Has content services really sent ECM into retirement?

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In a posting entitled “The Death of ECM and the Birth of Content Services”, Gartner decided that ECM had had its day. ECM solutions were intended to serve as centralised platforms for managing all of an organisation’s content. In addition, these systems were also supposed to streamline content-driven process related to the retention and dissemination of business knowledge, case management, HR, regulatory compliance, risk management, and many other use cases. Unfortunately, the promise of ECM to help organisations better leverage the entirety of their information assets, while also improving operational efficiency via better workflow management, was never fully-realised.

ECM has become important for businesses because it offers consistency in how information is managed across the organisation, which increases productivity. Users like the fact they can find content quickly and easily. But in some cases, ECM systems have been hijacked by enterprise architects who are out of touch with the way people actually work.

With enterprises adopting cloud-first strategies, one could argue that ECM has lost its way in the digital age. But the idea that ECM was going to be turned out to pasture shocked C-suite executives and users alike. The former were concerned that the large investments they made in ECM, and its prominence on the business roadmap to automate processes and increase efficiencies, had been lost. The latter worried that they would be back to spending a quarter of their day simply searching for information. If the market is indeed shifting away from ECM, how will ‘Content Services’ replace it?

According to Gartner, Content Services is “strategic, rather than technology orientated”. In essence, it’s a reasoned approach to solving content-related problems. This is achieved via a set of services and micro services, which Gartner sees as an integrated suite or separate applications that share common APIs and repositories to manage diverse content types. This doesn’t mean that all ECM capabilities have been swept away, however. It is about moving away from investing in a monolithic platform and pinpointing the capabilities your enterprise needs, and then exploiting them accordingly.

A smarter approach to information management

Were enterprises living in denial? Surely they must have seen this coming down the tracks. After all, digital transformation is changing what we expect from information management systems. Enterprises want solutions that are agile, flexible, scalable and easily integrated into other core business systems. They want solutions that work with the cloud and mobile devices.

Today we all expect applications to be intelligent, intuitive and easy to use. Enterprise applications are fast becoming ‘consumerised’. Our expectations of applications in work are conditioned by those we use in our personal lives. With a content services layer, the beauty is that enterprises can choose applications and components that meet specific business needs, and that meet our consumer-driven demands.

A crossroads

Gartner’s proclamation represents a disruption in the industry.

In the early days, ECM was intended to transform paper documents into electronic format in order to more effectively manage and share these content assets inside and outside of the enterprise. With the arrival of new formats including such as images, videos and other rich media, it has become impossible to manage content from a single platform.

Content has become the core of everything. Gone are the days of behemoth one-size-fits-all systems that have for so long dominated the enterprise solution vista. Enterprises today don’t want huge document repositories, they want platforms that can securely provide access to content across multiple repositories, connecting diverse applications. Traditional ECM systems simply are not equipped to manage such diverse sets of content, and thus no longer effectively can address today’s market dynamics.

But many enterprises have invested heavily in ECM and have made it clear they aren’t in a position to abandon their systems and start again. Such a radical approach, however, isn’t necessary. Content Services Platforms can integrate with legacy ECM solutions and existing applications.

Redefining ECM

ECM is being transformed with new strategies and technologies that can manage content, workflows, access permissions and other core ECM capabilities in a manner that is more encompassing of an organisation’s entire information ecosystem. One theory is that ECM as we know it will continue to work in the background – the engine room powering the infrastructure serving up increasing varieties of content and aiding the decision making process.

As ECM continues to evolve into Content Services, the technology choices enterprises make will ultimately dictate how smoothly and efficiently they will be able to adapt their content management and digital document delivery experience.

Looking ahead

A move to mobile devices, shared tools and cloud has made the information management environment far more complex. New processes, content types and business models demand new tools. Monolithic, one-size-fits-all approaches just won’t work for modern enterprises. A world where multiple data repositories thrive is now the norm.

Gartner is advocating that Content Services will be how enterprises begin to deploy more flexible, seamless and scalable solutions. This has led many enterprises to reassess their strategies and tool sets for information management, and think about a broader and more strategic approach that enables them to better leverage their existing content systems and repositories.

This definitely doesn’t mean that enterprises’ need for ECM capabilities has disappeared. What it does mean, however, is that they need to think more about what they want to do with their content and information assets, rather than simply about how to use their ECM toolsets. Today’s content services platforms bring together all the data and content pieces a business requires to deliver effective solutions in areas such as claims management, employee on-boarding etc. But crafting these solutions means thinking differently, connecting information from multiple sources and delivering solutions focused on end users – this will be challenging, but ultimately very fruitful.

The reality is that now more than ever before, it is critical for enterprises to effectively manage their business information to allow them to extract whatever competitive advantage they can, quickly and easily.

David Jones, Director of Product Marketing, Nuxeo
Image source: Shutterstock/Bakhtiar Zein