelling experience for users. For example:

  • Rich Internet Application interfaces – The native web client applications that come with ECM systems will gradually evolve into more sophisticated Rich Internet Applications (RIA) based on platforms such as Adobe Flex/Flash, Microsoft SilverLight, Curl, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) and HTML5 (when released). RIA allows end-users to interact with a web application as they would with a desktop application, avoiding the sluggish page response times and incessant screen refreshes associated with traditional web applications. Google Docs is an example of an RIA, enabling the creation and editing of documents, presentations and spreadsheets online. The web applications available from the Google Chrome web store present another interesting example of an RIA as their user interface resembles an iPad/iPhone application (see (https://chrome.google.com/webstore). This is reflective of a growing trend, as many companies are finding that their iPad applications are offering their customers better usability than their websites, and are therefore changing their websites to leverage design principles from iPad applications. Until standards are agreed for RIA (or until one RIA platform begins to dominate), ECM vendors are likely to align their user interfaces with one of the RIA platforms;
  • Mobility – Smartphones (such as RIM BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, Android phones) are used by an increasing percentage of people as their choice of interface device to conduct business. This is a trend that is echoed in the consumer space where, for example, 200 million people access Facebook via mobile devices and are generally shown to be twice as active as non-mobile users. From a business perspective, there will be an greater demand to access business related documents, stored within ECM systems, from smartphones whilst on the move, and away from the traditional desktop. This trend has already started with many of the leading ECM vendors in the marketplace releasing Blackberry and iPhone applications to provide a secure end-to-end communication between mobile devices and their ECM systems (for example, Open Text ‘Everywhere’);
  • Revolutionary interfaces – Sophisticated but highly intuitive interfaces will become increasingly available. For example:
    • Touch-screen – New user interface applications for ECM are likely to be heavily influenced by what has been learned from touch screen interfaces on mobile devices and tablets. For example, Microsoft Surface (www.microsoft.com/surface) is a revolutionary multi-touch computer with a horizontal user interface (looks like a coffee table) that responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects;
    • 3D – User interfaces that enable information to be navigated and manipulated using intuitive gestures and movements akin to the Hollywood movie ‘Minority Report’ is now technically feasible and showcased at http://singularityhub.com/2010/07/02. There are also parallels to be drawn from the gaming industry (for example, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinect for Xbox).

Many of the next generation user interface applications for ECM will be developed by third parties, rather than directly by ECM vendors. This will further accelerate the introduction of new sophisticated but highly intuitive interfaces, seducing users in the workplace to maximise their participation in information sharing and re-use.

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