An ECM Keynote for 2010

I’ve been talking about a lack of leadership and vision in the ECM industry.  This is evident when you attend keynotes at various conferences.  Most keynotes at industry conferences are focused on what has been happening and what is happening now.  John Mancini’s keynote at the AIIM conference was as close as it gets these days.

Of course, AIIM can’t deliver the future, they can only point to it, so what do we do? We wait. What are we waiting for? Well, I’m not waiting right now.  For your consideration, I present to you a keynote on the future of ECM…..

Once There was a Vision of ECM

[Imagine some basic banter and a joke that only 20% of the audience will get, and only half of them will think it was actually funny.]

Ten years ago, the term Enterprise Content Management was created.  There was no magic pill or working product.  It was just a vision of one repository for all of the content in the organization.  One place for web pages, documents, images, and records to reside and be managed together.

It was a solid vision. The industry seized upon the vision and charged forth.  Over the next few years, through acquisition, development, and combinations of both, several companies built “complete” ECM platforms and proceeded to sell them to anyone and everyone.

As the vision was “realized”, vendors competed among themselves to see who could have the biggest and most complete platform.  New needs would arise and they would all rush to “check-the-box”. There was, and is, a continuous race to be “more” complete than any other vendor.

The platforms grew and became more complex.

Not all ECM implementation succeeded, but lessons were learned and best practices were gathered. Everyone in the industry continued to move forward from pure momentum, thinking that the goal had been achieved and that all that was required was to get better at implementations.

Meanwhile, the world changed.

Enter the Changing Reality

When ECM was first conceived, people created content, it was published, and then nothing else happened until it was time to update the content.  Then came the 2.0 world.  The world at large went from consuming content to interacting with content.

This was a new mindset for the Content Management world.  Instead of one author, or a few authors working together, content now evolves over the course of years through the input of any number of people.  Discussions about content has become information worth managing.  The line between structured and unstructured information is fuzzy and no longer back and white.

As the nature of content changed, it has grown at an exponential rate.  This isn’t a new phenomenon, but the sheer volume of increasing digital information is starting to push the boundaries of what is possible with existing ECM architectures.

The need to share this information has also increased dramatically.  CMIS was created to solve the information silo problem.  The problem is now changing scope.  The question isn’t how do I have my 3 content systems interoperate, but how do I share my content with my business partners and vice versa?  CMIS is great, but how do we manage security?  Access and control of content is a problem when you don’t manage the identities of the people directly.

The ECM community hasn’t been unaware of these changes, but in the quest to do everything, we lost the one quality that is most necessary in the 2.0 world.


The Ideal Use Case

Let’s take a step back, or to be more precise, a step forward.

Imagine, if you will, preparing for a meeting as a follow-up to a conversation that you just had with a prospect.  You are working with your colleagues to create an agenda.  You are doing this from the subway from your favorite tablet computer connected via your wireless, favorite or not, provider.

Once completed, the agenda is automatically shared with all meeting attendees.  Attendees can comment on the agenda, but only you, your colleagues, and others that you designate  have access to make updates.  All of this is automatically determined by the relationship between the agenda, meeting invitation, and the meeting attendees.

The very act of creating the presentation with your colleagues will involve collaboration around the world on phones, laptops, tablets, and devices yet to come.  Access to the content will be from any device, anywhere.  The theme here is universal access.  This doesn’t just apply to the applications and devices consuming the content.  The content needs to be located in a place that can be accessed from any location.  That place is in the cloud.

Content will no longer be centered around, and managed for, the Enterprise.  Content Management will be everywhere and part of everything.

Omnipresent Content Management, that is the future.

Security will be key.  Everything needs to be secured and in such a way as to not hinder users.  Historically, there has been a direct correlation between security and complexity.  Can you even imagine using a VPN on your cell phone?

Simplicity for the users will be important.  That will take the industry, working together, to achieve.  That means me, you, and everyone reading this keynote.

Where Can Everyone Reach It?

There is a fear in moving to the cloud. You may look at the companies providing cloud-based Content Management, and you think commodity. That is a superficial analysis.  Even so, if you are managing Zettabytes of content, there stands to reason that there is a lot of money to be made providing a “commodity”.

Look deeper. By having all that content in a location where people can readily access it, the benefits grow.  All the gains that are always pitched for Content Management still apply, but now those benefits apply to all content, not just the content siloed in my organization.

