Some concepts are extremely difficult to articulate succinctly. Not because we don’t understand them, but because they are just too complex. I believe H.L. Mencken said: “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, elegant and wrong”.
Take the example of Enterprise Content Management. A 25-year old industry and a multi-million software market. Every few months, we will invariably have another debate on what the correct definition should be, what it encompasses, if the name should be changed, how it overlaps with other terms, etc. etc. Yet, most people understand pretty well what it is.
Enter… Information Governance
If you haven’t yet, please read Barclay T. Blair’s ebook: “Making the Case for Information Governance”. It is an excellent summary of some of the reasons why Information Governance (IG) is important to an organisation. The ebook focuses more on the rationale behind its existence, and much less on its structure and scope. The ebook also reviews some of the existing definitions of IG, by The Economist and by AIIM and proceeds to explain their salient points.
More recently however, BTB presented IG Initiative’s attempt to create a simpler definition, validated by a popularity poll and summarized in an attractive infographic:
Information Governance is: The activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.
I have to be honest and say that I don’t like that definition. 99% of people would agree that “Fruit is nutritional, affordable and refreshing, and reduces health risks”. That may be a true statement, but it does not make it a good definition of what a fruit is! Ok, I am being facetious, but my point is: The broader the definition the less accurate it is and the less value it adds. The IG Initiative definition above, is both too wide (e.g. analytics and collaboration are used to maximise information value, but they are not in themselves IG tools), and incomplete (e.g. governance involves the people, not just activities and technologies; compliance is another key driver, alongside cost and risk). In my view, this definition, by itself, falls short.
I have to mention that several other people have attempted definitions of IG, and each one has its merits. The one offered by Wikipedia is not too bad, and there are others by Debra Logan at Gartner, IBM, and many other vendors.
Personally, I would err on the side of a slightly longer but more comprehensive definition, that combines the ones mentioned in the ebook and the new one by IG Initiative. Here is my offer:
Information Governance is a framework of people, principles, processes and tools, that defines why, when and how information is managed within an organisation, in order to maximise its value, fulfil obligations, reduce costs and reduce risk.
I would be very interested to hear your feedback on this.
Whichever definition you choose to use however, BTB makes a very valid point in his blog: “…the definition you use is less important than having a common understanding among your IG team”. And you will probably need a lot more than 145 characters to achieve that!
A debate is a blogger’s ultimate reward
Judging by the sheer number of retweets, favorites and comments that I had as a response, I seem to have hit a raw nerve with my last posting on the relationship between Information Governance (IG) and Records Management (RM). Feedback is a great source of knowledge for me. Debate is always good for our industry.
Laurence Hart (@piewords to his friends) was kind enough to specifically comment on my article in his blog. I have a lot respect for Laurence’s opinion and always enjoy reading his views, even if we don’t always agree. As it turns out, in this instance, we agree more than we disagree.
There are a few things on my original article that I’d like to clarify though, just to avoid ambiguity, and in the process address some of the points that Laurence makes:
“IG is a discipline, not a tool”, I wrote…
A few people took exception to that. Nobody disputed the fact, but they assumed that I somehow implied that RM is not a discipline, only a tool: something I never said! I take it for granted that everyone, at least everyone reading these discussions, knows that RM is a discipline too. The point I wanted (and obviously failed) to make was very different: The term Information Governance has been hijacked by a large number of vendors (ECM, eDiscovery, Storage, Security, Big Data, etc.) to peddle their wares. I have seen an inordinate amount of marketing atrocities being perpetrated in the name of Information Governance. My point is that the tools will not sort out the IG problem, it requires a different way of thinking. With hindsight, I can see why people misread what I wrote though.
Divorce Information Governance from the discussion of how it is going to be done
This seems to be Laurence’s main contention with my views. Interestingly, I don’t think I said that anywhere in my article either, but it must have been implied somehow. Laurence is right: the WHY and the HOW of IG cannot be divorced, of course, otherwise IG will always remain an academic exercise. The point I was making is that IG needs to have a coherent, consistent and complete overview of the principles behind all information management within the organisation. It is the decision making hub. Underneath that hub there are a number of spoke mechanisms that manage different aspects: RM is just one of them; eDiscovery, Classification, Legal Holds, Privacy & Security, Archiving, Application decommissioning, Storage tiering, Location management, etc., are various others. These should all be driven from a single, unified, coherent and authoritative decision making framework, which is what I see as the role of IG.
