ECM is dead. Long live ECM…

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!

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  1. December 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    I agree – ECM is still a very prevalent term to categorise what is an operational process envolving many technologies. The technologies and companies involved or who touch upon this sector are continually morphing and moving but the term along with others, ECM alternative descriptions are still being used. Document Boss has been operating in this sector since 1999 as a specialist M&A broker and the demise of this sector has been prematurely predicted many times in the past. Interest in acquiring companies in this sector from our perspective has never been higher. The bottom line is and has always been about driving internal efficiency. More recently the emphasis has to also include more front end connectivity to improve and smooth new customer acquisition and a better overall customer experience. This front end focus has recently increased to focus even more upon Social Media ECM to ensure complaince and regulation and de-risking this shop front to the world. ECM is not going away but it is evolving. Long live ECM!

    • December 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks Mark – Glad to have third-party validation! We see no decline in need, nor saturation point, for these technologies. Not yet anyhow!

  2. December 3, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Two things…
    1) it’s not Autumn. It’s actually spring for half the world.
    2) I also don’t think that ECM is dying…just losing touch with the way users are starting to want to work with their documents: (http://markjowen.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/trad-ecm-is-so-out-of-touch/).

    • December 3, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by!
      1) You are absolutely correct. I had not seen any antipodeans lamenting yet, so thanks for setting the record straight. You can’t even blame it on the depressing weather! :-)
      2) You raise some very interesting points in your blog, but “Trad” ECM is less out of touch than you think… Traditional is not synonymous to stale. I’ll add some thoughts on this on your blog.

      • December 3, 2013 at 7:52 am

        Sounds good.

        I have been a staunch supporter of, and have been active in, the world of ECM for over 15 years. I never questioned the value of an ECM system. However, as I mentioned in my post, I’ve spent the last year working with clients to help them create “social intranets”, which has required me to examine how users are using the systems. Admittedly an intranet *or even a collaboration portal” does not equate to an ECM system, and ECM systems play an important part (especially in regulated environments, such as pharma, finance, etc, but I do start to question now whether ECM’s are changing as the behaviour of the users change.

  3. December 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    The ECM sector is far larger than most think. The “headline” companies get most of the attention from the analysts and that can create a flavour for the whole market. There are many up and coming small to medium size companies that are in touch with the end user market and have the flexibility to change direction quickly. The big “oil tankers” in the ECM sector struggle to change course as fast. Document Boss has over 21,000 ECM companies in our database and we don’t have the entire market because its so vast and continually evolving. We add probably 30 new companies per month plus we lose around 15 (average) as they die or are acquired.

    Have a look at a company like Integritie with their ECM platform and their front-end SMC4 Social Media Capture, Control, Communication & Compliance offering this is more in-line with current trends and they continue to successfully innovate see http://www.integritie.com/index.php

  1. December 13, 2013 at 8:09 am

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