Like It or Not ECM Has Changed

While we are caught up debating the term Enterprise Content Management (ECM), we are missing the fact that ECM technology has already changed.  Last week Gartner clarified their statement on the end of ECM. While the need to manage content, a.k.a. documents, with an enterprise strategy still remains, the technology we use to manage that content is changing.  This change requires new methods to manage that content.  The passionate debate on the terminology of ECM gives false hope to those that don’t see changes in the way organizations manage content.  So it’s time we separate these two discussions.

Content is No Longer Managed in ECM and EFSS Solutions Alone

When Electronic File Sync and Share (EFSS) solutions first emerged, ECM barely took notice.  The fact that EFSS made sharing content easier than sharing with an ECM solution wasn’t enough to register on most vendors’ radar.  ECM was about authoring content, not consuming content.  By 2010, ECM solutions started to see EFSS as a threat.  The consumer of content’s role was becoming more important.  But as the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We are in the middle of a similar situation today.  Many ECM and EFSS solutions miss that organizations no longer need to build solutions from scratch to solve thier business problems.  Business specific solutions that manage content have emerged in almost every business process.  Over the last year I’ve been following the Contract Life Cycle Management (CLM) landscape closely.  Other than solutions from M-Files and OpenText, no other ECM or EFSS address the needs of CLM.  And this is just one vendor landscape.

The size of this content shift can be seen by looking at the market cap of the leaders in each space.

  • ECM vendor, OpenText (NASDAQ: OTXT) was founded in 1991 and had an IPO in 1996. It had a market cap of $8.8b in April 2017.
  • EFSS vendor, Box (NYSE: BOX) was founded in 2001 and had an IPO in 2015. It had a market cap of $2.2b in April 2017.
  • CLM vendor, Coupa (NASDAQ: COUP) was founded in 2006 and had an IPO in 2016. It had a market cap of $1.4b in April 2017.

CLM solutions not offered by ECM vendors are rarely ever built on ECM platforms.  While many have been built on SharePoint only a few have been built on top of ECM platforms and none are currently considered leaders in the space.  This fragmentation is bringing back content silos.

Addressing Silos Requires Content Services

These content silos are causing a reemergence of what Gartner calls content services.  Common partner technologies of ECM are finding their way to these new business specific solutions.  Some of these technologies have been acquired by ECM platforms in an effort to create total solutions.

Electronic Signatures vendors like DocuSign who were focused on ECM vendors like Documentum, OpenText and FileNet are now working with solutions vendors like Coupa.  Signatures are a key requirement for contracts and obviously one of the first partner technologies to emerge.  But other services will follow.

Records Management and eDiscovery is the next obvious content service to reemerge.  It is a common misbelief that records management is easy.  This is not up for debate, it is a fact that most people think records management means we simply delete everything or we keep everything.  When you really get down to it the nuances of each type of document the rules are complex.  It does not become any easier with a business specific solution.

Then there are the hidden services, like storage services.  Many people think it’s easy to manage a hundred thousand documents.  Of course you hit folder and file limits on NTFS at 4.5m objects. Network Addressable Storage (NAS) will get you around some of those challenges.  Then of course there are cloud implementations.  Anyone that thinks working with half a billion or more documents is easy has probably never worked with half a billion objects.  Storage services like integrations to NAS devices will be the first ones to emerge.

Many of these challenges would have been addressed by ECM vendors, and some still may be, but content services are reemerging.  The content services solutions will be a subset of the existing ECM partner ecosystems.  ECM partner solutions specific to business processes may fall away while those that support multiple business processes will find new life with business specific solution ecosystems.  Content services will be part of the future, be they integrated to ECM, EFSS, or business specific solutions.

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