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”.
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.