Several AIIM Conferences ago, one of the top tier Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors made a point of delivering a session based on the premise that no one actually wants to see an ECM platform doing its stuff. What they meant was that clients wanted the benefits without really seeing how the ECM platform works. Like we all like hot dogs but don’t really want to know how they’re made.
Note: Earlier this year someone claimed that ECM is dead (it’s not) and is being replaced by Content Services (wrong again, they’re the same thing). So, if you see something called “Content Services Platforms (CSP)” or similar, it’s the same as ECM platforms.
In an ideal world, ECM works with your other enterprise and business applications to provide the content in holistic, end-to-end processes and workflows. However, that is rarely the case. Despite the fact that it’s easier than ever to make applications interoperate, most content is still stuck in silos and not available to people and applications that need it. And the content that is available to everyone that needs it is made available by sending copies around as email attachments, insecurely stored and completely ungoverned. The result is a chaotic mess of multiple copies of documents that no one knows where they are until they’re produced as evidence against you in some court proceeding or other when you’d actually thought you’d (legally) disposed of them ages ago. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
We’re going to present a couple of use cases to highlight why content needs to be freed by using Content Integration Services (CIS) to connect ERP applications with ECM platforms. They’re not really complicated, but they are the type of use cases that many organizations waste many, many hours dealing with.
Timesheets are a pain for many companies and contractors. In addition to having the correct information on timesheets (e.g.: project codes, PO #’s, dates, etc.), there are additional challenges related to printing, scanning, routing, and signing them. By building a solution from components that include ECM, digital signatures, ERP, and CIS, timesheets time becomes a joy. Okay, maybe not really a joy, but certainly less cumbersome and onerous than before.
By leveraging ECM, digital signatures, and ERP, and then gluing it all together with content integration services, organizations end up with a timesheet process that is nimble, complete, quick, error free, and auditable. The basic steps in the process are:
- Within an ECM platform, a contractor fills in their timesheet with all relevant information and digitally signs it;
- Using collaboration capabilities of the ECM platform, the contractor submits their timesheet for approval;
- Using digital signature integration in the ECM platform, the approver approves the contractor’s timesheet (or not);
- If not approved the timesheet is routed back to the contractor for corrections.
- Content integration service “strips” relevant data from the approved timesheet and passes it to the ERP application;
- ERP application processes the timesheet for payment;
- ERP application generates a payment slip;
- Content integration service takes the payment slip and stores it in the ECM platform;
- ECM platform presents the payment slip to the contractor.
While not applicable to every industry, many industries need to service equipment in the field. Providing field personnel with the appropriate environmental standards, health & safety manuals, repair & maintenance procedures, and technical / engineering procedures & standards is critical. This documentation helps to save time and money, and also helps to keep field personnel from harm.
The following diagram illustrates how work order details are passed from an ERP application to an ECM platform, to provide field personnel with the right documentation to do their work safely and cost effectively.
- ERP application issues a work order;
- ERP application assigns field personnel to the work order;
- Content integration service passes work order details (personnel, location, job type, asset id, etc.) to the ECM platform;
- ECM platform uses work order details to find the relevant documents;
- ECM platform delivers documents to field personnel;
- Field personnel execute the work order.
Above are only two examples of use cases that can be made better by using CIS to connect ERP with ECM. The fact is, any process that relies on both ERP and ECM can be helped by content integration services.
Assuming that an organization has an ECM platform and an ERP application, it’s the content integration piece that allows the full automation of the entire process. Content integration is the connective tissue that allows ECM platforms and ERP applications to work together holistically and harmoniously.
Note: I apologise in advance for this being an infomercial for Box. I assure you that was not my intent when I started writing this post.
A few weeks ago (Oct 10 – 12) my new colleague (I’ll explain later), Greg, and I were at BoxWorks in San Francisco. For those of you who don’t know, BoxWorks is Box’s annual conference, and a must-attend event for those interested in content management, especially cloud first content management. A topic that came up more than once was OpenText’s purchase of Documentum. Specifically, what it means for Documentum customers, and what they are thinking. I’ll give you a hint; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FPELc1wEvk.
