To the ECM Industry, “We are not alone!”

The Enterprise Content Management (ECM) industry is quickly coming to a junction.  One I believe is as big as in 2000 when Electronic Document Management (EDMS), Web Content Management (WCM), and Digital Asset Management Vendors (DAM) came together to form Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  While ECM vendors have been pushing the strength of a single unified platform to manage content, niche players have been focusing on solving individual business problems.  But that’s changing.

Departmental Solutions Have a Foot Hold

Vendors in AP Processing, Contract Management, and Employee File Management have been around for some time.  ECM vendors call them niche players.  These back office solution vendors have emerged because they talk to the business users.  They know how to talk about days sales outstanding, evergreen contracts or fines for missing I-9 documents, daily terminology for their business audience.   When they talk about technology they say things like, “when you ‘draft’ your contract in Word.”  Rather than saying ‘authoring’ or ‘creating’.

Platform vendors usually don’t speak in back office terminology.  They focus on the IT message.  That’s fine if one remembers to talk to the business users in their own terms.  Often it’s hard for someone that’s IT focused to be able to talk in back office terminology, especially when they are also lumped into a commercial vertical.  Regular use of business terminology is seen when talking about line of business solutions in name verticals, like Aerospace or Healthcare.

When platform vendors run into back office vendors, they rely upon the “enterprise” strategy.  The conversation revolves around being able to support large volumes of documents in various departments with one platform.  This has worked very well when departmental solutions have stood on their own solving a single department’s challenges.  But this is changing.

Departmental Solutions Are Going Enterprise

Some of these departmental solutions are starting to offer solutions in several back office areas.  Solution vendors like Converge Point and Exari are starting to offer solutions in more than one department.  This will push other vendors to develop new solutions to keep up.

ECM vendors may be seeing the signs.  Some ECM platform vendors like EMC Documentum, M-Files and Newgen Software are starting to push their departmental story on their websites.  Microsoft has several partners building back office solutions strategies on top of SharePoint.  Some of the other ECM platforms also have solutions built on them, though not as easy to identify.

Why Haven’t We Heard Of This Before                        

Strong departmental solutions have existed before.  Those that remember IXOS software know that its products strength came from its ability to integrate tightly with the ERP process, a specific solution.   OpenText saw this and acquired IXOS in 2003.  This came a year after Records Management vendors were acquired by Documentum (TrueArc) and IBM (Tarian) in a two-week period.  These departmental solutions became part of the ECM platform.  In 2006, Gartner tried to put a label on some of these vendors calling them Content Enabled Vertical Applications (CEVA).  It didn’t stick.

For those that remember the early days in Enterprise Content Management, you may remember the naysayer statements that Web Content Management, Digital Asset Management, and Records Management didn’t belong with Document Management Systems.    In hindsight we now understood that Enterprise Content Management made sense.  This juncture is just as important.  In the coming years we will see ECM Platform Vendors focusing more on the business message and  Departmental Vendors expanding with solutions for more departments within the enterprise.  Individual stories will be written.

Who will be the next OpenText?  The next Documentum?  The next Interwoven?  Will we ever see the ECM equivalent of an Oracle?  Only time will tell.

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