ECM, Wanted Dead or Alive?

image One thing that I have been meaning to do is to dive back into the state of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) as a useful term and the challenges facing its use. I’ve also been meaning to draw attention to some of the excellent posts in the new AIIM Communities. I am going to try and address both deficiencies today to some degree.

Let’s start with ECM, because that has been the point of my career for over a decade now. When we last saw it, I was talking about its future and how it is moving to becoming Omnipresent Content Management (OCM). While the term “Universal” is also apt, Oracle already stole it.

Before we get into more detail, and leave Steve McQueen, the question really is, Where does that leave ECM?

Content Management vs. ECM

Okay, this is the finale that Peter Monks has been waiting on, and baiting me about, for quite some time. Let’s hash it out.

Content Management is the practice of managing content. Period. It does not matter what type of content you are talking about, the core capabilities remain the same. What varies when looking at different systems is determining if they are generic Content Management Systems (CMS) or if they are focused on specific types of content, like documents, browser content, or XML (whose designation as content v data is a little spurious).

[Random Side Note: If all content can be served to the web now, doesn’t that make the term “web content” redundant? Shouldn’t the term address “browser content” or something more descriptive to its purpose? Flaming responses can be sent to Jon Marks.]

So what is ECM in the world of Content Management? Simple, it is a strategy. As I have put it in the past:

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.

There is no such thing as ECM software or an ECM solution. There are ECM platforms, but they are just platforms. They enable a centralized ECM strategy. In fact, taking the risk of upsetting the boat further, I would just call them Content Management platforms. They have purposes that go beyond supporting an ECM strategy, which itself can be implemented without a platform. Should is a completely different question for another day.

The question is, is an ECM strategy enough these days?

Is ECM Dead?

This is a trick question. If you pay me enough, I can fervently defend any answer to any detractor. As most of you aren’t paying me, I’m going to straddle the fence.

Simply put, it isn’t dead. There are too many organizations that have content running amuck or a wide collection of content repositories that either need to be merged or forced to communicate and share using CMIS (token CMIS reference).  All you Documentum people rest assured, you will be needed for years to come.

That said, we can now see the limits. As Dan Elam, a really interesting and smart guy, points out in his not so obviously titled Enterprise Content Management is Dead post, there is a lot of content that is living outside control of the Enterprise. Instant messaging and text messages are two of the larger issues. They are sitting outside of the enterprise on phones, personal computers, and now tablet computers. Instant messaging can be captured, or blocked, but the text messages will live on as long as people are permitted to call each other on cell phones.

Meanwhile, Mark Mandel concurs and brings broader Records Management issues to the fore-front. What about all of that Social Media content? Records Management concerns aside (no small feat), there is still the management of a company’s presence out there in the wilds of Web 2.0. You may want the content to be fresh and exciting, but you also want to sometimes plan that fresh content days in advance of an announcement.

Finally, there is the simple fact that content is becoming less restricted to the Enterprise. I’m not talking about all that Social Media stuff. I’m talking about sharing content with other organizations. This can range from clients, business partners, and colleagues in the industry.  This is a problem I mentioned when talking about why email is such a strong draw.

Simply put, email works and allows you to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, without having to do anything else.

Box allows the same thing, but there are limits on what you can get for free. Everyone you want to collaborate with needs have an account as well. Get one person that can’t, or won’t, use the platform, it fails to be a universal solution.

For all of its size, not even Facebook is universal. My parents aren’t there. Neither is my grandmother. When I have news, I still have to call them, though calling my mother usually gets everyone in the know quickly enough. You can’t forcing sharing, but you don’t have to force email. It is there now. Oh, and email is either free or paid for by employers.

Not saying email is the way to go, just pointing out some of the challenges facing Content Management as it is implemented today. There needs to be a way for content to be accessed by anyone, anywhere, and as needed, wanted, and permitted.

That is a lot to get a handle on. As Dan pointed out, deploying solutions to the cloud is getting cheaper and easier. We just need the solutions to scale to the cloud and for those solutions to be aware of each other and able to communicate, kind of like our email servers.

It is a tall order for the future. The thing is, if we don’t start planning now, there is a lot of content that is going to be lost that many people might want to have around, like a get out of jail card.


17 thoughts on “ECM, Wanted Dead or Alive?

  1. Pie, the ECM definition misses content extraction, classification, analysis and most of all creation.

    ECM isn’t dead and never will be but it will be assimilated by or merged with (as you prefer) CRM as the customer focus and BPM as the carrier of the business process. Content by itself simply makes no sense but it needs the business context.

    Like Buddha said: ‘How do you preserve a drop of water? You throw it into the sea!’

    My main problem with Cloud based solutions is that they trade simplicity for functionality. If people would be willing to install ECM products AS THEY ARE and make no changes to the hardcoded processes at all then they would be as easy to use. Just like ERP software equalizes competitive abilities of a business, so do Cloud based services but only worse. I think that isn’t good for medium to large businesses. In any case, the future is not the Cloud but the APP Internet where we are basically returning to a Client Server concept. At the moment we have mostly private APPs, but we will see consolidated APPs that access multiple backend sites, such as Tweetdeck or Flipboard. Our Papyrus Mobile APP already supports CMIS for example.

