Blockchain will disrupt ECM & BPM

In June I will be chairing the Blockchain Summit in London, and in anticipation thought it time for a quick note on where we see Blockchain today in the content and process world. For in our analysis, Blockchain is one of, if not the, most important new concepts we have seen in decades. The idea of a shared version of the truth has the potential to upend, and to make redundant, many legacy working practices. Despite this potential, Blockchain has a low profile in the content and process world, but that will change.

Today content and process technology vendors are simply waiting for customers to ask them for Blockchain, but I don’t think that is going to happen as many of those customers are already playing with, and in some cases implementing, Blockchain all by themselves without reference to their legacy ECM or BPM vendor technology suppliers. We have already seen this happen in Government Departments, Supply Chain firms, Healthcare, and Financial Services.

Again outside of the content and process vendor community, the signs are already there of change being just up ahead. This past week Salesforce announced that it is rolling out low code Blockchain capabilities (running on Hyperledger) to its customers. Niftily calling itself Salesforce Blockchain, the goal is to increase trusted connectivity, and even new ecosystems, between partners, channels, suppliers, and customers. It is that simple but revolutionary concept of a shared version of the truth that is driving Salesforces initiative, not the technology itself. Oracle has also been boosting its Blockchain Platform to integrate it into its ERP & SCM applications. We see early adopters of the Oracle Blockchain Platform using it to securely automate smart contracts and to share content like records and invoices. IBM (though notably not IBM FileNet) has been aggressively rolling out Blockchain through initiatives such as the Food Trust, Healthcare Utility and Document Store. In all these cases, it is less an infrastructure and network play by the vendors; it’s a document and process play based on the concept of shared trust.

However, we published our ECM 2.0 architecture to the world last year, although it was well received, many questioned why Blockchain was on it all, how it was in any way relevant to the world content and process. The simple answer to that is, we believe that Blockchain is a crucial area where ECM & BPM will finally come together.

ECM 2.0 Proposed Architecture

Think of it this way, Blockchain, through the use of smart contracts, provides a communication layer for BPM. It provides a platform to facilitate multi-party processes, share documentation, pass information back and forth, and to track the state of a transaction, all while following strict regulatory guidelines. Blockchain can do all this without the demand for a rip and replace of existing back office applications.

Some will argue all of that is possible to do today without Blockchain. Though technically that is true, in reality, it’s a near impossibility. Traditional ECM & BPM systems were designed to handle the internal content and processes of a single organization, not run seamlessly across multiple organizations. When they try to run across numerous organizations, they attempt to enforce a centralized repository. This is the exact opposite of the decentralized approach of Blockchain. With Blockchain, you create a peer-to-peer ECM/BPM system that makes the central repository redundant and leverages smart contracts for automation. At the same time, this Blockchain approach also allows all the different counterparties (suppliers, customers, channel partners, etc.) to keep control of their data. Moreover, that should be something that plays well into the new thinking around content services, but even so, it is yet to gain traction with process and content technology vendors.

We will meet and talk with many enterprises at the Blockchain Summit, and if you are using or considering using Blockchain, please reach out, as we love to hear what you are doing. If you are a technology vendor that still thinks Blockchain is Bitcoin and a fad, then we urge you also to think again, and don’t miss the party. Blockchain is sneaking up on the world of content and process, and when it hits, it will hit hard. The flip side to that is, Blockchain could be the savior of ECM and BPM and take it beyond single organizations, or over time, it will simply make a lot of ECM & BPM legacy implementations redundant.

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