ECM, Wanted Dead or Alive?
One thing that I have been meaning to do is to dive back into the state of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) as a useful term and the challenges facing its use. I’ve also been meaning to draw attention to some of the excellent posts in the new AIIM Communities. I am going to try and address both deficiencies today to some degree.
Let’s start with ECM, because that has been the point of my career for over a decade now. When we last saw it, I was talking about its future and how it is moving to becoming Omnipresent Content Management (OCM). While the term “Universal” is also apt, Oracle already stole it.
Before we get into more detail, and leave Steve McQueen, the question really is, Where does that leave ECM?
Content Management vs. ECM
Content Management is the practice of managing content. Period. It does not matter what type of content you are talking about, the core capabilities remain the same. What varies when looking at different systems is determining if they are generic Content Management Systems (CMS) or if they are focused on specific types of content, like documents, browser content, or XML (whose designation as content v data is a little spurious).
[Random Side Note: If all content can be served to the web now, doesn’t that make the term “web content” redundant? Shouldn’t the term address “browser content” or something more descriptive to its purpose? Flaming responses can be sent to Jon Marks.]
So what is ECM in the world of Content Management? Simple, it is a strategy. As I have put it in the past:
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a strategy for the coordinated management of all content throughout an organization, allowing for people and systems to find and use content from within any business context using platform agnostic standards.
There is no such thing as ECM software or an ECM solution. There are ECM platforms, but they are just platforms. They enable a centralized ECM strategy. In fact, taking the risk of upsetting the boat further, I would just call them Content Management platforms. They have purposes that go beyond supporting an ECM strategy, which itself can be implemented without a platform. Should is a completely different question for another day.
The question is, is an ECM strategy enough these days?
Is ECM Dead?
This is a trick question. If you pay me enough, I can fervently defend any answer to any detractor. As most of you aren’t paying me, I’m going to straddle the fence.
Simply put, it isn’t dead. There are too many organizations that have content running amuck or a wide collection of content repositories that either need to be merged or forced to communicate and share using CMIS (token CMIS reference). All you Documentum people rest assured, you will be needed for years to come.
That said, we can now see the limits. As Dan Elam, a really interesting and smart guy, points out in his not so obviously titled Enterprise Content Management is Dead post, there is a lot of content that is living outside control of the Enterprise. Instant messaging and text messages are two of the larger issues. They are sitting outside of the enterprise on phones, personal computers, and now tablet computers. Instant messaging can be captured, or blocked, but the text messages will live on as long as people are permitted to call each other on cell phones.
Meanwhile, Mark Mandel concurs and brings broader Records Management issues to the fore-front. What about all of that Social Media content? Records Management concerns aside (no small feat), there is still the management of a company’s presence out there in the wilds of Web 2.0. You may want the content to be fresh and exciting, but you also want to sometimes plan that fresh content days in advance of an announcement.
Finally, there is the simple fact that content is becoming less restricted to the Enterprise. I’m not talking about all that Social Media stuff. I’m talking about sharing content with other organizations. This can range from clients, business partners, and colleagues in the industry. This is a problem I mentioned when talking about why email is such a strong draw.
Simply put, email works and allows you to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, without having to do anything else.
Box allows the same thing, but there are limits on what you can get for free. Everyone you want to collaborate with needs have an account as well. Get one person that can’t, or won’t, use the platform, it fails to be a universal solution.
For all of its size, not even Facebook is universal. My parents aren’t there. Neither is my grandmother. When I have news, I still have to call them, though calling my mother usually gets everyone in the know quickly enough. You can’t forcing sharing, but you don’t have to force email. It is there now. Oh, and email is either free or paid for by employers.
Not saying email is the way to go, just pointing out some of the challenges facing Content Management as it is implemented today. There needs to be a way for content to be accessed by anyone, anywhere, and as needed, wanted, and permitted.
That is a lot to get a handle on. As Dan pointed out, deploying solutions to the cloud is getting cheaper and easier. We just need the solutions to scale to the cloud and for those solutions to be aware of each other and able to communicate, kind of like our email servers.
It is a tall order for the future. The thing is, if we don’t start planning now, there is a lot of content that is going to be lost that many people might want to have around, like a get out of jail card.