Implementing an ECM Strategy without a Platform

It has been stated here at the Word, and elsewhere, that Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a strategy. You can’t buy Enterprise Content Management. You can buy products that support an ECM Strategy, but without a blueprint, it is just a bunch of stuff.

Semantics aside, do you need a central Content Management System (CMS) to serve as the basis for implementing the strategy? This is a subtle way of asking if I need to buy a big honkin’ CMS which just happens to be marketed as ECM. I prefer to call those products Enterprise CMS Platforms. The term ECM Platform is so 2010.

The thing is, you don’t need an Enterprise CMS Platform to implement an ECM Strategy. Heck, you can do it with what you have now.

Legitimate versus Effective

Andrew Chapman, as usual, left a smart*** remark on my last post where I took someone to task for liberally using the term ECM. He said,

…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’ve known Andrew for nigh on a decade now, and I think that was the most insightful thing he has ever said. That is a compliment. Let me explain why.

Printing-it-out-and-putting-it-in-a-box is an ECM Strategy. It isn’t necessarily a very efficient or effective one, but it is a legitimate strategy. Before the advent of computers, it was the way to manage content throughout an enterprise.

So as you can see, you can implement an ECM Strategy without buying all that fancy software.

Of course, no matter how much you work to enhance this approach, things will get lost, damaged, destroyed, and you may run out of room. There is no regular purging of old content until you need space. The kicker is, unlike the digital world where storage is getting cheaper, physical storage is getting more expensive.

Let’s look at how you might implement an ECM Strategy using some of today’s technology.

The Enterprise CMS Platform

This is a direct output from the “let me sell you ECM” days. There can be considerable value in having all your content in one system. This isn’t to say that they are all in one repository, just one system that allows you to search across the repositories.

The premise is that content from every system is stored in the Enterprise CMS Platform. Customer deliverables, invoices, performance reviews, budgets, design specs, correspondence, and any other piece of content that your organization creates or captures. The advantages are obvious:

  • You always know where content is being stored
  • Managing content for compliance concerns, both external and internal, is done in one place
  • There is only one system for IT to learn how to operate and maintain
  • Users only need to learn one interface

Seems like the obvious choice, but there are some significant flaws.

  • ECM platforms are not cheap
  • Implementation can be quite complicated, especially when designing it for scale
  • Migrating content into the system can be expensive and time-consuming
  • Not every business scenario is made for the one-size-fits-all CMS

These are not small systems. They take a significant investment of time and money before the benefits start collecting. There is a not-so-insignificant risk of program cancellation during that timeframe.

So how about a middle path?

A Realistic Approach

Let’s take a manufacturing company for example. Several years ago, the manufacturing arm implemented a CMS to store their Standard Operating Procedures and other content needed to run the production centers. A couple years ago, IT implemented a Web CMS in order to more effectively manage their web presence.

A competitor was recently sued and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. The issue wasn’t that they lost, but that they spent to much money trying to defend the case because they knew they were in the right. They just couldn’t find the content they needed in a timely or cost-efficient manner.

As a result, our company decided that they needed to prevent that sort of disaster. It was decided that an ECM program was needed. When blended with some of the collaborative benefits and the ROI that they would get as they gradually automated some of their email-based processes, they decided that everyone needed to be using a CMS.

The twist was that both Manufacturing and the IT Department had effective solutions that were meeting the business needs. After looking at the two CMS systems, it was decided that neither product could effectively serve the rest of the organization. It was decided to try a blended strategy to ECM.


The resulting system was designed to use a new Enterprise CMS Platform as the central system of record. As a piece of content was finalized in either the Manufacturing or Web CMS, the central system was notified. That system then placed appropriate retention rules on the content. In addition, a search from the Enterprise CMS Platform would yield results from all three systems.

The key is that while there is no central repository, there is centralized management of content. Even if none of the systems actually talked to each other, this could still be a very effective ECM Strategy. A plan for managing all the content in the enterprise is implemented and working.

The goal isn’t one system to rule them all. It is to know where your content is and how to get at it when you need it. It isn’t to keep software companies in business. It is finding a cost-effective way to improve how you do business without having to worry about where or how the content is stored.

So what is the difference between a standard CMS and one capable of being used as an Enterprise CMS Platform? That is a story for another post.

5 thoughts on “Implementing an ECM Strategy without a Platform

  1. Pie,

    As usual, great post, and I agree completely! Over the last two years or so, I’ve definitely seen a trend away from the “one CMS system to rule them all”. Folks out there seem more often than not to be working with the mix of systems they have in place rather than razing it all to the ground and starting from scratch…and honestly I see it working more effectively, less expensively, and with less risk to the organization.

    Last year I helped an organization build a robust, cross functional ECM program that delivered serious value to the business, and they didn’t have an ECM system at all; they used shared drives, email, hard drives, and a smattering of an ancient version of FileNet IS, Mobius, and MOSS. But what they did have was the organizational will to make managing content a strategic, enterprise priority. And once they did that, they were able to tackle all the people/process work that’s needed before, during, and after putting an ECM platform in place to make it successful–a great first step.

    If my wife and I want to get better about our finances, simply buying Quicken won’t help–we’ll just be able to see how broke we are in full-color charts. Instead, we need to change the way we work as a household first, and then using a tool like Quicken will have an effect…ECM’s no different.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and thanks for the mention here–appreciate it!




    • Hi Joe, you are so right. The best ECM solution without organizational change will not solve the problem. ECM is as Pie points a strategy and not only software.


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