Let me just say that Aaron Levie owes Mark Barrenechea a great bottle of Scotch, a bouquet of roses, and a hand-written thank you note. If OpenText hadn’t bought Documentum I doubt you’d hear of so many Documentum customers getting ready to bail, and taking a serious look at Box as a viable replacement.
More recently, we had a couple of very relevant and telling conversations; the first was with a Box customer looking to get off Documentum; the second was with Box. I also had a conversation at last year’s BoxWorks event with someone in a highly regulated industry. Their company is a sizeable Box customer and is, reluctantly I think, still required to use Documentum for some of their more regulated content. I’m fairly certain that they’d prefer not to have to rely on Documentum. For what it’s worth, I had this conversation prior to the closing of OpenText’s purchase of Documentum, but we all knew it was coming.
This is just me being long-winded in telling you that I have decided to join e-Wave Solutions (the Greg I mentioned is Managing Partner). We’re a small company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In a nutshell, we bi-directionally integrate content management systems with SAP. Greg invited me down to BoxWorks, we had some interesting conversations, I got excited, Greg got excited, and we literally shook hands on a deal on the flight home.
Anyways, I digress a little … where I’m actually going with this post is that there is going to be an evolution of Box within client organizations. It won’t simply be spread and sprawl, like we see with so many ECM implementations that begin life in one department and eventually spread throughout most of the organization. Certainly this will happen with Box, but with the added advantage of (easily) encompassing the extended enterprise (i.e.: external stakeholders).
No, the evolution of which I speak is about starting as a relatively simple content management implementation and evolving into actual business solutions. Yes, legacy ECM platforms are certainly capable of this as well, but most haven’t gone down that path for one reason or another.
For Box customers this evolution is going to happen one of two ways, or, more likely, in a hybrid manner. Customers are going to sign up for Box to solve some pretty simple content management and collaboration uses cases. Once they have this initial set of use cases sorted out, they are going to get a visit from their friendly neighbourhood Box representative and be shown “the art of the possible” (I really, really hate that phrase!). Once they see what can be done with Box and its myriad integrations, they are going to start crafting solutions that solve business use cases.
As much as Box, paired with some of its available integrations can do, it can’t do everything. And this is where that second type of solution evolution comes in, and it’s called Box Platform.
I’m fairly convinced that organizations wanting to have content centric business solutions are going to need to build applications that tie together disparate repositories with business logic. Today, a basic premise of Box is that all your content is in one place; that’s not realistic, nor will it ever be. Even legacy ECM platforms relied on Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) to tie together content and logic from multiple systems in order to deliver business solutions, rather than content management solutions.
A client that I have spoken with intends to use their content management system (CMS) for loan origination. That’s cool, but, other than the content, there is nothing in the CMS that helps with loan origination. The business logic is in an ERP tool and the content is spread across multiple repositories, one of which is Box. Currently, they really have no way to tie everything together in order to deliver an elegant, functional, efficient solution to their users and clients. However, once they go down the Box Platform path, and they will even if they don’t yet know it, they will have the tools necessary to build an end-to-end solution for loan origination.
Think about all the different content centric / reliant use cases that every organization has that they use every day. Think about their desire to go mobile and go to the cloud with as much as they can. That’s when the beauty and the magic that something like Box Platform happen; it allows organizations to build content centric applications that transcend technical, geographic, and organizational boundaries. A little over two years ago, when Box Platform initially became available, I was pretty excited (as you can tell if you read this); there is no reason for me to change my mind. Box customers looking for solutions beyond content management and collaboration are going to evolve into Box Platform customers. When that happens the potential impact of Box products such as Relay, Skills, and Graph (all announced at BoxWorks, all coming soon) is going to be even more important than it is today.
A while ago I was pointed to an article proclaiming that Information Governance is no longer necessary (ROFLMAO). I laughed because I think its grasp on reality is about as firm as that of whoever proclaimed that ECM is dead. However, once you get past the intermangling of “governance” and “management”, there are a couple threads that have validity.
