Platform thinking for managing content in 2023

Make the shift from traditional content management to platform thinking

With a content services extensible platform at the heart of your workflows, you can call upon a veritable panoply of interoperable services that enhance core capabilities. This allows you to create more value from unstructured data by leveraging intelligent automation, AI-powered capture and search, specialist case management tools and more.

And it doesn’t end there.

With the platform established, easier integration beckons from across the local business application architecture and from key partners, too.

To succeed, however, both the organisation and its technology partner need to subscribe to the notion of “platform thinking,” in the sense that the former is geared-up to be inspired by platform possibilities and built to take advantage of them, and the latter is willing and able to extend the scope of their interests beyond their traditional content management fare.

Sure, the centre of gravity still resides in content management systems and services. But when dealing with content, the ultimate customer-centric strategy is to follow its process journey end-to-end across the value chain — to have a stake in the overall quality of any service that relies on putting content to work (wherever that takes you).

Moving from traditional content management thinking to platform thinking

The pivot is primarily about a shift in mindset.

Yes, knowledge work is still knowledge work. And information management problems and opportunities are still, at heart, centred around the acquisition, processing, flow and storage of information, but the key shift into platform thinking is to consider use-case scenarios holistically. This involves moving beyond bounded concepts of what content management technologies had come to represent, and instead leveraging the power of the end-to-end platform.

But, platform thinking is also a state-of-mind on the end-user side too. It’s a way of being inspired to do things with content and data that have only become feasible (or economically viable) with the advent of interconnected platform-based services and information flows.

You’ll see the best returns on your tech investment if you take a step back to re-think your approach to achieving your intended outcome once all the affordances of platform-based knowledge working are revealed (and service possibilities explored), rather than simply being happy merely digitising what went before (and hoping for some inherent optimisation to flow from that). You may see improvements that way, but not the sort of multipliers you likely would have hoped for at the outset.

You need to apply platform thinking in both the strategy, design and operationalisation of real-world business processes (to help tech buyers become smarter customers — better able to articulate their needs in the context of potential new capabilities, and adopt new ways of working in their environment), as well as in the design of technology architectures and approaches to service procurement  (to help vendors and providers become better technology partners — working with their customers to help widen horizons, providing inspiration and supporting innovation along the way).

The power of the platform

Platform thinking, designing and building necessitates a shift in the ways products and services are assessed, as well as how buying decisions are made. It’s a continuation of the move from packaged offerings (with very well-defined functionality and limited, high-cost extension and customisation opportunities) to solutions that are still packaged, but which offer extensive, easy-to-use and open APIs to expand and augment their capabilities.

It’s therefore no longer sufficient to simply compare feature lists and tick-boxes; there are other aspects to consider now — service extensibility, configurability, the developer experience, charging models, etc.

With information flows, processing and storage spread out across platform elements, there also needs to be changes to how projects measure their impact and how the benefits are attributed across the component path. The contribution of individual services needs to stack up when considering a core service function, sure, but their contribution to an end-to-end picture also needs to be accounted for.

New puzzles, new pieces: Expanding the horizon of innovation

On a content-orientated functional platform, we can think of the core content offering as providing an “anchor point” to which other, related services connect. These are orchestrated as needed so the overall solution grows to meet the evolving needs of the business. New services extend the platform reach into new areas, and with it unfurl an expanding horizon of innovation.

Enterprises need platform thinking to manage content in 2022.

As that horizon extends further out from the content core — further (in time) from the original inception of a platform-orientated implementation — and as more services come on stream, so, too, does the “footprint” of your platform portfolio change shape and size. The platform becomes better able to match-up against many new use-case scenarios.

Benefits and challenges

What’s different when content and process workloads live in a platform environment? Two words, mainly: scale and scope.

Once you move beyond thinking in terms of traditional content management capabilities, to whatever is now available to you easily on a platform, then the scope of your content processing ambition (and the value you can derive from it) greatly expands.

And because it’s on a platform, it’s much easier to experiment. Your platform solution comes with low set-up costs, and, once in production, the ability to switch capabilities on and off (scaling up or throttling back) as demand requires.

Additionally, on a platform, applications can be built using a fluid and easy-to-consume stack of services that deploy low-code/no-code templating tools. This low-code capability moves you from customisation to configuration and vastly reduces both the time-to-market and the support overheads (and lock-in risk) of a complex (non-platform) alternative solution.

These same tools also lower the barriers to access and open up the range of organisational roles to position you to take advantage of new features and identify content asset-sweating opportunities. It’s not the Wild West, though; IT can still set rules around authentication and data access based on job role. But, there’s less to worry about in terms of optimising how things come together because that’s enacted via the platform now.

And where the platform becomes the de facto one-stop-shop for content-based activity, that simplifies the user experience too, since your end-users don’t have to chase the content around. They’ll no longer be dragged by their workflow from system to system, forced to learn multiple interface schema.

It’s not all pain-free, plain sailing of course.

Platform thinking is no magical panacea. You still have to put the work in. Just put it in differently to how knowledge work would have required content be managed and processed in a more traditional set-up. You still have access and governance concerns; privacy, transparency and compliance obligations; data cleanliness requirements; process optimisation objectives — these don’t vanish when you hook up to a platform.

And don’t forget to plan for the cultural change around new ways of developing services and working with them too. Not everyone will necessarily feel that benefits have been evenly distributed right away. Use your knowledge of local requirements and objectives to secure senior sponsorship, and prove the value of any change in quantifiable ways early in order to retain it.

However, you’re at least now better able to leverage the power and expertise of platform providers in managing these various risks and providing mitigating services. After all, they’re doing this many times over, for many organisations like (and unlike) yours, and they should have invested far more in knowing how to handle these problems than you would ever have been able to do yourself within the confines of your own corporate IT environment.

Platform thinking is no magical panacea. You still have to put the work in. Just put it in differently to how knowledge work would have required content be managed and processed in a more traditional set-up.

$Craig Wentworth$

What’s at stake (and what to do about it)?

By not adopting a platform thinking mindset to accompany any platform technology investment, you risk, at best, failing to capitalise on your foundational efforts, as well as your hard-won initial milestone benefits. You’ll miss opportunities for potential follow-on achievements that move your organisation up to the next level by leveraging all the good work and progress made thus far.

At worse, it can also stymie your progress in even realising “first tier” benefits. This happens when your adoption stalls because people haven’t been helped to think themselves into new ways of working and engaging with your business (and the content workflows that drive it). They’re left still trying to fit old square pegs into new round holes.

It’s crucial, then, to move beyond traditional notions of what it means to simply “manage” content when your business really depends upon it.

Think bigger. Find a technology partner that can share your bigger vision and has the scope of native services, partnerships and integrations that can deliver now and grow (in scale and ambition) as your business and its requirements evolve over time.

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Craig Wentworth is the Co-founder and Research Director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how emergent and traditional technologies converge to address the problems and opportunities facing organisations today. He examines how this helps tech suppliers better anticipate and respond to their customers’ needs, as well as how tech buyers get the best value from their investments.
He has 30 years of experience in technology and change across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, in a broad range of roles (including analyst research, consultancy, technology strategy, innovation and service delivery).
Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth is the Co-founder and Research Director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how emergent and traditional technologies converge to address the problems and opportunities facing organisations today.... read more about: Craig Wentworth