This month’s theme is Enterprise Information Management in 2011 - How the Field is Shifting, Is Disruption Coming? This kind of topic is lot harder than the obligatory “Future of EIM” posts us analyst types like to write every December, because it has a time horizon: the remainder of 2011.

So this month I can’t just muse about what might happen in THE FUTURE. I have to confine myself to things that might reasonably happen (or at least begin to happen) in the next seven months. Bummer.

But I’m a team player, so I’ll give it the old college try.

In my travels in the industry at clients and events, I see three broad trends emerging over the last 12 months, and I think they’ll come into their own quite a bit over the remainder of 2011:

  • Good enough solutions and approaches -- the decline of best practices
  • Business pull instead of IT push -- the decline of IT-centric ECM deployments/platforms
  • Vertical orientation -- the decline of broad platforms or generic ECM stack capabilities

Let’s take a look at each of these in some more detail.

Good Enough EIM

For a long time, the focus in EIM has been on determining and propagating best practices, which makes sense. As electronically stored information (ESI) became a part of every organization and then began growing at a jaw-dropping pace across the board, practitioners stepped in to build out how EIM, along with relevant sub-domains like enterprise content management (ECM) and records management (RM), could help organizations stem the tide.

And typically, you don’t start out aiming low -- you sit down and create best practices, industry standards, academic frameworks and so on. But all of these things, while they’re the product of smart, savvy, well-meaning individuals, aren’t guaranteed to work in the real world. In fact, if past performance predicts future results, we’d have to say that more often than not, they don’t.

At some point along the evolution of best practices in a domain, reality sets in, and folks in the trenches start eviscerating the best practices and frameworks created by us “specialists” in order to find something that might work in the real world. This is precisely what I’ve been seeing at my clients in the last 12 months, and it’s only going to intensify.

For example, instead of trying to systematically enforce the disposition of records according to a retention schedule with hundreds of record types, I see organizations leaning towards three types: keep forever, keep for as many years as the longest record type is required to be kept, and keep for 3-6 months. Will you over retain according to this method? Absolutely. But will you retain less than you do now? Absolutely -- and probably a massive amount less, all while still complying with laws and regulations.

Given (1) how straightforward this kind of a approach is and (2) how quickly it can get results, I think that we’ll see it applied to lots more areas of EIM in the next seven months and beyond.

Back to Business

The other big shift I’ve seen over the last year or so is the presence of the business in EIM projects, not so much in terms of project stakeholders, but as the orientation of the work. That is, rather than deploying an ECM platform for its own sake, as a technically-focused implementation, organizations are viewing EIM tools as but one part of their EIM efforts, which also include people and process work like governance, policies and procedures, and process redesign.

To me, I see this as part of the larger maturation of the EIM space (driven in large part by the recent economic downturn), which is becoming less and less enamored of the latest shiny new technology and more focused on how to drive real, tangible business value.

In very few cases over the last 12 months have I seen any EIM projects happening because, “we need to do EIM.” In almost every case, an organization ends up funding and supporting EIM because the team has shown in detail the ways that EIM will impact the larger organization. Sometimes this means showing an ROI, but it can also be less hard-dollar things, like improving core business processes, closing high-profile audit findings or helping to mitigate operational risks.

And this is a good thing for EIM. Getting funding for technology without knowing how it will benefit the larger organization doesn’t do anyone any favors -- you’re better off doing nothing than putting in a technology with unknown business benefits.

No matter what happens with the economy in the next seven months, I think this focus on the business value of EIM is here to stay. Even when things eventually turn around and we can start taking money baths down in IT again, don’t hold your breath waiting to get a blank check to implement EIM for its own sake.

Do Something

Along the same lines as the increased need to demonstrate business value, EIM is under pressure to operate at the level of specific business scenarios and activities rather than at the platform level or in terms of generic capabilities.

An EIM platform is not a compelling proposition these days -- at least not at any organization I’ve worked with. And neither is document management, records management or any other component of the EIM stack.

What’s been getting interest is things like, using document management tools to reduce administrative overhead on the sales team and give them more time to sell or reducing how much content we keep past any reasonable lifespan so that we can cut our expected storage bill.

Both of these are good examples of getting specific with your EIM efforts so that you can actually get something done, rather than implementing generic capabilities or a broad platform and hoping you do.
Look for the focus on specific vertical applications to increase over the remainder of 2011…and beyond, because as with demonstrating business value, I don’t see this one going anywhere even after the economy picks up.

The Final Word

When all is said and done, the three changes we looked at here will cause a ripple effect and have some serious implications for how EIM software is sold, particularly ECM tools.

  • Integrators will evolve from merely being resellers and implementers to become solution providers
    • They’ll deliver their own vertical solutions built on today’s EIM platforms
    • Similar to what Oracle and SAP have already done for their own ERP platforms, e.g., they don’t simply sell ERP, but Order to Cash, Procure to Pay, etc.
    • The day will soon come when you will no longer buy EIM but rather a solution that supports a distinct content management process (or set of processes).
  • Software vendors will recede to the background
    • There will be less direct sales and more sales through the new breed of integrators cum solution providers.

So much for my take on where EIM is going from a technology perspective in the rest of 2011. In the next post, I’ll turn to where EIM is headed from a marketplace perspective, i.e., how the kinds of organizations getting involved in EIM is shifting these days.

But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you all, because I know there are lots of strong opinions out there: keep me honest and call it like you see it! Jump in, and let’s get the conversation started.