I remember the first time I saw a Google Doc. It was sometime in 2008, and people interested in collaboration and “Enterprise 2.0” on Twitter were circulating a link to a list of like-minded tech professionals. I clicked on the link, and my jaw dropped. The document looked like it was alive. There were about a dozen other people already in the document adding their names and contact info to the list. I saw these people typing and bouncing around the page. The document had a pulse, a heartbeat of activity, and I felt connected to these kindred “content” spirits. We were all working together to document something new.

I don’t think I’ve felt that rush, that sense of something different in the world of content and content management, so viscerally since then. That brief moment aside, however, most document authoring habits have not really changed in over 30 years.

Forrester just published the first piece in our ongoing coverage of “The Future Of Documents”(subscription required) — a central theme for me in 2021. The research is supported by a fantastic team of collaborators and contributors from other Forrester research teams. This short report highlights the coming disruption we expect to see over the next few years in that very first phase of the classic content lifecycle: content authoring.

Document Authoring Needs Disrupting

The lights are flashing — the signals that the current state is hitting the limit of its usefulness are here.

  • We still assume that documents are files. Increasingly, they are not. Documents can be assembled sets of objects, with context and meaning wrapped around them (i.e., metadata). Or for truly cloud-native authoring tools, documents are Blobs in a giant cloud database, never files at all. Yet many of our popular content management systems are designed to manage files.
  • We’re still trapped by the mental model of paper — pages, folders, files, labels. It’s time to learn the term “skeuomorphism” and understand how it limits our imagination when it comes to born-digital information.
  • Heroic efforts — such as content fracking — are needed to get usable data out of documents. There is a mismatch between the needs of document authors and document receivers. Every single demo I see of AI- or machine-learning-based document processing or next-generation optical character recognition features common document types — like invoices — needing to be blasted apart into useful chunks of data before bills can get paid. Senders are generating static, inert file formats when receivers want structured data.

Expect To See Shifts By 2027

Innovation is happening in related and adjacent markets, and application development and delivery (AD&D) and information management pros need to pay heed.

  • Robots will be your coauthor. It’s happening today, and experimental deep learning algorithms are already showing some early promise for text generation.
  • Content authoring and consumption habits will transform. Documents that are enriched with structured data will become more mainstream to help with high-volume transactional document processing — no more fracking of static formats required. Content will also become more componentized and interactive. Watch for mega vendors such as Microsoft, Google, and Adobe to innovate in these areas.
  • Blockchain will complement and extend current records management use cases. Look for content repositories to support more of these use cases, particularly when the records include proprietary or other sensitive information.
  • Governance will be messy and forced to transform. Traditional folder- or file-level governance won’t scale to many of these documents of the future. Information management pros need to have a seat at the table as content authoring becomes disrupted to proactively seek fresh approaches to protect and preserve digital documents.

The COVID-19 pandemic response has fast-tracked adoption of new cloud tools for content authoring and collaboration. Moreover, distributed and hybrid workforces will persist even beyond the pandemic, with over half of workers now working remotely hoping to stay remote post-pandemic. The report details where enterprises should start in their journey to modernize, evolve, and embrace the future of documents.

An Invitation To Participate In Future-Of-Documents Research

If you are an end user AD&D pro experimenting with new authoring approaches or if you work with a vendor or consulting firm on actively building the future of documents for your clients, we’d love to chat with you as we look to 2021 research. If you have a point of view or hands-on experience with any of the approaches or trends described above, please contact us to set up a briefing.