Is ECM Dead?

By Lubor Ptacek posted 06-01-2011 10:56

  

I got invited to participate in the expert blog on ECM (enterprise content management) and, in my usually subtle way, I thought I’d take the bull by the horns by asking the tough question: “Is ECM still relevant?” There have been some calls lately suggesting that the answer is no. I am not so sure, though. So, let’s look at the reasons why ECM should or should not go away:

Time’s up, ECM, because:

1. The definition of ECM is unclear. The best definition we can think of is “anything to do with content.” Even the analyst firms disagree on the ECM subcategories. Is portal part of ECM? No? So why is Web content management (WCM) part of ECM then? Are you saying that digital asset management (DAM) is not part of ECM and yet WCM is? Are you suggesting customers should built their websites without rich media? How about social software? How about search? Ask 10 people and you get 10 different responses.

2. ECM vendors aren’t consistent. IBM keeps the transactional and the business content management capabilities not only in separate groups, but also under separate brands - i.e., FileNet and Lotus. EMC is trying really hard to convince the market that archiving is not part of ECM by establishing a separate brand (SourceOne). Adobe acquired Omniture without asking the market for permission to add Web analytics to ECM. Similarly, OpenText, the largest pure-play ECM vendor (and yes, my employer) recently acquired a BPM vendor, Metastorm. And then there is Microsoft, liberally using the label of ECM for SharePoint even though the analyst argue that only a small percentage of SharePoint use cases could be considered as ECM.

3. Customers don’t buy ECM. I don’t see many RFPs today where the customer is planning to buy an ECM system. Customers want to buy a solution for their business problem. And not many seem to have the “ECM problem.” There seem to be simply too many problems that ECM can address - from compliance to accounts payable and from employee communication to customer experience online. Is it perhaps pointless to try to combine all these business problems under a single category label?

4. The term ECM in itself is not very good. As a marketer, I must complain - “ECM” doesn’t convey the value proposition. The word “management” is too controlling. How could that possibly stretch to something as spontaneous as social media? Also, isn’t the word “enterprise” kind of redundant? Nobody says Enterprise Business Intelligence. Besides, the term enterprise content management is not broadly known. I go to many tradeshows and conferences and repeatedly have to keep answering the question; “what is content management?”

These are pretty good reasons to move on from the term ECM, right? But then again, here are some points we should consider...

Before We Deep-six ECM:

1. Is it just the name or the category that is wrong? We may not like the name but there is still a need to manage content and content is what all these applications have in common. Managing content is not easy because it requires rather sophisticated technologies to capture and ingest, analyze and classify, store, secure and retain, optimize, find, reuse, integrate, and publish content. Maybe ECM is the wrong category name but all of these technologies are valid and have one thing in common - content.

2. The key industry stakeholders are keeping ECM. Just look at all the blogs that have “content,” “content management” or ECM in their name. Gartner and Forrester keep updating their ECM Magic Quadrant and ECM Wave reports. The investment community recognizes ECM as a category. The key industry standard in the content space is called the Content Management Interoperability Standard (CMIS). And, many vendors - from Microsoft to Oracle to OpenText - are continuing to use the term ECM. Those are all points in favor of the recognition ECM enjoys today.

3. Customers do buy into the idea of ECM. Yes, I know. I said that nobody buys ECM and that’s correct. Customers are buying solutions to their specific problems. But they do appreciate the value of leveraging the same set of technologies for multiple solutions. Providing all the ECM technologies in an integrated manner is a really good thing for customers.

In the end, the market will decide whether or not ECM is still a valid category. Not a single vendor, not a really smart analyst, and not the blogosphere. The market in this case is the critical mass of all participants including vendors and - of course - customers.

The term ECM may not be perfect but no viable substitute has emerged so far. While several vendors tried to replace ECM, no term has succeeded to get even a fraction of the recognition that ECM has today. ECM isn’t perfect. It is limited, poorly defined, and maybe even a bit old fashioned. But unless we have a new term to use that gets adopted by the market, we are stuck with ECM.



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