With the cloud comes processing power.  The phrase Intelligent Content Management is starting to evolve as a component of Information Management.  Imagine the power that can be applied in the cloud to analyze trends within the content itself. Add to it the benefits of looking at the scope content that can be accessed.

No longer are you just looking at the trends within your organization.  Trends can be analyzed across trusted partners.

The ECM platforms as we know it will be living in the cloud.  There will still be some industries that utilize private cloud structures, but the platforms will be globally accessible.  Platforms will interoperate via CMIS, and applications will be developed independent of the platforms.

This independent development of applications will give us back something that is missing from the industry.


That is the key to having a shot at surviving in the future.  Without it, we may as well step aside.  I don’t know about you, but I for one am not going to step aside.

Stop the New Silos Before They Begin

We are at a turning point in the Content Management industry.  The last turning point came with the advent of ECM ten years ago.  We decided to end the content and organizational silos that were springing-up everywhere.  While there are still separate systems, we now have the tools to have coordinated management of content within our organizations.

Now we have silos between organizations.  Sometimes that organization is your family.  The lines between work and people’s personal lives has been blurring for a long time.  The line is almost imperceptible.  To succeed in this world, we need to have the pieces meet so they can be accessed by everyone, anywhere.

So my question to you is a simple one.  Are you going to just keep moving in the same direction, trusting that you will get to where you want to be, or will you step back, survey the landscape, and realize that the future is in a different direction?

13 thoughts on “An ECM Keynote for 2010

  1. Great post. It sounds a bit like the rise of Semantic Web enhanced with more “traditional” built-in ECM library services on the cloud. Time to bridge CMIS with SemTech standards to bring existing CMS to the next level of content intelligence? One of the new core mission statement for CMIS 2.0?


  2. Excellent post – very timely. My manager and I have been “reshuffled” and we (the KM) team are now part of an Information Management Group – sounds good you may think – wrong ! The definition of Information Management = structured Content = BI and Analytics !! So think we are somewhat lacking in “vision” – Stephane’s comment above about “content intelligence” almost reduced me to tears……


  3. I agree. Right now, we are going through one of the most significant information phases that we had never experienced. Fortunately or unfortunately depending at what angle you are coming from, our future, indeed, the future of information technology as a whole is going to become like a giant collective, a BORGmentum. Check the third comment that I had made last year about this time

    Perhaps, the information industry as a group is about to be transformed into something we’ve never imagined or experienced. It is not only happening in ECM space but everywhere. Fundamentally speaking here, everything we see and perceive works like the nature such as water flowing downstream no matter how much we try to force it upward or otherwise artificially. If we look back a couple of decades from the future vantage point, the state of the current information technology might be considered extremely primitive and childish because we are attempting to manipulate the data or contents with the programming language irrationally, but exuberantly nevertheless. In these days, everybody is talking about 2.0 to 9999.0, facebook, google, Sharepoint, vmware, ERP, or whatever. We are single-handedly trying to manipulate the data, whether structured or unstructured using programs, object oriented or otherwise. Ironically, nature works the other way round; data or contents become the focus not the programs that manipulate them. It is about time to give life to data. All data may become censored data or contents that know what to do–when to be created, to live, and to die. Or, even be resurrected, if that is possible. What I am trying to say here is that the traditional boundaries between platform, application, ECM, ERP, Analytics, or whatever, will be ultimately burred (although it is already happening to some degree) and it is going to be all about the data or contents that are intelligent, censored, and alive. Perhaps, we may need to blow the living breath into the data as our Creator did it to us.

    Whatever a baby step it may seem to be, currently, the ubiquitous discussion of Cloud Computing is a way to attempt to achieve it. We may, however, need to employ some other revolutionary technologies yet to be identified to attain these goals. Although primarily making use of the virtualization technology to implement Cloud Computing appears to be the way right now, we may need to explorer more than that technology such as nano-technology and some others yet to be recognized. The future of information technology as we know it right now, including ECM, will unreservedly be transformed into something that is completely foreign to us in a couple of decades.


    • Brian Shin says:

      Correction: “Censor” needs to be read as “Sensor” instead since I don’t think we are getting into information autocracy.


  4. Mark says:

    Oh what a luxury to be pontificating on how to fix problems that I only wish that I had. I guess someone has to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you. Unfortunately, so many of us are so busy putting out fires and trying to get to a baseline implementation that approximates the achievements you credit ECM with accomplishing a decade ago. Right now, my vision is simple: give me an ECM system that makes it easy to do things right and very hard to do them incorrectly and don’t require an army of workers to run it ( hint: I don’t have an army).


