September brought a whirlwind of disruption to the enterprise content management (ECM) software market — and the month isn’t over yet.

Not only did OpenText buy one time competitor EMC’s enterprise content division (ECD), but Box, which many still think of as an enterprise sync and share (EFSS) vendor, partnered with IBM to build Box Relay, a product that according to some industry analysts could give ECM giants a run for their money.

Add to that open source enterprise content management vendor Nuxeo's $30 million in funding, and HP Enterprise spinning off its software assets. 

Constellation Research analyst and future of work expert Alan Lepofsky told CMSWire that the tides have turned. 

“Legacy ECM systems focused on the library aspects of documents. Modern ECM focuses on the collaboration and social aspect of how that content is created and used,” he said.

That’s one way of looking at it.

CMSWire reached out to several ECM experts to get their take on the state of enterprise content management today. 

The Question

Is enterprise content management as we know it dead?

The Answers

Jennifer Goldsmith
Jennifer Goldsmith, Senior Vice President, Veeva Vault at Veeva Systems
Goldsmith leads the Vault initiative for Veeva, overseeing the product vision, implementation and marketing. She has honed her skills for regulated content management over the last 15 years by working with clients such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Shire, BMS, Roche and with industry leaders such as IBM and CSC. Goldsmith has created strategies and solutions in business areas across the life sciences value chain, including research and development, regulatory submissions, manufacturing and promotional materials. Connect with Jennifer Goldsmith on LinkedIn.

The future of ECM is born in the cloud. The cloud can mean various things, so there’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Many enterprise content management solutions are merely instances of legacy ECM software hosted in the cloud. It’s the same on-premises model, so nothing has really changed. 

Newer breeds of ECM technology are born in the cloud. One version of software that is multi-tenant and gets more valuable as more users are added. The pace of innovation is faster with new features added every three to four months versus every year, and adoption is as easy as turning on a light switch. This is the nature of a true, multi-tenant cloud.

Customers are also looking for a next-generation ECM cloud solution that brings together content-centric applications and data-centric applications onto one platform. This hasn’t been possible: you had one system to manage structured content and another to manage unstructured data. Companies have attempted to integrate their systems only to discover that it was too complex, difficult or impossible — and the cost was astronomical. 

Customers want to eliminate their silos of applications and move to a seamless end-to-end business process on one platform. This will make it easier to develop and configure applications and have the flexibility to tune them to very specific business processes and requirements.

Ultimately, the cloud solves a huge pain point for customers in bringing external stakeholders into internal business processes easily. On-premises software made sharing content and data with partners difficult. Not only is it easier in the cloud, but you can also do it securely and compliantly. It’s hard to overstate the impact of ensuring compliance when collaborating and having a detailed audit trail of the activities happening around that collaboration. This is a game-changer for heavily regulated industries.

Cheryl McKinnon
Cheryl McKinnon , Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
McKinnon is a principal analyst serving the needs of Enterprise Architecture Professionals. She covers the trends, challenges, and recommended practices for managing enterprise content. Her focus is delivering research and advisory services into areas including enterprise content management, content archiving, enterprise file-sync and file-share, document-centric collaboration, life-cycle management, information governance, and e-discovery. Tweet to @cherylmckinnon.

One era of ECM is ending — the dominance of the large traditional leaders, many of which were architected in the 1990s. Newer vendors, designed as cohesive content platforms or architected to take advantage of newer cloud services (public or private) are the future. 

The traditional leaders (e.g. Documentum, OpenText, Hyland, IBM) can offer their customers managed services/hosting options to address interest in "cloud" but this model is really just moving their traditional stack to a vendor run data center, with no benefits of true cloud elasticity, modern back end services, etc. 

It is an interim phase until "real" cloud offerings from these vendors  emerge — in the form of new generation offerings or via partnerships.

What has caused this inflection point? The requirement of businesses — including large regulated enterprises — to include the extended enterprise in key content or process-centric activities. 

Companies want their customers, partners, suppliers, etc. to be part of the collaborative content co-creation or review activities. Email doesn't cut it anymore. Traditional vendors have struggled to address this need with existing offerings: slow to launch mobile, lack of focus on UI over last few years, licensing models that don't accommodate external parties, architectures that make it difficult to open up content/tasks to non-domain users.

