IBM v. EGR: A Debate on Some Fundamental Shit

Document Management Dead? -- I Don't Think So!

Eric Severson 
Executive Consultant
IBM Global Services

David Weinberger, publisher of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, has declared that documents and document management are dead, that the web has killed them. Like Frank Gilbane of CAP Ventures, I beg to differ.

Document management is not dead, and neither are documents! However, I would say that highly structured, static documents are in fact dying quickly, as are highly structured, static workflows and business processes. Just like the hyperlinked organizations David describes (mine is one of them!), document management is absolutely present and accounted for, but more and more focused on smaller documents fitting together in less predictable ways, and integrated with increasingly dynamic business rules and processes. Without a doubt, it's also getting difficult to talk about document management without using the word "web" in the same sentence.

Call it "the web taking over," call it "knowledge management," call it what you will. What's really happening is that the world is changing faster than you and I can keep up with, and the old definitions, techniques and assumptions are being forced to change along with it. This is not just true for documents, by the way -- we're simultaneously questioning structured, static definitions of business units, organizational hierarchies, office hours, career paths, policies and procedures, product sets, and information systems. Like all these other things, it's not that people no longer need documents, it's just that documents are adapting to fit much more dynamic requirements. As a means of flexibly sharing information, documents have existed longer than any other medium save cave painting and language itself. And no, they're not going away soon. However, the specific medium keeps changing with the times (stone tablets to papyrus to the printing press to email and electronic books to web sites), and with each new paradigm comes a loosening of prior constraints and a host of new opportunities.

There is still a constant, however, and that's the need to manage these documents, whatever form they take. The plain fact is, whether you are dealing with the ancient Library of Alexandria or a really cool 90's web site, you expect -- and need -- the information you're relying on to be absolutely accurate, timely and complete. And you'd better be able to find what you actually need in a reasonable amount of time. It's just the way we look at "management" that keeps changing. Like 19th century assembly lines giving way to dynamic processes and just-in-time planning, the definition of document management is changing from static libraries to dynamic systems that facilitate collaborative thinking and assemble and deliver information right when it's needed. Web technology and web architecture fit right into this new picture, but the web has not obviated the need to manage the underlying information. As an IBM ad expresses it, "What's the difference between a little kid with a web site and a major corporation with a web site? Nothing -- that's the problem!" And be