two arrows pointing in opposite directions
PHOTO: Adrián Tormo

More than one year has passed since Gartner formally declared the death of “enterprise content management” and offered “Content Services” as a replacement market definition. It now seems clear that the experts were correct when they said traditional enterprise content management (ECM) solutions could not address the complex information management challenges faced by companies in today’s fast-changing digital economy.

Traditional ECM vendors convinced enterprises to move to an approach focused around a single-repository with a suite of products built on top. What they actually delivered, however, was a monolithic architecture that was unable to grow and deliver against the customer expectation. Content services, on the other hand, is about providing access to content, intelligently and from anywhere.

But questions remain: why did ECM fail, and why is content services viewed as its prevailing successor? Let’s examine each question to find some answers.

Why Did ECM Fail? 

ECM failed for a number of reasons, but here are some of the biggest:

Companies manage documents for a purpose

From a business perspective, ECM is just one aspect of a larger environment. ECM vendors however had a collective blind spot: they never fully appreciated that organizations manage documents for a purpose. While there may have been a moment in the '90s where managing content was the end solution, ECM quickly became part of a larger, more complex, solution that organizations had to roll out.

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

ECM should have been a mindset (because it’s NOT a technology)

ECM is not, in and of itself, an actual technology — even though most vendors tried to sell it as such. Instead, ECM was always, or should have been, more of a mindset for quickly and correctly channeling information to the right destination. Most vendors never really understood that ECM was simply a framework enabled by related or subsidiary tech tools and processes that help capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver information — therefore limiting its usefulness.

Most companies have multiple ECM solutions in place

In addition to using ECM as part of a larger solution, organizations typically used multiple ECM solutions, sometimes separate ECM solutions within each of its separate organizational departments. So each ECM vendor was often part of a multi-vendor ECM solution, and these various solutions frequently had no connectivity and lacked “taxonomy” — a solution’s common language or structure. Moreover, each ECM solution had varying levels of functionality. This not only made it very challenging for IT to manage, but also made it virtually impossible for users to get a single version of the truth, one of ECM’s key selling points in the first place.

Closed systems and horrible user experience

Content management should always start with the user. Given the complexity of the ECM universe, legacy providers have struggled to re-architect their decades-old solutions for the demands of the modern enterprise. This produced an even more complex and cumbersome user experience. In a digital, interconnected, cloud-enabled world, the content services platform approach has proven much more flexible and dynamic than ECM.

Related Article: Content Services Might Just Solve Our Old Content Management Woes

Why Did Content Services Emerge?

As we’ve moved fully into today’s cloud era, organizations were forced to recognize that the power, scalability and capabilities available via the cloud simply cannot be delivered in-house. To that end, solutions that are not cloud-native — as many legacy ECM solutions are — cannot fully leverage cloud-based storage, databases, elastic scalability, dynamic pricing and web-based services in an easily configurable manner.

This move to the cloud is where content services platforms (CSP) are perhaps most clearly differentiated, as they were built in the era of the cloud. Content services platforms therefore leverage the cloud in their native form, without requiring large-scale conversions from on-premises legacy code bases. The following advantages explain why content services are gaining ground:

Flexible and Scalable

Modern businesses do not run on PDFs and Word documents alone. The huge growth of file formats means organizations now manage millions (if not billions) of documents, images, videos and many other file types that are stored within a multitude of disconnected systems and repositories. Good CSPs can cope with this exponentially growing volume of information and integrate it into mainstream business processes, natively and from within the CSP. As the dynamics of the business change and new content management use cases and requirements arise, these platforms enable organizations to quickly configure and deploy solutions to handle the increase in volume and complexity.

Connected

If an organization doesn’t connect its various information sources, it can’t provide a centralized view of its information assets or deliver personalized content-driven applications to end-users. Modern CSPs are “repository-neutral” and can connect to existing business systems and content repositories, such as other ECM solutions, file share apps, CRM and ERP systems, and other common line of business applications.

AI-Powered

The artificial intelligent (AI) revolution is adding to the benefits provided by content services. When the capabilities delivered by AI are applied to information management, they provide advanced and automated classification, recognition, and prediction capabilities at a much higher quality and volume than human counterparts. CSPs can be architected to leverage AI capabilities, so the CSP can auto-classify files. Because AI can determine much more quickly whether a given document is associated with a given customer or partner, automating that process increases overall productivity and can free staff to perform more time-sensitive or complex work.

Gartner’s new focus on content services is a clear signal that traditional ECM solutions must evolve to meet the needs of modern businesses. This is true not just today, but into the future — where breakthrough technologies could shape content management solutions that we have yet to imagine.