upside down
Multiple changes over the last few years are turning enterprise content management on its head PHOTO: Tim Gouw

We've seen enough change in the past 12 months to last a lifetime.

From politics, to baseball, to the arts: the only thing we've learned to expect is the unexpected.

The past 12 months have also proven pivotal for content management. Leading enterprise content management (ECM) companies such as Xerox, HP, Kofax, Lexmark and Documentum either split up or were acquired — or both! 

And in January Gartner announced it was "retiring" the term ECM, proclaiming “ECM is now dead” and would be replaced by something called “Content Services,” setting loose a cottage industry of commentary by the ECM chattering classes — myself included.

The Changing Face of Content Management

The conversation about the utility of the term enterprise content management was underway long before Gartner’s pronouncement. 

Late in 2015, Forrester split the market into two parts: 1)Transactional Content Services and 2) Business Content Services, with the former aligning most closely to 'traditional' ECM. This distinction is quite useful as we think about content management moving forward. Forrester analyst Cheryl McKinnon provided a good description of business content in its latest Wave report for Business Content Services:

“Business content drives the day-to-day workplace experience. Business content typically originates inside the enterprise, but the growing need to work with external stakeholders — customers, partners, regulators, and citizens — is changing how EA pros assess vendors and prioritize requirements. Business content includes familiar formats such as office documents, spreadsheets, email, and multimedia. The content may be formal (with structured templates or forms) or informal (created ad hoc).”

Going back a bit further, in early 2015 AIIM released "Content Management 2020: Thinking Beyond ECM" which concluded:

“The combined impact of consumerization, cloud and mobile, and the Internet of Things are rapidly signaling the end of the ECM Era. Organizations are struggling with best practices and norms as they make the transition to this new era dominated by Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, and Collaborative technologies, and the solution providers that are part of this change are struggling with their identity as an industry. We at the cusp of a new era, still to be defined … ECM needs to become PART of the puzzle, rather than the puzzle itself.”

At the core of all this is a change in the underlying assumption of what content management is all about. 

It's About the Business

ECM in the traditional context was not designed for people who needed to work with content daily, but for those who needed to record the content.

And yet as more and more content tools with consumer origins started drifting into the enterprise space in the last five years, we continued trying to apply a traditional ECM 'frame' to the task of managing this new content. Our fundamental assumptions of how we viewed content challenges remained those of 'traditional' ECM.  

This approach ran into two problems: 1) most organizations didn’t actually have a single ECM repository, but multiple, process-specific repositories; and 2) traditional ECM was not flexible nor dynamic enough — and not nearly user-friendly enough — to manage the rapid ebb and flow and volume of knowledge worker content.  

By 2015, over 60 percent of organizations with mature ECM environments reported serious challenges with usability, mobility, rogue shadow IT solutions and a continued reliance on the dreaded file share for every day work.

All of which combined to create a need for a new approach to content management, one that was complementary to traditional ECM, but not the same. This is a generation of content management capabilities not defined in terms of a single mission-critical business process, but in terms of what a modern knowledge worker needs to perform his or her job.  

Divide and Conquer

So for now, I think the best option for talking about content management is to divide the world into two parts, as Forrester has done: 

  1. ECM Land — focused on large scale, mission critical, document-intensive processes (as it has always been)
  2. Digital Workplace Land — focused on automating the creation, management, and integration of knowledge worker content into every day processes.

Looking ahead, the revolution that is happening in the digital workplace with Office365, IBM and Box, Dropbox and G-Drive will not stop there. It is a revolution that will ultimately redefine not only the world of business content, but also how transactional content is managed. 

Reevaluating traditional “legacy” ECM implementations in business content terms — rather than the other way around — will ultimately turn the ECM world upside-down.