Today’s technology and architecture are definitely built to encourage sharing and collaboration, and that is an awesome thing. As for a good digital workplace being a “bellwether of your company culture”, humph. “Digital workplace” is very tool and mechanics oriented, and has little to do with defining culture. A digital workplace (i.e.: tools) enables a culture that encourages trying stuff out, collaboration, openness, whatever. And the digital-ness of one’s workplace depends highly on what and where one’s workplace is. By the way, I am of the opinion that if paper can be eliminated from the workplace paper should be eliminated from the workplace (please insert caveats about having the right tech available and the required bandwidth). The more digital “aides” we have to help us do our core jobs and not have to worry about governance and management of information, the better.
(information) Governance is needed. Always has been, always will be. The level (think rigour) of governance required, and the manner in which governance is implemented vary depending on what information is in scope, what your regulatory obligations look like, what your internal policies are, and on and on and on.
The way work gets done and the tools used have changed to the point that governance has to change, rather than go away. The reality is that governance needs to be more stringent than ever before. Solution architectures today are designed to include multiple services, applications, data centres, and service providers. Regardless of how nimble and user-delighting the solution is, the governance requirements and challenges are exponentially tougher than when all you had was a single custom application that no one liked but it did the job.
We’re being handed ever more simple and elegant devices and apps with which to do our jobs. But, as everyone ought to know, the easier things look to the user, the tougher it was to build it and maintain it, and to impose an appropriate level of governance.
Fortunately, the tools we’re using to do information governance and management are changing as well. Egnyte, Dropbox, Box, Google, and a host of others are delivering applications and experiences that make many aspects information governance and management easier and more lightweight, and hidden from the everyday user. Even some of the legacy ECM vendors are getting in on the act.
Goodbye Governance? I don’t think so. What I find a bit amusing about the article is that it was written by someone who works in a space that, from a tool perspective, is littered with stories about failures that could have been prevented with … GOVERNANCE! Governance, you’ve come a long way, baby. (quote plagiarized from some 1970’s ad campaign for a product that’s no longer legal to advertise).
In this video, from Boxworks 2016, I express some of my thoughts about information governance, and how Box is approaching it. For those of you interested in ECM, cloud, and information governance, Boxworks 2017 is coming up in October. You should go. Maybe I’ll see you there.
If you love the video so much that you want your very own copy, you can download it right over here.
Whether we like it or not, we’re storing more and more content in the cloud, and that content needs to be governed. Here are some things that I think about and talk about with clients when they are getting started with Information Governance (reg req’d):
- To paraphrase Ann Cavoukian – You can outsource your data but you can’t outsource responsibility. All of the rules and regulations that applied to your content in your data center still apply. If something goes wrong you are still, ultimately, responsible. You may or may not have company in court or jail.
- Content in the cloud is likely more secure than content in your data center. Remember all those breaches that were so widely publicized? Well, most of them happened to corporate data centres. Companies whose business is storing other companies’ data haver better tools and resources to secure data than you do; it’s their job.
- To be effective, managing and governing content in the cloud needs a modern, simplified approach. Trying to manage content like it’s paper or stored in on-premises repositories just isn’t going to work. You chose cloud content management because it’s a better, modern experience for your users, governing your info can’t break that.
- FOCUS ON THE VALUE OF YOUR INFORMATION. IF YOUR ENTIRE APPROACH TO GOVERNING INFORMATION IS BASED ON MINIMIZING RISK (LITIGATION, LEAKS, ETC.), YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO FOCUS ON LEVERAGING THE VALUE OF YOUR INFORMATION ASSETS. IT’S THE VALUE THAT’S GOING TO ENABLE YOU TO INNOVATE AND TRANSFORM YOUR BUSINESS. (colour and bolding as requested by a loyal reader – thanks, Dan)
- Start Something. Anything. Sitting around navel gazing is going to result in you being crushed. Pick something small, easy, and safe, but with tangible benefits and get going. You don’t need to have everything planned and analyzed to get started; you just need to have enough thought out to allow you to get moving. Remember, some governance is better than no governance.
- BONUS THOUGHT – Your information governance doesn’t need to be perfect, it merely needs to be good enough to get the job done and to allow you to meet your obligations.
