Take a Break from ECM


I have been trying to shift the topic away from “Enterprise” Content Management for a while now. I’ve said that it isn’t something you can buy because it is a strategy. I’ve said that you don’t need a single Content Management System (CMS) platform to implement your strategy. I even gave a presentation at AIIM where I said that the tech gets in the way.

I just read a great post by Lane Severson on the term ECM and the ongoing debates. In some ways he wants to get rid of the term and completely remove it from the dialog. He essentially calls ECM a vestigial term that no longer serves a purpose but is still around.

Well, I’m done. I’m not debating the term any more. It is what it is. What people are missing isn’t that the term is invalid. The problem is that there is a gap between our ability to execute and the “ideal” of ECM.

Harder than it Looks

Why has ECM “failed”? Let me fill you in:

  • Platform-Centric: Here’s the problem. License for Enterprise CMS platform capable software is expensive. It can eat into the budget before you build anything. Then there costs in building the “platform”. Budgets can be cut before you are ready to deploy any actual solutions.
  • Expertise Gap: Right now I can go out and find a large number of people that can correctly install Documentum or FileNet. If I want an installation that scales well and can handle large volumes of content and users, that number drops precipitously. Let us not forget that those people tend to be expensive.
  • Aggressive Schedules: I’m not talking about people trying to get this running in a week. I’m talking about trying to do too much too fast. When placed under pressure, people try to solve too many business problems on the first roll-out. When you do too much, you do it all poorly.
  • Overselling: In order to spur adoption and excitement, a lot of overselling takes place. It is like a good movie. Your friends go see it and tell you how good it is. By the time you see it, it seems to stink and you wonder why you waited in line for a ticket. It is the rare Content Management solution that warrants hype to the users.
  • No Change Management: On the other extreme, organizations are rarely prepared for the changes. They get a new system that is “different”. They don’t understand the system or why they have to use it. People quickly switch back to working in email.

Those are the more common reasons. In the current environment, technology is structured poorly from a technical and financial perspective. If everything is done right and the proper budget and time was invested, the grand ECM Vision can be accomplished. It is a rare event.

So what do we do? Change the definition? No, it is still valid. We need to set more realistic short-term goals.

Loosen Your Grip

I’ve said in the past that an ECM strategy could be to print everything. It may not be a good strategy, but it is one. When planning an ECM strategy, you need to look at what can realistically be done.

Identify a content-centric business problem and solve it. Find a solution that solves the most pressing problems. As long as you make sure that any solution supports an open standard like CMIS, you can integrate the system into a larger program down the road.

While this is happening, it is perfectly valid if you let people keep using SharePoint or email or share drives. Just identify what people are doing so you can determine the risks and set priorities.

Realistically, you likely cannot manage it all in one system. Maybe in multiple systems, but for now, stop trying to do it all. Too much time and money will be spent making things work and not enough time will be spent solving the problem.

Time and money are finite. A salesperson’s ability to find new things to sell you is infinite.

It is an acceptable ECM strategy to attack one problem and leave the rest of the processes alone. The key is to make that a conscious decision. Ignoring the problem doesn’t count. Looking at the individual business problems and choosing which ones to attack is perfectly valid.

My perfect strategy? Get things out of share drives and email. Get them into something that can capture some data behind the scenes. Identify content-centric processes and automate them.

The last step? Pester the rising Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors and find out when they have all the features I need to get myself out of the technology business. Then I can return to trying to achieve the ideal of ECM.

Or maybe I’ll skip that and just work on Omnipresent Content Management.

5 thoughts on “Take a Break from ECM

  1. When you’re right, you’re right. I might even flip the order in which you list the reasons, for change management (or lack of same) is where I see a lot of projects come off the rails — never mind, more to your central point, that I don’t believe there’s ever been a actual enterprise-wide sale of _anything_ …

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