Of governments and armies…
Laurence, inadvertently perhaps, came up with a much better analogy of the distance between IG and RM. I created a metaphor liking them to Government and school governors, but Laurence compared them to Government and the Military. A much better analogy! The Military has a very specific and defined jurisdiction for enforcing Government policy and law. It has ultimate planning and execution responsibility for military personnel, but it cannot enforce law on civilians (at least not in most democracies, anyhow…). The Government has responsibility for every law in the country, regardless if it applies to civilians or military. Just as IG has responsibility for all decision making for Information Management, RM has responsibility for enforcing some of the functions on some of the overall Information estate.
“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”
I am not interested in the semantics of where IG definitions overlap with IM or RM, or the delineation between the policies (WHY), the practices (HOW) or the tools (WHAT WITH). My point is that IG and RM are two different, if overlapping, disciplines and that the functions that I defined in my 8 points in the earlier article, must be addressed by a coherent information governance framework which, historically, has not been an area where traditional RM excels. If you prefer to call that evolving business function a “Holistic RM”, “RM Continuum” or “Super RM” or whatever else, I’m not worried about the nomenclature as long as we agree that it needs doing, and that it needs doing properly.
How the other half live…
There was something very paradoxical about the comments on my original article, by the RM community: Inevitably, the experienced, established and professional Records Managers, will object to my simplified definition of RM. They know how much bigger the problem is and most of them have extended their reach and responsibilities to address some of the IG issues within their organisations. Kudos and respect to them. But they see the RM world through rose tinted glasses, because it is the world they have created and influenced.
I, however, am not a Records Manager. I have seen and talked to a lot of organizations where their RM program either does not exist, or is extremely narrow, or very badly implemented, or lives on a folder on a shelf, or a PDF file on the intranet, or manages a spreadsheet fileplan, mapped to a folder structure on a shared drive. Most of these organizations, have an even bigger IG problem: No information disposition program, no unified classification, no automation of anything, no association between security policy and security reality, no mechanisms to address Data Protection, an un-managed email archive that grows exponentially, scores of network drives with debris and “just in case” copies of data, and many many many other issues. These organizations do not have the luxury of a well-established Holistic RM program, or the time to implement one. They have a very real IG itch that needs scratching… And a lot of vendors are quick to exploit that.
In my view, RM will always be a subset of IG. If you understand the bigger scope of IG, and you are already addressing it under an RM moniker, or any other name, then pat yourself on the back. But on the other hand, if you are a CIO looking at IG issues, do not assume that it is RM’s problem to sort out. And if you are a records manager, don’t assume for a minute that your RM world will not go through a radical transformation, if you try to take on the IG requirements, on top of RM.
Information Governance has been all the rage in the ECM world in the last year. Chris Walker, Laurence Hart, James Lappin, John Mancini, Barclay T. Blair and many other writers whose opinions I respect, are all writing about it.
That, in itself, is a good thing: I’ve been an advocate of Information Governance for a while now [Data Governance is not about Data] and it’s good to see it taking a prominent (and permanent) position in IT dialogue.
As with any other IT topic however, the more we talk about it, the more vague it becomes, and the more confusing and overlapping the definitions get. One of the latest symptoms of this, is the recent dialogue (read these posts by James and Laurence) discussing where Information Governance (IG) sits with Records Management (RM).
The points they are making are valid, but I believe that the premise behind these conversation is fundamentally misplaced, and here’s why:
1) Information Governance is a discipline, not a tool. The purpose of IG is to define all aspects of how information is being managed. The purpose of RM is to do the managing of some of that information.
2) According to Corporate Governance and Oversight Council, the information kept under RM’s control represents less than 20% of the total information managed by an organisation. IG has responsibility for 100%, including the 20% managed by RM.
