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A Modern ECM Strategy Means You Must Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

Long before the term “multitasking” came into vogue, we had all sorts of idioms to describe our desire to perform multiple tasks or functions simultaneously.

If you were good at it, you could proclaim your ability to “kill two birds with one stone” or “do nothing by halves” or that you had “your ducks in a row.”

If you were not so good at multitasking, you might be guilty of trying to “boil the ocean” or might complain that you were “caught between two stools.” Or you might be sarcastically accused of being unable to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” a phrase that was originally an assessment of Gerald Ford’s competency by Lyndon Johnson (albeit originally in a much more “pithy” format – I’ll leave it to you to Google it).

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Traditional enterprise content management (ECM) was a game of doing one thing – usually a very large scale, complicated and important thing – extremely well. Examples of initial “breakthrough” ECM processes included the new drug application process in the pharmaceutical industry, claims processing in the insurance industry and check processing in the banking industry. These initial breakthroughs were then extended to many back-end core business processes. In this world, “process management” was usually defined within the frame of an ECM solution. In the relatively stable business and technology environment of the early 2000s, the rewards for radically increasing efficiency were significant. 

As more and more knowledge worker content tools with consumer origins began to drift into the enterprise space over the past five years, we first tried to apply a traditional ECM “frame” to the task of managing this new content. This ran into two problems: 1) most organizations didn’t actually have a single ECM repository, but multiple, process-specific repositories; and 2) traditional ECM was not flexible nor dynamic enough – and not nearly user-friendly enough — to manage the rapid ebb and flow and volume of knowledge worker content.

Blazing a New ECM Trail

All of which combined to create a need for a new approach to content management, one that was complementary to traditional ECM, but not the same. This is a generation of content management capabilities not defined in terms of a single mission-critical business process, but in terms of what a modern knowledge worker needs in order to perform his or her job. It is also a generation of capabilities that typically allows process logic to exist outside the ECM frame. “Modern” ECM means we need to stop thinking about ECM as the lead application; the focus is shifting to applications that leverage content capabilities for specific business purposes. 

Which brings me to the most recent Forrester industry report – or rather reports plural – 1) The Forrester Wave™: ECM Transactional Content Services, Q2 2017; and 2) The Forrester Wave™: ECM Business Content Services, Q2 2017. Frankly, I rather like how they have split their coverage into these two buckets.

Here’s their definition of “Transactional Content Services”: “Transactional content drives high-volume customer-focused processes. Transactional content often originates outside of the enterprise, from third parties such as customers and partners. Highly structured processes support these high-volume activities, such as accounts payable or customer claims processing. Transactional content includes scanned documents or print streams generated from back-office applications.” Or in my terminology, “Traditional ECM.”

Contrary to the Gartner pronouncement that “ECM is now dead (kaput, finite, an ex-market name),” I think these high-volume transactional applications will remain a critical part of the infrastructure of most large companies. But I think the far more interesting part of the “content space” – and the part that I think ultimately will redefine the traditional ECM space itself — is what Forrester defines as “Business Content Services.”

First, here’s the Forrester definition of Business Content Services. “Business content drives the day-to-day workplace experience. Business content typically originates inside the enterprise, but the growing need to work with external stakeholders — customers, partners, regulators, and citizens — is changing how EA pros assess vendors and prioritize requirements. Business content includes familiar formats such as office documents, spreadsheets, email, and multimedia. The content may be formal (with structured templates or forms) or informal (created ad hoc).” Or in my terminology, “Modern ECM.”

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I think a rather key point to understanding the long-term evolution of the content management market is this one: “Foundational repository services are table stakes for both ECM categories.” Forrester goes on to say, “Core library services such as version and access controls, life-cycle management, metadata, and search continue to be essential capabilities for ECM in both the business and transactional content services submarkets. Increasingly, analytics, mobile app toolkits, and flexible interface design tools are highly desirable components.”

The newer “Business Content” approach to content management – defined in terms of the day-to-day knowledge worker experience – will ultimately redefine the entire ECM space. The reasons for this go to the increasing ability of players on the “Business Content” side of the equation to “walk and chew gum [and a bunch of other stuff!] at the same time.” 

Forrester notes these three key ways a more modern content management infrastructure can help enterprises Balance Compliance Obligations (“walk”) with a demand for Ease Of Use (“chew gum”):

  1. Look at records or life-cycle management as a transparent service — not a bolt-on.
  2. Embed security policies into the collaboration or file-sharing process.
  3. Support mobile content use with administrative controls.

In addition, while the desire of organizations to combine content capabilities with analytics is still in its early days, this will ultimately transform content management. “Business content services supplemented with these smarter, self-improving services have significant potential to transform common collaborative, knowledge-sharing, task assignment use cases.”

Developing a more strategic approach to metadata management is fundamental to these new use cases outlined by Forrester:

  1. Advanced search and machine learning for investigations and eDiscovery.
  2. Proactive recommendations and knowledge surfacing.
  3. Cross-repository content application delivery.
  4. Automated categorization and classification by mining content and context.

As these more flexible and agile and metadata-driven approaches come into an organization, they will not just change how an organization approaches records management, document management and ad-hoc and business-driven process improvement. They will ultimately impact how an organization views all of their legacy “traditional” ECM implementations.

The ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. That’s what modern ECM is all about.

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