I’m Supposed to Stop Saying Enterprise Content Management?

A little hidden blog post on the Garnter website is stirring up conversations on the future of Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  In it they said,

“ECM is now dead (kaput, finite, an ex-market name), at least in how Gartner defines the market. It’s been replaced by the term Content Services, …”

Let’s ignore the fact that many of us have been saying for years that a single platform for ECM in an enterprise does not work.  It’s the feature functions of how we address ECM that is important.  In 2013, Laurence Hart, a.k.a. Pie, called it “Content Services”. Back in 2010, I was calling it “Library Services.”  I even cited it as a missed opportunity by EMC when it owned Documentum, by not bringing a Content Addressable Storage solution to the market that included Library Services.  None of us have said ECM is dead and let’s change the name.

It’s a fallacy that “Enterprise” means centralized. 

No dictionary defines “enterprise” as “centralized”.   Enterprise is about the organization.  “Enterprise Content Management” has meant to look at content across the enterprise and not departmentally.  Principles of enterprise content management look at defining organizational taxonomies, retention policies, and standards.

Could ECM have benefited from a single platform?  Vendors have said yes.  Though most knew the answer was a pipe dream.  Sure there are some implementations that have succeeded but it usually doesn’t last.  Some platforms are better for some solutions than others.  That means that you will see multiple vendors used to support ECM within an organization.

So then why not kill ECM?  It’s the principles of it.

The principles of Enterprise Content Management are well understood.  I argue that those principles will be lost and need to be relearned if we for some reason separate those requirements from vendors just because they managed documents in a different way.  Need proof?  Look at how both Microsoft SharePoint and Box ignored the principles of Enterprise Content Management at the beginning.

Need further proof?  Go further back.  No I’m not talking about when Document Management vendors like FileNet were on fixed hardware platforms and upstarts like Documentum and PC Docs entered the market.  They recognized the principles of document management.  They knew that electronic records were easier to find than paper ones.

Go back to 1999 at the birth of ECM, when Document Management, Web Content Management (WCM), and Digital Asset Management (DAM) merged to create ECM.  In those early days WCM vendors ignored the basic features like approval and reject graphical workflow and the inclusion of records management of web content.  When Documentum entered with Web Publisher it brought both of these to the market.  Showing it could be done made sure that Interwoven and Vignette knew that it had to be done.

Content Applications need to stop ignoring ECM principles.

Jumping forward to 2017, it’s all happening again.  The Gartner article talks about Content Applications.  I’ve been looking at Operational Content Solutions for the last few years.  Many of these solutions are being developed without ECM Principles.  For these vendors records management or digital signatures are “new” features.  But for those same solutions that have been built on ECM principles, not just on ECM platforms, these features have been core requirements.  Rarely are any of these new vendor landscapes held to the principles of ECM, even though they attempt to address content solutions.

Let’s learn, not forget.

It took Box ten years to truly start addressing ECM, as it went down a parallel winding road of EFSS.  Practitioners know if it’s “enterprise content”, no matter in what form, how it’s stored or where it’s used, there are management principles that need to be followed across the enterprise.

All changing the name does is to confuse the matter.  It a disservice to ECM to change the name as it continues to grow in understanding and acceptance.

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