3) RM is typically focused on the lifecycle management and protection of unstructured information, mostly documents. IG creates common policies that apply to both structured and unstructured information.
4) RM works with a defined and agreed taxonomy and schedule. IG is perpetually juggling with overlapping policies, laws, cases, security, legal holds, costs and business demands.
5) IG scope includes all information sources: The RM repositories, the other ECM repositories that are not RM platforms, all the SharePoint instances, the live email server(s), the email archive(s), the shared network drives, the personal network drives, the PST files, the data archive system, the notebook C: drives, the cloud drives, the detachable storage drives, those servers that came with the last acquisition and nobody quite knows what is on them, Jim’s old desktop, etc., etc.
6) RM tends to accumulate all the information it manages in a centralised, controlled environment. IG does not have that luxury: It needs to assume that most information will be managed in its native environment (unless of course it’s information that should explicitly be moved to RM’s control).
7) RM has a well defined function: store, classify, protect, secure and dispose of business records. IG has the function of telling RM what should and should not be protected, as well as determining security policies, disposition schedules, data protection risks, storage tier management, archive policies, data ownership, etc., for all other enterprise information.
8) RM stakeholders are mostly records managers and/or compliance managers. IG answers to Compliance, Audit, Security, Legal, IT, Finance and Business Operations – a very different audience with often conflicting interests.
Trying to compare IG and RM is a bit like trying to compare Central Government (or Federal for my US friends) with a local school’s governing body. Both have something to govern, one takes direction from the other and… there the similarity ends. Neither one is a replacement for the other.
And I’ll finish on a separate but related bug bear of mine: Governance is about taking ownership, making decisions and setting rules. Management is about acting on the decisions, executing the policies and enforcing the rules. Therefore, Information Governance and Information Management are not the same thing and the two terms should not be used interchangeably!
Update: Read the follow up article to this, with some more detailed explanations and comments [Part 2]
On-premise/Licensed: You buy a car and you drive it to work whenever you want. You pay for Insurance, Service, MOT, tyres and petrol. You can tweak it or add “go faster” stipes if you like. If it breaks down, you pay to have it fixed.
Cloud: The government buys a train and pays for its maintenance. You hop on it when you need it, and pay a ticket. If you are going to use it regularly, you buy an annual pass. If the train breaks down, the company sends another one to pick you up and they refund your ticket.
Hybrid: You drive your own car to the station and then take a train to work.
Unless you live in a cave, you will have not failed to notice that mobility has taken over our life. As I write this, I’m sitting in a train full of commuters who, almost to a man, are holding a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop. The odd ones out, are reading a book… on a Kindle.
There is no denying that mobility is an established phenomenon and it’s here to stay. The IT industry is actively embracing it as the new Amalthean horn (alongside that other nebulous revolution – The Cloud). With Mobile First (IBM), The Mobile Imperative (Gartner), Enterprise Mobility(Accenture), 3rd Platform (IDC), etc., etc. .. one by one every major vendor and analyst is releasing their “mobile” strategy that will drive growth in the next 3, 5 or 10 years. And undoubtedly, it will.
But is our current obsession with mobility, really that revolutionary? Is the change in our culture and behaviour really so sudden and dramatic? Prompted by a very stimulating conversation at AIIM’s Executive Leadership Council (see the recent paper: The Mobile Reality), I decided to look at the historical milestones of computer mobility. Its heritage, if you like. The picture it paints is very interesting.
Let’s look at the impact of mobility on a decade by decade basis.
The starting point. Computer access was restricted to a single physical location, determined by the location of the computer machines themselves. Access was granted to few, selected, highly trained computer boffins, who were responsible for allocating the computing resource on a time-share basis, and deliver the results to the outside world. There is zero mobility involved at this stage.
The 70’s introduced the first layer of mobility to the organisation, and it had a transformational impact. “Dumb” terminals, could be distributed across the organisation, connected with RS-232 serial connections. Mobility was location-based, since connectivity was hard-wired and employees would have to physically go to wherever the terminal was, in order to access it. Systems became multi-user giving selected, trained, specialist users simultaneous access to computing power on-demand. Suddenly, computing power and business applications were no longer constrained by the physical location of the computer, but were distributed to core departments across the organisation.
