The More Things Change – ECM Isn’t Really Dead

rose-165819_640Several 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Store – Store and secure information in appropriate repositories in order to achieve defined outcomes.
  3. Manage – Assign properties to content to make it appropriately accessible to the people and systems that require it.
  4. Preserve – Ensure content is accessible over its entire lifecycle and disposed of when required or permitted to do so.
  5. 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 Continents, Two Information Governance Conferences, One Conclusion

IRMS2016 Innovation Keynote 08Over the last few weeks I attended the AIIM Conference (the theme was Digital Transformation in Action) in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and the IRMS Conference (the theme was Information Superheroes) in Brighton, UK. It was my third time at AIIM, at which I did one of the roundtables, and it was my first time at IRMS, at which I did the opening keynote (a genuine honour to have been selected). Both the AIIM roundtable and the IRMS keynote (slides available here) were innovation themed. This post is not going to be so much a recap of the conferences as much as it will be my take on how innovation, disruption, and transformation fit into the whole Information Governance / Management (IG/M) space, and how AIIM and IRMS and their members (individuals, sponsors, vendors) may be affected.

Since my session at both conferences was about innovation, that’s the filter I am applying, with a twist. In his opening keynote at AIIM, John Mancini mentioned Slack as the type of vendor (new, innovative, disruptive) that’s become more important in our space, but was not present at, arguably, the most important conference in that space. Slack, which I use with some industry peers, is a marvelous tool for collaborating and sharing content. Via integrations with other tools it can be a part of an enterprise information / content management play. Other vendors that are critical players in the IG/M space include companies like Box, Dropbox, Splunk, Egnyte, Microsoft, Facebook (yes), …, the list is huge. The point is that there are hundreds of vendors out there that are producing platforms and apps that people use EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to work with and analyze the information they need to do their jobs. I’m talking about the simplest stuff (creating a document or email) to the most complex data analytics. People are doing these things using everything from supercomputers to mobile phones; in dedicated buildings and on tops of mountains.

For fun, take a look at this page on Box’s site; each of these Box technology partners could and should make up part of an organization’s IG/M technology package. So why were most of them missing from AIIM and IRMS? By asking that question I do not mean to imply that vendors like IBM, HPE, Onbase, Laserfiche, OpenText, etc. don’t innovate. They do. They’re just not overly exciting anymore. They are the legacy, staid, established vendors. Sorry guys, but as good as you are you’re just not cool anymore. I got excited about the Documentum-LEAP thing, but that didn’t last more than 5 or 6 minutes.

Since I kind of do the industry analyst thing on occasion, I do know why some of the cool vendors don’t bother with AIIM, IRMS, and other similar conferences[1]; they don’t get the leads. However, I think they are missing a marvelous opportunity to educate and transform the market, including the associations themselves. I believe that these vendors need to look at two or three years of conference investment before they can reasonably expect to use the conferences as sales opportunities. That said, these vendors, individually, probably have little idea of what they’re really on to. And let’s face it, individually most of them aren’t significant in a IG/M or RIM (Records and Information Management) context. It’s as a whole solution built of the best bits for the job that they shine. And that is a beautiful thing.

I think the whole IG/M space, including the associations, is having a bit of a tough time with its own transformation. It’s not an analog to digital thing; it’s more of what should we be doing and to whom should we be doing it. Both conferences featured sessions about the evolution of the space and those who practice in it, but not enough, in my opinion. The transformation of the space was missing. I.e.: what is IG/M going to look like in the not too distant future? Like it or not, there are some key vendors out there that are going to have a massive influence on what our profession will look like, and they weren’t at either conference.

One of the things I’ve been seeing lately is this concept of “content as a service”. Essentially it’s having a managed repository serving as a platform on which to build actual business solutions. The back-end takes care of all the IG/M stuff like versions, policies, security, etc, while applications that solve actual business problems are built on top of the platform. Why am I mentioning this in this particular post. BECAUSE THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THE WHOLE IG/M or RIM PROFESSION SHOULD BE DOING FOR THE ORGANIZATIONS THEY SUPPORT!!!

Very soon, if you’re only (don’t take this the wrong way) a records manager or archivist your career will be over. The titles may stay the same, but the skill sets and thought processes must evolve. All information, regardless of medium or storage location, must be in scope. I think that with the right mindset, training, and skills, today’s information professional can become tomorrow’s internal management consultant and strategic advisor. I’ve said more than once that information assets must be treated with the same gravity and urgency that financial assets are treated. There is, in my view, a small window of opportunity for those of us currently in the profession, in whatever role, to make that happen. You / we can specialize in certain disciplines that make up IG/M, but we’ve got to have an understanding of the whole.

