Craigleclair_2By Craig Le Clair

I went to the AIIM conference in Boston last week. My first AIIM show was in 1993 — where the ratio of demos to production systems was about a billion to one. For the historians out there, the 1993 show in Chicago had over 33,000 attendees. New optical disk jukeboxes and digital scanners were the rage. So it was good to see how far the industry has come in providing mature and productive solutions. Yet  — AIIM is still something of a chaotic, disorganized, vendor-feeding frenzy that seems to somehow work for most attendees.

It's probably the Boston convention center and not AIIMs fault, but is it really so hard to have something available to eat before 11AM in the morning? I gave a talk on ECM Strategy Tuesday morning and wrongly assumed some protein would be available. I was not looking for something as complicated as an egg sandwich, just perhaps a donut. The Dunkin Donut cart seemed to have more interest then any booth — an impossible line and very poor inventory.

The AIIM show has many moving parts but looking around it was easy to see some differences from last year. There were more search vendors, focus on content analytics, stronger records management presence, and amazingly — a host of new or repositioned imaging and workflow solutions from small companies. It's clear not everyone got the memo on consolidation in the industry.

There was a better overall balance and synergy between the On-demand and the AIIM side then previous years. Perhaps it was just being the same room — perhaps fewer overall exhibitors. Whatever the reason, the big iron was drawing a crowd, with the noise keeping anyone from a having a civil conversation nearby. DOM software suppliers seemed to have good traffic. Overall the DOM crowd had a lift to their step.

It also seemed that the focus for many ECM software providers was as much on VARs and integrators then end users — perhaps reflecting the importance or providing more complete ECM solutions. For the ECM mid market — the show was more an opportunity to retain and recruit resellers then to lure end users into the booth. The Microsoft partnership pavilion looked pretty quiet whenever I looked. Perhaps partners or users were at the SharePoint conference awkwardly run at the same time.

I also noticed a lot of new providers for the little things —such as document conversions — new twists on OCR, smallish ECM providers and a stronger emphasis on ECM outsourcng SaaS providers and even outsourcers like SourceCorp. Apps like invoice processing were more prominent. ReadSoft had a large presence and now has 2500 invoice processing customers. Kofax and othersa are ramping up on a winning application.

All in all, a pretty typical AIIM show which refreshingly lacked the normal technical buzz. This is — at the end of the day — the AIIM crowd where BPM is still a bit abstract. These are mostly real folks solving real problems created by paper. The printers on one side of the show crank it out faster every year while folks on the other side try to keep up with it — running scan centers, getting productivity from OCR, managing records and wondering why the pay scales are so much higher in IT.

The AIIM show always brings out hundreds of people knowing very little about the industry. They wander around — looking like George Bush at a press conference — and wonder what all the fuss is about and why does everything seem to work so well on the show floor.  I'll give AIIM credit for not losing sight of these roots. Despite content analytics, enterprise search, social networks, Web 2.0 influences, and other things that will make ECM a lot better in the next decade, most AIIM attendees get up every morning to fight paper-based processes that seem to defy automation. And for these heroes, AIIM is still a relevant experience.