The Culture of Import

The only way we’ll see everybody in the enterprise using ECM is if ECM becomes everybody’s desktop. Documentum understood this from the beginning; they wanted to control documents from creation to destruction and head off trouble at the docbase’s borders: client-side caching, import/export, inter-document linking (OLE, HTML, XML), etcetera. Desktop Client even tried to look like and live within the operating system to hide the gaps, but some bad architectural choices and the irrational exuberance over web applications doomed it.

The Culture of Import needs to change before ECM can become truly pervasive. I’m still surprised by how many long-time Documentum users still create documents or spreadsheets on their local disk drives, only importing them into a docbase when the border guards catch them. It’s an old problem that persists even after this latest panic over records management–not just because we’re used to it but because our tools reinforce the idea. However, some new technologies might help change people’s minds.

Adobe Air and Google Gears may have their part to play by blurring the here/there distinction between “My Computer” and “My Network”. Google Apps comes closer to total document control than Documentum ever has since people create, edit, embed, and share documents completely within Google Apps and Google Sites. I can’t say for sure if they understood what they were doing from an ECM perspective, but Google isn’t a stranger to paradigm shifts as Google Mail’s use of tagging and conversations demonstrates.

Unfortunately Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop and Office applications means we won’t see the necessary culture shift until they get it. Hopefully their building excitement around cloud computing and software as a service will help the software giant overcome its inertia and shed its file/folder mindset. Then you’ll only see Sharepoints instead of disk drives and share areas when choosing “File > Save as” from Word’s menus.

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