A few months ago, I ran into an executive who was working on a content management project. He described the business objectives for the project, and told me he was in the latter stages of the selection process for a solution provider. I asked him which solution providers he was considering and he rattled off a list of “finalists.”

As I listened to the list, all I could think was, “How on earth did these vendors wind up on the same list of finalists?”

As someone who has spent the better part of two decades trying to help educate potential users of content technologies on how to make smarter decisions, this was a bummer. The finalists represented wildly varying capabilities and approaches to the challenge of managing unstructured information in a modern digital organization.

Confusion in the Marketplace

Analysts have spent the better part of two years talking about whether this thing we do in the AIIM-ARMA space is information governance or enterprise content management (ECM) or content services or ... take your pick. In many ways the conversation has been useful, in that it has highlighted the need to modernize legacy ECM infrastructures, deliver content functionality in more modular and consumable chunks, and seamlessly integrate content capabilities into core business applications.

But I’m not sure the conversation has been terribly useful in improving the decision-making that generated my friend’s rather misaligned set of content management “finalists.” Something is missing.

The conversation has largely missed a central point: end-user organizations have wildly varying sets of content needs, ranging from simple to complex and from purely tactical to strategic. User content management requirements comes in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors. 

Which means there should also be multiple flavors and price points of solution providers to meet those needs. The good news is there are. But the bad news is solution provider marketing machines tend to: a) echo the latest analyst and pundit lingo (I remember a big trade show sign from many years ago for “The Knowledge Management Scanner”); and b) usually claim their product will do just about anything for anyone (“It slices! It dices!”). 

Of course user organizations are confused.

Related Article: Are We Really Having the 'ECM Is Dead' Conversation Again?

The Business Value Hierarchy: For Vendors and End Users

Fusion Marketing Partners put out a white paper called The Business Value Hierarchy that is worth considering in the content space. The paper suggests, “There is a great deal of noise in the digital marketplace and it is sometimes hard to be heard above the clamor. Truly understanding your company’s place in the customer’s widening array of expectations is very difficult but also very necessary.” It proposes this value hierarchy:

Learning Opportunities

The Business Value Hierarchy

Price points typically rise as you go up the hierarchy, but simply wishing you are a “platform player” does not make it so. To succeed in a crowded and rapidly changing market, companies need to understand: 1) on which level are they playing; and 2) how they can become the best at that level.

The technology needs of user organizations also exist across all levels of the value hierarchy. User organizations need to understand exactly what they are trying to do, how and whether their current project will connect to similar future projects, where they are starting from, and most importantly, how high on the value chain they need to aim in order to achieve their strategic business objectives.

Every technology decision tends to be a balancing act between cost, complexity and functionality. If your business need is to simply automate accounting processes, don’t get sidetracked with conversations about complicated content platforms. Focus on getting accounting right and resist the temptation to over-buy, because as you go up the value chain, both cost and complexity rise. If your business needs dictate a more strategic approach to a set of interconnected back-end processes, buy there. And if your strategic business objectives require a platform that cuts across a variety of departments and processes — which is often the case for organizations at scale — don’t waste time trying to cobble together a variety of stand-alone process solutions, no matter how compelling the short-term arguments.

Related Article: Content Services Threaten to Repeat the Mistakes of Our ECM Past

Do You Know Your Business Objectives?

Bad decisions in the content space typically arise because users fail to identify their core objectives — simple or complex, tactical or strategic — and then fail to define “how much” content management they actually need to achieve their objective. There is no “right” amount of content management. Buy as much content management as you need to solve your problem.

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