The ‘80s saw the introduction of PCs. A hub-and-spoke revolution, where autonomous business machines could execute tasks locally, wherever they were located, and could communicate transparently with each other and with centralised servers. More “intelligent” connectivity through network cables introduced the client-server and email era. Mobility moved outside the constraints of the physical building. With the advent of “a PC on every desk”, users could work anywhere within the organisation and could communicate with each other, from building to building, and from town to town. Or copy their work on a floppy-disk and continue their work on their PC at home.
In the 90’s mobility went through another revolutionary phase. PCs gave way to laptops, work would be taken anywhere, and modems could allow dial-up connectivity back to the office. Location, for users that had been issued with a company laptop and modem access, was no longer constrained to the confines of the organisation. They could easily work connected from home, or from a customer site anywhere in the world. Mobile phones became a corporate tool, eventually obliterating phonecards and phoneboxes, and wireless handsets, brought telephone mobility within the home. All that mobility created its own cultural revolution, bringing faster on-site customer support, home-working and flexible hours. At the same time, the internet and world-wide-web broke out of the military and academic domains, and the first commercial internet applications started appearing.
With the millennium Y2K scare out of the way, mobility re-invented itself again. Website access and intranets, meant that every employee could access the corporate environment regardless of the physical machine they were using: A corporate notebook, home PC, Internet café, or hotel lobby, would be equally useful for checking emails, writing the odd MS-Office document, or finishing the latest marketing presentation. Virtually every employee had remote access to the organisation, and was actively encouraged to use it to reduce travelling and office-space. Internet commerce became universally accepted transforming the retail market. Computer form factor started reducing, with lighter notebooks and PDAs with styluses, touch screens and hand-writing recognition (remember Palm and Psion?), became the first truly portable devices. Mobile phones penetrated the personal consumer market, while Email and text messaging (SMS) started replacing phone calls, as the preferred mediums for short conversations. ADSL networks brought affordable broadband connectivity to the home, and the first 3G networks and devices allowed internet connection “on the go”.
Which brings us to today: Enter the iPhone and iPad generation, where the preferred device factor is smaller (smartphones), more portable (tablets, phablets) and more universal (Smart TVs, Wifi Cameras, etc). Mobile connectivity became a bit more reliable and a bit faster, using faster 3G and 4G networks on the street. WiFi Fibre optic broadband at home, in fast-food restaurants and at coffee chains, brought faster downloads and HD streaming. Consumers are moving to apps as the preferred interface (rather than websites) and internet access has become accessible to everyone and the preferred customer interaction medium for many businesses. The delineation between personal computing and work computing has more or less disappeared, and the internet (as well as the office) can be accessed almost anywhere and by everyone. SMS text messaging is still prevalent (but virtually instant and virtually free) but asynchronous email communications declined in favour of synchronous Social Network access, Instant messaging (Skype, Twitter, FB Messaging, WhatsApp) or video chats (Skype, Lync, FaceTime, Hangouts).
But we’re not quite there yet! The much heralded “ubiquitous” access to information, or “24×7″ connectivity, is still a myth for a lot of us: While I constantly have to worry if my phone should connect via 3G or WiFi (a cost-driven and availability decision), while I can have internet access on a transatlantic flight, but not in a commuter train, while my broadband signal at home drops the line every 20 minutes because it’s too far away from the telephone exchange, while my WiFi router signal at one end of the house does not reach the dining room at the opposite end, and while I need a 3G signal booster at home (in a 450,000 people town) because none of the mobile networks around me have strong enough signal, mobile connectivity is not “ubiquitous”, it’s laboured.
Having lived and worked through 30 years of mobility transformation, I would argue that today’s “mobile revolution” is more evolutionary than revolutionary. What we are experiencing today is just another step in the right direction. Mobility will continue to have a transformational effect on businesses, consumers and popular culture, just as computer terminals transformed the typical desktop environment in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and as modems enabled home-working and flexible hours in the 90’s and 00’s. I expect that in the next 5 years we will see true “permanently on” connectivity and even more internet enabled devices communicating with each other. I also expect that businesses will become a lot more clever and creative with leveraging mobility.
