The Lost Decade of ECM

imageOf the three posts rattling around in my head, this would be the third in order if I had to set a preferred order. Problem is, one idea takes more effort to develop while the other actually needs to refer to items in this post.

I spoke last week at Momentum in Las Vegas as part of EMC World. Instead of talking about Documentum or how I had worked with a client to solve a problem, I talked about the changing landscape of the Information Industry. The SlideShare version of the presentation is at the end of this post but I wanted to talk about the Lost Decade first.

Running in Place

While creating my presentation, I realized that there was a whole decade devoid of true innovation in the Content Management industry. My first Content Management project was in the 90s and was a working Case Management system. Look at what happened in those two years:

  • 16 bit -> 32 bit
  • Two-tier architecture -> three-tier architecture -> web architecture
  • MS Access database -> SQL Server or Oracle
  • MS Access interface -> Visual Basic interface -> HTML

The promise of the web wouldn’t be fully realized for several years and some of this was more evolutionary, but it was exciting. Shortly after I left that project, the portal concept was introduced. When the concept of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) was then announced, it seemed like the fun would never end. With one platform to rule them all and solve the integration problems, we would be able to innovate at will.

Ten years later, we were still using the same basic technology to solve problems. Sure, version numbers were bigger, but that was it. Let’s list what happened between 2000 and 2010 in Content Management:

  • The web matured and became dynamic allowing us to do everything promised in the 90s.
  • Content Management systems could handle all content but were big and bloated.
  • Open Source came out but it was just a new way to use old technology to solve the same Content Problems.
  • Microsoft, seeing a stagnant industry, released SharePoint with a better interface, more features, and lower initial price point. It quickly took off and is now suffering from some of the same issues as the vendors it first supplanted.

The clincher is this stat by Forrester stating that 66% of Information projects fail. 66%!!! That is two-thirds! What the heck have we been doing? This whole ECM path sure didn’t help us become more successful.

We lost a whole decade.

Today’s Information Professional

Today, there is lots of innovation again. Social, Mobile, Big Data, and Unified Communications are tools that we can bring to the business to solve the same business problems. Cloud isn’t going to help us solve business problems, but it will enable us to bring those tools to bear on the problems that we are facing.

It used to be enough to be a domain expert. The problem is that it is no longer enough to solve “Content” problems. We have to solve business problems. We have to be domain experts AND know how our respective domains make our organizations successful.

My Momentum presentation covers this and goes into more detail about how today’s innovative technologies can help us make progress in Information Management. Learn about the Brave New World of Information Management below or on SlideShare (which has slide notes).

One last question, do you think we lost a decade of innovation in the 2000s”? Chime up below.

13 thoughts on “The Lost Decade of ECM

  1. Debra Power says:

    There are many days when I think we have lost more than a decade! By now, we should be making more advances in ensuring digital objects are not only preserved but findable. Instead, we still discuss the need for content management; there are numerous debates on what is a record; and obviously many people missed kindergarten, because they still don’t share information! Seriously, it really should never have been this hard. .


  2. Peter says:

    Definitely agree a decade (or more) was lost, though I could bicker about the precise timeline. I find it more interesting that the decade of stagnation began at around the time the crapronym “ECM” was coined – coincidence??


    • No coincidence in my opinion. People focused so much on achieving the glory of ECM that there wasn’t room for innovation in other areas. Innovation had to come from the outside.


  3. Hmm… I agree with some of your points, but I don’t think it was a lost decade. In the 90s, every ECM vendor was an unruly teenager, jumping around from topic to topic, innovating, (often just reinventing the wheel) and thinking that they, and they alone, would change the world and the face of business as we know it.

    Then the 00s came and the teenager graduated and went to find a job! And they realised that the world is not simple to change and that they could not do it alone. They had the skills and the enthusiasm, but not the capital or the maturity to change the world. 00s was not lost. The innovation at the product or vendor level slowed down, but the ECM industry was about to witness the biggest transformation yet: The era of consolidation.

    We started the ’00s with hundreds of ECM vendors all doing very similar things under different “specialties” – we had Document Management, and WCM, and Portals, and Free-text databases, and Records Management, and Engineering, and workflow, and the first glimpses of team collaboration. We ended the ’00s with half-a-dozen key ECM players, each of whom had built or acquired a wide portfolio of capabilities under the “ECM” banners. We lost the garage innovators and became production lines.

    The ’00s also moved ECM out of the niche sugar-daddies (e.g. Pharmaceuticals, Banks, Insurances) that financed “the drunken fun college years” of the ECM vendors, and put ECM to work in retail and government and the mid-market. And people stopped talking about document management, and workflow and portals and started talking about Claims processing and Customer onboarding and Post-room automation.

    So, I don’t think it was a lost decade at all. I think it was the decade that the ECM penny finally dropped, and the year that moved our whole industry from the subversive developer community boards to the mature CIO architecture conversations.


    • We consolidated, but the market still has a large number of vendors in the space as new ones appeared and forced their way into the conversation.

      We created ECM platforms but it is still much easier to sell and implement point solutions than massive platforms. Those massive ECM vendors are trying hard to innovate to be relevant in 4 years before all the young vendors eat their lunch.