What is the future of ECM? Cohesive content platforms, built for granular application creation, using low code/no code approaches, with analytics at the core, the decomposition of ECM features into APIs and services to let companies, SIs or ISVs to deliver simple content/process apps.

Tony Byrne
Tony Byrne, Founder, Real Story Group
Byrne is the founder of Real Story Group (formerly CMS Watch), a research and advisory firm that works only for enterprise technology customers. Byrne is the original author of The Real Story Group's web content management research, a former journalist and a 20-year technology industry veteran. He focuses his research on enterprise community and collaboration software, SharePoint and web content management. Tweet to @tonybyrne.

Learning Opportunities

The Documentum acquisition is just the latest step in the narrowing of scope of traditional, heavy-duty ECM. There always was and still is a place for massive systems like Documentum and IBM FileNet for complex document processing, especially in heavily regulated environments. Ten years ago, ECM tools were pitched as much more widely relevant, but they turned out to be too expensive and complicated for workaday use cases. 

Or to put it another (more positive) light, the last decade has seen the democratization of document management, first with SharePoint — which made Office files more sharable within departments — then with cloud-based file-sharing services like Box, which made files more accessible across devices and within the cloud. We’ve also seen the rise of more specialized players for things like contracts management and forms processing: they solve specific problems without the IT overhead of a complex system.

There will continue to be a role for heavy-duty document processing, especially in larger enterprises. BPM will remain relevant in some of those cases. So ECM isn’t going away. 

What finally died with the Documentum acquisition was the fantasy that a major ECM player could provide foundational information management services for all knowledge workers in the enterprise. They can’t and they shouldn’t. RSG's ECM evaluation research uses 12 scenarios in our ratings, and the typical ECM vendor is above average in only three or four of them.

So I would focus less on the future of ECM: ECM will be just fine in its reduced (but situationally very, very important) role. 

What’s more interesting is the broader context of digital transformation, including digital workplace and marketing technology. Increasingly the medium of information sharing is not documents, but snippets of text (think conversations) and of course rich media, like videos. These require effective deployment of web content management, digital asset management and social-collaboration platforms. 

What’s worth noting in this context is that those technologies (WCM, DAM, Social) are the very areas where ECM vendors have typically failed to keep up with their competition. These are technologies that require rapid innovation and agile (often cloud-based) deployment. 

In sum, the future of ECM is smaller, but the future of information management and digital tech more generally, is much, much bigger ....

Alan Pelz-Sharpe
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Analyst, Digital Clarity Group
As Vice President and Managing Director of VOCalis at Digital Clarity Group, Pelz-Sharpe has extensive experience working with senior executives around the world in business and IT. He has managed international teams of consultants and analysts focused on a wide range of business application software projects.His work encompasses channel and partner management, project and change management, digital transformation and content management.

What is coming to an end is an era of high growth for ECM, yet it remains strong at approximately $5.5 billion in license and subscription revenue per year and still around 7-8 percent yearly growth. 

Like all technology there is a continuous push for innovation and change that ECM has to deal with. But good businesses adapt to change at the rate their paying customers demand, not pundits, and ECM customers are late adopters of the cloud and dubious of the usefulness of analytics.

Analytics will play a greater role in ECM’s future with smarter BPM capabilities to process information faster and more efficiently. Where we will see the most change is in the regular user experience of ECM rendering it near invisible to most users, exposed only when necessary.

Box is certainly the current disruptor and will play a key role for years to come, Dropbox may make more of a mark in the enterprise in the coming years too. 

The one I have always been most interested in is Oracle, as in many ways it is already ahead of the ECM curve. Oracle does not see ECM as a business application in its own right; it sees it as an important enabling and embedded technology for other applications like human capital management, social collaboration management and enterprise resource planning that is the next era of ECM. 

ECM that remains critical and vital but runs more and more in the background as a supporting service for key business processes. It will be even less sexy than ECM is today but as they say in Yorkshire (where I originally hail from) ‘Where there is muck, there is brass’. So although ECM will become ever less visible as a standalone market sector, its role, importance and value will continue to grow.

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