Nevertheless, I don’t expect a mobile revolution.
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but I thought it would be best to wait for the deluge of 2014 New Year predictions to settle down, before I try and look a little bit further in the horizon.
The six predictions I discuss here are personal, do not have a specific timescale, and are certainly not based on any scientific method. What they are based on, is a strong gut feel and thirty years of observing change in the Information Management industry.
Some of these predictions are more fundamental than others. Some will have immediate impact (1-3 years), some will have longer term repercussions (10+ years). In the past, I have been very good at predicting what is going to happen, but really bad at estimating when it’s going to happen. I tend to overestimate the speed at which our market moves. So here goes…
Behaviour is the new currency
Forget what you’ve heard about “information being the new currency”, that is old hat. We have been trading in information, in its raw form, for years. Extracting meaningful value however from this information has always been hard, repetitive, expensive and most often a hit-or-miss operation. I predict that with the advance of analytics capabilities (see Watson Cognitive), raw information will have little trading value. Information will be traded already analysed, and nowhere more so than in the area of customer behaviour. Understanding of lifestyle-models, spending-patterns and decision-making behaviour, will become the new currency exchanged between suppliers. Not the basic high-level, over-simplified, demographic segmentation that we use today, but a deep behavioural understanding of individual consumers that will allow real-time, predictive and personal targeting. Most of the information is already being captured today, so it’s a question of refining the psychological, sociological and commercial models around it. Think of it this way: How come Google and Amazon know (instantly!) more about my on-line interactions with a particular retailer, than the retailer’s own customer service call centre? Does the frequency of logging into online banking indicate that I am very diligent in managing my finances, or that I am in financial trouble? Does my facebook status reflect my frustration with my job, or my euphoric pride in my daughter’s achievement? How will that determine if I decide to buy that other lens I have been looking at for my camera, or not? Scary as the prospect may be, from a personal privacy perspective, most of that information is in the public domain already. What is the digested form of that information, worth to a retailer?
Security models will turn inside out
Today most security systems, algorithms and analysis, are focused on the device and its environments. Be it the network, the laptop, the smartphone or the ECM system, security models are there to protect the container, not the content. This has not only become a cat-and-mouse game between fraudsters and security vendors, but it is also becoming virtually impossible to enforce at enterprise IT level. With BYOD, a proliferation of passwords and authentication systems, cloud file-sharing, and social media, users are opening up security holes faster than the IT department can close. Information leakage is an inevitable consequence. I can foresee the whole information security model turning on its head: If the appropriate security becomes deeply embedded inside the information (down to the file, paragraph or even individual word level), we will start seeing self-describing and self-protecting granular information that will only be accessible to an authenticated individual, regardless if that information is in a repository, on a file-system, on the cloud, at rest or in transit. Security protection will become device-agnostic and infrastructure-agnostic. It will become a negotiating handshake between the information itself and the individual accessing that information, at a particular point in time.
Oh, and while we are assigning security at this granular self-contained level, we might as well transfer retention and classification to the same level as well.
The File is dead
In a way, this prediction follows on from the previous one and it’s also a prerequisite for it. It is also a topic I have discussed before [Is it a record, who cares?]. Information Management, and in particular Content Management, has long been constrained by the notion of the digital file. The file has always been the singular granular entity, at which security, classification, version control, transportation, retention and all other governance stops. Even relational databases ultimately live in files, because that’s what Operating Systems have to manage. However, information granularity does not stop at the file level. There is structure within files, and a lot of information that lives outside the realm of files (particularly in social media and streams). If Information Management is a living organism (and I believe it is), then files are its organs. But each organ has cells, each cell has molecules, and there are atoms within those molecules. I believe that innovation in Information Management will grow exponentially the moment that we stop looking at managing files and start looking at elementary information entities or segments at a much more granular level. That will allow security to be embedded at a logical information level; value to grow exponentially through intelligent re-use; storage costs to be reduced dramatically through entity-level de-duplication; and analytics to explode through much faster and more intelligent classification. File is an arbitrary container that creates bottlenecks, unnecessary restrictions and a very coarse level of granularity. Death to the file!
