two one way signs
A survey of Documentum users revealed some broader trends in the enterprise content management world PHOTO: Brendan Church

OpenText's acquisition of Documentum has opened up a broader discussion of where enterprise content management (ECM) is today and where it may be headed in the coming years.

My last few posts have laid out my thoughts on what OpenText's acquisition means for organizations currently using Documentum. The resulting healthy discussion inspired us at Doculabs to conduct a survey of our client base to see what their experiences post-acquisition have been and what their go-forward plans for the platform are. While the survey results are illuminating for the question of Documentum, they were even more illuminating for the larger questions about ECM.

ECM: A Mature Technology ...

Survey results indicate — and our experience confirms — that ECM is a mature technology. Of the 221 respondents to the survey, 75 percent have been on Documentum for over five years and 50 percent have been on it for more than 10 years. Only 18 percent of respondents have used the platform for fewer than five years. Although we didn’t survey OpenText or IBM FileNet users, my suspicion (drawn from work and conversations in the wider industry) is that the numbers would be mostly the same.

And while this indicates that usage of Documentum for ECM is primarily long-standing, you could interpret these numbers at least two ways. On the one hand, you could read the numbers as an indication of the deep roots Documentum has in the marketplace due to the high percentage of experienced organizations out there. But on the other, you could read it as an indication of how out of step the platform is with industry needs due to the low percentage of new user organizations.

No matter which way you spin the numbers, the fact remains that ECM is an aging technology, with the majority of users on the platform for over 10 years. Not necessarily a bad thing, but, given responses to other questions in the survey, it indicates organizations are turning to ECM to solve basic problems and have stopped looking to it to solve their more pressing, contemporary challenges. 

And a Glorified Filing Cabinet

The answer to another question confirms, to my mind, the conclusion that ECM technology is an aging, outdated platform for many organizations. When asked what their primary use of Documentum was, over 80 percent said it was a basic document repository — essentially a filing cabinet for electronic documents. The next three most common uses were workflow (50 percent), records management (50 percent), and scan and capture (40 percent). The rest of the options (WCM, DAM, SharePoint integration, etc.), each received lower than 20 percent. 

The 50 percent figure for records management came as a surprise. I would have guessed a much lower number. Workflow is lower than expected, as automating business processes is a key value proposition for ECM software. The low numbers in the rest of the categories were not so much surprising as illuminating: firms on the whole are not getting the ancillary benefits from the wide capabilities offered by ECM. So either they’re not leveraging technology for these purposes or (more likely) they’re using niche ECM (or non-ECM) solutions for these applications.

Once again, I would expect the answers for OpenText and IBM FileNet users to be much the same: basic repository would lead the pack, with some records and workflow next, followed by a smattering of more advanced functionality. All of which makes it not so surprising that content services is emerging as the next big thing in information management. Firms have a need for more than simply a bucket to store documents.

Uncertain Future 

There’s no shortage of talking heads trying to predict the future of ECM (or Content Services, or Information Management, or whatever you choose to call it), and their responses run the gamut from “it’s dead” to “this is an exciting time,” but based on the survey results, the end user population is less certain on what the future of ECM is.

The majority of survey respondents appear to be in a wait and see or maintain mode (or were unsure where they stood) in terms of their go forward plans for ECM (whether due to the acquisition or to ECM in general). This squares with what I see at industry events and in my work with clients on any ECM platform. The uncertainty in the vendor landscape, the seismic shifts in how users expect to create and consume content, the dynamic regulatory context (think GDPR, Dodd-Frank, etc.), and the increase in the number and severity of security breaches have all made ECM a difficult domain to make progress in.

In some ways, the increasing dominance of Office 365 has simplified parts of the ECM equation. In other ways, it’s made ECM more difficult, especially in terms of how to procure associated capabilities like e-discovery, data loss prevention, records management, information rights management and more. Time will tell whether this wait and see attitude will change to execution and what decisive event will cause this change.

The Final Word 

Survey data is always challenging and dangerous to extrapolate from, especially when you try to do so from one narrow category (e.g. Documentum users) to a broader one (e.g. all ECM users). But hopefully I’ve done so in a way that illuminates key trends in the ECM space and gives you food for thought about how to be successful with ECM at your organization. I encourage you to check out the survey and evaluate the results for yourself, then join the conversation here!

Postscript: Although this post has been about the ECM landscape in general, its genesis was a survey of Documentum users about their experience post-acquisition and their plans for the future. The responses offered some key nuggets that were useful for thinking about ECM generally, but one of the key Documentum-specific takeaways definitely offered a corrective to my perspective that Documentum users are negative on the acquisition: only 9 percent of respondents reported feeling negative about the OpenText acquisition — which was far fewer than I would have expected. The majority reported being undecided (50 percent) or not sure (20 percent), leaving 20 percent feeling positive about the acquisition, again a far higher number than I would have expected. And while other responses, especially about their go forward plans for Documentum, suggest they are hesitant to act on their positive feelings post-acquisition, the fact remains that in the wider world of Documentum users, more are positive than negative by a ratio of about 2 to 1.