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”.
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.
I finished reading this article from CMS Wire (I don’t mean I actually read the whole article) and it got me thinking …
Between that article, others I’ve read, and some of the projects I’ve been working on this year, this whole ECM thing is a total crock. The vendors, the consultants, the analysts, and the professional bodies are conspiring against the customers and themselves to prevent success (what defines success on a quarter by quarter basis beggars belief).
“We just bought an ECM and we’re not sure what to do with it.” is something one of my clients said to me earlier this year. Actually, a variant of that statement is something I’ve been hearing ever since I got involved with ECM. So clients don’t really know what they’re doing. Right? Sort of.
Clients have been listening to those of us who make our livings by “doing ECM” for far too long. Vendors sell licenses and get compensated on how things went over a fiscal quarter, plus the annual support and maintenance fees. The fact that less than half of the licenses purchased have actually been deployed means bugger all. Consultants (I’m one, BTW) come in and develop all sorts of strategies to help manage or govern information (they’re not the same thing) without any stake in what goes on after the engagement is over. Analysts, many of whom are paid by vendors and service providers, come up with all sorts of nifty schemes for scoring offerings and invent new sectors. Professional associations put on marvelous conferences where you get to listen to prognostications from vendors, consultants, and analysts that further … the agendas of vendors, consultants, analysts, and professional associations.
I don’t for a minute mean to imply that there is any malice intended in any of this; there likely isn’t. The problem is that we’re in a vicious cycle that we created. We’re all afraid to step back and admit that we ballsed it up, big time. ECM was a good idea at the time. Times have changed, sunshine. ECM is dead (assumes that it was actually alive in the first place) and has been replaced by Information Governance (IG) (which is not a synonym for records management, as a certain professional organization would have you believe). The promise of IG is … I don’t know what the promise is; there’s a bunch of marketing departments out there that will let you know. As far as I can tell IG is ECM with some Big Data, ediscovery, and analytics stuff thrown in (yeah, I’m simplifying); as my dad used to say, “Same shit, different day.”
Despite the changes over the last few years, the stuff I want to see is still the exception; getting value out of information and solving business problems. In a recent client engagement the client told me that they wanted to move HR documents into SharePoint. Why? Because, SP is our ECM pillar. What’ll you do with the docs once they’re in SP? What do you mean?
The above snippet is an example of ECM gone wrong. Move your stuff into a managed repository as a replacement for shared drives. Holy Crap!!! The vendors dig this stuff. The consultants love figuring out a migration strategy. The analysts love another data point. The professional associations love another case study. The client loves … well they love nothing because they’re not getting any real value other than ticking a checkbox.
Who the hell manages information for the sake of managing information? Don’t you want something that leverages information to create value? What if someone just said that there’s a bunch of stuff they need to do that relies on information and that they need to secure that information? What if they could do that without running out and financing some account exec’s BMW or Caribbean vacation?
I’m not suggesting that organizations not buy ECM related software and services. I’m just suggesting that before they do they actually figure out what the end game is and what they’re missing to achieve it. The longer I stay in this game the more I’m certain that achieving ECM-ness is really a matter of processes and will, rather than spending tons on software licenses.
If an organization doesn’t have the processes and will to get their information under control and leverage it, spending butt-loads on software will get them nowhere. If they do have the processes and will, they’ll be able to make stuff happen without the big spend (they’ll likely have to spend some coin, but not what you’d think – integration is wonderful).
Which brings me to …
Cloud. Oh yes! Cloud services are here to stay and we need to figure out how to make them work within all the rules and constraints that apply to us. Jamming our fingers in our ears and ignoring things is not going to work. Going forward, cloud services and mobile devices are part of the mix. We better dump the outdated ECM model and wise up to the fact that the model has changed (for the better, IMO). Cloud services and consumer devices are going to be the norm, but they are not going to be the only thing. There will, for the foreseeable future, also be on premises components. The key is going to be to stop thinking about the enterprise. Really, it is. Any organization is an agglomeration of businesses, each with their own needs in terms of information, governance, processes, tools, etc. Why then go for an enterprise play? Solve stuff one business at a time, one opportunity at a time. Connect the dots as you move along.
