We're in the middle of a sea change in how organizations choose to address their content. 

Increasingly, businesses are turning to a portfolio of enterprise content management (ECM) solutions with the knowledge that getting the overall approach to ECM is a bigger factor for success than picking the right software vendor.

This column was prompted by the reactions to my last post, which took a critical look at the latest Forrester Wave for Business Content Services. The main issue I identified was the leaders Forrester named —  IBM, Documentum, OpenText — seemed more like laggards to me, given my experience with clients in the field.

But I didn’t provide an alternate vision for who the ECM leaders were, which readers understandably asked for. In true consulting fashion, I’ll say “it depends.” It depends on client specifics such as the existing technology portfolio, the particular ECM use cases they need to address and even corporate culture.

But honestly, no matter the client specifics, in most cases the technology vendors are less important than the overall approach to how a client will architect ECM capabilities, especially in light of the presence of Office 365 in their environment. 

Let’s take a look at how organizations typically approach ECM, then turn to what the future may look like — or at least one possible future that appears to be coming to pass.

What ECM Looks Like Today

Below is my take at representing how most large organizations approach ECM today:


In general, the highest value and risk content is in traditional ECM systems, which are overwhelmingly “on premises,” whether in an organization’s own data center or an outsourced one. Businesses tend to use SharePoint for content that is less valuable than what’s in traditional ECM, as well as for content of low or no value. 

Shared drives, as you could imagine, come into play for the lowest value content, but also for fairly high value content. The overlap between shared drives and SharePoint on this illustration reflects the fact that many organizations have deployed SharePoint without turning off shared drives and without putting effective information management practices and governance in place — so SharePoint becomes no better than a glorified shared drive.

A note about risk: the value of content influences its risk to the organization, but risk can be independent of the content’s value, for example, inappropriate images downloaded from the internet and saved to a personal network share. Which is why on this illustration, low value content can be off the charts in terms of risk, and vice versa.

It is in this context that you could consider IBM, Documentum and OpenText leaders. They certainly own the market on the content that falls in the traditional ECM category. 

But in terms of what’s coming — and in many ways, is already here — they are anything but leaders.

Learning Opportunities

The Future of ECM

The next illustration is my vision for where ECM is going in the near future, although a lot of this has already come to pass at large organizations.

For the lowest value content, shared drives will shrink to maybe 10 percent of where they are today. Instead, organizations will replace them with either Microsoft OneDrive or enterprise file synch and share (EFSS) applications — or a combination of both. 

SharePoint will be right-sized to manage low risk content. Traditional ECM, like shared drives, will be right-sized between 15 to 20 percent of its current footprint and be used to manage the highest risk, highest value content. And cloud/SaaS ECM solutions (e.g., Veeva, Everteam, Newgen) will “fill the gap” for content too risky to manage in SharePoint, too valuable to manage in OneDrive or EFSS, but that isn’t a good fit for traditional ECM.

We can debate how big these boxes should be for each category of ECM solution (and a lot will depend on the organization), but I think in broad strokes, this is what the future of ECM looks like:


In terms of vendors, I think we can say a few things based on this picture.

First, Microsoft is on the verge of owning a huge slice of ECM at most large organizations. Full stop. Anything else is a non-starter. Microsoft’s penetration of the market and product offering will make it very difficult for anyone else (even someone as large as Google) to make any headway. Maybe the bigger EFSS vendors (Box, Dropbox) can survive and keep a piece of the lower value content from going to OneDrive, but this is not a great position to be in.

Second, traditional ECM is not the place to be: cloud/SaaS ECM is. And while nothing is stopping IBM, Documentum and OpenText from going there, they’ve had 5 to 7 years to do so with pretty poor results to show for it. I’m skeptical that they can pivot to cloud/SaaS, especially given the strong up and coming players in that space.

Still No Vendors?

So much for my take on the ECM space today. I know, I know, I still didn’t provide a list of alternate vendors to Forrester’s Wave, but hopefully this post has argued for why picking vendors isn’t the issue right now: getting the right overall approach to ECM is. And hopefully this post got you thinking about how to do that.

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