Six years and 2001 posts ago, when I started covering ECM for CMSWire, the single biggest issue was the struggle to keep content chaos at bay.

Fast forward to last week and the problem remains. Social media, customer experience management, digital marketing and big data management have emerged as driving forces across the content industry, but the cruel reality remains.

Effective content management still eludes many, many enterprises.

Stubborn Refusals

Over the years, we have speculated about the ongoing chaos. And the fact is that neither technology nor software is the issue.

The biggest single issue is the almost stubborn refusal of enterprises to develop information and content management strategies. Consider this from Lane Severson of Doculabs, on CMSWire last week, "The tools and the practices need to be taken together. When I talk to software sales reps they are often exasperated because their clients are angry with the tool for not fixing their ECM program or discipline problems. This is like blaming the FitBit for not going on my five mile run today. Technology can give us huge advances. But if we haven’t built a mature program, the technology alone will not make us more successful."

Severson's conclusion is clear: if enterprises haven’t built a mature content management strategy, pumping money and time into technology is not going to change anything.

Last month Doug Miles,of AIIM — the Association for Information and Image Management — pointed out that enterprises need to set their targets lower, at least in terms of trying to develop a paperless office and develop paperless processes instead.

Paperless offices are only one aspect of ambitious ECM strategies. The fact that AIIM is recommending a change in focus here is telling.Deal with single individual processes first, before looking at the more ambitious goals of effective content management, the report concludes.

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2009: Struggles and Partnerships

That's the bigger picture. Over the past six years we've seen attempts by numerous vendors to deal with this issue.Looking back now, it becomes clear that as enterprises were struggling to manage ECM strategies, so too were the vendors.

My first post looked at IBM's launch of an enterprise content management blog and community. Blog authors and community creators Ian Story and Ranjun Chauhan described it as a community that would serve as a collaboration point for all users of the IBM ECM suite of products. 

The blog was open to all participants including end users of systems, project managers, technology administrators, third-party solution providers, integrators, as well as developers.

The most recent post to the IBM blog was in May of this year and focused on the relationship between customer engagement management and ECM. That post offers the following advice:

With less than 1 percent of companies having deployed an ECM solution, your company has an opportunity to gain a real advantage in the marketplace with stronger customer engagement and better cross-selling capability."

Ultimately the blog didn't live up to IBM's ambitions for it, but it did underline efforts by vendors to offer effective ECM technology, combined with advice on how to develop ECM strategies.

2010: Fragmentation and SharePoint 2010

Despite initiatives such as the partnership between SAP and OpenText, the ECM space remained chaotic. No number of partnerships was going to make any difference, even if progress was being made.

Research from AIIM conducted in 2010 found that 12 percent of organizations completed the deployment of an enterprise–wide content management system, with a further 28 percent in the process of doing so. A further 15 percent were integrating projects across different sections of the enterprise.

And yet 21 percent of respondents had not started an ECM project, while 17 percent were only implementing a system for the first time.

At that time, document management and records management were the highest priorities for ECM activity, in particular implementing electronic records management and managing emails as records, followed by the integration of multiple repositories.

Gartner ended the year by identifying ECM as a fragmenting market in its Magic Quadrant for ECM.

By fragmentation, Gartner was referring to the increasing number of new products available from vendors and how those products covered core functionality. Within that market, Gartner identified four main focus areas based on vendor’s products. These areas include:

  • Transactional content management
  • Social content management
  • Online channel optimization
  • Content management as infrastructure

A trend that also became obvious at the end of that year was the use and evolution of SharePoint 2010 as a content management system. While this might not have been the initial intention, most enterprises had adopted a "Deploy now, strategize afterwards” approach.

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This evolution from portal and intranet solution into the Swiss army knife that offers enterprise collaboration, business intelligence and business process management was due to Microsoft's development of the SharePoint platform.

Adoption rates were estimated to be in the 60 to 70 percent range at the time, a figure that is probably similar today, particularly as SharePoint deployments become easier with the emergence of SharePoint Online.

2011: Vendors Narrow Focus

The Forrester Wave Q4 2011 identified further changes in the space. While Gartner underlined business productivity as one of the principal drivers behind ECM deployments, Forrester noted the fragmentation that dominated 2010. It suggested that companies no longer expected a single enterprise CMS suite to solve all their content needs.

