There’s lots of talk about how Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is dead or dying. Some say it’s a vendor category coined to give a name to bloated, one-size-fits-all software products that eschewed a real understanding of user requirements in favor of a Swiss Army Knife approach that sought to be everything to everybody -- and wound up being truly useful only to a handful.

Others say that it’s a specialist creation, coined by consultants and industry talking heads to make it easier to promote their own expertise, drum up traffic for their blogs, and sell more services to clients.

Yet others say that ECM is a once-useful domain that’s outlived its usefulness. It made sense once upon a time, but the new modes of content creation, sharing and consumption have made it obsolete alongside systems of engagement and record, information lifecycle management and the rest.

I think all of this has more to do with a narrow focus on semantics than anything real or substantive. The way I see it, organizations do only four things: manage financial assets, manage physical assets, manage human assets and manage information assets. ECM and all the associated alphabet soup of acronyms (RM, RIM, IG, ILG, ILM, IM, EIM) are simply a variety of ways to put a label on managing information assets properly (or at least better).

Given that, to talk about it as dead or dying is just plain silly. Organizations of all types will always need to manage their information assets well and, like diet and exercise, the day will never come when they can forget about it and get back to business -- managing information is at the heart of doing business.

A Better Way to Think About It

I tend to look at the issue of the death of ECM in terms of the four boxer shown in Figure 1, which is a standard way to map out services to marketplace demand.

Shepley June FIGURE 1.jpgFigure 1 – Services Mapped to Marketplace Perception vs. Operational Difficulty

Typically, a new domain (or the services created to address it) start out in the top right, i.e., the marketplace perceives the domain as difficult or challenging and the domain is in fact difficult to provide services for (a.k.a., brain surgery). An example of a domain currently in this quadrant would be the internet of things.

Over time domains more to the left and down as practitioners get more adept at addressing them and the marketplace gains experience with it. Eventually, domains that once were cutting edge, brain surgery endeavors become commodities -- easy to deliver, low value activities.

The Evolution of ECM

Taking this framework as a starting point, we can plot the evolution of ECM against the four boxer as shown in Figure 2.

Shepley June FIGURE 2.jpg

Figure 2 – ECM Mapped to Marketplace Perception vs. Operational Difficulty