Enterprise Content Management is too Vague

Almost a year ago, I posted an article about the challenge of keeping up with all of the various competitors in the Enterprise Content Management landscape.   Having been in the ECM industry for 18 years, people expect you to know “every” vendor.  The problem is you can easily discover a dozen new vendors with a little trying.  In fact, while writing this post I discovered over a dozen vendors I had not heard of before.  I had to ask myself why? 

The Vendor Translator

I feel that a critical part of my job as a consultant is to be a translator between the vendor and the customer.  I constantly find myself in situations where a customer thinks they are saying one thing and our vendor team thinks they are saying another, and be the one that realizes that they are saying the same thing but in different ways.  Often the slight nuances can lock up a conversation for hours.

So when a customer looks to solve their ECM problem, what does the customer call their challenge?  When they first start, I think they want to “Manage Electronic Documents”.  The search for “Manage Electronic Documents” returns five vendors; eFile Cabinet, Legal Software Systems, Loris Technologies, Paperless Environments, and OnBase.  That same search also starts the vocabulary lesson with all of the various acronyms:

  • DMS – Document Management System
  • EDMS – Electronic Document Management System
  • CMS – Content Management System
  • ECM – Enterprise Content Management
  • File Sharing

Searching for each of these slowly starts to build the vendor landscape.  But do we really need all of these terms to define the same thing?  Don’t these just make the landscape more confusing?  Just look at a vendor’s module names over different releases.

180 Words for Snow

There’s an old saying that the Eskimo’s have fifty words for snow.  I would say that Enterprise Content Management has at least a hundred for “managing electronic documents”.   But at their core they mean mostly the same thing.

So I think like a language translator.  I think of ECM as a language family like Spanish and the various vendors vocabularies as regional dialects.  Some terms describing others are closer to others.  Think of vendor terms versions, revisions, and iterations between instances of the same document.  There can also be some huge differences in the way vendors look at the same term.  “Graphical workflow” usually means a drag-and-drop interface for creating workflow that requires no coding.  Yet I know of at least one vendor whose”graphical workflow” creates a coding skeleton and includes no workflow logic.

Vendor representatives need to make ECM technology easier to understand and not more confusing.  I always feel I’m in an odd place when I have to say to a customer, “yes it is like ___ but we call it ___.”  I remember working in healthcare and instead of the system managing Electronic Medical Record or Electronic Health Records we were told to use the term Hybrid Health Record.  Not surprisingly, the definition we had for a HHR is not what the industry calls a Hybrid Health Record today.  It was really just a waste of five minutes in every presentation.

Clearing the Confusion

Over the next few months I will be mapping the ECM landscape from a solutions view.  It will be from the view of the customer, who is looking to solve a business problem.  Something for those at the start of their ECM journey.  I’m starting with what I call “the Big Three” solutions; Accounting, Human Resources, and Legal.  These are solutions that exist in every organization.  Along the way, I’ll share my thoughts and results.

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