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A little over two years ago Gartner announced it was rebranding its Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Magic Quadrant and renaming it the Magic Quadrant for Content Services. The change, Gartner assured everyone, was not just wordplay, but reflected a profound change in the enterprise content management industry that had been happening over the previous years.

In its 2016 report, Reinventing ECM: Introducing Content Services Platforms and Applications, Gartner stated, “Content services are a set of services and microservices, embodied either as an integrated product suite or as separate applications that share common APIs and repositories, to exploit diverse content types and to serve multiple constituencies and numerous use cases across an organization.”

The Content Services Approach

After the initial shock across the industry, vendors started responding in a more measured way. M-Files was one of those companies, in a blog post last September marketing manager, Garrett Hollander, said that based on company terminology the change describes this set of platforms more comprehensively. “In other words, ECM always had the mission of achieving a wide array of content-related operational goals using a centralized platform; content services platforms (CSPs), on the other hand, embody a new approach — one focused less on storing documents centrally and more on the strategy an enterprise uses to deal with their growing content, data and document needs,” he wrote.

CSP is about service-oriented processes over content-oriented processes. It’s about agile and flexible services that solve real business challenges, he added. The transformation from ECM to content services denotes an important shift away from the "management" of content and too much focus on the repository as the solution. “Ultimately, ECM and CSPs have similar goals, but a different approach. While ECM intends to achieve operational goals with a single system, CSPs employ a strong recipe of strategy and integrated technology to achieve these goals,” he wrote.

Related Article: Stop Worrying About ECM Vendors: It's All About Your Approach

Helping the Knowledge Worker

Moving forward a year, AIIM [Association for Information and Image Management professionals took a deeper look at the change and how content services are being used. The research shows the two most important use cases for content services center are on knowledge worker productivity and enabling business processes.

When asked which factor is most important in their content services decisions, 30% cited team productivity and support of knowledge workers and 26% said business process applications drove their decisions and strategies. Content services, it seems, is a key element of managing the digital workplace.

There were also a number of roadblocks mentioned, at the top of the list is converting unstructured information into data that can be understood by machines (a “significant problem” for 20% of organizations). Given that over 60% of both the information already within an organization and the new information flooding in is unstructured, this is a key problem to be solved as the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning applications take hold. In order to manage that, content services platforms need to provide enterprises with:

  1. Content integration into core business processes (44%).
  2. Flexible and hybrid deployment models (39%).
  3. Built-in records management capabilities across the lifecycle of information (36%).
  4. Automated categorization and classification (35%).

Related Article: Content Modeling: What It is and How to Get Started

The End of ECM?

Stephane Donze, CEO of AODocs, believes that as the era of the monolithic enterprise content management system has come to an end companies need to think in terms of architecture for content services with an emphasis on the plural services. “Many different personas exist within the enterprise, and their requirements to interact with, produce and consume content all vary widely. The idea of content services aligns perfectly with the need for dynamic user experiences that cater to those personas, not forcing all users to a single ECM interface or intranet,” he said.

The technology is now available to make the move away from the monolithic ECM structures. Cloud-based technology has given chances for organizations to smash the old ECM notion though, regrettably and to their detriment, many organizations fail to smash it, Adam Goulston a content manager for a major Japanese SaaS firm, and owner of his own business, Tsujiru.

“Why is this? Are they afraid of something? Digital transformation in large part involves busting silo walls through the de-anchoring of content and so-called properties within a corporation. However, corporate life is also about replacing one sexy catchphrase with another. And unless stakeholders are properly tuned in, onboarded, undergo monitoring and reinforcement training, and realize how the service helps them, the same old patterns re-emerge or never go away,” he said.  That, he said, is why ECM still very much exists.

So what role does content services have in the digital workplace? It's up to the company and how it goes about implementation. If content services, for example, shows the C-Suite the benefits in more flexible risk management and regulatory compliance, they'll take it up and use it.

If it shows marketing the ability to easily search for various assets they can use in promotion, then they can get onboard, too. If it shows general affairs the ability to properly manage documents and records, then they're in, and they'll need continued reinforced training showing the value. “Underutilization of so-called solutions such as content services is really wasteful and tiring. I sometimes wonder if anyone over 40 has the ability to adapt or if true digital transformation will have to wait until millennials dominate the C-Suite,” he added.

Moving to Content Services?

The evidence points to enterprises moving towards content services too, according to Vivek Sriram, CMO at Lucidworks. No one needs to be convinced that content needs to be managed, he said. Some people do, however, need to be shown why tools like these are useful for the people who rely on them every day. So the death of content management results in a reincarnation: the "Digital Experience Platform."

Simha Sadasiva, CEO of Ushur, pointed out that the technology exists today that enables cognitive, searchable content organization. “We believe that a comprehensive approach, one that looks at a long-term strategy, building cognitive intelligence with data, incrementally making smart software decision points, putting in place measures for dynamic adaptability for changing conditions of the marketplace with its software vendors, are going to be game changers in offering ECM a new lease in life,” he said.

The key for successful deployments will be AI that can do ECM across many systems of records and information formats, including docs, spreadsheets, databases and systems of record."