Industry research has shown over and over that organizations run multiple content repositories from multiple vendors. They run them for different purposes driven by different factors. What makes any vendor, cloud or otherwise, think that this is going to change? I actually think the vendors secretly agree, but it makes for crappy marketing to say it out loud.
Organizations are hybrids of various businesses. Why can’t this industry understand, then, that managing content requires a hybrid approach? I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.
Claims processing, mortgage approvals, patient diagnoses, learning material production, repair manuals, safety procedures, employee onboarding … tell me how to make these things better, cheaper, easier, and more efficient, without compromising confidentiality and privacy. Tell me how I can execute these things wherever I or my colleagues happen to be. Tell me how your stuff is gonna work with stuff I already have to make this happen. Don’t tell me that I need to buy 3,000 seats of something and you’ll build me something.
Bottom line … make the customer the center of your universe. Focus on what the customer sees as value. The proportion of organizations that operate purely on fear and risk is pretty small compared to organizations that need to focus on value. Focus on selling me something and I won’t sign anything until the last day of the fiscal quarter; I used to work for a couple of vendors, I know how the game works.
Here’s a couple things you ought to read:
- Joe Shepley wrote this piece in late November; heed his words and you will actually accomplish something.
- Chris Riley wrote this earlier this week; he’s as fed up as I am. Maybe a little more.
To wrap things up:
- ECM isn’t
- Policies, people, and procedure are way more important than tools
- Offence (value) before defence (risk)
- Cloud and on-premises are like wine and cheese; better together but don’t always smell so good and sometimes give you a headache
- Information is like wine; better when shared. But share according to who’s got a palate refined enough to appreciate it.
I wanted to try something a little different for this post. I’m doing an assessment of what went wrong with Alfresco for a Canadian university. They purchased Alfresco back in 2008/09, initially to handle some of their web content needs. Things haven’t gone so well. Below is a quick wrap up email I sent to the project sponsor after the first few days of stakeholder (patient?) interviews …
I just wanted to give you a quick recap of the last few days:
- Of the people I spoke to, no one advocated for getting rid of Alfresco
- Unless something to the contrary comes up in the next few weeks, there is no reason to believe that Alfresco is the problem
- Alfresco was likely the wrong choice back in 2008/09, but the product and company have since matured to the point where it’s no longer the case
- There is a general feeling that Alfresco is/was underfunded, under-resourced, and lacking in executive buy-in / mandate
- It appears that there is no executive support or commitment to mandating Information Management practices using Alfresco as a standard tool set to implement
- There was/is an element of Alfresco (or any ECM platform) being a magic bullet, rather than a platform on which to build solutions
- It seems that all the Alfresco initiatives over the years have been done as individual projects, rather than under a program of managing information
- The consulting services engaged focused on the mechanical & “how to” aspects of Alfresco and related tools, without any of the advisory & “what should we do, why we should do it” services
At this point it’s my opinion that the problems are cultural and environmental. If the culture and environment change Alfresco will succeed, providing the right resources are engaged in the right way. If the culture and environment don’t change Alfresco will fail, as will any other platform brought in.
If I were to start an enterprise software company today, I’d give the licenses away. No, I am not thinking about open source at all. I’m thinking about services, non-core functionality, and integration. I’ll stick to Enterprise Content Management software, but the principles are applicable to any enterprise grade platforms or suites (we can debate what “enterprise” means until the cows come home to roost, but not here or now).
Let’s face it; you can go and pick almost any large ECM suite and the core functionality is going to be pretty much the same across all of them. For the sake of this discussion, let’s define core functionality as:
- Check in / check out
- Basic search
- Basic workflow
- Some sort of UI (usually pretty crappy)
There is no substantive value differentiator to be had in choosing one over another. In fact, if any one of those items were missing, I doubt the software in question would even qualify as an ECM tool. I also think that in the very near future, file synching and sharing (e.g.: EMC’s Syncplicity and OpenText’s Tempo Box) could become core functionality (if it were my company it would be).
