Why ECM Standards?


There has been a lot of new discussion on ECM Standards of late. I’m pretty excited about it. I don’t agree with it all, but discussion is good. I can’t respond to everything in one post. Well, I can, but that will take a lot of time. So I am going to respond to lowest level observation. When I say “lowest level”, I mean that if you don’t buy into this detail, the rest are irrelevant.

Some have stated that ECM standards aren’t practicable. These reasons vary from the shifting technology to the fact that serving-up the lowest common denominator of functionality provides a nearly useless standard. These are valid concerns. The question that we need to ask is, What problem are we trying to solve?

Here is a fairly typical scenario that I have faced, and expect to continue to face. Client has a system, say a financial system. They track all their Payables and Receivables in it. Well, these items have images that I would like to access directly from the financial system without having to go and locate them in the ECM system separately.

Meanwhile, I’ve created an outward facing portal where selected 3rd parties can view the status of some financial transactions and the supporting documents. They can even submit documents or edit their address in the financial system.

Finally, I have a collaborative space setup for my internal people where they do work. One of the outputs may be an invoice for one of those parties.

For this I need an ECM system, a financial system, a portal, and a collaborative workspace. Now, maybe the collaborative workspace is part of the ECM solution, and maybe not. The portal could be part of the financial system, the ECM system, or a completely separate vendor. I need the systems to work seamlessly together, regardless of how many applications I have running.

The questions arise. How do I get the ECM system to talk to the financial system? Can I find a portal that will talk to both? How do I get my collaborative workspace to interact with my financials? What if I want to change my financial system in a year? How much is that going to impact everything I’m doing now? How do I manage my security across all systems so that it is consistent?

This is where the standards come in. We don’t need standards that dish every little bit of functionality out. I don’t need a way to standardly pass a request for a thumbnail. However, we need standards that can do real work. If a system can’t meet a standard due to a lack of functionality, then is it really an ECM system?

There are a lot of definitions of ECM out there. I’m not going to haggle over them today. However, if my ECM system can’t store and manage all of my content for the Enterprise easily, then it doesn’t solve my problem.

That is my target. I will be continuing this discussion once or twice a week. Seems each week I’ve taken a step back in what I am discussing. However, from what I can see, we can’t take the foundation for granted, so I’ve had to backpeddle.

If you are interested in more, here are some, but not all, of the recent posts on this topic with a quick blurb. I will be addressing some of these more directly later.

  • James McGovern: He chimes in as always, challenging others to take-up the discussion. He suggests a closer look at WebDAV and RSS.
  • Jesse Wilkins: Jesse enters the dialog with a brief backgrounder and expresses support for the RSS approach. Not a bad idea and something to consider.
  • Gordon Taylor: Very excited about another vendor (Tower Software) joining the discussion. He cautions about standards being just a tickbox on a feature list.
  • Craig Randall: Very excited that Craig is paying attention. Living in a primarily Documentum world, I love to hear his insight. He brings-up a lot of things that I will respond to separately.
  • Billy Cripe: Over at Oracle/Stellent, Billy basically dismisses standards as something to worry about. I think he misunderstands the purpose of standards. Standards don’t define business. Standards enable business.

4 thoughts on “Why ECM Standards?

  1. Paul, thanks for your contribution. I think that the problem we are trying to solve to revolve around defining what the core features of ECM are and what other Enterprise Applications need from an ECM system. We don’t need all the features and services, but we need enough to make 90% of the needed integrations simple.

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