Throwing ECM Terminology Around Like Candy


image Been a while since I posted anything. Having a new kid will do that to a person. I read an article last week that all but set me off. Luckily I didn’t have time to write it because I am going to be biting the hands that feed me, or at least ones that have been nice to me.

The article in question was published on CMSWire. When I saw the title, The Future of ECM: Looking Less and Less like SharePoint?, I was very interested. Then I started reading and nearly died.

SharePoint as “Traditional” ECM

First off, I’m going to state that SharePoint can readily be used as a Content Management System. When I compare SharePoint’s capabilities with features that I documented when I wasn’t thinking about SharePoint, it fairs well.

Is SharePoint Enterprise Content Management? Well, since no product is ECM, the answer is No. Let’s ask a fair question, Can you use SharePoint as a platform upon which to implement an ECM strategy?

That is really a matter of opinion, but there aren’t a long of strongly positive ones out there. Andrew Chapman tried to find evidence of people defending SharePoint as an ECM platform two months ago and didn’t find anything. Alan Pelz-Sharpe over at the Real Story Group took a Second Look as SharePoint as an ECM Platform and it came out as, possible but not easy.

Being positive here, let’s say that you can use SharePoint as an ECM platform if you apply yourself. This is probably only something that you could consider with MOSS 2007 sp2 as that was the first release that allowed you to store content outside the database. The release date was April 28, 2009, but we’ll give it a full two years of age.

So imagine my surprise when I read the opening paragraph in the CMSWire article that triggered this post:

The explosion of content, media and cloud computing has had an irreversible impact on consumer behavior and expectations. In an ECM context, the resulting shifts in shape and structure are the beginnings of a new environment for managing data. Unfortunately for traditional systems – cough, SharePoint, cough – this territory comes with a set of rules that may be a bit difficult to adjust to.

image Take a second and read it again. Did the author just call SharePoint a traditional ECM solution? TRADITIONAL!?! Alfresco, not even founded until 2005, is a more entrenched ECM solution than SharePoint. The term is over ten years old. SharePoint is not only not old, its focus isn’t even on ECM. Content Management is just one thing that SharePoint does “well enough”. It wasn’t originally designed as a Content Management System and is architected differently from Content Management Systems that don’t live and die by managing Web content.

I almost gave up on the article at that point because I knew at that point the author didn’t know enough about Enterprise Content Management to be a credible source. After I calmed down, I kept reading. My mistake.

Today’s ECM Solution…Box???

As you have probably noticed, I like Box. I think they have a great product and are heading in the right direction. Their approach is solid and they understand where the Content Management space is heading. They have a long way to go, but their foundation is rock solid. I’d even go work for them without worrying about losing any pride or credibility.

image That said, as I read the article, this line almost killed me. I’m serious, I almost fell out of my chair and slammed my head on my desk.

Today’s enterprise content management solutions — Box.net, YouSendit, DropBox — have found success in combining traditional business practices with popular consumer behavior

Really? Box is ECM? Today? They don’t even have Content Types. Custom metadata is still missing and I don’t recall anything resembling lifecycles. They are a basic collaboration platform that manages content. It is Content Management almost at its most basic.

The thing is, Box is dramatically closer to being a full-fledged Content Management System than either of the other two companies. To even begin to classify any of them as ECM is as close to the ravings of a lunatic as I can imagine. Definitely 5 Jack Sparrows on the Jack Sanity Scale.

At this point, I was so frazzled I didn’t even get upset by the “term” Cloud Content Management. For the record, if Box is Cloud Content Management, then SharePoint is Windows Content Management. See, doesn’t make sense as a term. That is marketing for you.

The Point of the Article

If you really look at it, the premise is that ECM is too complex and cloud is a better place to be. Not a bad point. The comments are really interesting to read and you can clearly see everyone’s background based upon their comments. The article is essentially an ad for Box. Box isn’t as far along as the article implies and neither is the measuring stick being used.

I’m hoping that the next time the ECM term is thrown around quite so loosely that there will be a warning message: Read while sitting down away from sharp corners!

15 thoughts on “Throwing ECM Terminology Around Like Candy

  1. I read that article too on the day it appeared. My first reaction was that I’ve invested over 10 years trying to understand “what is ECM” and I have patently failed because here is a reputable source making comparisons that just don’t fit with my mental models.

    It took me a while (and the growing level of absurd comparison – Box vs SharePoint!!!???) before I began to disrespect the source.

    My next reaction was to fear for the future of Box.net (I’m a customer btw). If they think SharePoint is their competition then they can’t have noticed Dropbox, YouSendit, etc, etc. Heaven knows that sector is crowded enough without jamming in all the ECM/CMS/WCM etc vendors.

    Maybe CMSWire saw a bit of link bait opportunity and foolishly took it. They are one of my top 5 sources of information for the market. It would be a disaster if they were to lose their critical edge.