So, I’m going to give you the basics for free and I’m not even going to charge you for training and maintenance. I will charge you for implementation (if it’s on premises or on hosted infrastructure) and support, though. Why would I be so generous? Because I am really friggin’ smart. I want your organization to deploy, use, scale, and extend my software. I want you to realize that what really sets my software apart from the competition is the people I’ve got advising you, architecting your solutions, and deploying to your people.
What enterprise is going to live with just core functionality beyond a proof of concept phase, if that long? Even if they do, how long until they figure out that they’ll get way further if they hook up content services (yes, I said services) to other enterprise or line of business systems.
Don’t get caught up in the whole “if it’s free there’s no value” thing; it’s bogus. You need to understand the difference between cost (what you pay) and value (what you get). Besides, I already told you it’s not free, sort of. You’re going to have to implement the software. I or a partner can do it for you, and you’ll get billed. You can have your internal folks do it, and you’ll get billed to get them trained. It comes down to paying for the knowledge and expertise, not for the tool.
The value proposition for core content services (or content as a service if you prefer) is in pushing the content to other systems (processes+people+tools), and in being the core repository for content across the organization. Once your content is in the repository and being managed with the basics, only then am I going to start charging you for the add-ons. Add-ons are not by any means trivial, but they are not core for all organizations. For example, Digital Asset Management (DAM) – not everyone needs it, but to those that do it’s critical. And I am going to charge you for it (license and services). Hey, you want to use someone else’s DAM solution because it’s more suitable for your organization? Cool, but I am going to charge you for the integration. Same goes for web content management, ediscovery, records management, migration tools, large file transfers, etc. Integration to desktop tools, other enterprise systems, line of business systems, and cloud services? Damn right I’m gonna charge you.
“But what happens when partners do the initial implementation? You won’t make any money.” Truthfully, I don’t care. What I do care about is being at least as diligent about selecting partners as you are about selecting technology and service providers; I want partners that are every bit as invested in your success as I am. I want you, me, and the partners to be a triumvirate. If I really want a shot at success, I have to make sure that you succeed, regardless if you engage me directly or not. The only way I am going to do that is to support my partners as much as I support you, and to be there when their skills have gaps.
“But they’re a partner, how can they have skills gaps?” Well, because they’re partners and not my staff. Partners are never going to be as close to the product as those who build the product; it’s a fact. Besides, they’re out in the field implementing stuff and gathering feedback. That’s what I want them to do. And if I’ve set my partner model up properly partners are integrated into my processes and supported. My partners are also a revenue stream.
I don’t want any schmoe that’s done one implementation and read some stuff to be running amok out there. I want partners that can do as good a job, maybe even better, than my own staff can. I am going to spend time and money making sure partners are up to the task, and for that partners are going to pay me. If you want to work with the schmoe, that’s on you. Don’t come crying to me when it all goes wrong. Do come to me to help you fix it. I promise not to say “I told you so”. As long as there’s long-term success, I’m not too concerned about short-term faux-pas.
I don’t own or run a software company, and I’m not about to start one up; I’m an analyst/consultant with Digital Clarity Group. We help organizations get stuff done, including selecting technology and service providers. I hope that I’ve made you think about a few key things as you ponder your technology and vendor choices:
- Cost does not determine value – lots of open source and low cost tools are every bit as good as stuff you’d pay a fortune for;
- Regardless of cost, knowledge is far more valuable than tools;
- Clients, service providers, and vendors must, must, must be in a symbiotic relationship to truly succeed.
And if you happen to be looking for some guidance on selecting technology or service providers, reach out; we’re happy to chat. You should also check out our European and North American service providers guides (note that they are specific to the Customer Experience market).