BYOD is just a temporary aberration
BYOD is just a transitional phase we’re going through today. The notion of bringing ANY device to work is already becoming outdated. “Bring Work to Your Device” would have been a more appropriate phrase, but then BWYD is a really terrible acronym. Today, I can access most of the information I need for my work, through mobile apps and web browsers. That means I can potentially use smart phones, tablets, the browser on my smart television, or the Wii console at home, or my son’s PSP game device to access work information. As soon as I buy a new camera with Android on it, I will also be able to access work on my camera. Or my car’s GPS screen. Or my fridge. Are IT organisations going to provide BYOD policies for all these devices where I will have to commit, for example, that “if I am using that device for work I shall not allow any other person, including family members, to access that device”? I don’t think so. The notion of BYOD is already becoming irrelevant. It is time to accept that work is no longer tied to ANY device and that work could potentially be accessed on EVERY device. And that is another reason, why information security and governance should be applied to the information, not to the device. The form of the device is irrelevant, and there will never be a 1:1 relationship between work and devices again.
It’s not your cloud, it’s everyone’s cloud
Cloud storage is a reality, but sharing cloud-level resources is yet to come. All we have achieved is to move the information storage outside the data centre. Think of this very simple example: Let’s say I subscribe to Gartner, or AIIM and I have just downloaded a new report or white paper to read. I find it interesting and I share it with some colleagues, and (if I have the right to) with some customers through email. There is every probability that I have created a dozen instances of that report, most of which will end up being stored or backed up in a cloud service somewhere. Quite likely on the same infrastructure where I downloaded the original paper from. And so will do many others that have downloaded the same paper. This is madness! Yes, it’s true that I should have been sending out the link to that paper to everyone else, but frankly that would force everyone to have to create accounts, etc. etc. and it’s so much easier to attach it to an email, and I’m too busy. Now, turn this scenario on its head: What if the cloud infrastructure itself could recognise that the original of that white paper is already available on the cloud, and transparently maintain the referential integrity, security, and audit trail, of a link to the original? This is effectively cloud-level, internet-wide de-duplication. Resource sharing. Combine this with the information granularity mentioned above, and you have massive storage reduction, cloud capacity increase, simpler big-data analytics and an enormous amount of statistical audit-trail material available, to analyse user behaviour and information value.
The IT organisation becomes irrelevant
The IT organisation as we know it today, is arguably the most critical function and the single largest investment drain in most organisations. You don’t have to go far to see examples of the criticality of the IT function and the dependency of an organisation to IT service levels. Just look at the recent impact that simple IT malfunctions have had to banking operations in the UK [Lloyds Group apologies for IT glitch]. My prediction however, is that this mega-critical organisation called IT, will collapse in the next few years. A large IT group – as a function, whether it’s oursourced or not – is becoming an irrelevant anachronism, and here’s why: 1) IT no longer controls the end-user infrastructure, that battle is already lost to BYOD. The procurement, deployment and disposition of user assets is no longer an IT function, it has moved to the individual users who have become a lot more tech-savy and self-reliant than they were 10 or 20 years ago. 2) IT no longer controls the server infrastructure: With the move to cloud and SaaS (or its many variants: IaaS, PaaS, etc.), keeping the lights on, the servers cool, the backups running and the cables networked will soon cease to be a function of the IT organisation too. 3) IT no longer controls the application infrastructure: Business functions are buying capabilities directly at the solution level, often as apps, and these departments are maintaining their own relationships with IT vendors. CMOs, CHROs, CSOs, etc. are the new IT buyers. So, what’s left for the traditional IT organisation to do? Very little else. I can foresee that IT will become an ancillary coordinating function and a governance body. Its role will be to advise the business and define policy, and maybe manage some of the vendor relationships. Very much like the role that the Compliance department, or Procurement has today, and certainly not wielding the power and the budget that it currently holds. That, is actually good news for Information Management! Not because IT is an inhibitor today, but because the responsibility for Information Management will finally move to the business, where it always belonged. That move, in turn, will fuel new IT innovation that is driven directly by business need, without the interim “filter” that IT groups inevitably create today. It will also have a significant impact to the operational side of the business, since groups will have a more immediate and agile access to new IT capabilities that will enable them to service new business models much faster than they can today.
