Analyst Q&A: Reinventing content management in our new normal

Analyst Q&A

We recently hosted a webinar with guest speaker Cheryl McKinnon, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, to discuss how business priorities have shifted in light of COVID-19, with a greater focus on business optimization. Here’s a preview of that conversation: 

In today’s ever-changing climate, what processes would you say are critical to be digitized and what types of benefits would organizations see?

The most essential processes will vary, of course, depending on the industry that an organization is in, and where they are on their current digital transformation journey.  To identify the high priority starting points, I’d look for the processes that are most critical to delivering core goods and services, that touch customer experience, and that help drive top desired outcomes such as revenue growth, customer retention, or delivery of new goods and services. 

Any process involving paper-based documentation or approvals needs to be under scrutiny – anything related to in-person or paper workflows will fail in an extended home-office work scenario. I’d focus on areas where automation of tasks, document production, or document analysis can be accomplished. This may result in a faster path to revenue, or perhaps reduction of costs if it means eliminating manual steps.  If an organization is already at an intermediate level of maturity and has digitized some of these business-critical processes, I’d then recommend looking at employee-facing processes in order to improve engagement and productivity levels, ensure they are equipped to collaborate securely and protect content and data.

For many organizations, budgets are tighter now than ever before. How do you balance the desire for digital transformation with the need to be cost-effective?

Forrester has some research that segments those industries that will be operating in “survival” mode during COVID-19 response and recovery, those that are in an “adaptive” mode and have a strong chance of readying themselves, and those that are in “growth” mode, and have an opportunity to springboard themselves as new market leaders.  The transformation priorities and ability to invest will differ widely across these three types of businesses.  

Cost and unfortunately staff reduction will be a reality for many companies in the survival category. But those that are able to make some hard pivots into digital-first products and services, and use digital communication and monitoring tools to keep clients and employees safe, are in better positions to recover. Companies in the adaptive category will often still need to sharply reduce or defer infrastructure or modernization efforts that aren’t going to directly improve revenue in the short term, but there may be some leeway to sustain spending to continue or enhance use of cloud technologies to serve customer and employee needs.  Companies in growth mode are providing goods and services deemed essential, or helping other companies improve their situation. Growth mode companies will have the leeway to invest, attract new customers, and expand technology and hiring to help their customers stabilize.

What role does cloud content management play in business optimization today?

Cloud content platforms have been identified by Forrester as one of the essential technology investments for companies looking to adapt during work-from-home phases of pandemic response, as well during recovery and reopening phases. Content drives many business processes, including those that underpin the path to revenue, customer service, and internal employee engagement – it’s how we communicate with each other.  

Cloud delivery models provide advantages that most on-premises or hosted/managed service models do not. In this model, the vendor takes on the burden of infrastructure security and scale, they ensure no one falls behind on old versions of the platform or app, and the pace of innovation and issue resolution is ongoing. Companies adapting to new ways of working do not need to worry about maintaining their content management infrastructure – they need to worry about delivering those apps and solutions to keep their customers satisfied, ensuring quality of goods and services, and keeping employees engaged and focused. This concept of streamlining customer experiences in the cloud has only gained more traction in recent years. According to Forrester data, interest and adoption of customer-facing use cases have risen notably year over year – from 51% of ECM decision makers wanting outside access to their content management apps in 2017, growing to 70% in 2020.

The rise of automation and intelligent services – largely led by the cloud content platforms – opens the door to new opportunities to optimize routine actions, automate how we categorize or route documents, and offer up smarter recommendations about what we should read or do next.  This investment in intelligent content services can also help optimize the protection of users and documents – by understanding typical behaviors and flagging aberrations that may indicate a threat.

When it comes to optimizing their business today and planning ahead for the future, what should CIOs be doing and thinking through right now?

Both business and technology leaders need to take 2020 as a wake-up call and ensure that they don’t get caught again getting mired in old, broken, manual processes. Companies that pivot their business model or adopt new long-term work-from-home policies need to ensure that no essential process is dependent on in-person or paper-based tasks.  These points of failure need to be eliminated and the core process and related documents and records moved to digital-first (if not digital-only). This includes both traditional “back-office” operations such as accounts payable processing, contracts management, new application processing, as well as “front-office” customer facing activities, such as new client on-boarding, new account opening, or cross-company campaign planning. These lines will blur as 2020-21 will be the year of “no office”. 

Content management is an essential foundational technology for business continuity and cloud is the model that’s easing ongoing business at this time.  Organizations that were cloud laggards, or that had not yet digitized essential processes cannot be caught unprepared a second time. 

For CIO’s who are evaluating cloud content management solutions right now, what are the biggest questions you advise them to ask?

When CIOs assess cloud content platforms, there are a few key considerations.  First, understand the range of cloud models that vendors are offering and truly understand the advantages and disadvantages of them all.  There are major differences in the efforts to manage, maintain, and upgrade a hosted version of a traditional ECM suite in a vendor-managed data centre than to adopt a cloud-native SaaS or PaaS.  

Second, find the balance between usability and security/governance requirements. Having a great user experience is a security feature. User adoption and a great user experience is essential to deployment success and meeting whatever ROI or productivity gains laid out in a business case. Decision-makers must look at tools that don’t sacrifice security, retention, data protection, or governance capabilities in favor of easy apps – but also the converse. Don’t accept a complicated, hard to navigate, clunky mobile or web experience just because a product ticks all the governance boxes. Failure to drive user adoption will lead to another round of self-provisioning of unsanctioned tools or workarounds and take the organization back to square one.  

A third recommendation is to look at the richness of the vendor ecosystem.  What partnerships are important, such as systems integrators or boutique consultants to help with deployment or customizations? What major enterprise applications or user productivity tools have supported, tested integrations, and can those integrations be tailored for specific use cases? How flexible is the platform to work with best-of-breed point solutions and is it nimble enough to withstand an organization’s decision to switch their email or team collaboration or video meeting platforms? Is the ecosystem broad and flexible enough to ensure there’s minimal risk of being locked into a narrow set of technology partnerships? 

Flexibility, nimbleness, and the ability to act quickly will be characteristics of organizations that survive and thrive over the next couple of years, and their choice of content platform providers must reflect this new reality. 

Interested in learning more? You can listen to the full webinar with Analyst Cheryl McKinnon and Box CPO, Varun Parmar here.