A desk that says enterprise content management with employees sitting around
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The enterprise content management-is-dead mantra just keeps coming back. Its been around for a long time but took a new lease of life in 2017 with Gartner’s decision to change the way it segments the ECM industry. In a blog post at the beginning of 2017, Michael Woodbridge announced that Gartner would no longer be analyzing the traditional ECM market in its Magic Quadrants and other papers but would, instead, analyze what it described as the content services market to gauge changes in the marketplace. Indeed, the headline over the blog post said it all: The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services.

This was a striking headline and one that has led to considerable debate since its publication. Content services includes a lot of ECM functionality with a bit more. Jed Cawthorne, a director of business technology strategy and KM in the Legal, Corporate and Compliance Group of one of North America's top 10 banks, pointed out that for Gartner the change in terminology was more to facilitate its own research methods than to convince enterprises that they didn’t need ECM: “… it was never a term or concept meant to be used by industry analysts to segment the software industry,” Cawthorne wrote. ECM was a term meant to encompass the many facets of managing the lifecycle of unstructured information across an enterprise.”

Content Chaos Promotes Confusion

In a recent blog post, John Mancini, chief evangelist at AIIM, pointed out that the problem is, in fact, getting worse, as more and more enterprises start the digital transformation journey. He argued in The State of Intelligent Information Management: Getting Ahead of the Digital Transformation Curve report (registration required) that if the heart of the transformation journey is understanding, anticipating, and redefining internal and external customer experiences, AIIM believes that digital transformation effectiveness is imperiled by a rising tide of information chaos and confusion. He added that this rising tide of information chaos and confusion is creating a demand for new information management practices that extend beyond traditional ECM.

None of this, however, indicates, or even, suggests that ECM does not play a significant role in the digital workplace. Research conducted by Morar Consulting on behalf of Austin, Texas-based Epicor in December 2017 based on 2,500 respondents in 14 countries, showed that nearly 60 percent of businesses experiencing strong growth said they had an ECM solution in place. Moreover, 79 percent of stakeholders in strong growth companies attributed better decision making to greater operational visibility.

The research also shows a correlation between perceived ease of information access and sales performance. Nearly 40 percent of businesses experiencing strong growth said they found it "extremely easy" or "fairly easy" to use data to make a measurable, positive impact on sales. In contrast, 63 percent of businesses experiencing weak growth did not have an ECM solution in place. The research quantified various challenges businesses experience in working with data stored in multiple systems without the benefits of unified access and visibility supported by ECM. Nearly 40 percent of businesses also said it was challenging to identify and remove process bottlenecks, while 33 percent of businesses said matching up and comparing information in different systems was a struggle. If ECM is key to driving a successful business and is at the heart of digital transformation processes, what should enterprises be looking for in an ECM?

Related Article: Is SharePoint Your Best Choice for ECM?

ECM in the Digital Workplace

Jim Lundy of Aragon Research said that enterprises looking to invest in ECM need to make sure they invest in an ECM platform that is enabling total digitalization of processes and that has documents, videos, and images in one repository. Capabilities that enterprises should make sure their ECM platform has included:

  1. Automation of content based processes with technologies such as workflow and content automation and digital transaction management (DTM)
  2. Putting video content to work, but not as a siloed DAM repository
  3. Deploying intelligent content analytics to unleash the "dark data" locked inside documents.

He added that he also expects more demand for Records Management due to new regulations like GDPR.

Finding Your Data

Data location and retrieval is key to enabling digital processes and automation, according to Sandy Serkes, the CEO of Bedford, Mass.-based Valora Technologies. “For organizations looking to invest today, they should specifically be looking at technologies that separate out /where data is located/ from /how it is used/. They should be investing in an intelligent middleware layer that is aware of and managing content on the back-end, while serving that content up on the front end when, how and if (per content-level security designations) it needs to be served on command. One way or the other, the days of a single behemoth system that serves as both storage and use case are over. We now live in a multi-siloed, multi-use case world and a content-aware intelligence layer is the best possible investment an organization can make to keep pace with that.

David Jones, director of product marketing at New York City-based Nuxeo pointed out that while ECM systems have been around for many years — attempting to centrally manage documents and transactional processes these systems have not lived up to expectations of the modern enterprise. Companies today, he said, require a modern and flexible solution — and one that takes a practical approach to how they manage information. The reality is that organizations have invested in various legacy systems that store business-critical content — but in a way that restricts access to that key business information. “Despite the promise of extended access, integration to other systems and new tech such as mobile and cloud access — they're simply not ready to rip-and-replace these systems. Content services platforms (CSPs) that can connect with these existing systems can deliver instant benefits and significant savings without the need for rip and replace,” he added.

Those advantages include reduced search times, increased access to previously locked data, and to the ability to cloud- and mobile-enable previously stale and idling legacy systems, in combination, the deployment of a CSP can result in rapid return on investment (ROI) for the modern organization.

Competitive systems today feature robust process automation suites, but beyond process automation capabilities, enterprises should also invest in systems that have pre-built solution templates. Systems that offer template solutions enable faster deployment and adoption, resulting in faster ROI, according to Catherine Wilson, director of operations at Long Beach, Calif.-based Laserfiche. Additionally, with the large percentage of remote workers and customers whom routinely access information through their phones and tablets, mobile plays a critical role in how organizations operate today.

Leading systems also provide mobile experiences that work and feel the same as their desktop equivalents to empower employees, optimize operations, transform products and engage with customers or the public. Mobile functionality streamlines collaboration, supports access to content, and ability to interact with processes, while protecting content and data from internal and external threats. Mobile also provides unique ways to interact with content such as GIS mapping that allows users to tag and search for documents, photos and content based on geographical location.

Related Article: Office 365 Is Primed to Pick Up the ECM Pieces

The Next Step in Digitization

“Today, many organizations have mastered the art of digitizing content and are looking for the next step in the digital transformation process. Robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning are emerging technologies that will drive the next evolution of the ECM industry,” Wilson said.

RPA is technology that mimics the repetitive, routine human actives within a process, such as logging into and out of multiple applications, triggering responses or inputting data. This additional layer will complement traditional ECM capabilities by going a step further and enabling organizations to integrate efficient workflows surrounding digital content. RPA takes over monotonous tasks, freeing up employees to focus on high priority tasks and more interesting work. James Nuttall, content specialist for UK online retailer Ben Sherman agreed and added that the future of ECM will be all about using these technologies to optimize enterprise content.

“Applications have always been the cornerstone of a content infrastructure, and it is becoming truer each year. It is likely that the advantage will be towards content management solutions which are easy to integrate and simple to implement,” he said. “It’s not enough to just store content anymore; the vast quantity of information which is brought into businesses daily means they are going to need to expand their approach. The future of ECM will be all about optimizing the content and actually using it.”