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The Creation of Content Chaos

Adhere for Alfresco

How did we get here?

It’s taken nearly 10 years to arrive at our current state of Content Chaos—perhaps starting back in 2007 when managing compliance/risk began its steady decline as the primary business driver for investments into ECM systems.  At the same, we initiated the rapid growth of collaboration—simplified sharing of documents both internally and externally—as the leading reason for new ECM investments.

If we define content chaos as the inability to properly find, manage, and secure documents and records, it’s clear from virtually every metric that most organizations (if not all) are facing content chaos in 2015.  Whether it’s the amount of time each day that knowledge workers spend searching for documents, or the number of times the wrong version of a document is used, or even the significant investments that companies are forced to make in human capital to staff information governance or records management groups, due to the failure of technology to address these areas.  Not to mention the fact that in the news virtually every week is another Sony Pictures or Anthem, where data or content security is the headline for another enterprise.

So how did we get here?  Today we’ll look at three key areas that helped us create our world of content chaos: ECM Avoidance, the Dropbox Problem, and SharePoint Sprawl.

ECM Avoidance

It’s interesting to consider that all of the “find, manage, and secure” issues of today could possibly have been avoided if the legacy ECM vendors of the past had focused on one simple issue—user adoption.  Instead, we saw an almost myopic focus by users on ECM avoidance, looking for any way to avoid logging into complex and time-consuming ECM systems.  Across virtually every industry, surveys show less than 50% of content is being managed in ECM systems, with utilization numbers of 10% (or less) being not uncommon.

From our own experience, when we started working with one of the world’s largest corporate legal departments, they had nearly all of their content stored in either emails or shared drives. This was because users simply wouldn’t utilize the legal DMS systems that were delivered to them by IT.

Ironically, perhaps the best description of this ECM Avoidance issue comes from in a corporate datasheet way from back in 2011:

Connecting to the ECM system, however, is not all that employees need.  Workers want to easily find, access, and leverage current, relevant content.  They don’t want to work on a sales proposal, marketing collateral, or contract, only to discover a more up-to-date version is out there in email.  And if a system isn’t easy to use and intuitive, email is exactly the place people go first to share their information updates.

Shouldn’t the ECM system have been the exact place that people go to find, access, and leverage current, relevant content?  Of course—but only if it’s intuitive and easy to use.

The Dropbox Problem

Dropbox, and, are obviously another key element of the content chaos seen today in the incredible technology investments and advancements made around simplifying the way that documents are shared—particularly collaboration outside of your organization.

Reviewing the story that is told around the founding of Dropbox, it’s said that the founder developed it while a student at MIT after repeatedly forgetting to bring his USB drive to class.  He tried existing file sharing services but they were too slow, complex or error-prone.  He then formally founded Dropbox in 2007—the same pivotal year noted at the outset when managing compliance/risk started to decline in importance and simplified collaboration began its march.

While these technologies are indeed incredibly easy to use and certainly address the need for simple collaboration, particularly outside the organization, unfortunately this ease of use makes it simple to share virtually anything outside the organization.  Hence, the Dropbox problem became part of the ECM lexicon.  A recent report showed over 35 billion Office documents are stored on Dropbox.  Where did they come from, who are they shared with?

According to Dropbox support documentation: “other users can’t see your files in Dropbox unless you deliberately share links to files or share folders”.  As we’ve seen and heard from many organizations, “deliberately” can also mean “accidentally”.  And whether deliberate or accidental, this simple ability to share large amounts of corporate data (including entire folders or drives), via Dropbox,, or other similar technologies contributes to the content chaos issues of how to find, manage, or secure content.  Or, put another way from a leading security researcher, “the problem is not a security flaw as such, but instead an unexpected consequence of user behavior.”

SharePoint Sprawl

During a recent AIIM Survey, only 7% of organizations responding stated that they did not use SharePoint in some way.  Even assuming some bias in the response rates, it’s clear from this survey and virtually every other metric available that SharePoint has achieved a level of pervasiveness that few would have predicted back in 2007.  And, as with Dropbox, the SharePoint sprawl problem is not so much a technology issue, as much as a user behavior issue—and an issue of organizations attempting to use a technology for something which is was not designed to do.  When companies describe scenarios where they have an average of two SharePoint sites per employee, clearly there is a problem.

From the same AIIM survey, now published as an AIIM Industry Watch paper titled Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint, some interesting themes emerge:

  • Only 11% of respondents see their SharePoint deployment as a success
  • Most organizations use SharePoint primarily for collaboration—with only 30% using it widely for document management and only 11% using it widely for records management
  • Only 13% say SharePoint aligns with their information governance policies
  • Only 6% have true federated search—the ability to search across both SharePoint and other document repositories and silos
  • At the same time, the commitment to SharePoint remains strong—and so there is a clear need to co-exist in the future, while still addressing those areas described above given that:
  • Over 60% of respondents are already using or planning to use SharePoint as the search/access portal to multiple ECM repositories
  • Over 75% still have a “strong commitment” to SharePoint

So how do you address all of the topics above?  You’ll have to wait and see!  Stay tuned for part two of this blog, where we’ll introduce Adhere, our solution to solving content chaos.  Coming soon!

Phil Robinson, SVP at Zia Consulting


Cara Moyle