Everything we information professionals do ought to be done in support of the core business of the organizations we work for. This does not mean we take a subservient approach to doing our jobs. Far from it. How many other professions are as well placed as we are to actually understand what’s happening? How many other professions have as holistic a view into an organization as we do? As professionals we need to look around our organizations and start to ask what problems or challenges we can help with. And it’s not just how to file something, how to prepare for litigation, how to defensibly delete something, or how to save money on storage. We need to be asking questions about how to grow the business, how to better compete, how to better serve citizens, i.e.: ask strategic, forward looking business questions.

We need to be pushing IRMS, AIIM, ARMA, and every other professional organization we belong to to ask those same questions of companies and of vendors. Associations need to be our voices, especially when it comes to defining what our profession will look like in the future. We need to step up and make sure our associations are positioned to attract the right vendors / sponsors, to answer the right questions for end-user organizations, and to provide the thought leadership that we as professionals need in order to learn and grow.

Miscellaneous Closing Thoughts

You’ll notice I’ve stayed away from using the term ECM; that’s because it doesn’t matter anymore, if it ever really did. What matters is solutions. ECM is just background stuff, which is exactly as it should be.

I’m scratching my head a bit over the IRMS offering the Foundation Certificate in Information Governance (FCIG); there seems to be quite a lot of overlap with AIIM’s Certified Information Professional (CIP) thing. Don’t get me wrong, the FCIG is a good thing that covers a little bit that the CIP doesn’t. Is it enough to warrant a separate certificate / certification? Is it a manifestation of the differences between the North American and UK markets? I dunno. I do, however, wish the IRMS and AIIM all the best with their programs.

This being my first IRMS conference, I didn’t know what to expect. What I encountered was a massive attack hug (thanks Emily), a wonderfully warm reception from the entire IRMS executive and the event organizers, and a fantastic experience in Brighton. This was definitely a records management focussed conference, with most (80%+?) participants being from one form of public sector or another. Now, many of you know what I think about pure records management and may assume that I started to itch and twitch, but I didn’t. I think there is an openness to a more holistic approach to managing information that doesn’t seem to be present at other records focussed events I’ve been to. There was also a much more palpable sense of community and intimacy than what I’ve previously experienced.

One Conclusion

That one conclusion I alluded to in the title …

This profession of ours is as much in a state of transition as the industries and professions we support. I don’t really know with any certainty what that’s going to look like in the next few years. However, I think those of us practising our profession had better embrace a little uncertainty, tempered with a lot of flexibility and creativity.

Information surpassed people as an organization’s most valuable resource a few years ago. There is no reason to believe that things will ever go back to the way they were. More than likely the value of information will continue to increase as its volume grows. Therefore, those of us who really know how to govern and manage it, how to leverage its value, and how to mitigate its risks … well, there’s no stopping us.

[1] If you added information governance / management related sessions to Boxworks, it could actually be a better info gov conference than AIIM, in terms of having relevant vendors show up.

5 Things – Innovation

duck-416972_1280This was taken from the next to last slide (full presentation available here) from my keynote session at the IRMS Conference in Brighton, UK from 15-17 May, 2016. These things were also included in the ebook Digital Transformation in Action by John Mancini, that was put out in advance of the AIIM Conference in April 2016.

These are five things, in my view, that you need to do if you want to foster innovation, transformation, and disruption (the good kind) in your organization.

  1. Focus on value, forget risk. – If your entire approach to managing 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Don’t try to change the world. – Closely related to “Start something.” Trying to change the entire organization is going to take time and resources, so don’t try to do it all at once. Start with something that you know isn’t working optimally and change that. Then move on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, ….
  4. Blow stuff up, make people cry. – Change, disruption, transformation, and innovation require that things get messy and people get upset. Don’t worry about it. Find the internal champions and sponsors that’ll have your back. Maintaining the status quo hasn’t worked up until now, what makes anyone think it’s a reasonable path forward?
  5. Get out of the way! – You want your people to innovate, transform, and disrupt, but you’re still relying on out-moded and out-dated managerial structures. Stop. Create an atmosphere that encourages people to go out on a limb and try something new. Give them the freedom to try, but define some reasonable boundaries for them.

The ducks may or may not have appeared in a previous “5 Thoughts / Things” post, but my 4yr old liked them so there they are.

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