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Tom Rouse on “ECM and Cold Pizza In the Fridge”

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The opinions shared here represent those of the contributor themselves and not those of their employers nor that of Big Men On Content as a whole.

It’s crazy how busy we get sometimes, so it’s fun to be able to catch up with people that you haven’t spoken with for a while.  When I heard from Tom Rouse, I took the time to catch up.  I’ve known Tom for over 15 years.  We were both consultants at Documentum at the time.  He’s one of those people that enjoys thinking about ECM and making it relate-able.   When I heard his document cold pizza analogy, I thought this is something I should share.  So I asked if he would write it down so I could share it.

Here’s what Tom said:


Cold pizza is generally a staple of every refrigerator (fridge). It gets tossed in and sometimes forgotten. But there it is…Still tasty and waiting to fulfill its purpose as a snack.  Most Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems today are serving as “refrigerators” for the documents and content in them

Please stay with me on the metaphor. Most clients use the carefully constructed models and user interfaces when they need a “snack”.  The number one reason most clients use the ECM system is to seek out information when they are hungry for it…They just go looking in the fridge for a slice of content!

Back in the day, my colleagues and I had multiple discussions about what clients expected from an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. We knew that we spent a LOT of time (and our clients’ money) building metadata models, container models, relationship models, business process models,  compliance models, user interface models and authoring tool integrations to give every client a personalized experience for the shiny new ECM system. Thank you for all the conversations Mr. Coblentz and Mr. Gove!

The most revealing comment to come out of these conversations was the revelation that most clients treat any source of information, documents or databases, like a refrigerator.

Current prevalent usage is comparable to putting food and beverages in the front of the refrigerator and the delicious pizza getting pushed to the back or onto another shelf. You know it gets a lot harder to find that pizza when it’s not where you left it.

So much energy and enthusiasm is expended extracting requirements, documenting requirements, building and refining models, insuring that the user experience is as pleasant as possible and insuring that the systems are available and reliable. Anyone who has ever deployed any Enterprise software in the past two decades can attest to the privilege of working with clients and the passion that dedicated consultants bring to the job.

All the modeling effort is valuable despite the prevalent elementary usage of the system. The models tended to assist the people looking for documents because it gave them a structured and a commonly understood way to filter the millions of documents in the system.

Over time, the models became outdated and the new documents in the systems obscured the value of the models and the existing documents. Just like the new food in the fridge obscures the tasty pizza on the bottom shelf in the back.

And that is where I believe ECM systems are today. All of them have content hidden in the “refrigerator” and people are still using the same “hands and eyes” to put new content into the repositories and to seek the content in the repositories.

Cloud enabled applications, mobile devices, Internet style searches and social networking tools have not changed the approaches to ECM.  We are still solving the same problems in the same way we did in 1996.

And that is a pity…We have emerging challenges which are worth a look through “new eyes”.

We just need to check out the fridge with a fresh set of eyes. Finding the cold pizza or tossing it out may both be worthwhile…but either way demands “new eyes” and fresh approaches.


Tom Rouse, Principal Engineer at EMC
Tom has over 15 years of experience in designing and deploying EMC Documentum solutions.

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Categorised in: Content Management, Documentum, Enterprise Content Management

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