The Past, Present, and Future of Collaboration

At risk of dating myself, I’ll admit that I have been in the ECM industry since its inception. Things were different then. Technology that enabled people to collaborate digitally didn’t exist. Watching this industry change and adapt to the challenges and technologies has been fascinating. In this blog, I will explore some of these key challenges and technologies as we walk through the timeline of collaboration in ECM.

At the beginning of my career, collaboration was either sitting in a room with a group a people and splitting work between one another or faxing and FedExing documents between external parties. An example of this is when we had to put together RFPs. Back then, we would sit in a room together and split up tasks in a who was going to do what manner. After each person was done with their part, we would meet up again to merge each of our sections together. We could easily spend hours on the formatting of the RFP alone. After the document was assembled, we would either fax it to the requesting entity or FedEx a bound document to them. The process would take weeks, sometimes months, to complete. Today, you can put a document up on SharePoint, have multiple people working on it, tracking changes, and editing in real time.

Slowly, ways to collaborate digitally became available, first through email. At first, email was more of a way to facilitate the communication and planning of projects. However, as attachments became more readily available, the first pseudo collaboration was born. While, I, along with many others, cheered email as a collaboration solution, it had its own unique challenges. Specifically, documents would lose their related versioning and history when they were sent back and forth via email. Not only that but the security concerns that came with email still hindered the process of collaboration.

The increasing popularity of collaboration through email and the security concerns associated with it led to people wanting simple and secure ways of sharing content, and, unfortunately, ECM systems were not made to do that. ECM systems had started out as a repository for images of final documents, mostly in PDF form. This made it challenging for organizations to use their ECM systems to collaborate. Microsoft saw that challenge as an opportunity and created SharePoint in 2001.

SharePoint was positioned as an ECM and collaboration platform in response to the need for both. While it was a great improvement for faster collaboration, it didn’t really address the traditional security needs of an ECM system. Traditional ECM systems were typically locked down containers in which to store data. A digital file cabinet, if you will. Only people within the organization could access the information stored and preserved in the ECM system. What SharePoint didn’t do well was separate the two worlds of ECM, for storage purposes, and collaboration, for sharing and editing purposes. At the time, a lot of people jumped onboard the SharePoint train because it enabled collaboration internally and externally. Because of this, ECM systems had evolved to house unstructured data that was editable, allowed you to track changes, and kept up with the different versions of content. However, the lack of division in the capabilities led to organizations using SharePoint in addition to either another, more locked down ECM, or a separate collaboration platform.

Unfortunately, because the idea of coupling ECM and collaboration was so new, it began to complicate things further. The functionality of ECM systems was improving, but the usability of these systems was decreasing. At the same time, applications like Dropbox and Box were being introduced as more user-friendly and secure ways to share content with anyone. These applications had mastered the collaboration and file sharing piece users were looking for.

Around this same period, 2001-2005, HighQ was at its beginning stages. They had also developed a best-of-breed collaboration platform. The usability was greatly improved over that of SharePoint’s and offered more security than the consumer file shares like Box and Dropbox. The struggle in the marketplace shifted from adding collaboration capabilities to ECM to how to integrate best-of-breed solutions into business practices.

When I look back at where I started my career to now, I can’t help but be amazed by all the ways business practices and workflows have been made easier by technology. We have come a long way from RFPs that took months to complete from start to finish, to working together, in real-time, through secure applications like HighQ. It certainly begs the question, where are we going to be in the next 20 to 30 years?

How SeeUnity can help:

In a world where technology is quickly improving, it is important for us to develop strong technology partnerships with organizations like HighQ. The HighQ Collaborate solution is truly best-of-breed in the collaboration marketplace. Many organizations want to make sure that their ECM or DM and collaboration solutions, like HighQ, are integrated. This keeps governance initiatives intact and ECM or DM systems clear of unwanted content. This is where we come into play. We have developed a solution that can keep DM and HighQ content in sync while maintaining the security for both DM and HighQ. This gives users a simple integration between the two systems, improving workflow and user experience.

For more information or a demo of our solution, please contact

Posted on: December 20, 2017