Enterprise Content Management

Does enterprise content management have a future?

This is a contributed piece by David Jones, director of product management at Nuxeo


Since the turn of the century, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has ruled the information management ecosystem. But in January 2017, ECM found itself declared dead by Gartner — replaced by a whole new category of software tools, Content Services.

With now a year gone by, it’s time to ask if Gartner was right — is ECM past its ‘sell by’ date? Should organizations be throwing out their ECM systems, and making the switch to Content Services Platforms?

Gartner was more right than wrong. ECM as we knew it has no place in the digital age — a world where information is increasingly moving to the cloud, and powerful search capabilities can provide access to information, no matter where it is stored.

And the market has surely seen this coming. The general trend is towards implementing enterprise solutions that are as intuitive as the solutions we use in our personal lives. What’s more, it isn’t just the term ‘Enterprise Content Management’ that has begun to feel outdated — it’s the premise of monolithic, one-size-fits all systems that has started to feel out of step with the rest of the world.

Nonetheless, many organizations are either in denial or concerned about their current ECM investments as well as their now outdated roadmap for leveraging ECM to increase process efficiency. If ECM has ceased to be of assistance here, then can we be sure Content Services is the right way forward in its stead?

To answer that, it’s worth reviewing how we arrived at today’s content crossroads.


ECM has not lived up to its promise

The term ECM, coined by AIIM in the early 2000s, captured the natural progression being witnessed as the document management market of the 80s and 90s evolved into something broader and more intelligent. Even if it was rarely used to its full potential, ECM captured the idea of a wider spectrum of ‘content’ capabilities ranging from records management, workflow and library services to document output.

But there were problems from the get-go. It failed to resonate with many in the business world because it never quite delivered on its promise to improve how they manage critical business information in an efficient manner.

The second problem has been that ECM has never been a one-stop solution. Typically, organizations have had more than one system, and sometimes even more than one system per department. Difficult to administer, it has been virtually impossible to arrive at a single version of the truth — one of the key original selling points of any ECM.

Content management should start with the user

As a result, a paradigm shift has begun to take place in the ECM universe. This shift has been an uncomfortable one for many legacy providers as they struggle to re-architect their decades-old solutions for the demands of the modern enterprise. The result is typically an even more complex and cumbersome user experience.

Gartner’s redefinition reflects its acknowledgement of this shift, asserting that ECM as a proposition has outlived its relevance in a digital, interconnected, cloud-enabled world, superseded by more flexible and dynamic ‘content services’ platform approach. Content Services encompasses a wider spread of technologies, such as enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS) tools, content federation and migration services (sometimes referred to as Extract, Transform and Load or ETL for short). This term is also inclusive of standard ECM functions such as capture, classification, workflow and document management.

And the transition to a reformed ECM future is an inevitable progression from on-premises, function-specific legacy systems to something that actually addresses the way people increasingly use digital tools — in a manner that’s flexible, adaptable, intuitive and continuously improving.


Flexible ways of working with content are on the horizon

This new content services wave is ‘repository-neutral’ allowing users to quickly find the information they need to do their jobs no matter where it resides, and when the content services platform is integrated with other core business systems, content is delivered in context, which transforms information into knowledge for improved decision-making.


ECM is dead, but what next?

I agree with Gartner that ECM is dead, and that Content Services embodies what the market is actually looking for vendors to deliver. But while it is the function of analysts to look ahead to what’s coming down the pipe, the reality is that many companies have expensive legacy ECM they can’t easily move off and have no intention of dropping in a hurry. 

The best way of getting to that content services future, then, is to understand that ECM-type products are really better suited for operating in the background going forward, behaving more like infrastructure. Their value will be in serving up content to people and systems that need it, and the decisions, process improvements and service innovation this makes possible.


The future lies in Content Services, and also ECM

Getting to that Content Services future is complex and will necessitate a much longer contribution from ECM than it being ‘dead’ conveys. We need to move on — but with ECM still playing a surprisingly large part of the story for at least some time to come.


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