This Box whitepaper (reg req’d) provides some additional thoughts about Information Governance for cloud-stored content, as well as details about how Box is tackling some of the necessary functionality. We (Box and I) would love to chat with you about Cloud IG. And as always, I’d love your feedback about this post and the paper.
 Ann Cavoukian is the former Privacy Commissioner for Ontario (1997 – 2014) and is currently the Executive Director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University.
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”.
Two key changes from last year really made me happy:
- Box’s enterprise customers (at least the ones on the panel during the analyst event) are calling Box content management (advanced content management, even);
- Box is unequivocally stating that Platform is the base upon which the Box application is built – they weren’t so clear about that last year.
On a personal level, the first of those makes me the happiest because, along with Cheryl McKinnon of Forrester (my reaction to Box’s inclusion in the Forrest Wave), I was the first analyst / person-who-should-know type that came out and unabashedly called Box an Enterprise Content Management vendor. Here’s my post from June 2015 when I first called Box ECM (you can also get to the whitepaper I wrote on the topic via that post). Whatever. I’m just happy and gratified that Box is finally being seen as what they are. I’m guessing they’re pretty pleased about it as well.
Remember in this post I included a footnote stating that BoxWorks could be a better Information Management / Governance conference than the AIIM conference (I didn’t even mention that records management conference or organization)? Yeah, nothing took place at BoxWorks that made me change my mind.
On to my thoughts about the conference happenings … I’m not going to recap all the announcements; they’re available on the Box site over here and elsewhere on the web and on Box’s site. There were a bunch of announcements about making Box more usable, intuitive, and user friendly, but they didn’t tell me that Box Capture for Android is coming. Box Desktop, Files, and Notes are much needed improvements that are coming, and will make for a much better user (yeah, I said “user”) experience.
If I’ve got this all right, Box Platform can serve up Relay (workflow) and Governance (governance), as well as versioning and all the other mundane content management stuff as a service. While that’s very cool and all, what I really find exciting is that there is a growing ecosystem of partners / developers that include companies like Cognizant, as well as in-house IT shops, ISV’s, and small niche / boutique app developers. The potential implications are pretty cool for all the stakeholders. For example – during his session at the analyst event, Jeetu Patel (heads up Platform and Strategy for Box and is a really nice guy) mentioned that: A – all companies are becoming digital companies (glad he gave up using all companies are becoming SW companies), and; 2 – there’s no templates for digital transformation (I am summarizing). So it seems that there is an opportunity for Box to do for digital transformation on an industry basis what SAP did for ERP on an industry basis. Between in-built capabilities and partnerships, Box has the beginnings of being able to build content-centric digital transformation on-ramps / roadmaps / whateveryouwanttocallthem. The Perkins+Will demo was really cool and a harbinger of what is possible.
What’s really cool and significant is that, if the implementation gets done properly, that whole thing about putting governance in the background and letting users just focus on their jobs will actually happen.
There’s also some other stuff happening with Platform and the application that, if done correctly, could make the whole auto-classification thing a reality. There are other ECM providers that have been working on it for years, to very little uptake. What’s happening, I believe, is that Box is trying to solve the same problems, but in a different way.
One of the product managers told me something to the effect that she was talking to her team and they were telling her they knew nothing about Information Management or Governance. She responded by telling them that they were actually delivering it. There’s a whole bunch more detail, but that’s actually a very cool story. It’s possible because Platform takes care of it in the back end.
Regardless of the size of a company, if they operate in a regulated industry they have to comply with the relevant regulations and legislation. At the same time, if you’re one of the smaller players you likely need to do more with less and can’t afford dedicated compliance solutions. Where Box fits is that they don’t know how to do it the legacy way, and this is a very good thing.
During the customer panel at the analyst session, one of the customers, in a highly regulated industry, was lamenting that they could not use Box for some of their controlled documents. The issue is that Box brings out new stuff too fast and the regulators and legislators simply cannot keep pace. That just sucks.
I asked Aaron Levie something along the lines of “do you think that current legislation and regulations hamper your ability to innovate?” I liked that he acknowledged that it’s the customers, not Box, that are actually being hampered. Box’s approach is to innovate to the spirit of the legislation or regulation, rather than to the letter. I.e.: they’ll satisfy the what, but the how may look a little different.
