Turning the ECM Definition Around

Taking a little break before getting back to the Documentum series, I wanted to write a quick post on the definition of Enterprise Content Management.

Back in October, there was some debate on updating the definition of ECM.  Since then, there has been discussions out there about whether the term ECM should even be used anymore.  My basic opinion is, and has been, that we need to fix/update the definition, not the term.  Changing the term would require a lot of work to educate people for very little gain.

With that in mind….

ECM Redefined, Updated

So here is my updated definition as it stands now:

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the coordinated management of all content throughout an organization, allowing for people and systems to access and manage content from within any business context using platform agnostic standards.

I took some advice from before, replacing centralized with coordinated and removing the phrase empowerment of all content from the definition.  I still like the concept behind "empower", but until I can find a better way to express it, here we go.

Thinking of stealing a phrase from Andrew McAfee and adding "to achieve business goals" to the end of the definition, but I don’t want the sentence to get too wordy.

One last note, it doesn’t talk about applications, just about managing content.  This maintains that separation of platform and application.


26 thoughts on “Turning the ECM Definition Around

  1. After some Twitter feedback, revising a touch to this…

    “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is 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.”

    One comment said that the word “content” needs to be used less. Thoughts?


    • Rainer says:

      I’m pitching in a bit late, but still:

      “…find and use….” is good but we’ve lost the all important “manage”. How about:
      “…allowing people and systems to find, use and manage content…”
      Note i’ve also dropped the “for”, redundant in my view.

      Yeah, “content” is one helluva cliche. I often turn to “information(al) resources” but i know 1 word is better than 2.

      Nice topic!


      • Rainer says:

        You’re right. How about control?
        But then, looking at it again now, i’m also coming around to the view that find and use is indeed complete enough. We manage content so that people/systems can find and use… basta! We don’t manage content so that people/systems can find and use and manage/control… Yep, i’ve convinced myself. 🙂


  2. Niall says:

    I’m not sure this definition captures fully the movement/management of inter-enterprise content where the business context spans supply chain partnerships (for example).

    I would revise as such:

    “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the coordinated management of content both within and outwith an organization, allowing for people and systems to exploit content assets from within any business context using platform agnostic standards”

    Cheers Niall


    • Niall, what you defined more closely resembles what I casually tossed around as Omnipresent Content Management. I coined the term earlier this year when we were discussing the future of Content Management.


      As for your other changes, while exploit is good choice, several people thought it was important to state “find” explicitly. “find and exploit” has potential and I’d like to hear what others think about that.

      Your use of the word “assets” after content is interesting. I think some deeper thought needs to be put into the word Content before we can determine if it adds to the definition. Right now, I’m liking the word.


  3. Niall says:

    Actually if I had my way I would rename it Content Asset Management defined as “a fully exploitable pool of operational content assets with the business liabilities of ownership effectively managed”

    But as you stated we don’t need new definitions of ECM to confuse matters further.


  4. I think the word content still confuses end users but if document management is returning as mooted by others then perhaps a separate definition is called for. If not then perhaps document and content should be used.

    My main point was the separation of platform from applications which I think is long overdue in the ECM space. What I would like to see is a definition of an application (i.e. a software product with a road map. published release cycles , documentation and support) CEVA doesn’t quite do it and makes no distinction from the rather nebulous use of repeatable solution.

    Happy New Year


  5. Pie I like that you keep plugging at this, your just not happy with yet are you ?

    I think that Tim has a valid point, and I have said it before, but I will say it again, I like the existing AIIM definition because it makes a big point about ‘strategy’ – its about a strategy for managing your content, whatever it is, and it encompasses all the ‘xCM’ acronyms, be it DM, RM, or DAM etc, which is why Niall’s comment above about renaming it”Content Asset Management” does not make sense to me.

    Personally I would not waste verbage on capturing the “within and without’ element either, an “organization” might include many separate entities involved in a supply chain situation.

    Sooooo, how about:

    “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is strategies and techniques to facilitate the coordinated management of all content throughout an organization. It enables people and systems to access and manage content from within any business context using platform agnostic standards to achieve business goals.”

    Its long I know, but its still only two sentences and thus not that long really…. !



