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What is the future of document creation?

Posted by David Cornwell on 15. June 2016 11:36

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


I thought I would share an excerpt from an article I recently wrote for CIOReview, an enterprise technology magazine, where I consider the future of document creation.

As the CEO of a technology company I constantly consider the future. Naturally, a major consideration is whether a disruptive new technology is coming along which could make our products obsolete. 

I believe that only the paranoid survive and I’m forever scanning the horizon for the missile which is aimed squarely at our technology - that of document review. What is this disruptive new technology (or, as Nicholas Taleb would put it, black swan event) which will hurt us? 

Let me define ‘document review’ as the term means different things in different industries. For us, document review is the generic term for the process by which peers, specialists or other interested parties comment upon and suggest changes to the content of a document prior to its finalization, approval and dissemination. Specifically, it is the review element of the document creation process.

Whatever the document, the basic creation process is the same: create; review; finalize; approve; and finally, disseminate. I simply don’t see this process changing in the foreseeable future. No black swans there. 

PleaseTech operates in the B2B marketspace where disruptive new technology takes time to infiltrate. 

One area of disruption which impacts us is the ongoing Office suite apps battle between Google and Microsoft. The Microsoft Office Suite has, for the last 20 years, been the dominant application for the creation of documents, spreadsheets and presentations in the business world. Our competitive advantage is based around our deep understanding of Microsoft Word and, to a lesser extent, the remainder of the Office Suite. So is the Office Suite under attack? The answer is: yes - of course. The real question is: how successfully?

A couple of years ago it seemed that Google was making decent inroads into Microsoft’s market share However, with the undoubted success of Office 365, Microsoft is fighting back with companies now switching from Google Apps to Office 365. 

There is, of course, the whole cloud vs on premise debate. Whilst the cloud is a fine invention and our cloud business is growing rapidly, not everyone wants their valuable intellectual property in the cloud. 

Is a company really prepared to entrust valuable documents to a generic cloud? Obviously not, so we see on premise being equally as important as cloud and, that of course, is where Microsoft wins again with its Office Suite. Its commercial competitors are all 100% cloud based.

What about the future of documents themselves? With individuals entering the workforce now being classified as ‘digital natives’, does the whole concept of a ‘document’ go away? Is this our black swan? 

I’m of an age where I recall typing pools. Professional Engineers (as I was attempting to be as I entered the workforce back then) didn’t type their own documents. They were submitted to a typing pool, where they were created, printed and returned to you for review. A red pen was then used and the cycle continued. However, the introduction of PCs and word processors was a disruptive technology and the typing pool vanished. Yet, despite the disruption, the concept of paper document format lived on electronically with Adobe Acrobat. The delivery mechanism may have changed but the concept of a document is still very much alive. 

Do digital natives think the same way? The research suggests not. They think in social media terms and moving them beyond this is one of the challenges educators are having to deal with. Can we see contracts being agreed in informal language? I think not. One of the first lessons in business is understanding that the way something is worded can form the basis of a legal contract or instruction. The language used is all important. 

So it seems to be that the document creation process of create, review, finalize, approve, disseminate isn’t going to change anytime soon – certainly not in my business career and probably not in my children’s business career. 

It’s hard to see something replacing Word even with initiatives such as the Open Document Format (ODF) supported by the UK Government. However the whole point of a Black Swan event is that it comes out of left field and is extremely difficult to predict. So who knows what the future holds?

If you believe that document creation is as important as I do, I suggest you contact us at PleaseTech to find out how we could help you better face what the future might throw at you.

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