ECM, Content Services, or Just Doing It?


"It's deja-vu all, all over again." - Yogi BerraRecently, Gartner issued a note announcing The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services. This has been met with several, mixed responses. Many pointed out to Gartner that many of us have been talking about this for years. I wrote a post on Content Services, Not ECM back in 2013. Going even further back, the concept of Content Services is core to Content Management Interoperability Services. In 2009 I outlined the three fundamental use cases for CMIS, or any content service.

I could spend all day linking to old posts but I want to take some time to bring something new to the discussion. A lot has changed over the years and perspectives have been refined. The last few days have seen my mind wandering and debating this whole topic in my spare, and not so spare, time.

Let me sum it up for you, it is a false dichotomy. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is not a thing you buy. It should not be taken into isolation. Content Services is useless as a replacement as it is completely different.

Let me break this down.

ECM is a Strategy

I have spent a LOT of time on this blog talking about ECM. After some work and collaboration with others, I wrote a pretty simple definition.

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.

It is not software. It is a plan. If your plan means leaving the video content on a separate file server with regular back-ups until you manage to get a better handle on your financial documents, that is okay. You know where the digital assets are and you’ve assessed the risk. Rather than dividing your efforts, you decided to focus on getting your financial documents under control to facilitate Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

That is successful ECM. There is nothing about platforms or technology. You know that you want to apply technology but that comes later. The technology is a means for achieving your ECM strategy. It is not a something you buy, though we spent years buying it.

And Content Services?

Content Services is a tool in the practitioners toolbox. It is an approach to leveraging an ECM platform. It is a great approach to tackling using cloud-based platforms to store and manage your information. CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services) is one way to leverage the architecture. CMIS works great when vendors test it thoroughly and commit.

CMIS is an Open API (application programming interface) but not the only one. Modern vendors have their own Open API as an approach to implementing Content Services. It is an approach embraced by the cloud vendors. It is quite simple and results in a flexible Open ECM Platform. All the vendor has to do is fully expose, support, and document their API. Many vendors, like Box, are not only treating their API like a product that organizations can consume, they are building their own apps using that same API.

Content Services has its limits. Like private clouds, creating enterprise-class Content Services internally works best at scale. Like ECM, having a single scalable and flexible platform to provide those services for the entire enterprise is a challenge. Leveraging the services provide by cloud vendors is a better approach. All of the focus can be spent building the application and perfecting the user experience.

When you get down to it, that is the key piece. All my most successful content solutions over the past 2 decades have had custom interfaces focused on the user’s experience. It was often a challenge but when I go back and they are still happy with a solution a decade later, it is worth it.

That is what Content Services delivers. A means to more readily integrate content into solutions focused on solving the problem.

Which brings us back to the question, what do we call this industry?

Why Change?

"The future ain't what it used to be." - Yogi BerraWhat is wrong with ECM?

Let’s face it, people know the term. They know what it means. Sure, people think it is a failure but that’s when we talk to them about it being a strategy, not software. They aren’t buying a giant platform. We dive in, assess what information they have, and map the plan for having everything under control.

In the end, I don’t actually care what it is called. Neither should you. Find the problem, define it, and work towards a solution that works best for the business. You can likely leverage what is already in place. Just don’t try and force it. Down that road lies frustration and failure.

Look at your information flow. Follow it and find new ways to make it flow faster. If you can do that and know where your information is at anytime, you are done.

Isn’t that what we really care about?

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