In December 2020 Forrester published a report that strongly confirmed our thoughts, and the developments we see in our market(s): The Future Of Documents: A Look Beyond The Paradigm Of Paper And Into Opportunities For Innovation – Forrester 2020. Based upon this report, we’ve interviewed thought leaders about the future of documents. In this article, Thomas Weinberger (TW), CEO at SiteFusion, shares his opinion.
The Forrester report points out that, although the tools for creating documents have become friendlier, the way workers and organizations think about documents really hasn’t changed since the introduction of personal computers.
What does a real disruption of this way of thinking about documents look like to you?
TW: “In my opinion, combining small content units into individual and flexible documents is the key factor for documents in the future and the most important benefit for all types of businesses. Only if content is that granular, users can create documents tailored to their needs.”
According to Forrester, document authoring is ready for its moment of disruption, though information worker habits have yet to change because:
- Friction between cloud-native documents and file storage tools remains.
- The mental model of paper dominates the language of content management.
- Static file types clog up processes and require content fracking.
- Employee preferences are entrenched.
What do you see as the biggest hurdles to changing the way workers and businesses work with documents?
TW: “During this transition period, until most of the workers and companies have changed their mindset about how documents will be created in the future, the challenge is to provide them with familiar user interfaces on the one hand, and future-proof types of documents on the other hand.”
Can you name any practical examples where the disruption is already taking place?
TW: “Educational publishers in particular have been pursuing new approaches for the last 2-3 years. How they can structure and manage documents in order to provide their customers (teachers, students, …) with new ways of using their products.”
Provide authors with familiar user interfaces on the one hand and future-proof types of documents on the other hand
Structured data will surround content. Documents that include structured data must become the norm when they’re the input for automated processes, such as invoice processing. Document creators must take an outside-in approach and deliver documents in formats fit for purpose.
How can we motivate authors to take this outside-in approach i.e. change their behaviour. What’s in it for them?
TW: “Whenever content is surrounded by structured data, the quality of the content directly increases. This content is better to find, easier to automate and more sustainable for e.g. long tail based business models. Therefore the structuring process has to be a motivation in itself, and can of course be supported by using artificial intelligence in order to save users time and effort.”
It is expected that robots will share the writing credits with humans. AI authorship will affect document authoring in the near future.
What developments do you expect to see in this context, and what do you already see happening today?
TW: “Our CMS SiteFusion already uses AI today to support users in their daily work, also in combination with Fonto. Automated content tagging and publishing is for example relatively easy to process, if you use domain specialized data and services. In my opinion content with deep professional expertise will hardly be written by robots, unlike less technical texts – nevertheless here is also a high potential in making the content creation process more efficient by AI.”
Whenever content is surrounded by structured data, the quality of the content directly increases. This content is better to find, easier to automate and more sustainable for e.g. long tail based business models
In the future, documents will be more fluid, componentized, and structured to separate underlying information from its presentation. A strong metadata-first strategy must replace the folder as an organizing principle and become a foundation for automation and AI.
What is in your opinion the difference between ‘documents’ and ‘data’?
TW: “I guess ‘documents’ is more a label for the traditional approach, that authors have followed for the last decades, e.g. by using tools like Microsoft Word. ‘Data’ means, in my opinion, the combination of content (text, images, links, etc.) AND metadata, in small and granular units, combinable to a new kind of documents.”
Which content platforms are already evolving in this direction?
TW: “In case of managing and publishing content, our Enterprise Content Management Suite SiteFusion is the technological leading platform for publishers, that has been pursuing this concept for several years already, based on the multi-model database MarkLogic.”
Which industries are leading the way regarding the future of documents?
TW: “From our perspective and regarding our clients: educational and legal publishers.”