ECM in the Pantheon of Content Management

“May you live in interesting times” is reported to be a Chinese curse. Well, in the world of Content Management, we are in interesting times.  In the last week, I have read about how ECM is growing in stature and read a call for the killing of ECM.image Scary thing, I think that if Peter read Carl’s post, he would state that it supports his point that ECM needs to die.

Pardon me for disagreeing.

Here is the basic problem, because we can’t agree on what to call anything, we can’t agree where anything is going.

  • Is ECM Dead? That depends if you think ECM means one repository.  If so, then yes.  It doesn’t mean one repository though, or at least, it shouldn’t.  If we can’t agree on what it is, how can anyone claim it needs to die or is already dead.
  • Is WordPress a CMS? That depends on how you define the “Management” in CMS.  Maybe it is a Website Management System?  Maybe the WCMS is going to go away as what actually goes into a website broadens.

If we don’t agree on the terms as practioners, how can we expect the business users, and the users in the rest of the world, to understand what we are talking about?

What ECM Is

Okay, here is the definition, and then I’ll bring out a couple of key points….

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.

Ready for the key bits? Here we go….

  • Enterprise: This is not necessarily a commercial entity.  This represents an organization, a group, with a common goal. That goal may be to make money, but it may be to create monetary policy, or save the rainforest.  It may not be the best term, but Organization Content Management has zero zing and would restart all education efforts.
  • Strategy: ECM is a strategy.  ECM is not a product.  It is not shrink-wrapped, shelfware, or turn-key.  You may need products to implement an ECM strategy, but you don’t buy ECM.
  • Coordinated Management of all content: This means that the strategy encompasses all content.  Documents, records, blogs, web pages, video, EVERYTHING.  The strategy may be to have separate systems for some of the content, but it is a coordinated effort.  It does not have to be centralized.  That is so last decade.
  • Any business context: If I am in email, I can find what I need.  If I am in SharePoint or in Word, I can find what I need.  If I am on a train in Jersey with my Blackberry, I can find what I need.  If I am sitting in a bar with a potential business partner, I can find what I need.  You need a strategy to getting the Content to where the work transpires.  Content flows to the person, not person to the content.
  • Platform Agnostic Standards: This is a little overkill, but to achieve a coordinated strategy, you need standards that don’t care about the platform.  This is beyond CMIS.  Who I am and what I can access also needs to follow me in the Enterprise.  If I don’t have a central repository, that information, as well as the content, needs coordination.  This statement is plural for a reason.

I think that covers the points that I wanted to make here.  Now to the other point…Pantheon?

ECM, Not a Prerequisite for Content Management

This is a point that I think needs to be made, and this is a big mental leap forward from where I was when I started this blog three years ago…

ECM is not required to implement a Content Management System. Sometimes, it can hinder implementing a CMS because the concept of ECM as a strategy and not a solution is not understood.

It is an optional part of the Content Management universe.


  • A federal agency needs to manage their website.  They implement a Web Content Management System (WCMS) to solve their problem.  (They passed on the WMS)  No ECM strategy involved.
  • A business may just want to scan invoices and serve them up online for their customers, but not worry about everything else.
  • A government agency may want to process applications online.

They just want to get things done without implementing a large solution.  The thing is, their is now a disconnect between what ECM is and what is sold.

The product companies have been selling ECM and saying that you have to buy their product to have a hope to achieve it.  What they are selling is an ECM Platform that can scale and hold all of an organizations content in one place.

imageThat is overkill.

Any successful ECM practitioner will tell you start with a simple project that has easy to measure results.  It is the low-hanging fruit approach.  It works, but it also takes time.

The thing is that the same approach can work and take less time.  Looking back at the fruit, why by a tall ladder to gather it.  All you really need is a basket or something to put the fruit into.  Well, with an ECM strategy, I buy a basket that will work with whatever ladder I decide upon later.  I know that one day I’ll want to buy that ladder to get to the fruit on the upper branches, but simply knowing that is enough.

So from a ECM perspective, let’s look at the website.  Maybe I buy a WCMS that supports CMIS.  That way, when I decide that I want to automate my invoice processing and publish it to my website, I can have the systems talk to each other.  I don’t have to decide on the ultimate platform because the standards allow me to pick on merit.

If your ECM strategy is to have a large ECM Platform, call a large vendor that is on the CMIS bandwagon.  If your strategy is to store it all in the mysterious cloud, call one of the SaaS providers out there and ask them when they are going to support CMIS.  If your strategy is to solve one content problem and leave the rest to SharePoint or a shared drive, you can do that as well.

Remember, an ECM strategy doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be something that helps an organization achieve their goals around content management as a whole.

And if they decide to put it off and solve the immediate pain, so be it.