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Why the Name “Enterprise Content Management” Matters

There has been a lot of conversation since one industry analyst announcemed of the death of Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  I wrote about why the name change is such a big deal, in an article which was originally posted on Document Strategy.  Practitioners like Laurence Hart, a.k.a. Word of Pie, have said that the name doesn’t really matter because we still do the same thing. ECM will be in a state of constant change, as will growing technology. Steve Weissman, a.k.a. the InfoGov Guy, points out that we need to look at the customer first when we talk about name change.    We need to make sure that if  we choose to change the name, that change helps the customer.

Personally I like what this guy said:

 “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish.”

― Confucius, The Analects

Let’s be Pragmatic About this

It is true that to ECM practitioners, it really doesn’t matter what we call this space.  The Information Professional should be able to describe how her platform can be used to solve business requirements in business terms.  Our ability to communicate complex topics in understandable terms for the users is what makes our skills so valuable.  The job of simplifying communication should start at the beginning by defining what we do.  What value does it add to have to define the market definition in every kickoff meeting?

Many marketers in high-tech follow the Pragmatic Marketing approach.  Pragmatic Marketing takes an outside in look at product marketing.  It starts with the customer and looks at both the customer’s buyer and user personas.  Pragmatic Marketing says that both of these personas are used to develop the product message.  Following a Pragmatic approach, naming is not a declaration but a process.  While Pragmatic Marketing looks at individual companies or products, those concepts can be used to look at the ECM industry.  It is crucial that we look at the name change from the customer’s view.

The User and Buyer Personas of ECM

Think back to a new project, internal or external to your organization, with end users that are new to this solution space.  What did you do for the first part of your meeting?  I bet you defined what was meant by “Enterprise Content Management” so “everyone can be on the same page.”  What a waste of time.  Since I started in this career, I’ve sat through thousands of meetings with end users, management, and procurement.  I did some quick math and figured out I probably spent more time explaining what Enterprise Content Management meant to users in a year than I did on vacation.  (That sigh you just made was you agreeing with my statement.)

The average customer starts on the road to ECM by having a document problem.  They are looking to manage a collection of documents that has gotten out of control.  They are looking to speed up an authoring or review process for a document.  They have a need to address an audit or regulatory requirement around a document.  If there were no documents at the center of the challenge they would be looking at accounting, enterprise resource planning, or customer relationship management solutions.

These users end up buying a solution that’s marketed today as either “document management”, “enterprise content management”, or a content specific solution (like Contract Lifecycle Management) based on the path that they take.  “Content” is rarely the first thought that comes to their mind.  I’ve looked at finding an ECM solution on-line from a customer’s perspective.  It’s not easy.  A user finds their way to ECM but could easily find solutions that are marketed as “document management”, “contract management” or “employee file management”.

Should we change the name?

The practitioner in me agrees that it shouldn’t matter what we practitioners call this space among ourselves.  To practitioners, enterprise content management, document management, and even contracts lifecycle management are the same thing.  To most analysts, who should also be practitioners, these are different markets.  OpenText, eFilecabinet, and Exari can all be used to solve the same challenge that a customer has around contracts.  The customer should be made aware of this.

Changing a term that has become accepted over the last 15 years is dangerous.  It fragments the market even more.  Managing documents isn’t complex.  How we define it should not be complex either.  The only thing a complex name does is ensure that someone needs to explain what is meant by the term.  The cost of changing the term ECM is not a metaphor.  It’s billable at $200 per hour.


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