ECM: A Working Definition for the Next Generation

A while back I talked about how the current definitions of Enterprise Content Management left a lot to be desired. They don’t accurately describe the reality of what ECM systems need to accomplish in today’s environment. They are also boring and lack a soul.

I have come back to this topic through multiple avenues. One is the concept of Invisible ECM from Billy and crew over at Oracle. It resonated very strongly with my previous discussions on Transparent ECM. We can debate terminology later, but what is important now is the shared concept.

A second avenue comes from my need to explain where ECM is going, ECM 2.0, in a simple and concise way. I can explain it and speak passionately on the topic. The need to get the concept out there in one breath has become more important as I talk to more people.

I have developed a proposed definition for your consideration. I would love feedback. I will approve all constructive comments for sharing, though I may not respond until a subsequent post. I’ll throw it out there and then discuss it briefly. Remember, I want this definition to have a soul.

Enterprise Content Management is the empowerment of all content within an organization. This is accomplished through the centralized management of content, allowing for people and systems to access and manage content from within any business context using platform agnostic standards.

Enterprise Means Everything Managed Together

The Enterprise in ECM started as being able to support various Content Applications throughout the organization with the same tool. This led to WCM, RM, DAM, and Collaboration applications all being developed or acquired by each major vendor.

The growing problem now is using content in applications not provided by the ECM vendors. These are applications that I have previously referred to as Content Enabled Applications, but Gartner and others refer to as Content-Enabled Vertical Applications, or CEVAs. (Gartner’s term pre-dates mine so they win the terminology battle.)

For example, documents in a case management system (a solid example of a CEVA) should be retained in a central repository. From here, records management policies and archival rules can be systematically applied.

Traveling the Road to ECM 2.0

When ECM was first coined, you would have been hard pressed to find a vendor that could actually deliver on the definition. The biggest hurdle these days is finding a proper project manager and plan that leads to a successful ECM implementation. People often blame the vendor, but usually it is the integrator, or lack thereof, that dooms an ECM project.

ECM 2.0 tries to make that easier. It’s very nature is to support other applications. Using supported standards, the ECM system is plugged into the back of a CEVA. If needed, a WCM or collaboration solution (RedDot and SharePoint respectively) can be plugged in as well. Organizations shouldn’t have to use the Content Applications from their ECM platform vendor. There are advantages to doing so, but it shouldn’t be required of the organizations.

Delivering an ECM 2.0 platform is a tall order. It isn’t just about scaling for volume or handling all types of content. Those things are important, but not what separates old ECM from new ECM. What is different is the way the ECM platform acts as a platform supporting the Enterprise. To get there, at least two things need to happen.

  1. A standard for the ECM world needs to be set and implemented: Like ODBC and JDBC with databases, ECM systems need a standard interface. In today’s world, a SOA standard makes the most sense as it would loosely couple the systems together. If I had to pick a technology, I would go with something built on Web Services, but mostly because so many ECM vendors allow communications in that manner.
  2. ECM Platforms need to leverage external user stores for authentication and security: A classic example of this is as follows…I have a Word document in SharePoint. It has a set of access rights assigned to it which is mirrored in the ECM system. When the security is changed in one place, it needs to automatically change in the other. All the users and groups that exist in one system should exist in all systems. Ideally, there is only one instance of the access control lists and users that both systems leverage.

This isn’t going to happen over night. I know several organizations, in different verticals, that are facing the problems that ECM 2.0 addresses now. Their solutions are functional, but far from ideal. They are locking themselves into a set of technology and putting themselves into a position where they cannot upgrade one piece without upgrading the whole.

The requirements are forming in the heads of the users. The first vendors that get there with a robust solution will flourish. I suspect that at least one of IBM, Oracle, or EMC will fail to deliver in time and will drop from the top three. The question is, who will rise up to take the vacated spot?

2 thoughts on “ECM: A Working Definition for the Next Generation

  1. I think ECM 2.0 (i dont like this term much though) needs to start looking at just what ECM needs to deliver. I think there already is a standard in place, that of Web services for integration, and as for user security, again that can be put in place by any vendor quite well…

    The issue is, what are the current ECM solutions missing. There are so many areas of content that fall outside the current scope of vendors solutions…What about wikis? Discussion threads? Decision making processes? These are all content and valuable to the enterprise, yet no one as yet delivers ECM solutions that manage these areas…

    If you want to start saying ECM 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, then lets actually add to the current ECM offerings….


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