Odds ‘n’ Enns
- One of the most interesting, to me, integrations I saw at the conference had to do with SAP (apparently you don’t pronounce it “sap”). There’s this company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that effectively does for Box-SAP what OpenText Extended ECM does for OT-SAP. I don’t know a ton about it yet, but it is something I will be looking into and getting more familiar with. The fact that the folks at e-Wave Solutions have put effort into building a Box-SAP integration in addition to their Filenet-SAP integration (I think I have that right) is significant. They’re not just chucking up content that’s relevant to stuff happening in SAP. No, they’re doing it in an intelligent way that leverages / manages metadata and preserves the integrity of the “records”. That’s kinda cool. Like I said, I’ll be looking into this a bit more.
- One of the really good things about being an analyst at an event like BoxWorks is that you get one-on-one time with some key people at Box. The normal scenario is the analyst asks questions and the company person answers them. What I love about the people at Box is that we both get to ask questions and have an open, frank discussion.
- Thanks to the Box Governance Product Marketing people (thanks, Veena!!!) for inviting me to share some of my thoughts on Box Governance.
- Thanks to Aaron Levie for taking the time to come and chat with us analysts. I’m a bit of a sceptic at times, and I sometimes wonder if certain tech CEO’s are putting on a show for analysts, the press, prospects, etc. After sitting less than thirty feet from him and being able to look into his eyes, I’m pretty certain that Aaron Levie truly believes in what he and the rest of Box are doing.
- Lastly, a huge thank you to Joely, Signe, and Megan for making the analyst day and, especially, the analyst dinner truly excellent. The whole idea of going to a chef’s residence and having a home made meal in a more intimate setting … loved it.
- That pic is what greeted us as we walked into the chef’s home. There were leftovers.
The one thing that I didn’t hear anything about is a service organization that can make it (all this next generation ECMness) happen (Box Shuttle aside). I still believe that without the right services capabilities, things will not progress as smoothly as they could. Overall I’m pleased about Box’s progress over the last 12 months. You could even say I’m optimistic and excited for what they can achieve and change about ECM in the future. The recently announced OpenText acquisition of Dell EMC ECD (ya know, Documentum and LEAP) just made Box a more attractive option for ECM buyers. As one industry analyst type mentioned, it’s a changing of the guard in the ECM space. Among others, Box is leading the charge. Not to say I told ya so, but I told ya so.
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.
What follows in this post is pure fantasy and speculation, directly out of my head. Or not.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking to vendors and some end user types about Information-Governance-as-a-Service (IGaaS). Forget for a moment that no one vendor does all aspects of IG, or that there’s not even a universally accepted definition of IG. Focus instead on the lighter touch that’s required today when so many enterprise tools are required to have a consumer experience about them. Also think about Content-as-a-Service (CaaS, defined here) and what that means for building the apps needed to work with, manage, and govern content.
To save time, let’s get the fawning out of the way:
- Box – I am unashamedly and unabashedly a fan;
- Egnyte – see Box. I’m not getting into what Egnyte announced in this blog as there are plenty of great summaries around the web, including Egnyte’s site;
- GlassIG – more quietly, but see Egnyte.
Pay attention to all three of those companies if you are remotely interested in Information Governance and/or Management. There are other companies that I think are pretty damn good, but when it comes to managing and governing content in cloud or hybrid environments, these are my three. Oracle Web Center Content would be my go to for on-premises ECM (w/some nascent cloud capabilities like file syncing).
When I mentioned to someone at Egnyte a while back that if they added governance to what they already had they could absolutely kill things, I wasn’t thinking about what came out in Egnyte Protect, announced earlier yesterday (June 7,2016). I was thinking more about things that the AIIM and ARMA crowds, especially ARMA, would consider governance. You know, stuff like retention management, legal holds, classification … all that records management-y goodness.
