You've heard many predictions on enterprise content management in 2011 from the tools and technology perspective. Now let's step back and examine what's to come from a business-centric perspective.

ECM is About More than Technology

There are a lot of “ECM trends for 2011” already piling up out there, so I’m a bit hesitant to add one more to the bunch. But in reading over the 2011 trends posts available now, they seem to be very technology-focused, talking about what capabilities or functionality will rise and fall in 2011, how organizations will be buying (or not buying) ECM tools, what vendors will acquire or get acquired and so on.

What I haven’t seen much of is trends for Enterprise Content Management approached as an organizational strategy rather than just a set of technology applications.

So with that in mind, I figured I might was well throw my hat into the ring and prognosticate along with the best of them, but from a more business-centric perspective.

Here, then, are my ECM trends for 2011:

  1. Business value will be king
  2. ECM will become increasingly concerned with managing content within cross-functional, value-chain activities
  3. Organizations will address the people and process dimensions of ECM in order to get more out of their current (and future) investments in technology
  4. The seeds of SharePoint’s demise are already sown

You’re probably saying, “Hey, number four isn’t about business, it’s about ECM technology.” You’re right -- it is. But as you’ll see below, I come at ECM technologies from the angle of business innovation rather than features and functionality, which makes me feel a little better about including it here.

1. Business value will be King

The biggest trend in 2011 will be the increasing importance of demonstrable business value, rather than technological innovation, as a driver in the ECM space. This is another way of saying that, if there isn’t going to be a tangible, meaningful impact on the business from ECM (or anything else, for that matter), it won’t get done in 2011.

Of course, we’ve been talking about technology not being an end in itself for a long time now, ECM or otherwise; but I think it’s safe to say that this has been more aspirational than descriptive of how IT has actually been practiced.

This rising importance of business results for ECM is not coming out of nowhere -- over the last eighteen months, the evolution of the IT function towards “CIO 2.0”, the maturation of the ECM domain and the protracted recession have come together to increase the importance of business value to all things ECM.

But by the end of 2011, even if the economy is on the road to recovery, the landscape of ECM will have been permanently shifted, and accountability for business results will be a core expectation going forward.

2. ECM will become increasingly concerned with managing content within cross-functional, value-chain activities

A close second to the centrality of business value as an ECM driver will be the focus on enabling complex, cross-functional processes at the value chain level, e.g., supporting the customer communication value chain or managing lifecycles (assets, customers, products).

Two things are driving this. First, most large organizations have tackled the sweet spot, first wave enterprise content management applications, e.g., enabling paperless, straight-through processing of high-volume transactions (bank account openings, insurance claims, credit card processing). Second, the rapid emergence and adoption of social collaboration among the workforce is putting pressure on organizations to deliver similar levels of functionality to what employees are used to in their personal computing lives.

Given both of these, what we’ll see by the end of 2011 is the declining appetite for traditional ECM applications relative to more collaborative, cross-functional ones.

3. Organizations will address the people and process dimensions of ECM in order to get more out of their current (and future) investments in technology

Ok, so it doesn’t take a genius to predict that organizations will try to do more with less in 2011. But there’s different ways to do more with less, and in the ECM space, it will be by shifting focus away from the technology in use and toward the people who use it and the processes they use it for.

Some of this will be tied into the rising importance of ECM business value -- to get the full value out of a piece of technology, you have to focus on the people and processes it intersects with. Some of this will be tied into the recession -- when IT budgets are flat (or nearly so), organizations will need to find creative ways to improve technology without buying more software or hardware.

But I think the most important driver for the focus on the people and process dimensions of ECM is the maturity of ECM as a domain.

We’re past the point where the newness of the technology and what it can do is a focal point. Whether because organizations have grown used to ECM functionality in general or they’ve gotten burned in the past by chasing the hottest new application/module/vendor as a silver bullet, I’ve seen an increased focus in the last twelve months on people/process initiatives like center of excellence design, policies and procedures, process redesign, solution packaging, and content inventory and assessments.

As 2011 unfolds, I think this trend will continue in the ECM space as organizations work to do more with less throughout the year.

4. The seeds of SharePoint’s demise are already sown

For those of you interested in disruptive innovation, this prediction will not come as a surprise at all. SharePoint’s success to date has come in large part from Microsoft’s positioning the product as a disruption to the market leading solutions out there, i.e., “big ECM” solutions like IBM FileNet, EMC Documentum and Open Text.

But as one of my ECM heroes, Lee Dallas will tell you, “SharePoint is big ECM.” And so, if we believe the theorists of disruptive innovation, the next disruption is already out there, lying in wait to dethrone SharePoint just as it reaches its goal and stands side-by-side with (or even begins to loom larger than) big ECM.

And although it’s hard today to imagine precisely what this disruption will be, I think that by the time 2011 is through, it’ll be easier to see.

Here are some of the likely suspects, along with my guess on the over/under that they'll be the successor to SharePoint as ECM disruptor:

Cloud Document Management

Provides hosted document management (DM) functionality outside the firewall, from basic content creation, storage and access, to sharing and collaboration workflow (e.g., box.net or Google docs).

  • Verdict - Maybe for small businesses, but for medium- and large-sized firms, I just don't see them letting their content go outside the firewall. And I don't think this is a matter of "getting comfortable" with cloud DM -- the risks a Global 2000 firm would have to assume to use box.net in an enterprise way just seem too great to me for most of them ever to embrace this approach.

Social business software (SBS)

A range of technologies that bring "Facebook to the enterprise" through capabilities like microblogging, internal and external user communities, expertise management, folksonomy, etc. (e.g., Jive, Drupal).

  • Verdict - In theory, I think SBS has a lot of potential to disrupt SharePoint (and the ECM market in general). However, they face a serious threat from Microsoft, which, if it bolstered SharePoint's SBS capabilities, could cross the "good enough" line and grab huge market share in this space. The deciding factor, to me, is whether a clear leader in the SBS market will emerge soon enough to get a foothold before Microsoft rolls out improved SBS functionality in SharePoint.

Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS)

A "Content Domain Model [that] defines a way to abstract the structure of any content repository into a common framework" (8 Things You Need to Know About the CMIS Standard) allowing for easier repository-to-repository and application-to-repository integration irrespective of vendor or platform.

  • Verdict - This is the winner in my book, for a bunch of reasons. First, it makes federated content management a viable approach -- we can finally let the dream of "one repository to rule them all" die. Second, it gives organizations wider latitude in building an ECM application portfolio -- they no longer have to choose between accepting a single vendor (with all the associated strengths and weaknesses in their particular ECM stack) or trying to wrangle a variety of ECM applications into an uneasy and often kludgy coexistence. Third, it will enable the development of mobile ECM applications for mobile devices -- need I say more? SharePoint (and all you other ECM players) look out.

The Final Word

So there you have it, my best guess as to the (mostly) business-focused ECM trends for 2011. Would love to hear what folks out there think and maybe even get a good, heated debate going -- jump right in, and let’s get the conversation started!