    Email does both – rigidly standardize on a simple protocol and leave it to the people to create and manage chaos. Still too complex? Enter Twitter! Twitter is for people with Short Attention Span Syndrome, where everything must be abbreviated. Your content is stuck in blogs and cloud storage and you twitter about it using #tags or @tags, hoping the right people will pick it up. But where do we go after Twitter? What more can we simplify or shorten?

    Wouldn’t it be time to stop this sillyness about simplicity and get back to doing serious business and serious IT? How about getting some business and IT education and be willing to install and use serious software? Is the cost and profitability focus of the clueless stock market analysts turning everyone into braindead morons?


    • Max, several thoughts…

      The “gaps” in the definition are Content Management features which evolve over time and are part of individual solutions. You need to look at the difference between ECM and plain old CM. That is what the definition targets.

      Cloud is not there, yet. However, it houses the answer to many issues that are out there for Content Management. As Content Management moves from the front of the user to behind the scenes, it will not merge with CRM or BPM, that will enable it’s transition to the cloud from a platform perspective. That will facilitate sharing outside of the organization and remove a lot of scalability issues, not to mention help take clients out of the data center business which is not part of their core business.

      More thoughts in subsequent posts.


      • Can believe you wasted a hyperlink to “THE CMS CURMUDGEON”. It’s dead. Hasn’t been updated in months. Every piece of link juice is sacred, man, and @pmonks is a hasbeen.

        @Max J – I don’t think your use of the word “Cloud” is accurate above. A Cloud Based CMS is not the same as a SaaS CMS. My definitions here:

        And Pie, I think we agree on most things. I’m tempted to say that WCM should now stand for WebKit Content Management, seeing that seems to be the layout engine on pretty much all browsers, mobile based or not. Except, of course, for Windows Phone 7 which wouldn’t recognise an HTML document if it got bashed by one over the back of the head. Maybe XCM could be XAML Content Management.

        But I digress. Good post. Except that the letter E still scares that crap out of me. More linky love for me:


  2. Nice post Laurence – agree completely “Content Management is the practice of managing content. Period. It does not matter what type of content you are talking about, the core capabilities remain the same” – well said and your further points that ‘enterprise’ is about adoption and ECM as a practice not necessarily big systems – absolutely.

    Does that mean we can all get back to sharing the term CMS nicely again and forgot this silly squabble about web and documents?




  3. Ref the ubiquitous CM / Collaboration environment: “Get one person that can’t, or won’t, use the platform, it fails to be a universal solution.”

    But why address the technical solution, why not address the “cant” or “wont” – I admit it is a bit like that hoary old political hot potato “dont address the crime, address the underlying causes of crime….”

    Seriously, “wont” use a particular system – well pick up your pink slip on the way out then…..

    Cant use a particular system due to some technical limitation – address the limitation, be it firewall rules, access rights etc etc

    “There needs to be a way for content to be accessed by anyone, anywhere, and as needed, wanted, and permitted.”

    Actually there are plenty of these available already, with different feature sets to meet different contextual use cases. So perhaps we should be looking at “management” of people as well as of content, because you some to be looking for a fantasy, for a “killer” product which the whole world will standardize on (extrapolating from your last post) – which I think we can agree is not going to happen.


    • Love the post and love the debate. My only quarrel is with the last four words. I think the definition is just as solid without reference to “…using platform agnostic standards.”

      The world would be a better place if everything was open to everyone, but users accessing content through a vertical application connected to Livelink via OScript are doing ECM just as much as those using CMIS.

      Open standards should be the goal but they are not inherent to the definition of ECM.


    • Greg, I’ve been leaning that way for a while, but I’ve been waiting for someone to call me out on it. That phrase has been on it for a long time, so I was waiting for the push. Thanks.


  4. Pie – Very good article. I am glad to hear others in our field coming to the same conclusion regarding content and the term ECM. It is kinda like the term ubiquitous in terms of the computer. I think it applies today to content as well.

    Personally I think the concept of cloud computing is a great idea, but I worry that we are throwing our selves back to the mainframe era and I really don’t want to relive my past. 🙂


  5. Admittedly I’m influenced by a lot of non IT work I do in facilitation but…

    I feel that trying to define something which is the means to an end, is a bit of a zero sum game and often has the opposite of the intended effect. I’ve watched organiations chase mirages in the form of words like “knowledge management” and try and make sense of it by redefining the term into new words that need just as much, if not more, explanation than the previous word (OCM).

    Terms also go out of date as the universe around them change. ECM success is ultimately judged by the difference it makes between a present state and some agreed, desirable future state. Without the context of the end in mind (ie, what that future state looks like), its hard to come up with a universal definition of the means to get there.

    “SharePoint Governance” suffers from the same problem as well as term like “Information Architecture”. Tell me what the end looks like and I will tell you what the means may be to achieve it.

    In my practice, I find that putting aside for a while, the need to define the means, and using the context of a shared vision of the end in mind to provide context, goes a long way to fostering shared understanding, which at the end of the day is a pre-req to shared commitment – which is what really what drives project success

    kind regards

    Paul Culmsee


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