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Will VACS be the End for ECM Platforms?

If we look back, ECM is a young space.  It started back in 1998 at Documentum when they were the first vendor to look at both documents and web content together formally.  Until then companies had either been documents (Documentum, FileNet, and OpenText) or web (Interwoven, Vignette, etc.).  This transition was huge and really affected the players heavily.  Having been in the starting line up during the second quarter of ECM it was an interesting time.  And I see a lot of similarities today with a move to Value Added Content Solutions (VACS).

Successful conversations today are no longer about great library services or even content formats but how content adds value to existing business problems.  It a shift in the conversation to how the content is being used rather than how it’s being created.  It’s not about saving one person one hour of time once a week but rather how you save a thousand people one minute of time (quick math 52 hour in the former and 867 in the latter.)  A great place to see this change is with VACS in the CRM (customer resource management) space.

VACS  and ECM in CRM

Probably the greatest transaction in the software market today is around CRM.  With resources being stretched more and more organizations are seeing the sales process as key to controlling costs and raising revenue.  And as many of those applications have already been installed they are finding the way to improve these solutions is to address the content that’s associated with the sales process (customer communications, marketing collateral, contracts, and customer intelligence).  CRM’s are easily able to manage the structured properties of prospects and deals but the content is a bigger question.

To ECM vendors this simply means adding locations to share documents with maybe a little bit of version control or additional levels of security.  While this offers some basic solutions to a problem it rarely adds true value.  The ECM based solutions are often detached from the application and in many cases are focused on authoring content rather than consumption.  There are rare some cases where ECM platforms are tighter integrated to the solutions but mostly those are partner or customer delivered.

VACS instead look at the problem and tie right into the solution.  For example:

With VACS the conversation is not about how you manage the content but how the content is used in the business.  The conversation is not being held with the authors alone but with strong representation from the consumers of content.

Where Things Are Headed

ECM vendors cannot become VACS exclusively.  The problem is that these platforms have been developed over years and major changes are difficult and often very disruptive.  The closest thing that ECM vendors can do is build their own specific VACS to address problems.  But these groups need to be separate from their traditional business.  They also need to build marketing and sales arms that also focus on VACS.  The value conversation is very different from the platform conversation.  But building these groups takes time.

ECM vendors also need to embrace VACS as partners.  There are too many solutions out there that can use content.  One vendor will not be able to handle all of them.  I also strongly believe that VACS should not build their own platforms rather build on someone else’s.  But this needs to be based on a solid partnership culture.  You can’t be partner focused one fiscal year and not the next.  Successful partnerships take time and commitment.

Today’s VACS will not be around tomorrow.  VACS are successfully having conversations around content in the business problem.  Those that are most successful will be the first to be acquired.  This time the acquisitions will come from the primary application vendors themselves rather the ECM.   And for those that think this is an isolated situation, another major area is healthcare records.  I’m sure you can find many more examples.

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