    I think you are right to vent – get it out of your system. The alternative is to be depressed that a sensible news-source and a promising company are really not quite what you imagined them to be.

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  2. So, I am going to lay claim to using the word ‘traditional’ first to describe ECM systems. I was writing an article about SharePoint and originally wrote “real ECM systems” but then realized that this would just start a s#!t storm with our friends in Redmond. I came up with traditional as being a word that neither side of the argument would dislike…

    By the standard of the article that Pie rants about, ‘traditional’ is just something better, not something good… I’m off to write an article that calls Box.net, SharePoint & Documentum ‘traditional ECM’ and whereas printing-it-out-and-putting-it-in-a-box is the next-gen ECM!

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  3. I still define ECM Enterprise Content Management by my presentation from 2004 (http://www.project-consult.net/Files/ECM_Handout_english_SER.pdf), Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_content_management) and my book from 2006 (http://www.project-consult.net/Files/ECM_White%20Paper_kff_2006.pdf) .
    Sharepoint is far from being a traditional ECM solution! But Microsoft has the power and just re-defines ECM so the term seams to be fitting to their Sharepoint product.
    OK – Sharepoint 2010 has a lot more ECM functionality than previous releases, but even the approach is different. Sharepoint aims to be an integration platform, a portal – and not an ECM system. The real problem is, that Sharepoint delivered in a bundle to an endless number of customers and these customers now think, why buy an extra ECM software if we already have Sharepoint.
    And lets be honest – for a lot of applications around documents in small and midsize companies Sharepoint is sufficient.
    So lets face the big debate about the ECM terminology where our industry is “leaving” the traditional scope of ECM and rinning for new terms like Social Business or Enterprise 2.0. how can we “defend” the term ECM if the industry seams to be no longer interested in it …

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    • Is SharePoint a real ECM?
      The answer to this question is only depending on the definition of the term ECM.
      If I define an ECM for example as a system which comes with an out of the box solutions for processing all my paper and electronic mail – it clearly isn’t. If I define an ECM as a point where a company’s employees can share access and work on all their electronic documents – it clearly is.
      So let’s get back to the definition then. What’s the right definition of ECM? Unfortunately there isn’t something like the right definition of something. A definition can be just adequate (”useful”) for a certain purpose or not.
      Now with this in mind it all comes down to the question of how useful the different definitions are.
      Interesting in this context is – that many companies use SharePoint for extensive content management (they might call it different). Not just SMB – many very large organization as well. I personally know of entire countries and very large enterprises which use SharePoint as the central system for processing all their documents. And the number of those documents easily goes into the 2 digit millions category p.a.! And market power of a vendor alone cannot process this amount of content.
      If more and more companies go this way “to manage content” – the relevant question might be not “is SharePoint a real ECM” – the question might be more “is the definition of ECM still useful considering the real today’s needs of organizations” ? Obviously there’s a huge demand out there for centralized shared flexible management of content of all types that isn’t successfully covered by known and long time established “traditional systems” – that fulfill the criteria of the “classic ECM definition”. In many cases you can even observe that companies migrate from existing high volume classic DMS/ECM systems to SharePoint.
      So in my opinion – many classical DMS/ECM systems weren’t able in all the years they habe been exclusively running the show – to provide a sufficient solution offering for those customers and their purposes who use SharePoint today for managing content. And this despite they had a lot of time – and despite the first SharePoint releases from 2001 on were really very simple and limited. No as the battle is going into into a critical phase for many vendors – the last defense barrier is to say “SharePoint isn’t a ECM – but we are”. Or in other Words – “what you customer do in SharePoint is wrong – you should do it with our software”. But as far as I learned – you cannot change customers – you can only change your own products and strategies.
      So I would say instead of discussing the question if a system that can manage 100 million documents is a ECM we should better discuss what the today’s requirements in managiung content are – and what therefor a useful definition of ECM (or a derived updates term) is.

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      • Paul, read my next post, posted today, and some of my posts on Defining Content Management (https://wordofpie.com/defining-content-management/). That should give you a better baseline for discussion. SharePoint is not ECM. Neither is Documentum, FileNet, or any product. ECM is a strategy, no matter what the marketing department of software companies tell you.

        ECM projects have failed, not because of the tech, but because people went with the “Build it and they will come” approach. SharePoint is easy for IT to deploy and not too difficult for users to use from Office. Is it an Enterprise CMS Platform? That depends and I’ll be looking at that question next week.

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      • @Pie: The question “is SharePoint an ECM” is not my questions – its the question I picked up from the aticle I refer to. And what’s the difference to “is SharePoint an ECM solution”? If ECM is a strategy (which can be a useful definition) – than no product is an ECM – products are only more or less able to allow the implementation of ECM strategies. And back we are at the point I described.

