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The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services

by Michael Woodbridge  |  January 5, 2017  |  1 Comment

Since this is my first blog as a Gartner analyst, I thought I’d use it to discuss a task I have been working on in the first six months of my tenure.  In a somewhat daunting venture, I have been working with my team (of very talented analysts) to kill off a market definition I have spent the most significant portion of my career serving.

I am referring to “ECM” (Enterprise Content Management). ECM is now dead (kaput, finite, an ex-market name), at least in how Gartner defines the market. It’s been replaced by the term Content Services, a strategic concept that covers three aspects, namely Content Services Applications, Platforms and Components. The following Gartner note: Reinventing ECM: Introducing Content Services Platforms and Applications  provides more details so I won’t go into them here. Rather, I did want to summarize how this alternative strategic approach provides organizations with a more practical way to achieve the benefits promised by the original vision of ECM.  The king is dead, long live the king!

What do I mean by this? Well, the overarching business goals many strive to achieve with an ECM strategy are desirable in all organizations. The most common realization of the strategy formerly known as ECM was to provide a centralized enterprise (the E in ECM) wide platform that could meet one or all of the following primary goals associated with the utilization of “content”:

  1. Regulatory compliance and risk management
  2. Retention and dissemination of business knowledge
  3. Cost and process efficiencies
  4. Innovation and new ways of working

(Note: Not an exhaustive list but with a pretty wide coverage!)

In reality, however, a single platform to achieve these four goals (the ECM strategy of many organizations) has proven to be almost impossible for most.  Of the four, ECM has been most successful in providing a platform for compliance (goal 1). The other three are where more challenges are encountered. A centralized platform often requires complex integration to deliver information in the context of user activities and therefore knowledge sharing initiatives (goal 2) have met with slow adoption. A purely centralized platform can also be costly and time consuming to provide new innovation (goals 3 and 4).

I personally have come across very few enterprises in my nearly 20 years in the business who have anything less than three (and often more) of such repositories. A number of which have been the aborted result of a full, “horizontal”, ECM roll out.

The Content Services approach overrules the notion of consolidation for its own sake.  It’s strategic, rather than technology oriented and provides an evolved way of thinking about how to solve content related problems. It blends the reality of what is happening now in the digital enterprise and the emerging technology of the near future.

Today’s reality is that organizations are living in a multi repository world. Business buyers want quick wins and actual solutions to business problems now, not platforms that will deliver a compromised solution in 6 months time. This is the role of Content Applications. There are technology platforms emerging and, in limited cases available now, that will enable organizations to gain greater control of these multiple content sources. These types of technology will move beyond a “retrieve and present” approach to an approach where the content is usable and manageable regardless of its source repository. These types of technologies fit into what Gartner defines as Content Services Platforms and Components (Note, this category covers more than just federation technology, more details in the note above).

Using a combination of robust content strategy and federating technology, organizations are better placed to achieve all four of the above stated goals previously associated with ECM. The approach will enable content services to be delivered quickly, cost effectively and to meet emerging business innovations whilst maintaining the appropriate level of governance and compliance.

I have recently discussed this concept with clients from organizations who are in the planning stages of content related projects and have discussed this shift in strategy. It is only a definition, however it articulates a different way of thinking about the problem that can be liberating for organizations paralysed by the apparent need for consolidation. I have witnessed visible and audible expressions of relief when realize their strategy to meet to business content needs does not necessarily mean another lengthy platform/implementation/migration program and instead can focus on providing answers quickly to business problems.

Watch out for more Content Services related research notes published on this year.

Category: content-services  enterprise-content-management  

Tags: content-services  document-management  ecm  records-management  

Michael Woodbridge
Research Director
.5 years at Gartner
20 years IT Industry

Mike Woodbridge is a Research Director within the Digital Workplace, Content and Insights group. Mr. Woodbridge has extensive knowledge of enterprise content management (ECM), enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) and collaboration technologies. He draws upon 20+ years in information technology mainly focusing on ECM technology and has worked in senior roles for two Tier 1 consultancies, advising on ECM strategy and designing, building and such operating solutions. He has a deep understanding of the practical challenges involved in the implementation of complex programs and applies this in his advice to clients, offering pragmatic guidance to complex tactical and strategic problems. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services

  1. I read your blog post with interest as we find that many of our clients come to us as they are struggling with gaining business value from multiple content repositories and they need help in defining and implementing their content strategy. They recognise that a centralised solution, even an enterprise one, ultimately means standalone and will create content silos, recurring problems and inefficiencies. But a connected and integrated solution that works across multiple business systems, pulls together the disparate content sources and presents the information in a usable and efficient fashion will support the ongoing business objectives and the commercial framework of the organisation into the future.

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