    • Mark, in theory, if this stuff was in the cloud, you wouldn’t have to figure out how to make it work or have an army to run it. The complexity would be dealt with by the provider that would have economies of scale, and some of the experienced pros, running it.

      That said, I have felt your pain. I would say that the capabilities were there about 4-5 years ago, but the ability to execute is not in universal supply.


  5. Jeroen says:

    I’d really like to see you deliver this keynote @Momentum! The sound of jaws dropping will be deafening I imagine!

    Until the mid nineties the IT environment at the office was generally better equipped than at home. PC’s that could really do stuff cost money and knowledge (not to mention the dialup fees), and the only network you knew was at the office, so collaborating (on a higher level than chatting) at home was unheard of.

    Then the generally available cheap flat fee internet popped up. The software people are using to do their daily stuff have rapidly been moving online since. Starting with hotmail/geocities/etc as online email clients, have evolved into google apps and social networking communities like facebook. Cloud computing and completely working online is not far over the horizon. The philosophy behind Chrome OS is the architecture for the future as I see it.

    The use of web based front ends is only the beginning, but I sense a kind of complacency at ECM solution suppliers. They really need to look at the back end too, and I was greatly pleased to see that exact sentiment in your keynote! I agree that there still are great hurdles ahead. One of the greatest hurdles I suspect are the legal systems and trust authority. I don’t think they’ll be ready for non-nationalised systems (as I see full web located systems).

    I really like your blog, and finally got around to typing up a reply ;). Keep up the good work!


  6. Hmm,

    Nice try but unfortunately NOT related to what is happening out there at all. The historical ECM vendors are becoming marginalized into silo’s of functional capability. The dream of the single silo is history. The web if anything has made the silo less of a barrier than ever, and the promise of CLOUD systems if that indeed becomes reality will compound the delivery of universal accessibility further.

    However it is interesting to note that while all this commentary is going on Sharepoint instances are being deployed hourly across the world and restoring the content silo situation through out organizations many of whom where committed to a single ECM solution only a few years ago.

    What went wrong? and are we going back to the past with this trend or is it simply another step towards a much richer content provisioning environment? After all surely IF all content is richly marked up, by some CMS or another it is at least theoretically possible for it to be mobilized for use far easier than in the past when it was completely unmarked up?

    For me this is the real development of the post ECM era, we are now seeing MOST businesses marking content, the next development will be the deployment of applications to extract value from this newly “managed” asset base. Now that is exciting stuff indeed.

    What I think is clear, is that it is still the business that drives CMS acquisitions. Senior I.T management is not yet confident that there is sufficient value in ECM systems to make the effort of enforced take up viable or even good business. So the CMS vendors who are prospering are the ones maintaining thier R&D focus on delivering business value while still keeping one eye on good design and data management architectures. These vendors are well placed to capture business today and extend that footprint tomorrow as other business needs arise.

    One last observation to close which is that the CMS industry is fast becoming a servant of the emerging Web2.0 world in which content is surfaced in context regardless of data type application source or target device. In this newly emerging world business users are finding many ways to extract value from previously hidden information that is delivering on both the cost and efficiency front as well as the agility and innovation front.

    NOW that is exciting news for the sector is it not? Here we are finally able to offer cost offsets and business benefits from a single investment!

    Note – These comments & opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Oracle Corporation.


    • Rob, thanks for the comment. I’ve been waiting for a chunk of time to make sure I gave you a decent response….

      My quick answer is that this IS what is happening. SharePoint is important, and is creating more silos, but this, in-time, will pass. Not SharePoint per se, but the silos within an organization. Problem silos are not defined by a single solution, but by a CLOSED solution.

      SharePoint offers an easy to deploy 20% solution that 80% of people need. I have systems that would make SharePoint cry. I know this because they make more scalable systems cry. That doesn’t stop it from being a disruptive force.

      One thing you need to take away from this post is that I am not addressing the Content needs today, but the ones on the horizon. The landscape is shifting. Vendors that are successful today may not be the ones successful tomorrow.

      Businesses are changing as are the way we work. Content Management systems need to change to keep pace. That is tough for the more established vendors.

      Read my next post on ECM Disruptions. We can pick up this conversation there.


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