The Evolution of “ECM” into “Content Services”

the new world of content is about myriad devices generating intelligent content...

So here we are at the close of another year. I’ll dispense with all the lamenting about “how could it be the holidays already?” and “I’m going to be diligent about my 2018 resolutions” because, well, we’re all tired of hearing those things, right? Some things never change.

Of course, we’re in the business of change. When you’re in the technology industry, there’s no such thing as “stagnant.” Stay the same and you’re losing ground. You change, or you become obsolete. Think of it as economic Darwinism. If you don’t adopt new technology as it becomes available, your business is like a gimpy gazelle left behind by the herd.

As far back as 2003, the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) seemed to clearly state that Enterprise Content Management, or ECM, was “the strategy, method and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes.” By early 2016, Gartner was defining it as “a set of services and micro-services, embodied as either an integrated product suite or as separate applications that share commons APIs and repositories, to exploit diverse content types and to serve multiple constituencies and numerous use cases across an organization.” Phew.

If you made it through that paragraph unscathed, congratulations.

Over the years, the challenge of an ECM strategy has really been twofold: first, how to get organizations to understand its value. Second (and sometimes these two are reversed or even bound together), how do you explain to a potential adopter exactly what it is and what it does? Often times, the terminology gets in the way of that understanding. Its function may be clear, but the words get in the way. As time goes by, ECM strategy evolves to fit the needs of the moment.
Content Services is the path you follow to get there.

A New Wrinkle

Now there’s something new. It seems that use of “ECM” is going by the wayside. It is being replaced with the moniker “Content Services.” It’s important to understand the reasoning behind this shift.
According to Gartner’s 2017 report, the purpose of an ECM strategy is:

  1. Regulatory compliance and risk management
  2. Retention and dissemination of business knowledge
  3. Cost and process efficiencies
  4. Innovation and new ways of working

The ECM strategy – the dream – from the beginning of its coinage was to find a way to provide a centralized enterprise-wide platform to do it all. But as the years pass and reality intruded on that dream a bit, the recognition arose that that might not be possible – or even advisable.

In a blog post titled, “The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services,” Gartner’s Michael Woodbridge wrote:

“…a single platform to achieve these four goals…has proven to be almost impossible for most.  Of the four, ECM has been most successful in providing a platform for compliance. The other three are where more challenges are encountered. A centralized platform often requires complex integration to deliver information in the context of user activities and therefore knowledge sharing initiatives (goal 2) have met with slow adoption. A purely centralized platform can also be costly and time consuming to provide new innovation (goals 3 and 4).”

The Proliferation of Choice

A more workable solution is focusing less on “ECM” as a single application and more on the various content services applications that are available. Understanding what individual businesses and organizations are trying to achieve – a diverse prospect, indeed – can lead to the “crafting” of a solution that requires a synchronized collection – and usage – of various applications.

Think of it as less “a solution” and more “the right mix of solutions.”

By and large, legacy ECM solutions have poor adoption rates, can be cumbersome to implement and use, lack customizable features, and are costly. When you pair that reality with the recognition of the large influx of millennials into the workplace, you can begin to see the impending challenges of depending on staid systems. Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce in 2020. They are a techno-savvy group that wants – and expects – solutions fast, and they are not married to any one particular system or device. They use what works, and won’t settle for less.

The reality is that as we move into 2018, businesses do not function in isolation. We all know that success requires collaboration, whether that’s between individuals, departments, systems, or entire organizations. The consumerization of Information Technology is speeding up the necessity to erase the line between corporate and personal technology. And speed is essential, like never before.

The Way Forward

Whereas traditional content management may have dealt with paper and various productivity documents (e.g., spreadsheets and .pdfs), the new world of content services is about myriad devices generating intelligent content. It’s about being able to quickly and accurately classify that information and even access deep-dive analytics to decipher the meaning of that information.

Long story short? In the world of ECM, we’ve tended to assume that organizations need to purchase a full suite of content capabilities as a platform, even if they’re only going to be using a portion of its capabilities. Real-world experiences are showing us, however, that the same flexibility and diversity that make up the current IT/device marketplace are offering up opportunities to customize solutions. Who doesn’t like that?

As the New Year begins, why not resolve to focus on helping use today’s plethora of technology options to augment what organizations are doing in the pursuit of their ECM goals? Perhaps it’s not so much that ECM is “going away” inasmuch as it is that the definitions are changing. ECM might still be a way to describe the overall goal, but content services is the path you follow to get there.

Don’t let the words stand in the way of the message.

Posted by: Kelly Green
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