Several weeks ago, a Gartner analyst wrote about (Enterprise Content Management) ECM dying and content services being born. That’s cool other than, you know, it’s nothing new. And it’s wrong, IMO. There were / are two ways of looking at ECM: 1 – ECM defines a set of tools / technologies, or; 2 – ECM defines an approach and strategy for managing information, and includes the tools. I tend to go with the latter, which means that I have never subscribed to the theory that everything had to be in a single repository. The fact is that much information that needs to be managed is not even in what most of us making a living in ECM or Information Management / Governance would even really refer to as a repository.
I remember having discussions (online and in person) about “content services” with peers and colleagues years ago. Way back then, we defined content services as those functions that ECM platforms and suites did so that enterprise content could be managed throughout its lifetime. You’ll notice the double emphasis I put on the word “managed”, because ECM really is about managing enterprise content. Think of “enterprise” as a meta descriptor of the type of content (or data, or information) being managed. I.e.: we’re managing stuff that belongs to the business, no matter the size or purpose of the business. And we don’t care about the purpose or format of the stuff we’re managing; all that matters is that it relates to, or is controlled by, the business.
AIIM (industry association for information management) defines ECM as: “…the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes.”
ECM is not a technology, methodology, or process. Rather, it is a mindset or framework designed to get the right information to the right audience, in the right context, at the right time. ECM is enabled by tools and processes that help capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information.
The graphic above (courtesy of AIIM) shows the five major activities that ECM solutions must provide to be considered ECM solutions:
- Capture – Content is submitted to, or created by the organization. This content may be electronic or paper-based and may be provided by people or systems/tools.
- Store – Store and secure information in appropriate repositories in order to achieve defined outcomes.
- Manage – Assign properties to content to make it appropriately accessible to the people and systems that require it.
- Preserve – Ensure content is accessible over its entire lifecycle and disposed of when required or permitted to do so.
- Deliver – Get content to the people or systems that need it to achieve objectives and perform their jobs effectively.
Nowhere in the definition of ECM or in the descriptions of the five functions does it state what type of technology to use, where the technology (storage) must be physically located, or how many different bits of technology can be used to build a solution.
“The most common realization of the strategy formerly known as ECM was to provide a centralized enterprise (the E in ECM) wide platform that could meet one or all of the following primary goals associated with the utilization of “content”:” from the article linked in the opening paragraph
Says who? Of all the people that I hung out with and had at least 5 five minutes’ conversation with at last year’s AIIM and IRMS conferences, I don’t think you’d find one that believes ECM relies on a single repository. And that realisation is not very recent. I think what’s really happening is that certain vendors and some analysts are having their “holy sh*t!” moments and coming to realize that ECM isn’t the be all and end all. They’re realizing that ECM suites and platforms are nothing more than pieces of real business solutions.
To be fair, some vendors realized this a couple years ago, and have been making the right noises, though I still don’t see much in the way of solutions. If you really want to see how things are going to be, take a look at solutions / partnerships / integrations that have been largely spurred by cloud content management players like Box, Egnyte, Dropbox, Google, and others. While the cloud vendors may or may not be ECM vendors, they are certainly capable of being part of ECM solutions (assuming anyone really wants one to begin with). The same goes for MS SharePoint in its cloud or on-premises guise (it’s not an ECM product, but could be part of an ECM solution).
Legacy ECM vendors like OpenText, FileNet, Oracle, Hyland, etc. are certainly ECM solutions, but where they tend to lose their lustre is that they were not necessarily business solutions, which is where the real value lies. It seems to me that this is shifting as more and more vendors realize that the products they make are really better suited to be in the background, much like infrastructure. Their value is in serving up content to people and systems that need it. I.e.: their value is in providing content services, or, as I like to call it, content-as-a-service.
Look, I understand that Gartner and other analysts need to “refresh” things sometimes or face irrelevancy through stagnation, and I’m cool with that. But relabelling ECM is rather pointless. I’m fairly certain the buyers don’t care, and the vendors are going to have to use terminology that resonates with the buyers. “Wanna buy ECM? or “Wanna buy Content Services?” are likely to get the same none too friendly response. Content Services is not a market. Content services are what content management tools provide and it’s been that way ever since someone coined the term “Enterprise Content Management”.