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There are a number of reasons for this, but a big part was the changing content-types and greater use of -- and need to manage -- unstructured content pushed many companies to use application suits to solve specific problems.

This fracturing resulted in many vendors choosing to focus on a narrower specialization. Key players like IBM, EMC, OpenText and Oracle had until this point dominated the enterprise CMS market, but that started changing in favor of vendors that provided applications for specific tasks, like invoice processing or contract management.

Learning Opportunities

2012: Fracturing Gets Complicated

Market fragmentation was an established fact by the end of 2011. In 2012, the problem of managing content became more complicated as new technologies gained traction in the enterprise, creating content at a rate previously unthinkable.

According to Garter, enterprises already struggling with traditional content issues had the added complication of managing social content management, process-centric management and integration.

Gartner offered some insight into the weighting of each of the elements in an ECM system and their relevancy to the enterprise. Those elements include:

  • Document management: 15 percent
  • Image-procession applications: 18 percent
  • Workflow/BPM: 22 percent
  • Records management: 13 percent
  • WCM: 7 percent
  • Social content: 15 percent
  • Extended components: 10 percent

It became apparent that most enterprises that invested in ECM were moving beyond the fundamental use cases to manage tougher business issues that required a strong process-driven element as well.

Enterprises started becoming concerned with file sharing in 2012 -- an issue that continues to pose problems. Dan Carmel, Head of ECM Strategy and Solutions at Autonomy told us that, according to HP’s clients, one of the enterprises' concerns with these applications was the information silos they create outside of the control of the enterprise information management system. The file sharing issue was compounded by the growth of BYOD strategies.

By the end of 2012 the new technologies intended to make work easier and more collaborative also created new headaches for the enterprise.

2013: Market Segmentation and File Sharing Continue

This theme continued in 2013, with vendors forced to provide functionality that corresponded to enterprise productivity rather than compliance needs.

Agile, small vendors started to make inroads in the market while EMC, IBM and OpenText still dominated Forrester's Wave report, with HP pushing its way into the Leaders' segment on the back of the Autonomy acquisition. The vendors included in the Wave displayed narrower focuses on specific kinds of content, pointing to growing segmentation within the market.

This year marked the development of file share technology to supplement, and in some instances replace, the monolithic ECM vendors that were unable to respond to rapidly changing business needs.

Hyland’s Analyst Relations Manager, Ken Burns, agreed that 2013 saw the beginning of a massive change in the market, which continues today. Burns posits that smaller, agile vendors are driving the market by developing case-specific content management functionality for enterprises.

Many of those enterprises, he said, have been struggling under the weight of larger, heavy, custom- development platforms that offer far more than is needed. Platforms like these have dominated the ECM industry until recently.

For a long time, most of the big suite vendors have tried to force production-class systems onto everyone’s desktop. Those suites were not designed for the simple content manipulation that most users need, Burns said, and so users turned to file sync and share applications to carry out some of the basic collaboration functions that they expected from ECMs.

The days when OpenText, or Documentum sold 15,000 or 20,000 or 40,000 seats into an enterprise were curtailed when SharePoint arrived because most people don’t need the kind of functionality that the big ECMs were providing. Now SharePoint is under threat from the likes of Box, Dropbox or others, because it too does not offer the simple kind of functionality that people need,” said Burns.

Many users don’t stop to ask whether they can implement EFSS solutions or not, or even whether they are ready to implement them. This creates a whole other set of problems, before the initial problem of managing content has been resolved.

Many organizations have moved along and started implementing these technologies without having solved the problems that the older systems were brought in to solve. I can think of a number of very large, international e-businesses that behind the scenes are still very much paper-based businesses.”

2014: Same As it Ever Was

And we’re back where we started all those years ago when ECM was seen as the solution for all the problems around content and document management in the enterprise.

While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go, as Kenneth Chin, Gartner’s research vice president for ECM, pointed out at the recent Gartner Collaboration summit in London.

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Despite the work of ECM-savvy CIOs, many enterprises have yet to develop strategies around their ECM deployments. Things have changed, he said, but the more they change, the more they are the same: the basic issue of content and document management is still a major problem for many.

Title image by Dioboss (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license