    • Jed, thanks for the feedback. Not sure that “techniques and strategies” is needed in the definition of ECM proper. Strategy is important, but not sure that it is necessarily what help defines what ECM actually is.


  6. Instead of stealing a phrase from Andrew McAfee, you should modify it as follows: “to achieve organizational goals”. This removes the stigma that ECM is solely a business concept. Governments and NGO’s are ECM users too!


    • Rainer says:

      Nice, Daniel! Otherwise, does Andrew McAfee really lay claim to the phrase “to achieve business goals”?? Was he the guy that first said it?? It seems laughable.


    • The source of the phrase was from Andrew’s Enterprise 2.0 definition which I had recently been studying. I like organizational goals, but it may still be too wordy.

      If we can’t explain it in a simple sentence, do we really understand it?


  7. Rainer says:

    @Jed. I like it. I hope you don’t mind if i use it, with (yet further though slight) alterations:

    Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the practice of coordinated management of all content throughout an organization. It enables people and systems to access and manage information resources from within any business context using platform agnostic standards to achieve organizational goals.

    I’m trying out the word practice as an embodiment of techniques, strategies, methods and maybe even tools. I had theory and practice initially, then dropped theory.

    I hate (sorry Pie, some things you just gotta hate) the word facilitate so that just had to go. It doesn’t make the definition any clearer.

    Then i replaced the second content with information resources.
    But i could be opening a can of worms here. Consider a database query result that forms the content of a report. That’s a view of structured content, yes?
    And structured content falls outside the purview of ECM? Does it? But it is an information resource…

    Finally business beccomes organizational goals as per Daniels suggestion.

    Still two sentences but so what?


    • Thanks for the revision. I don’t like facilitate either. I don’t hate it, but don’t like it. Some specific comments:

      – Not sure I like practice. Vague and I don’t feel it captures strategy. I think a separate definition of ECM Platform and ECM Practice may be in order.

      – We have to kill information resources. We are clearly managing content. A second sentence defining content may be in order.

      – Still a big fan of a 1 sentence definition. ECM should be definable in a single thought, not a pair.


  8. Love the topic, I’ve been questioning AIIM and their definition of ECM for almost a year now. After a good conversation with some of the folks at AIIM, I’m nearly convinced that Enterprise Information Management (EIM) will eventually negate a need for the term ECM.

    With ECM, the focus on unstructured content just doesn’t seem to make sense as organizations move a significant amount of their data from unstructured to structured. Will there always need to be strategies for dealing with unstructured? Absolutely, but the focus will shift away from unstructured and more toward being able to locate and use vast amounts of structured and semi-structured data more efficiently. As organizations store more knowledge in wikis, blogs, intranet applications, and knowledge bases, the nature of how information is stored in the enterprise will shift from unstructured to semi-structured+structured.

    I have also questioned AIIMs contention that 80% of organizational data lies in unstructured data simply because email is considered unstructured. With changes coming in the way we communicate internally, email will shift from unstructured to semi-structured, and that 80% number will become less-accurate every day. Although not fully used by organizations now, technologies like GoogleWave and interactive “Facebook-like” intranets will start reshaping how our data is stored. Heck, 5 years ago, we would have been having this dialog via email, Google group, or list-serve. Now a semi-structured blog has become the vehicle…the proof of change lies in this very dialog. How many of these are occuring within the enterprise as well?

    I, too, wrote a blog questioning whether the definition of ECM is becoming outdated and got a few interesting responses on my blog:

    Is ECM Going The Way Of The Dodo? Or Maybe The Way Of The Intranet?

    Looking forward to reading more great responses!



    • Sean, thanks for chiming in. I think EIM should never be used. I don’t like the word Enterprise. I’d remove it from ECM if I didn’t want to start the whole education process over again throughout the industry.

      I’m going to address more about your comment in an upcoming post. I think we need to combine the comments and see where we are.


  9. I think this is a great topic. I still think it seems more wordy than it needs to be. Something like this is was my attempt at the same subject

    Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the ongoing effort for an organization to use technology to organize their unstructured information and resources.

    But I am still trying to tweek that last part “unstructured information and resources” seems a bit lame.


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