So, even though I was a little, initially, underwhelmed with what Egnyte did release, I sat back and thought that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. What was released is good and what’s coming up is good. Without getting too deep into the weeds, let me paint a little picture for you …
Let’s pretend, for the sake of discussion, that my organization just went out and procured Box as a content management platform. Let’s also pretend that I’ve got stuff stored in SharePoint and network drives, and that in addition to the standard security stuff, I also have to deal with internal policies and external regulatory requirements, a lawsuit or two, some retention requirements, …, you know, a bunch of IG stuff. Let’s also pretend that I want to monitor who’s doing what with content to determine its effectiveness. In other words, let’s say I need to manage and govern content like it’s 1999, but my content isn’t all paper or in one convenient spot that’s on my infrastructure. My point is, the what of what we need to do hasn’t really changed all that much; why, and especially how, have. Ideally, I want to, as much as possible, centralize policies and controls. Enter my IG Mirepoix (yeah, I just made that up) …
In order to meet the requirements outlined above, one could go to each of the individual repositories and do what’s necessary, hoping that things stay in sync and no one ever forgets to do anything in any of the repositories. Even if all that happened, there’s still nothing in place to handle any of the records management, legal hold, and discovery functionality needed. Note to self – go buy more software that needs to be installed, configured, and maintained. Or …
Deploy Egnyte Protect to handle my security and analytics across all the in-scope repositories; deploy GlassIG to handle the records management and related functions. The fact that two tools are needed is not an issue as the tools will be used by different roles in the organization.
I know mega-suites were all the rage for a while, but look what happened. I like the approach outlined above because it’s a best of breed approach. Each tool gets used for the stuff it’s best at. There are areas of overlap between Egnyte Protect and Box, and between GlassIG and Egnyte Protect, but it’s using the three tools as complementary technologies that, I believe, provides the greatest overall value to organizations.
Yesterday (May 30, 2016) I read this article which contends that Box, Dropbox, and others are not content management platforms. I was considering not linking to the article and just putting up screen shots of the main points, but I decided on the link instead. The article is nothing but FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) being spread by an on-premises content management provider (props for dropping Gartner, Forrester, and AIIM names though). As a bit of a refresher on where I stand, you might want to read this whitepaper I wrote last year (sponsored by Box, 12 pages long). By the way, I tried to post a comment to the article, but it seems the site’s not taking comments (mine had a couple links).
Without further ado I’ll get into the counter arguments to the author’s “five reasons why cloud file sharing platforms can’t touch document management software platforms from an enterprise functionality standpoint” …
- Security at all costs – If the author had written something about data residency I would have bought it, probably. However, the author goes on about a bunch of FUD, and does nothing to dispel it. The author also illustrates her lack of knowledge, not only of security issues, but also of the capabilities of the cloud players. She implies that many think that on-premises security is better, which we know isn’t the case. Major hacks and leaks have come primarily from on-premises data centres.
- Document storage and beyond – uhm, just plain wrong. Sure, it may take a combination of tools to achieve the same level of functionality that one could achieve with a traditional, legacy suite such as OpenText, Filenet, or Documentum, but is that really a bad thing? Haven’t we already accepted that the whole ECM world is actually changing and the way forward is platforms, integrations, and API’s? I have. Has someone forgotten the abysmal success rate of traditional ECM deployments?
- Not yet ready for primetime – What? This is 2016, technology is changing and advancing more rapidly than ever. No one has a 10+ year window any more to demonstrate anything. Those traditional ECM players you mention are precisely the reason people and organizations are going to the cloud. Traditional ECM platforms are old and out of date. Yes, some are making changes, re-architecting, and adding CLOUD -FREAKIN’-CAPABILITIES-DAMMIT!!!
- Migration issues – Really? You really want to go there? How ‘bout migrating from OpenText to SharePoint? Or from Documentum to Filenet? Or from what you’re selling to anything else? Or from file shares to whatever the hell you want to name? Migration sucks. Always has sucked. Always will suck. Cloud or on-premises makes no friggin’ difference.
- Performance concerns – hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!! Ha. That’s cute.
- It’s ON-PREMISES for ***** sake!
Now I’m just angry and irritated. I need a drink.