      Yes the vendors started talking about Claims Processing and Customer Onboarding but the clients always spoke that language and still just want those solutions (which we were selling and doing in the 90s)

      And all this work on ECM still hasn’t make the likelihood of project success better than 50/50. Content Management may be part of mature CIO architectures, but there are a ton of places where ROI is still required before investing a dime.

      My first Case Management system would have been just as challenging to implement 10 years later and would have faced the exact same hurdles PLUS browser dependency issues.

      The market moved and changed quite a bit, but we sure didn’t innovate or go anywhere.


      • Exercise care when invoking the ubiquitous “we.” There was expansion and consolidation both in the space within the past decade, but I would say the former was mostly “around the edges.” Working on larger implementations I would tend to agree with @parapadakis statements above. The bigger players were getting it and did begin focusing on solutions which, agreed, is what clients have spoken about all along.

        As for myself, on these larger initiatives it became evident when interviewing with a prospective client whether or not the platform proposed was a swiss army knife or panacea, or not, and to advise the client accordingly. That maybe they didn’t have everything within their portfolio that they needed to address the problem(s) or task(s) at hand, and to go out and get the appropriate tools (and experience and knowledge) to solve the problem, deliver the solution.

        Wasn’t a lost decade at all in my mind. It was a decade of maturation and segregation. Separating wheat from chaff and all that.

        Just my tuppence.

        Cheers, Pat
        Cheers, pat


      • I don’t disagree. The “50-50” game of success, was always down to contained requirements, solid project management, contained risk management and a solid ROI justification. Regardless of what technology you implement, or how mature it is, bad projects will fail. Good projects will deliver value. It has nothing to do with how much better the technology got. I have delivered successful, on-time projects that delivered real ROI, with DCTM 3.11 and God only knows how immature the technology was back then. I’ve also witnessed some spectacular #FAILs with much more mature technologies. I do believe that an ECM discussion today (whatever “ECM” happens to mean…) will be a lot more mature, a lot more realistic and a lot more focused on the outcome than the technology, that it would have been 10 years ago. – George


    • Going to reply on several fronts to George and Pat here. The 1st is the “we” refers to the industry of which I have been a part. I’m taking my share of the blame here.

      Also want to point out that the Lost decade ended already. It was 2000-2010, give or take. Solution did start to come out in the latter part, but that wasn’t innovation, just realization that selling platforms to business users wasn’t working.

      Yes, there was some maturation during the decade, but the innovation was lost. Even then, what did we truly gain as success rates for projects stayed relatively flat.

      Meanwhile, I would argue that the ECM paradigm is invalid. Yes, in a mature organization where they can use a CMS as a service/platform, it can work. That said, still talking to organizations that just can’t do it. They don’t have the time or resources to invest in a massive platform. They need straight forward solutions that work with their other information systems.

      Some people will continue to implement ECM and some of them will be successful. For most organizations, ECM isn’t going to cut it for them.


  4. True dat … my only nit to pick is with: “The problem is that it is no longer enough to solve ‘Content’ problems. We have to solve business problems.” Not that this is the wrong approach, only that it has ALWAYS been about solving business problems — even when the new-technology glitter obscured the fact.


  5. All that, and your big finish is “…we have to solve business problems”? Not only is that not original, it’s not even true. DropBox is hot because it’s cool and easy to use, not because it solves some business problem defined from the top down. I got into ECM in 1996 when Livelink captivated me by being an interactive, full-featured Web site. The innovation, then as now, happens when people say “this is so cool,” which my daughter said last week when DropBox worked automatically from her new iPad.


    • Never claimed to be original.

      Bo, I have to admit, took me a minute to realize that you were commenting more on the presentation than the post. The thing is, the innovation you mention is part of what is making things exciting now, like they were in the 90s.

      That said, Dropbox is a personal tool. It isn’t an Enterprise tool. It solves your problem, and your daughters, not a company’s problem. Dropbox does solve a problem, it syncs your content. It solves a problem.

      One thing that doesn’t come across in the slides was what I said. We have been working for years to solve the “Content” problem. That is the issue. As we address the “business” problem, we can gain greater adoption and fit it into the big picture. Databases don’t solve data problems anymore. They are part of business solutions. We need to get there with our Content systems.

      I can tell that this is going to be a tough conversation to have in comments. Shame we can’t debate this over drinks.


      • Definitely agree this would be better in person. If we were on a panel, I would suggest the following topics.

        First, did ECM innovate from 2000-2010? I mostly agree with your point that the traditional vendors did not. As a member of Clan Livelink, however, I would say we tried more than your own People of the Documentum. We were always the innovators. Tom Jenkins every year had a keynote about the next big thing, some of which are finally happening: unified communications, synchronous collaboration, social media. Still, mostly of the fun is happening outside the legacy players.

        Second, do cloud content providers solve business problems? I say yes. Dropbox, Google Apps, and Box have enterprise pricing and enterprise customers. Your own Whitney Tidmarsh is “Enterprise General Manager” for Box. There is a Dropbox for Teams. Businesses and governments switch to Google Apps every day.

        Third, is there a separation in kind between business problems and personal problems? I say no. When this 48 year old business owner saw his 18 year old daughter reluctantly switch from BlackBerry to iPhone, he sold his RIM stock. And just in time, too.


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