This is one in a series of articles [one, two, three] that consider how consumers (the general public) might utilize ECM if it were provided as a convenient (and inexpensive) service. Rather than looking for the single big scenario I am trying to justify each of the ECM specific features in a consumer context.
In the overview I list features of ECM; in this posting I’m considering one specific feature: Virtual Documents.
For those of you who have not seen Virtual Documents in use I’ll list their high-level features.
- Containerization: You create a container – similar to a folder. You can link documents into the folder. You can either link a specific version (say V1.3) of the document into the container or link to a ‘symbolic version’ (current, latest, approved, etc.) The documents can have a specific order.
- Hierarchy: A container can contain other containers giving you a full hierarchy of containers and documents.
- Quantum Existence: Documents and containers can exist simultaneously in other places which allows you to display the same content in different structures depending on the usage model.
- Snapshots: At any time you can take a “snapshot “ of the entire structure which you can go back to independently of the fact that documents and structures have changed since the snapshot was taken.
- Publishing: You can publish the entire structure as a single object (complex PDF, zip,etc.)
So, who in their right mind would want to use this at home?
My wife, that’s who; my wife is a teacher and teachers maintain lesson plans . A year long lesson plan consists of a collection of teaching and testing materials, it might also contain information related to students’ progress. The documents are organized by subject, by teaching period, by grade, etc..
If these lesson plans were stored in a virtual document you could do the following:
- Containerization: The component lesson materials could be linked into containers in a structured and ordered way. This isn’t rocket science but it leads on to the following:
- Hierarchy: It is possible to arrange the same content in different structures to represent different ways of slicing the view. One virtual structure might represent all of the content for a specific grade; another might represent the content for a grade split per marking period. The relationship can get quite complex but when looking at any one piece of the hierarchy it just shows those documents that are in scope for that view.
- Quantum Existence: Ignoring my feeble attempt at theoretical physics humor this is one of the more interesting areas. If the hierarchy above is set up correctly and the documents are bound into the right structures then editing any one document will be reflected in all of the right places in real time. No synchronization is required, no orphaned copies of content exist.
- Snapshots: Imagine that the teacher stores scanned images of the test results in the structure. (S)he would be able to create a snapshot of the entire structure at the end of each year, delete all of the results and start the next year with a clean set of lesson plans. At any time in the future (s)he would be able to come back to the snapshot and look at that year’s results and the exact versions of the documents presented to the students.
- Publishing: Not sure that I have a good use case for this but I’m ok with it not being a 100% fit.
I’m not proposing that this is a huge market or that this is even a real commercial opportunity but I think it illustrates a way of thinking about ‘commoditized ECM’ that we typically do not think about.
Next I need to think about whether I could sell my wife and her esteemed colleagues other ECM features…
Got any other ideas? Put them in the comments or email them to me directly at Andrew.Chapman@emc.com
 A word of warning, the feature that SharePoint 2010 calls Virtual Documents do not support most of these capabilities. SharePoint’s virtual documents are more like ‘smart folders’. Don’t try this at home if you are using SharePoint.