I’m not saying that everyone should move everything to the cloud, but at the very least think a bit and don’t buy into the nonsense spouted by some people who may have something to gain by spreading FUD. The fact is that managing content in the cloud, whether via cloud capabilities of legacy vendors or via the “new” vendors, is perfectly viable. The key is to know what your requirements are before choosing a technology.
There’s an old saying in car racing that goes something like “you can’t win the race in the first corner, but you can lose it.” There is a similar truth when talking about software. The right software will not fix your problems, but the wrong software will surely exacerbate them. This, then, is a little story about choosing the wrong software.
Just prior to Christmas 2015 I took on a small project in Vermont. It was a bit of a weird situation in that the project was a mashup of two projects I’d done the previous year; the client was in the same business as another client, and the project was the same as a different client. No matter.
The client wanted to find out why their staff wasn’t in love with the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution they’d deployed a few years earlier and why things were failing. With a few exceptions this could have been a copy of an assessment I did for a university (detailed in this post & case study). The key differences were the technology chosen and the business the two organizations are in. In the case of the university, at least they chose the right type of technology for their needs. The folks in Vermont kinda, sorta, almost made the right choice, but not quite.
Back in 2008/09 their legal folks decided that they needed something to manage all their documents, so they went out and sourced a document management product targeted to professional services organizations. At the time no one was thinking holistically about what the organization needed. Whatever, it’ll all work out. Uhm, no.
As they were researching what to buy, they determined that their compliance and procurement departments had similar document management needs, so decided to deploy whatever they bought to those groups as well. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more bang for your buck, assuming that the fit is right. Right?
My client went out and selected a product and got it implemented. Now, the implementation did not go smoothly, but that was nothing to do with the product and everything to do with selecting a less than stellar implementation partner. However, that’s not what this story is about, though you really need to be careful about selecting an implementation partner.
Once they got the implementation under way, they decided that the product they chose would be their ECM standard. There was a tiny problem; the product they selected was not an ECM product. As stated on their website [name withheld] “is the global leader in professional work product management”. The vendor’s target market is primarily law firms. Over the course of the project I spoke to the vendor and a couple of peers that work for organizations that use the vendor’s tools. They all agree that the product is not suitable as an ECM platform. The two peers I spoke to said that the product is very good if you use it for what it’s designed to do, but you’d be mad to try and use it as an ECM platform. To get back to my race car analogy; it’d be like trying to compete in the Dakar with a Formula One car.
But really, how bad could it be? Well, prior to implementing the product, everyone in the company knew where to find stuff, even though it was a pain. While they weren’t thrilled about using file shares, FTP, and email to store and share content, they knew how to work with the tools they had, regardless of how prehistoric they were. Now that they have the new platform, most people in the company are more than a little fed up:
- They file stuff and can’t find it again;
- They’re supposed to send links to colleagues, but have to rely on email because security is borked;
- Where previously there were standards, now many have their own way of doing things;
- Irritation with previous tools has been replaced, in many cases, with hostility;
- This list is not complete.
It’s gotten so bad that my client is seriously considering ripping out the solution they implemented and going back to using file shares. I wish I were kidding.
As my university client found out, choosing the right technology is no guarantee of success. However, as my Vermont client found out, choosing the wrong technology is a guarantee of failure. Choose wisely and do all those other things that come before selecting and implementing technology. After all, a solution / system is a combination of people, processes, and technology.
In this CloudPro article, Aaron Levie (Box co-founder and CEO) asks about content management “Why is this one of the only categories of technology that hasn’t actually been approached as a strategic platform for the entire enterprise?” Levie also suggests that organizations view content management systems through a similar lens as they do with ERP and CRM systems. That is, have a single system and manage it as a strategic platform for the enterprise. I both agree and disagree with Levie.
We both believe that content management systems need to be managed as strategic enterprise platforms. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to infer of Levie that he would agree with me and others that information be managed as a strategic corporate asset. There might be a contretemps over where (type of system) content to be leveraged as an asset should reside (I don’t care where it is, I just want to leverage it), but I think it would be a minor niggle. I think where there would be more palpable disagreement is over whether or not organizations ought to consolidate content repositories or not. As far as I’m concerned, it depends. (I’m a consultant. What did you expect me to say?) There’s a whole mess of stuff to think about when considering repository consolidation, and this isn’t the post to go through it.
