ECM solutions aren’t always used for the same purposes. And in its latest report, Forrester analyst Cheryl McKinnon makes the case for viewing business content management and transactional content management through different lenses.

In “The Forrester Wave™: ECM Business Content Services, Q3 2015” (fee) main author McKinnon noted that transactional ECM centers around content that is created outside the enterprise and drives customer-focused processes (think of all the paperwork involved in an auto insurance claim — accident reports, repair estimates, etc.) and that business content ECM drives the day-to-day workplace experience and “typically originates inside the enterprise, but the growing need to work with external stakeholders — customers, partners, regulators and citizens — is changing how EA professionals assess their vendors and prioritize requirements.” 

Though some IT Managers may choose a single ECM solution provider or solution to cover all use cases, Forrester formally split its ECM Wave to help decision makers make choices according to their specific needs. And when it comes to selecting an ECM vendor for business content services, there's a plethora of choices. Nine of the eleven who merited mention in the Forrester Wave — IBM, EMC, Box, Microsoft, OpenText, M-Files, Alfresco, Lexmark, Everteam — won recognition as leaders while the remaining two — iManage and SpringCM — qualified as Strong Performers.

In the report McKinnon points out that though legacy ECM providers continue to lead the market, a whole new breed of providers now joins the pack. In fact, she considers Cloud and SaaS offerings to be “a credible alternative” for business content services.

She also points out that while a vendor's ability to address the primary needs of information workers is a key business driver, search, visualization and analytics are becoming more and more important as well.

Without further ado here are our thoughts and outtakes on the vendors that Forrester named business content services leaders. If you want greater detail and tools for evaluating your specific situation, they’re available from Forrester.

The Leaders of the Pack

IBM rules the roost with IBM Content Navigator. The house that Watson built not only understands ECM as it applies to business content, but also the business user who wants anytime, anywhere access via any screen. There may be a downside to acquiring all of that functionality: the licensing models that come with it. Still, if IBM’s share of the market is any indicator, it’s something that enterprises have been willing to do.

EMC seems to cover it all when it comes to ECM capabilities. Documentum and its newer client interfaces offer companies much of what they require including lifecycle management, search, content intelligence and so on. And when it comes to the future, the ECM provider’s relationships with EMC Federation members VMware and Pivotal will help pave the way for a new content platform. (We reported on Project Horizon in May.) That being said, it seems that EMC is late to the document-centric collaboration game. EMC has assured us that this won’t be the case for long.

Box is the unbloated ECM solution. OK, McKinnon didn’t use that term, but she did note that its “iterative, cloud-based delivery model is a differentiator.” And while Box, the vendor, and Box, the company is young compared to the likes of IBM and EMC, McKinnon seemed to be impressed by the actions the vendor is taking to bridge the gaps between what it currently offers and what the enterprise needs. There remains a point of uncertainty about Box’s business model … Forrester is keeping an eye on it.

M-Files offers a unique, strong, metadata-centric approach, wrote McKinnon, calling it “a welcome move away from the skeuomorphic folder-based interface used by most ECM vendors.” Its hybrid cloud model may be something that enterprises in highly regulated industries find comfort in. If M-Files has a downside that needs addressing, based on what we’ve read in the report, it’s its market presence. Only Everteam, among the nine Forrester Wave Leaders, appears to have a smaller footprint.

Alfresco stands out for being something beyond “open” for a change. It’s great that McKinnon chose to put that tired recording on mute and pointed to some of the other benefits it brings to enterprises such as “a relatively modern architecture” and “interoperability, usability, hybrid cloud alternatives.” Alfresco still has work to do in a few areas, market presence being one of them.

OpenText has the stuff that IT loves according to the Forrester analysis (and former OpenText employee). It has a long track record in meeting the compliance requirements of companies in highly regulated areas. McKinnon also highlighted the collaboration capabilities that Tempo brings to its mix and the cloud capabilities it provides. The user experience, though, could use some work. Maybe there’s a new experience and UI in the pipeline, but if there is, a little articulation around it might be in order.

Everteam could be dubbed "the wallflower that has it all" but its lack of market presence makes it fade into the crowd. Aside from basic ECM capabilities, McKinnon spotlighted its content analytics and optional “semantic analysis and categorization based on machine learning enhance sophisticated search.” There are a few things other than marketing that Everteam still needs to work on which the report details.

Microsoft may just become the gateway to the cloud for many enterprises. McKinnon pointed to Office 365 and Sharepoint Online as the company’s area of cloud innovation including file sync and share and social graphing. Sharepoint has been widely embraced by companies for document management and collaboration. Its integration and interoperability capabilities are noteworthy. Though Microsoft came to the ECM market later than EMC, IBM and OpenText, its footprint is just as big. Enterprises may need to reach out to Microsoft partners for some functionalities though, according to McKinnon.

Can Lexmark become the 800 pound gorilla of the ECM world? That question belongs to CMSWire’s own David Roe and not McKinnon. Why it’s worth mentioning, is that Lexmark has shopped its way into a formidable ECM platform that, according to Forrester, provides a “strong set of business content services offerings, including document management, enterprise search, file sync-and-share and life-cycle management,” among others. It is poised to evolve to a next-generation modular content platform, Perceptive Evolution. Are there shortcomings? Of course, but Forrester’s Wave report indicates that there are ways of filling the gaps as well.

Too Many Good Choices?

It’s rare to hear an IT manager call the process of selecting software a coin toss, and we don’t foresee this happening in the world of business content management services. In fact, we think that IT managers and the business are going to have a big job on their hands trying to figure out which vendors they should consider. Clearly written reports like this should help.