Continuing on the theme of my last post about the demise of enterprise architectures & the rise of emergent systems.
One of the greatest challenges we as information managers will soon face is the increasing use by staff of externally provided online business applications. I mentioned a few examples of social software that falls into this category such as Facebook, what I didn't mention was the whole Office 2.0 movement.
Those in the vanguard of this movement foresee the day in the very near future where a user's PC need contain nothing more than a web browser: no applications, no content files. Just a browser. Far fetched? Take a look at this site for a fascinating glimpse not only of the incredible range of Office 2.0 applications already out there, but also of how one user is beginning to pull them together to operate in a purely online realm.
Of course the draw back of 100% reliance on online applications is that without a connection to the internet you are unable to do anything. Now this is less of a problem than it was even a couple of years ago thanks to high speed domestic broadband and the ever increasing spread of wireless hotspots around our towns and cities but there are undoubtedly still gaps in provision (I can testify to this living in rural Herefordshire!).
Now those good folks at Google appear to be actively addressing the issues raised by the online/offline gap with a product called Google Gears which will allow offline access of web resources and applications by caching them on a user's drive and then automatically synchronising when they are back on line. Interestingly the Guardian article this morning specifically comments on the potential this development could have for bringing Google closer into competition with Microsoft when it comes to business applications claiming:
Docs - which incorporates word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs - works only with an active internet connection. Allowing it to operate on a computer's hard drive would bring it into competition with the dominant Microsoft Office brand and mark the latest step in Google's slow but inexorable invasion of the Seattle-based software company's territory.
Lets think about this from the Records Manager's perspective. We may moan about Microsoft and we may complain that users never store documents in the right place on the network - but at least they are using our version of the software and storing their information on our network. The user will soon be in a position to cut out the middleman (ie the corporate structure and records management) completely.
Try selling a clunky, restrictive EDRM system to a user or a project team who can save what they want where they want and share it with who they want via Google Docs or whatever other provider takes their fancy...
Of course we could just ban our staff from using such technology and insist they use the corporate systems provided. Indeed I am sure many will take this approach at first (with varying degrees of success) but I strongly suspect we will only be able to hold back the waves for so long. Rather than pretending it doesn't exist and hoping it will go away, we might be advised to start seriously thinking about what this will mean for records management and what role (if any) it has to play in this new world.