Aaron and I are going to disagree over his points about viewing ERP, CRM, and ECM through the same lens. He says we should, I say we can’t. The issue is one of understanding. If I go into any organization that uses ERP and CRM systems, they know the point and value of those systems. The high level business processes supported by ERP and CRM systems haven’t fundamentally changed in decades. ECM systems are completely different. They are built to support all processes and no processes. I.e.: they’re a blank canvass, a few tubes of paint, and some paint bushes. If you’ve got the right people, rules, and tools you’ll end up with a masterpiece. If not, well, you won’t.
The value proposition and strategy for ECM has to be crafted to the stakeholder. I cannot and will not give the same message to someone from HR as I will to someone in Field Services. I may use the same platform and even the same content, but stakeholder context is going to drive the conversation and implementation. And that’s a huge problem. ECM as a concept is too big and complicated. So stop talking about it. Talk about business opportunities and challenges; talk about transformation and innovation.
So, back to Levie’s comment/question about strategic platforms …
He’s obviously biased and I’m on his side but, been there, done that. In the majority of implementations that I’ve been engaged on, a strategic platform approach is precisely the approach we took. The technology involved didn’t really matter (If you really care, the techs involved included Documentum, Alfresco, Oracle, SharePoint, FileNet, and OpenText). It was all about the mindset and having the right policies, procedures, and people. It also helps if the technology has open API’s and makes integration as simple as possible.
In this article (it’s quite good, you should read it) Stephen Ludlow (Director, Enterprise Product Marketing at OpenText and a former colleague) makes the point that Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is not doomed, despite its inglorious past. He also points out some of the reasons for ECM’s less than stellar track record, as well as what we (the industry and our customers) need to do to position ECM for success. Coincidently, or not, Lubor Ptacek (VP Product Marketing at OpenText) made many of the same points during his session at the AIIM conference earlier this year. I just wanted to take what Stephen and Lubor said and expand on it a little bit.
Forget about the whole ECM thing for the next paragraph and just focus on the content. Think about what needs to happen with content to fully leverage its value and minimize its associate risk in organizations. It’s fairly simple, actually; provide content as a service to end users and systems and let the back-end repository take care of all the information governance and management stuff. There are two basic ways to provide a content-as-a-service platforms:
- A “silent” managed repository that serves content to LOB and enterprise applications;
- Workspaces (simplifying, don’t bust my chops) that knowledge workers access via their preferred devices (PC, laptop, tablet, phone) and methods (Web UI, Windows Explorer, MS Office, iOS apps, Android apps, etc.).
In both cases the back-end repository manages the governance of the information contained within it, leaving users to focus on their core tasks. Classifying, tagging, categorizing, and applying retention/disposition policies needs to be automated. Version control, check-in/out, and locking need to be managed by the repository.
And stop selling / promoting ECM products and projects. NO. ONE. CARES.
Talk to your clients and stakeholders about what business issues objectives your SOLUTION is going to address. It may even turn out that the appropriate technology may not be an ECM platform or suite (horrors!). The reality is that to actually address business issues and provide long term ROI it’s going to take a combination of technology types to get the job done (a paperless claims processing solution I worked on used ECM, BPM, and CRM deployed on-premises and in the cloud).
I’m not saying for a minute that ECM platforms have no value. They absolutely do if they are used the right way and hidden out of sight. ECM platforms ought to be like referees in hockey: critical to the game but no one really wants them to be the star.
The industry is having a bit of a re-think about where ECM fits in organizations, and what its role ought to be. Legacy ECM vendors like OpenText, IBM, Oracle, and EMC have been (collectively) rejigging for a few years now through product development, partnerships, and acquisitions. Relative newcomers like Syncplicity and Box are transforming how one achieves ECM-ness. Even some Enterprise File Sync & Share (EFSS) pure players have to be taken seriously when you think about the totality of what ECM really is. Companies like Egnyte and Accellion absolutely play a role in managing and governing content across an organization.
Think about this parting point: ECM is more a state of mind & being than it is a single product category. ECM-ness is not achieved by ECM products alone.