Is enterprise content management dead?

Will content services - a new concept (2017) in enterprise content management, identified by Gartner - stand up to scrutiny or not?

In 2017, Gartner declared enterprise content management (ECM) was dead.

Enterprise content management (ECM) was coined as a term back in 2000, and quickly became the accepted term of choice for techniques and tools for dealing with the digitisation of a company’s knowledge base.

The concept was welcomed as a way to describe a more encompassing view of the market as it progressed from “document management” in the 80s and 90s into something broader and more intelligent.

>See also: The next step in the content evolution

Even if it rarely achieved its potential, ECM did capture the idea of managing the many facets of a wider spectrum of content capabilities, from records management, workflow and library services, to document output across an enterprise.

The term however, never found favour with end-users, nor did it resonate with many in the business world because it did not reflect what people were trying to do with their corporate information assets. That was a fairly serious problem, but a second challenge was that ECM never was the one-stop solution for solving all of a company’s content issues in the way it promised. Customers ended up with more than one system or repository for managing content, and these patchwork solutions were almost always disconnected.

This made it virtually impossible to arrive at the single digital version of the truth, and as a result of these shortcomings, a paradigm shift began to take place. This was the background to Gartner’s intervention in 2017, when it made the declaration that ECM was dead. Its logic: as a proposition, ECM has outlived its relevance and just doesn’t fit our digital, interconnected, cloud-enabled world.

Taking its place is the infinitely more flexible and dynamic concept of ‘content services’. This notion encompasses a wider spectrum of technologies, such as enterprise file synchronisation and sharing (EFSS) tools, content federation and migration services (sometimes referred to as Extract, Transform and Load or ETL for short), as well as core ECM capabilities like capture, classification, workflow and document management.

>See also: The growing enterprise metadata management market

In other words, two evolving enterprise IT categories have come together in a way that promises greater synergy and benefit. While in some ways harsh, Gartner’s call for us to embrace this evolutionary shift has merit. The vendors in the EFSS space tend to be lean, agile, and built for mobile and cloud. But perhaps the biggest selling point of these solutions is that they are incredibly easy to use. In other words, everything traditional ECM solutions are not.

This shift has been an uncomfortable one for many legacy ECM technology providers, who have been struggling to re-architect their decades-old solutions for the modern enterprise – and when they do, the result is typically an even more complex and cumbersome user experience.

An overdue change?

It makes sense once you think about it – in a world where increasingly more information is moving to the cloud, and powerful search capabilities are capable of finding information wherever it is located. And after all, the whole premise of monolithic, one-size-fits all systems feels out of step with the rest of the modern business landscape.

This is the where the value of a content services platform (CSP) approach becomes clear. Existing systems and content repositories do not have to be axed; instead, a CSP can effectively manage information residing in diverse and distributed systems.

>See also: What is software? 

In other words, a modern CSP is ‘repository-neutral’. Not only does this enable users to quickly find the information they need to do their jobs, no matter where it resides, but when the Content Services Platform is integrated with other core business systems, content is delivered in context – which in turn transforms content and data into information, and subsequently information into knowledge to improve decision-making.

Deep down, ECM buyers must have seen this coming – even if only from their personal experiences of storing, managing, retrieving and sharing content outside of the workplace. The general trend is towards implementing enterprise solutions that are as intuitive as the solutions we use in our personal lives. Digital transformation has completely changed what companies, customers and staff expect from their information management systems.

Furthermore, CIOs and business unit managers alike are demanding that solutions must be scalable, can be adapted to meet their unique needs and can seamlessly connect to other existing core business systems.

This is a complex and demanding set of expectations from businesses and workers – but it is the reality facing enterprise solution providers in the immediate future.

The concept of Content Services is a natural progression from the on-premises, function-specific legacy ECM model to one where the cloud, mobile, artificial intelligence, metadata and other modern technologies can be leveraged to continue to empower organisations to more effectively manage and harness their business-critical information.

>See also: Identity and access management: A how to for the modern enterprise

So yes, ECM is a concept living on borrowed time perhaps. But no IT revolution, no matter how welcome or arguably even overdue, happens overnight – the realities of software investments just aren’t that simple.

The reality is that many companies are heavily invested in their legacy ECM systems and they cannot simply migrate away from them in the short term. As a result, the best way of realising the benefits of a modern content services approach and strategy is to understand that ECM systems are better suited for operating in the background going forward, behaving more like infrastructure – with their value in serving up content to people and systems that need it.

ECM isn’t dead – but it isn’t where you need to be investing

Enterprises are recognising that they must go beyond the old school ECM way of thinking that suggests a “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing information is optimal.

A content services platform approach that looks to integrate with legacy ECM solutions and other existing applications in order to provide knowledge workers with a unified way to create, access and manage content from any core business system has to be the pragmatic approach.

>See also: 4 principles for great enterprise app user experiences

Regardless of where it resides, users can quickly and easily find and use the information they need to help them perform better, make more informed decisions and provide greater value to customers and stakeholders.

ECM still has a supporting role to play as a complement to content services as CIOs look to make information the true asset that it can, and needs to, be for the business.

The shift to content services makes sense – and now is the time to embrace it as the way forward.


Sourced by David Jones, director of Product Marketing at Nuxeo

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...