Changing Landscape for Online Commerce

Those of you who are more aware may have noticed the shameless plug on this blog for Angel Gift Company. Its now about time I wrote a little more about this. But now it is not a shameless plug but my observations on how running an online business has changed in the past 5/6 years.

The business started as my wife’s idea about 7 years ago. To begin with it was a simple concept, the genesis of which was born at the same time as the first of our children, and at the same time friends of ours had children. At the time my wife found she struggled to buy gifts for friends, and set about selling baby gift boxes online. Once she had the various products sourced the next challenge was to get a website. This is where I came in and in my spare time I taught myself ASP .Net and built a site which gave her some ability to add products, customise content and for customers to purchase products. I used Netcetera for the hosting and Protx, now SagePay, for financial transactions. All hunkydory, I taught myself some technical stuff and Mrs Smith had an online store.

Its fair to say business was slow to middling for a few years, nothing near a monthly wage but enough for a bit of pocket money. As time progressed online channels changed, we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter emerge since then. Also I became much busier at work and at home, going from 0 kids to 3 in 9 years has seen that spare time disappear!

With a creaking website and no-one to make changes Mrs Smith looked at options to change the business. Firstly she found an online product which she could easily configure to deploy a new site, and its much better than the one we had originally! Secondly she diversified to sell more than just baby gifts, selling gifts for Weddings and Engagements and more recently selling Frame Prints. Finally, and this is the most interesting bit for me, she started to use some of the new channels to promote and sell her products. She set up a Facebook page and got people to like it, and also used it to sell products, using Paypal to take payments. She exploited eBay much more as well as a channel to sell products. The result has been a big increase in sales as she has found a much wider community to more readily engage. Feedback has, on the whole, been much more positive. The website itself produces a similar number sales but the online presence is still important. Mrs Smith now spends a lot more time on Facebook, but not to post what she had for Breakfast, she’s using it as a commercial tool and is now making money from it.

Now everyone, and their dog, and their cat and their goldfish, is talking about Digital in one way or another. Is this Digital? Probably. Its using new technologies which were not available. On a recent journey to see friends she spent an hour on her phone raising invoices and answering queries, not something which would have happened 5 years ago. Either way its interesting how Social tools can evolve to help people make money on a smaller scale as well as a large corporate scale. Lets hope it carries on and maybe I can become a professional Facebook user, is Facebook Channel Manager a title anyone has ever heard of?

The Twitter Effect on ECM

There is no doubt that Twitter has taken the world by storm. A huge number of people use it from people in the IT industry like myself through to Political Activists and Celebrities. I was starting to consider the impact this has had on the world of ECM and two things struck me.

1. Metadata

Most people who have implemented ECM solutions will know that one of the challenges in an implementation is the level of Metadata which is used to describe the content and the challenge in getting users to complete it. I’ve lost count of the number of times when discussions have gone to the nth level of detail on whether metadata should be Optional or Mandatory and even when the discussion is closed and the solution is implemented you can do some Analysis of Metadata and you’ll find a high percentage of it is of little use.

Now Twitter has introduced the # (hashtag). Nearly all users of Twitter will tag their Tweets with one or two hashtags to help describe their Tweets. Just looking at my Twitter feed now and I can see people like Robbie Savage, Rio Ferdinand and Stephen Fry using hashtags to describe their Tweets.

Hashtags are Metadata, just in a slightly more informal manner. But still they are a way for people to describe their content. People are starting to learn how to use Metadata as they use a Social Media tool. This discipline will soon find a way into the workplace, my company use Yammer internally and hashtags are used here as well. This understanding of the benefits will soon feed its way into the ECM solutions we deploy as more of the users of ECM tools are users of Twitter. This should reduce the challenge we have traditionally faced in the design of the Metadata in these solutions. However it will also introduce a new challenge as the informal manner of hashtags will increase the appetite for similar solutions in ECM deployments and we will need to find a way to harness this appetite.

2. Ease of Use

One of the things behind the success of Twitter is it so easy to use and there are so many different clients which can be used to post this content. People contribute because it is quick and easy and the feedback is immediate. Again this usage will start to feed its way into the working environment, Yammer being one of the most obvious ways in which this is happening. Whilst there will always be a place for documents to be written we will increasingly see that solutions need to be implemented which are in tune with this new way of working. We’ve talked about Mash Ups for a long time as a way of deploying solutions, I predict we will start see Content being produced as Mash Ups more and more as the content is taken from a mix of sources and, typically, in smaller chunks. This content will still need to be managed for a variety of reasons including Compliance and the ECM solutions will need to cater for this.

So whilst Twitter has had some pretty big impacts in recent years on major World events such as the Arab Spring and riots in London I also expect it to have an impact on the way in which ECM solutions are used and the way in which we, as ECM professionals, need to approach the way we deploy them.

General thoughts on (E)CM

Another quiet period of writing, there are a few posts which are itching to get out but they’ll have to wait for another day. I do find though I spend a lot of time just keeping up to date with some of the more prolific bloggers and tweeters in this space such as Pie, Lee and Marko, Ron and Cheryl to name only a few.

