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The Death of ECM and Birth of Content Services

by Michael Woodbridge  |  January 5, 2017  |  15 Comments

UPDATE 18th May 2017: Check out my colleague Hanns Koehler-Kruener’s blog on this topic here: Questions and answers about Content Services – an Obituary

UPDATE 13th March 2017: Check out my colleague Karen Hobert’s webinar on this very topic here: Reinventing ECM: Introducing Content Services Platforms and Applications

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 It’s been replaced by the term Content Services, a strategic concept that covers three aspects, namely Content Services Applications, Platforms and Components.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 Gartner.com 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.

    • Michael Woodbridge says:

      Thanks Jason, I agree with your comments and believe the solution you describe is a mixture of effective strategy (emphasis on the effective) and innovate yet pragmatic use of technology.

  2. Stephanie Reid says:

    The idea of rebranding ECM is rather intriguing. I like the idea of making a name more non-IT business partners will be able to understand. However, a quick internet search of the traditional use of the term “content services” really references the building and creation of content, and the distribution of content via eg. SMS. So, with these more established examples, there is no reference to the management of content. How does Gartner propose we as implementers of such change tackle the work of redefining the term and still include reference to the management component?

    • Michael Woodbridge says:

      The focus on management of content rather than its usage to support business activities has, for me, has always been one of the challenges of “traditional” ECM strategies and is often what is responsible for leading organisations to prioritise centralisation over usability in many cases. Management is obviously an important aspects in an effective content strategy, particularly in sectors where compliance is critical, but it is just one factor, and typically not the business enabler. Gartner classifies content services into three main categories as described in the above post and related note. In this model it is content services platforms which will provide the majority of “management” type services whilst content services applications will provide business aligned services. There will be further information on this in coming research describing this change in market name further.

      • Stephanie Reid says:

        Thanks Michael for your very quick response! I look forward to reading more on this subject as the research as it develops. Best regards.

  3. Syed Abdhahir says:

    Gartner could have renamed the term ECSM (Enterprise Content Services Management), instead of ECM, if he likes to retire the so called term “ECM”

    • Michael Woodbridge says:

      Interesting suggestion Syed, however I think the terms Enterprise (what about content outside of the organisation? B2B, B2C use cases for content based collaboration and sharing) and Management (what about deriving value and insight from content rather than simply managing it?) are somewhat limiting.

  4. Forget about “Content Services”! It is only about “technologies” and failing the great vision of strategy and methods of ECM.
    ECM Enterprise Content Management will continue to be the core, the heart of Information Management (http://www.project-consult.de/comment/2979 ; Linkedin http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ok-ecm-dead-ulrich-kampffmeyer).
    We need a broader vision than “Content Services” … Even EIM Enterprise Information Management will not fit anylonger (2013 http://www.slideshare.net/DRUKFF/enterprise-information-management-eim-ulrich-kampffmeyer-2013; 2015 http://www.slideshare.net/DRUKFF/en-dr-ulrich-kampffmeyer-ecm-withersoever-mfiles-emea-partner-meeting-munich-2015), although there is a direct connection moving from ECM to EIM. Thats why we are talking now for the last 4 years about Information Management as the broad umbrella term only.
    But … Gartner has as well a group working on EIM Enterprise Information Management. Why hasn’t the traditional ECM fraction been merged into the broader EIM scope? “Content Services” will not be a rallying point neither for the industry, neither for vendors, nor for end user organizations.

    • Michael Woodbridge says:

      Thanks for your comment Ulrich, I think you raise some interesting and relevant points. My thoughts in response are as follows:
      1. Content Services describes a market and a way to define (and assess) the platforms, applications and components that make up this market. ECM has commonly been interpreted by clients and vendors alike as a thing you can buy, and a consequence has resulted in many mismatches of vision and implemented reality.
      2. ECM as a strategy, is perfectly valid if it adequately reflects an organisations business goals (as I describe in my post above). From my own interactions with clients, I find using Content Services to define a strategy for the way content underpins transformative initiatives is a refreshing approach and one that moves the mind-set away from previous disappointments or failures.
      3. I see Content Services being a part of a wider EIM strategy and therefore agree with you on that point. Due to its broad scope however, EIM is not as a market term which enables the assessment and comparison of content centric solutions.

      • Hi Michael,
        “content centric solutions” … this definition is part of the problem and not the solution! Systems today have to be able to manage any type of information objects. There is no seperation anylonger between “structured information” (CI) and “unstructurend information” (NCI). Better skip this outdated idea of seperating a “special market segment”.
        Ulrich Kampffmeyer

        • Michael Woodbridge says:

          Sorry I disagree. Clients do not seek information solutions, they seek business solutions and there remains a substantial degree of supply and demand for business solutions where content is at the centre. Here, data provides context and value to content. Information management is a valuable holistic strategy, however it is not a market, solution or product and is impossible to use as a way of assessing such solutions.

          • Hi Michael,
            Clients are looking for business solutions – thats correct.
            But you are not evaluating business solutions when your are focussing on a subset of functionality and technology. Information Management solutions are the necessary infrastructure or backbone of every business solution. Managing the rising flood of non-organized information (which includes NCI and CI) we need professional solutions which provide information as an asset, as knowledge to business processes. We are by 100% dependent on the accurancy and availibility of electronic information. So there is a need for information management.
            I understand that Gartner as analyst company needs to build categories of functionality named as markets or industries. But your segmentation does not make any sense. In the past parts of the ECM vision have been excluded by Gartners definition of this market, like archiving or BPM. Do you really think content can be managed without archiving and preservation? Or content can be used and managed without processes?
            Inside the ECM scope you have well defined categories which stand by their own like Records Management, which will get completely lost, if you talk about “Content Services”. The creation of markets or industries by Gartner seams not to be driven by logic but by departmental thinking within your own organization.
            And I think as a leading analyst company funded in part by the ITC industry has a responsibility in regard to this industry and the customers of this industry. ECM as a vision for our narrow part of the overall ITC industry has been in discussion for some time (see as well https://blogs.gartner.com/michael-woodbridge/the-death-of-ecm-and-birth-of-content-services/#comment-38) and people are urgently looking for a new direction, a new vision, a banner to follow. And now Gartner shows up and says, hey, lets split the old market definition in three segments, break them down to technology only, and that will be what industry and enduser customers are asking for when looking for advice from Gartner.
            This will not work.
            Ulrich Kampffmeyer

  5. Warren Bean says:

    Interesting article. I am curious to know how the concept of Content Services fits within or is related to Information Governance.

  6. […] article “The Death of ECM” by my colleague Mike Woodbridge certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons in December. Since […]

  7. Michael Woodbridge says:

    Thanks all for your comments, thoughts and insights on this thread and apologies it’s taken me so long to respond, my life as a Gartner analyst got really busy really quickly! My main point here is that content services describes the technology aspects that are used to build an agile and adaptive architecture suitable for a digital business. It is just one facet of a strategy that should encompass how an organisation utilises and manages its information. The “strategy” of ECM has been challenging for many to realise but typically that is because it has been so wedded to single technology solutions. A fresh approach is encouraged in order to avoid repeating previous mistakes. My colleague Hanns talks more about the strategy aspect in his blog here https://blogs.gartner.com/hanns-koehler-kruener/questions-answers-content-services/ and we are due to release more research on this subject very soon. Stay tuned!



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