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ECM is Not A Solution, It’s a Platform

I think it is time that ECM platform vendors face facts; Enterprise Content Management is not “A” solution.  I’m not saying that you can’t build a solution on an ECM.  In fact, document based solutions should be built on ECM platforms.  But there’s more to most solutions than just the document.

When ECM software first hit the market the challenge was simply finding or managing documents.  Today, businesses understand their needs around documents are evolving, even for those that have never heard of ECM.  They are not looking to just simply manage documents anymore.  They are also managing specific business processes that include documents as major or minor components.

Yet many ECM vendors are still having the same conversation.  “Sure we can manage document versions.”  Isn’t it time we elevated the conversation?  Customers buy solutions to solve “Business Problems”?  The need for managing documents is just the tip of the problem.

Let’s Talk Accounts Payable

Accounts Payable is probably the best examples of why ECM is not “A” solution.  First off, let me define the AP process in the U.S. at a high-level.  After a supplier ships goods to their customer, the supplier sends an invoice to the customer.  This can be a paper invoice or an electronic one, with the majority today being paper.  Of course ECM also looks at the global nature of any solution.  In several countries, e-invoicing is required by the government.  This completely eliminates the need for scanning.  Mexico, for instance, has no paper in its AP process.

Often when ECM vendors talk about AP, their focus is on the ability to extract customer name and P.O. number, extract line item details, and perform data validation.  Next is how the system ties these images to its ERP solution.  Rarely are supplier’s e-invoicing initiatives considered, as EDI does not tie to ECM.  But e-invoicing is usually a major initiative for most CFO’s.  An AP solution needs to address, or at least acknowledge, the need for processing both paper and electronic invoices.  Then there the other related processes to AP that need to be addressed.

AP exceptions occur with both paper and EDI transactions.  The exceptions process includes reference documents and communications that also need to be managed.  Some of these reference documents may be contracts with the customer.  While contract management is often a solution onto itself, the actual contract documents can be a key component to exceptions documents and should be available.

Following in Oracle’s Footsteps

When Oracle’s first database came out in 1978 the company was very different than it is today.  Their solution was about storing numbers and letters.  Thinking back to the late 90’s, almost every conversation about relational databases would take about an hour and would end up with a conversation about “case sensitive” searches.   In conversations today, I usually get one question about the database, “What versions of Oracle do you support?”   But I may spend an hour talking about Oracle Applications support.  Is this to say that Oracle does not care about the RDBS?  No, it’s a big part of their business.  Oracle knows that most customers are looking to buy an Oracle ERP solution, not build an ERP on top of an Oracle RDBS.

ECM vendors need to be promoting a business solution, not just how ECM addresses a business problem.

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