For years I have believed in the Highlander principal (from the movie of the same name) for enterprise content management (ECM), There Can Be Only One. I lived and breathed that mantra back at the millennial. The belief was that only one repository was what was needed for an ECM platform. That was right then but it’s no longer right today. Well I guess you can change the inflection, “Yeah, there can be only one.”
There Can Be Only One – 2000
Spin back the clock to 1999. There are companies that offer enterprise document management (EDMS) like Documentum, FileNet, and Open Text. There are web content management (WCM) companies like Interwoven and Vignette. There were a few digital asset management (DAM) companies like Artesia and Bulldog. The feeling was that one could not do the other’s jobs. WCM companies stated that EDMS could not be used to re-purpose content for the web. But what was HTML but a flavor of XML (and by association SGML). And XML was what good EDMS companies did well. DAM companies argued that you could manage images in an EDMS or WCM platform. But both, EDMS and WCM, had been doing so.
So as the term Enterprise Content Management came to be, it was a statement that all unstructured content in an organization could be managed at the enterprise level. That one platform could be used to: manage your marketing message in both PDF and HTML, HTML rendition could be published from within that same platform out to the web, and images could be managed for distribution to both channels. In those days the multiple channels were easy, even when you brought in mobile. It wasn’t long until every vendor’s battle cry was, “There Can Be Only One!”
At the time, one ECM platform could handle your EDMS, WCM, and DAM needs. But then time, as it does, moved on. What about high-volume scanning you say? And COLD? ECM can do that too. Oh really a lot of images? Sure, it can do that. And eDiscovery? Sure you can search across different repositories? Email archiving? Yeah, it can do that? Right?
There can be only one – 2015
Today the enterprise landscape is a little different and the idea that only One repository is what’s needed is becoming a less a certainty. ECM has stepped back and now looks primarily at EDMS and legacy content management. Many websites are moving towards Web Experience Management and that is beyond what is handled by basic WCM. WEM functionality also doesn’t easily translate to other ECM business problems. DAM still falls under ECM, but there are cases where high quality print is needed or rich processing that most ECM platforms can’t support. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be only one and it also doesn’t mean that there needs to be more than one.
An ECM solution needs to look at all of an enterprise’s content first. All companies, and their content, are not the same. Not every company has, or needs, to have a complex website. Not every company needs or has to have large image libraries. Not every company has boxes and boxes of paper. It’s not about, one size fits all, but one size fits most. It’s on us as content management professions to not only understand what the organizations content needs are today but what they will be for the realistic near future.
Now some will says, “But Marko you’re talking about the mid-market.” First, that’s not the case. As I was looking for reference points, I was surprised that I didn’t need to break out of the top 5 of the Fortune 500 to find an example. I wasn’t out of the top 25 before I had several more. Second, so what if I am talking about the mid-market? In the US there are over 11,000 large companies, those with more than 1,000 employees. There are over 200,000 companies in the mid-market, 100 to 1,000 employees. There are over 89,000 local governments. Add the international market and what more will you find.
The Right Solution to the Right Problem
The lesson of “There Can be Only One” needs to continue. Basic enterprise content management should continue to be possible with one platform for the average organization. And as ECM practitioners, we need to know which tool is the best fit. Because in the end, there can be only one.
I agree with the importance of the market tiers. The majority of vendors still take a very 90’s approach to evaluating the relative “importance” of markets not realizing that the cloud changed the economics of that discussion just as much as it did the architecture.
That said – I do not now believe that over time ONE is ever achievable in any organization of any size. This is an ideal fueled by a religion founded on practices that try to set themselves apart from the businesses that pay for them. I was trained to think that one is goal. Practicality and experience have taught me that there will always be more than one so plan for it. The goal then for me is a fewer with well defined roles.