Redefining Enterprise Content Management

Several months ago, Russ Stalter posted on how he was Disillusioned with the Current Definition of ECM. Russ provides a new definition for ECM, which I believe is better, but still suffers some of the same deficiencies of the current definitions. Tower Software picked up on the thread, deriding the box-checking definitions out there.

Evolution of ECM

The term Enterprise Content Management didn’t come out of thin air. It evolved. Back when I started in the space, I was working on Document Management. This term was interchangeable with Integrated Document Management and other terms as you encountered different marketing departments. The focus was simple, store and share office documents like WordPerfect and Word.

Different applications starting popping up that were related, but still view as different.

  • Records Management: With an initial focus in the government space, this was simple. Know what you have, keep what you want/need, and get rid of stuff when it is time. Integrations between RM (TrueArc) and DM solutions started showing up between leading vendors.
  • Imaging Systems: This was scanned mail, older files, faxes, and so forth. These things were thrown onto optical jukeboxes and people tried to OCR them to make them searchable. More often, they were “indexed”, which is the name for recording metadata about the object through, what was typically, a manual process. Some vendors (PC DOCS) built their imaging capabilities on top of their DM systems. Other, higher performance, imaging vendors (FileNet) built separate systems.
  • Web Content Management: During this time, companies were finding out that their web sites should, and could, be more than just a few simple pages. As the websites grew, a way to manage the content and look-and-feel became important. Thus entered the WCM vendors (Stellent) that focused on this marketplace.
  • Collaboration: People wanted to work together and share content. Some vendors (OpenText) gave them the tools to do so while still managing content.

Over the years, more content-centric applications would arise as new problems were identified. In addition, other systems, such as Digital Asset Management, started storing content as a crucial part of the complete business record in CRM and ERP applications. The vendors mentioned above covers major players in those verticals in the early days.

As these systems grew, vendors saw content falling in multiple applications. This was the beginning of the wave of acquisitions. As vendors like Documentum (thought I’d forgotten them?) broadened their content capabilities, a new word was needed. The term Enterprise Content Management was coined.

Current Definitions

Why ECM? Well, content is being managed, simple enough. The Enterprise came from the concept of storing content for different CM applications. Enterprise seemed generic and powerful. As Russ says, the common definitions of ECM are based on the consolidation of the technology components that now make up the ECM suites. AIIM‘s definition reflects this approach:

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization’s unstructured information, wherever that information exists.

It is a very technically correct definition. I hate it. It has no passion. No feel. It doesn’t make you excited. It reminds me of the most annoying definitions from back in school. The concepts of Capture, Manage, Store, Preserve, and Deliver are critical. However, I would like something that read less like a piece of government documentation.

What is ECM now?

ECM is a great term. What we need to do is focus on the word Enterprise. This word is key. ECM should be about storing every piece of content in the entire Enterprise. This includes those documents that are stored in Siebel and SAP. ECM isn’t about delivering an WCM or Collaboration solution. ECM is about storing the unstructured content for the entire Enterprise. ECM needs to become a transparent part of the Enterprise.

Now, I’m not dismissing WCM or any other “ECM” application. WCM is an application that benefits greatly from a tight integration with an ECM platform. However, you shouldn’t need to have a WCM solution to be an ECM vendor. What should you have?

  • A well defined, standards-based, way of storing, retrieving, and managing any unstructured content
  • An extensible platform that allows for tight integrations with other applications when performance is critical
  • The ability to scale to massive proportions
  • Built in Records, Rights, and Lifecycle Management
  • Content services to transform and process content based upon business rules

This is just a starting point. I’m trying to organize my thoughts and collect feedback from the ECM community at large. Once the “requirements” for ECM are flushed out, then the quick definition can be created. Something fun, energizing, that we can all point to and be proud.

4 thoughts on “Redefining Enterprise Content Management

  1. Try mine;

    In addition to ERP, SCM, BPM, PPM, et., ECM is yet another HIGH-FLYING term invented for selling a simple concept of managing unstructured data. Although there is nothing wrong in creating such terms but I fail to see any SINGLE term out there that truly reflects the entire organization goal instead of reaching to the boiling point of one day in future, seeing an INFORMATION WORKER buzzing TOCM in my ears i.e. Toilet Odor Content Management. Phew!

    Where are the true business management people handling these techno-jargon for a better and common understanding of business? How long and far will these greedy companies continue to invent such terms only to exploit HUGE enterprise funds instead of creating a simpler and more affordable solution? Now, pls. don’t look at this as if I am trying to have a free lunch.

    Amir Ali Tayyab


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