Firstly I promise not to break into another post on the E in ECM, there are enough posts and tweets about this in the past to keep you busy but it has been discussed again at length over Twitter.

Three things of interest to me have cropped up in the past couple of weeks which are worth more than a Tweet response:

The Fallout from Info 360 and AIIM in the US

I’m only going on reading what people commented on the event but the things I took from it were:

  • BOX emerging as a viable complementary solution to traditional ECM players. I’ve not completely got my head round the model and implications but the idea of being able to collaborate outside the firewall with other organisations and have that content linked back into your central repository is appealing. That comment is based on talking to customers as well as my own predictions. This is something definitely to look into in more detail.
  • Buzzwords of Cloud, Social and Engagement. (Thanks to @ldallasBMOC for answering my question on what the buzzwords were at the event). Cloud is definitely something I am seeing increasingly as a discussion point, and it is starting to come across more and more in some of the delivery models. Social is something which is ahead of Cloud in its impact on the World Stage but I would suggest behind in the way we are dealing with it in Content Management.
  • An emergence of EMC. Yes the event heralded the departure of Whitney Tidmarsh from EMC but it also saw Jeetu Patel present their vision for the future. This vision was first seen at the Momentum conference in Lisbon last year so this was perhaps the first time it was presented in such a public forum in the US. I was pleased to see this last year and I heard positive vibes from people at Info360 this year. The trick for EMC is now to deliver on that vision and to deliver in a timely fashion or at least to keep the excitement high in the period while we wait, ‘doing a Centerstage’ would be a problem for EMC.

An increase in SharePoint apathy

Now this is only an observation but I am seeing an increase in the number of posts and tweets which are advocating the approach that there is a limit to what should be done with SharePoint. Note the emphasis on should. Most people know how great a product SharePoint is and how it has helped to raise the game of other Content Management players by bringing Content Management more and more to the masses. The big thing though has been an increase in using SharePoint as a solution platform, extending the product to meet much more functionally rich and diverse needs. Now I am not saying this is not possible but there is a point at which you need to start to question whether this is the right thing to do. It is when this line is crossed that complexity and costs rise to a point which is seeing people start to question SharePoint. If you know what you intend to use SharePoint for and are clear on when it should not be used then this apathy can be avoided. This is easily solved through having a very clear roadmap or strategy.

Improved User Experience to be a game changer

This observation is following a post from Brilliant Leap. Now I agree with some of the points in the post about the delays in Centerstage causing EMC to lose market share and also about the consumerization of IT having an impact in the Content Management space. What I don’t agree with though is that this is a Game Changer in the Content Management space. (Note that the post paraphrases this from a presentation at Info360 and is not necessarily claiming it is the Game Changer). Maybe it is a semantic thing on the term User Experience, and maybe I am being a little picky. Why? Well I think if we can remove Content Management from the minds of the people who are creating and managing it and move to a situation where that content is being created and managed for a specific purpose and it is that specific purpose which is driving then we will have a game changer. In fact I had a similar conversation with someone else recently who was focussed on the Content Management solution for an organisation, I argued that Content Management was not a solution but was a layer in the solutions which helped them. With this in mind I really do believe that CMIS, if applied correctly, could be a game changer in the the Content Management world.

Momentum 2009

Its Saturday night and everything is just about packed for the trip to Athens for EMC Momentum 2009. It will be a long today tomorrow to get there, leave the house at 8:45 and arrive in the hotel around 19:00, so hopefully the sessions will be worth it.

I’m going to attempt to write as many posts and tweets as possible in the next week, some posts will need to wait until the week after and some things will just get missed as I have a lot of things lined up in the next few days outside the actual sessions.

I’ll try and get notes up quickly in the day or so afterwards and then post something more reflective later on. I won’t be posting things which are told to me in confidence but will just comment on the public aspects of the conference.

Keep coming back for updates during the week and do not forget to visit me at twitter.com/leecsmith.

Missing in Action

Its been some time since I posted an entry, this is down to a combination of work and family pressures, plus I’ve been spending more time on Twitter and Yammer. You can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/leecsmith. Its been good fun using Twitter, I use it for mainly social purposes but there are people within my organisation, and also external, who use it and it is a useful tool to see what they are up to and prompt them for more information. Within our organisation we have also started to use Yammer, http://www.yammer.com, and this has proven an excellent social networking tool. It has really broken down some of the traditional barriers we have had within the organisation and opened up the amount of expertise and knowledge we have at our disposal.

On the work front I’ve been working on a large Documentum project. A number of things have come up which I will post on in the coming weeks once the work dies down a little. We’ve learned a lot about Composer and the team can be really proud of the way they have set up a development environment which I think can be used as a reference for future projects as it brings together Composer, Subversion, Trac wiki, WDK Automated Test Framework and other tools and tricks to really aid in the dev lifecycle. We’re also using elements of Agile techniques, I say elements as I could not hand on heart say it is a fully agile project but we are following 2 week sprints with a sprint backlog and a Product Owner. The requirements are prioritised within the Sprint but ultimately every requirement is mandatory. This is working really well and a product like Documentum lends itself well to such an approach as it does give such a strong start to the process which means that the early iterations can really start to produce something useful.