Personally, I would like all of these predictions to come true today. I don’t have a magic wand, and therefore they won’t. But I do believe that some, if not all, of these are inevitable and it’s only a question of time and priority before the landscape of Information Management, as we know today, is fundamentally transformed. And I believe that this inevitable transformation will help to accelerate both innovation and value.
I’m curious to know your views on this. Do you think these predictions are reasonable, or not? Or, perhaps they are a lot of wishful thinking. If you agree with me, how soon do you think they can become a reality? What would stop them? And, what other fundamental changes could be triggered, as a result of these?
I’m looking forward to the debate!
It’s Autumn. The trees are losing their leaves, the nights are getting longer, it’s getting cold and grey and generally miserable. It’s also the time for the annual lament of the Enterprise Content Management industry and ECM… the name that refuses to die!
At least once a year, ECM industry pundits go all depressed and introspect and predict, once again, that our industry is too wide, too narrow, too complex, too simplified, too diverse or too boring and dying or not dying or dead and buried. Once again this year, Laurence Hart (aka Pie), Marko Sillanpää, Daniel Antion, John Mancini and, undoubtedly, several other esteemed colleagues, with a collective experience of several hundred years of ECM on their backs, will try (and fail) to reconcile and rationalize the semantics of one of the most diverse sectors in the software industry.
You will find many interesting points and universal truths about ECM if you follow the links to these articles above. Some I agree with wholeheartedly, some I would take with a pinch of salt.
But let me assure you, concerned reader, that the ECM industry is not going anywhere, the name will not change and we will again be lamenting its demise, next Autumn!
There is a fundamental reason why this industry is so robust and so perplexing: This is not a single industry, or even a single coherent portfolio of products. It’s a complex amalgamation of technologies that co-exist and complement each other, with the only common denominator being an affinity for managing “stuff” that does not fit in a traditional relational database. And every time one of these technologies grows out of favour, another new discipline joins the fold: Documents and emails and archives and repositories and processes and cases and records and images and retention and search and analytics and ETL and media and social and collaboration and folksonomies and cloud, and, and, and… The list, and its history, is long. The reason this whole hotchpotch will continue to be called Enterprise Content Management, is that we don’t have a better collective noun that even vaguely begins to describe what these functions do for the business. And finally, more and more of the market (you know, the real people out there, not us ECM petrolheads…) are starting to recognise the term, however vague, inappropriate and irrational it may be to the purists among us.
And there is one more reason: Content Management is not a technology, it’s an operational discipline. Organisations will manage content with or without ECM products. It’s just faster, cheaper and more consistent if they use tools.
As I said, if you have an academic interest in this ECM industry, the articles above are definitely worth reading. For my part, I would like to add one more thought into that mix:
The word “Enterprise” in “ECM” has been the source of much debate. And whilst I agree with Laurence that originally some of the vendors attempted to promote the idea of a single centralised ECM repository for the whole enterprise, that idea was quickly abandoned in the early ’00s as generally a bad idea. Anyone who has tried to deploy this approach in a real world environment, can give you a dozen reasons why it’s really, really a very naïve idea.
Nevertheless, Content Management has always been, and will always be “Enterprise”, in the sense that it very rarely works as a simple departmental solution. There is very little value in doing that, especially when you combine it with process management, which adds the most value when crossing inter-departmental boundaries. It is also “Enterprise” in the sense that as a platform it can support both vertical and horizontal applications across most parts of an organisation. Finally, there are certain applications of ECM, that can only be deployed as “Enterprise” tools: It would be madness to design Records Management, eMail archiving, eDiscovery or Social collaboration solutions, on a department by department basis. There is no point!
That’s why, in my opinion at least, the term ECM will live for a long time yet… Long Live ECM!