This is a Throwback Thursday post. I originally wrote this back in January 2012, at the invitation of Ron Miller. Ron was with FierceCM back then, and I thought he covered the ECM space pretty well. Anyways, I was reading this recently and thought that it is still pretty accurate, mostly. I was thinking about updating it a bit, but I just left it alone.
So, is ECM all puffed, primped, pimped, buffed, glossed, sprayed, splayed, like Kim Kardashian, or is it time to summon Dr. Jack (Kevorkian, not Daniels)?
The way I see it, ECM doesn’t really exist; at least not as something I can hit with a hammer (not that I advocate hitting KK with a hammer). ECM is more of a wrapper/ label that we’ve put around a whole bunch of other related things for the sake of convenience and to make it look and sound pretty. Inside the wrapper we’ve got things like document management, records management, digital asset management, and web content management. Depending who you ask, there may or may not be business process management stuff in there as well. Go further and include content that’s stored in ERP, CRM, db, and various line of business (LOB) systems. The truth of the matter is that I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s in there as long as it can do good stuff for my business. And by that I do not mean just managing content.
Managing content is great, but if it doesn’t serve the goals of the business, if it doesn’t get stuff done, there is no point. In order to serve the goals of the business managed content, in all its forms, needs to be available when business activities are executed. It doesn’t matter whether that activity is approving invoices, publishing web content, administrating social services programs, developing new drugs, or a telco ramping up new services for subscribers.
Consider this for a moment; I recently came across an initiative to implement paperless claims processing. The organization will use ECM tools as part of the solution, but it is by no means an ECM initiative. This organization will develop what they call ECM Governance, but the reality is that it’s going to be about managing information for the enterprise. Whether or not the information is managed with ECM tools remains to be seen, My guess is that some of it will and some of it won’t. Oh, and if you want a little more justification why we should be calling Dr. K in to deal with ECM – a major ECM vendor has rebranded the ECM out of their products and now just uses the word “content”.
If we scrape away the goop that’s on the surface of Kim Kardashian, we know that underneath is a real person with the requisite components to ensure everything is in proper working order (I’m bashing on ECM, not on reality TV celebrities, remember?); can we say the same for ECM? Here’s a challenge (not open to vendors, especially their marketing folks) for implementers and clients; go find one real ECM implementation that’s in production. First person to find one, within two weeks of this article being posted, and prove it to the satisfaction of a panel of judges (me and whomever I select to help me out) can name the Canadian animal or children’s charity to which I will make a CDN$50.00 donation.
Things have changed, dramatically, over the last few years. We used to be happy with document management. If it was done well, most people in a department had the latest version of the document they needed. But it didn’t span the enterprise in the majority of cases. Web content management systems were fine because they helped to ensure that your site had the most up-to-date copy, images, videos, etc. (helped by digital asset management tools, whatever they really are). Records management systems tried to make sure that once we were done with our documents they were properly declared, stored, and disposed of. They couldn’t do diddly about the rogue copies of stuff that were all over the place just waiting for a discovery order.
Even all those pieces that are supposedly under the umbrella of ECM tools don’t really work together in an “enterprise” fashion. That is, they don’t talk to each other, their reach doesn’t extend throughout the organization, and they sure don’t play well with LOB systems. I think it’s time that we admit ECM is simply on life support and will never be what we thought it would be. Call Dr. Kevorkian and let’s do the right thing.
I’m not certain what’s going to replace ECM, but I am certain that it’s gonna be cool. We’re at a point where we need to mix together what used to be ECM with social tools, engagement tools, governance, and process management. These things need to be deconstructed and then recreated as services (as in Service Oriented Architecture) to be consumed by organizations in order to truly manage their content, holistically, across the enterprise. I’m not ignoring cloud or ?aaS, they’re just not really relevant to building the solutions, they’re delivery options.