Last week’s technology news was buzzing with Google’s acquisition of Nest, a company selling thermostats and smoke alarms adapting automatically to your life pattern.
The acquisition is another sign of technology firms taking position in the coming 'Age of Context’, a phenomenon described by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in their eponymous book. The book is a great read and shares a vision of how technology is getting more personalized and predictive.
Technology is now trying to assist users in a better way by understanding who you are, what your preferences are and what you are likely to be doing next by combining the 5 forces of
- mobile devices
- social media
- big data
- location-based services
A well-known example is Google Now, which will (at times, freakily) suggest driving directions to places you recently visited or urge you to leave for a scheduled meeting based on combining your calendar data with current traffic conditions. But there are plenty of other examples of emerging contextual technology in the fields of fitness/health (Fitbit, Scanadu), marketing (VinTank), home automation (Nest, SmartThings) etc.
What the age of context could mean for enterprise content management (ECM)
Contextual technology is based on the discovery of patterns in your behavior and using those patterns to predict what you might like to do, see, hear or know next. It’s not hard to see how this might also be applicable in the world of document management and collaboration technology.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your intranet would spontaneously notify you if a new report on air quality were added, just because it had automatically identified your previous interest in those reports? Or if your legal case management platform would point you to similar cases, based on the draft version of a case description you just uploaded?
Or, to go one bold step further, if your knowledge platform would suggest you to read some recent studies on the European economy based on some specific newspaper articles you just read while wearing Google Glass?
Most of these examples still sound like science fiction, but they touch the core of what information management is about: offering users the right information at the right time, based on all contextual parameters available.
Future feature battlefield
Today’s document management and collaboration platforms are not completely there yet. Oh yes, we do have personal dashboards (Alfresco Share, SharePoint's MySite), personalizable widgets (Documentum D2), or the ability to show interest in certain topics by ‘following’ them (SharePoint 2013, Alfresco).
But all those types of personalization are still quite static, in the sense that they just give you an overview of items you manually selected as being of interest; none of them tries to ‘predict’ your interests based on past behavior. It’s also a fact that currently only a few platforms systematically collect usage data, an obvious prerequisite for smart dynamic personalization.
So there's still a way to go before we'll be able to regard our document management platforms as truly smart. However, given the contextual direction technology is taking we are quite sure vendors are preparing and smart personalization will be one of the 'feature battlefields’ for document management in the years to come.