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  4. In a word, wow. I have to agree with everybody, that SharePoint shouldn’t be considered traditional ECM–the product really hasn’t earned its stripes and without being able to handle all file types (just one of many holes in the theory), I’m just not buying. But, as one thing to ponder, when other companies like NextDocs, e.g., create native SharePoint applications, then I can buy into the ECM concept–but it’s speciality ECM in NextDocs case. Awesome tool for the regulatory space. Box.net–another rapidly growing tool for collaboration–it feels so eRoom like, and is super easy to use. Perhaps Box is a ‘light’ ECM tool for 98% of users who need to secure, version, and manage their content, but for the heavy hitters, you gotta go with an old school ECM solution like Documentum, Alfresco (I know, it’s not old, but it’s a solid product), or what the Big Blue offers.

    Just a humble opinion.

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  5. I think the article might have been okay, or at least acceptable, if the word Enterprise hadn’t been found next to Content Management quite so often, or at all. SharePoint is traditional application in the way that it deploys to your data center. It just doesn’t represent the traditional ECM vendor landscape.

    As for Box v SharePoint. I have zero problem with Box trying to compete against SharePoint. Let’s face it, it is their marketing money. It is also the market that they want to grow into. The other two companies represent the market out of which they are trying to evolve. As they say at work, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

    One more note for Andrew, I think “printing-it-out-and-putting-it-in-a-box” is the true traditional method for managing content. 🙂

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  6. …but the traditional vs. new fangled never ends…before that “printing-it-out-and-putting-it-in-a-box” came along we had real traditional ECM, we sat around the camp fire and told stories…

    I keep waiting for someone to post “printing…we were lucky if we could carve our documents out of warm stone tablets…warm tablets…luxury…”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Yorkshiremen_sketch

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  7. Pie – love you man, rant on……

    I left a comment on Chelsi’s article too. Lets remember that she is not a coal face practitioner as far as I am aware, her CMS Wire profile says: “Writer. Enterprise 2.0, Web Engagement and Social Media fangirl”

    Note that is not document and records management, industrial scale scanning, metadata and taxonomy fangirl…… in other words perhaps Chelsi should stick to her areas of expertise ?

    However, on the other hand she has like many, just fallen for the BS churned out by Microsoft’s marketing department since the release of MOSS 2007 – they call it an ECM platform, even if we might argue about definitions. I have been using it day in day our for over two years – I wont say I hate it – actually alright I will – I hate it. Would I rather be using Documentum 6.x and eRooms Enterprise – you bet I would, chuck in a real portal ontop of that lot and et’ voila….. but that is just my personal preference.

    SharePoint since the “SharePoint Portal Server 2001” initial release has tried to be many things to many people. It can be considered as an “out of the box” jack of all trades and master of non, or it can be considered as a major .net development platform upon which one can build whatever one desires – given enough cash.

    When it comes down to it ECM is a strategy not a product. There may be use cases in some organizations where SharePoint is used to fulfill some element of the ECM strategy. Far more knowledgeable people than I suggest it’s not fit for ‘enterprise’ use, but more for large scale work groups and teams; so it’s going to fail if you shoe horn it into the wrong situation, as will any software.

    In the end Chelsi’s article got Pie to entertain us, and got us all talking…… 🙂

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  8. Laurence et al. thanks for your feedback. You’re right, my personal focus is more on Enterprise Collaboration / Enterprise 2.0 and that was at the forefront for me when writing this piece.

    What I was trying to explain was that many organizations — especially SMBs — often implement SharePoint as their idea of an ECM which also includes collaboration capabilities, and that in this niche Box.net is forging ahead by offering more and lighter consumer-centric capabilities than SharePoint. You are right that SharePoint and Box.net do not compare on the enterprise platform angle.

    It’s my bad for putting the ECM topic out front a bit too much in this article. Thanks for calling me on that, point taken…and much discussion provoked!

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    • Chelsi, thanks for joining it the conversation. The points you tried to make in the article were valid to some degree, but you lost credibility when the ECM term was brought into things in a manner that showed a lack of understanding for both the term and the market.

      What I am seeing is that the SMBs are using a wide variety of solutions, including SharePoint, for Content Management. Many picking SharePoint are typically just looking for basic collaboration. When/if you start needing to share externally, like all on-premise solutions, there are security issues. Box, and their peers, solve some of this because they are external to the organization. I would call them emerging Content Management Systems. Given that Box has the lead in the depth of features, and that they are still working on some core CMS features, calling them anything beyond Basic Content Management is a stretch. Box does have more consumer basic features than SharePoint, but SharePoint has a lot more critical business features.

      As you look at the gulf between SharePoint and Box, you must not forget that SharePoint is not really what I would call an ECM platform. Beyond SharePoint, there is Documentum, FileNet, Oracle UCM, and Open Text. They are heavier on the business features and lighter on the consumer interface than SharePoint. They are the “Traditional” vendors in the “ECM space”.

      Again, thanks. We can all learn from this.

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