ECM Isn’t

No ECMI finished reading this article from CMS Wire (I don’t mean I actually read the whole article) and it got me thinking …

Between that article, others I’ve read, and some of the projects I’ve been working on this year, this whole ECM thing is a total crock. The vendors, the consultants, the analysts, and the professional bodies are conspiring against the customers and themselves to prevent success (what defines success on a quarter by quarter basis beggars belief).

“We just bought an ECM and we’re not sure what to do with it.” is something one of my clients said to me earlier this year. Actually, a variant of that statement is something I’ve been hearing ever since I got involved with ECM. So clients don’t really know what they’re doing. Right? Sort of.

Clients have been listening to those of us who make our livings by “doing ECM” for far too long. Vendors sell licenses and get compensated on how things went over a fiscal quarter, plus the annual support and maintenance fees. The fact that less than half of the licenses purchased have actually been deployed means bugger all. Consultants (I’m one, BTW) come in and develop all sorts of strategies to help manage or govern information (they’re not the same thing) without any stake in what goes on after the engagement is over. Analysts, many of whom are paid by vendors and service providers, come up with all sorts of nifty schemes for scoring offerings and invent new sectors. Professional associations put on marvelous conferences where you get to listen to prognostications from vendors, consultants, and analysts that further … the agendas of vendors, consultants, analysts, and professional associations.

I don’t for a minute mean to imply that there is any malice intended in any of this; there likely isn’t. The problem is that we’re in a vicious cycle that we created. We’re all afraid to step back and admit that we ballsed it up, big time. ECM was a good idea at the time. Times have changed, sunshine. ECM is dead (assumes that it was actually alive in the first place) and has been replaced by Information Governance (IG) (which is not a synonym for records management, as a certain professional organization would have you believe). The promise of IG is … I don’t know what the promise is; there’s a bunch of marketing departments out there that will let you know. As far as I can tell IG is ECM with some Big Data, ediscovery, and analytics stuff thrown in (yeah, I’m simplifying); as my dad used to say, “Same shit, different day.”

Despite the changes over the last few years, the stuff I want to see is still the exception; getting value out of information and solving business problems. In a recent client engagement the client told me that they wanted to move HR documents into SharePoint. Why? Because, SP is our ECM pillar. What’ll you do with the docs once they’re in SP? What do you mean?

The above snippet is an example of ECM gone wrong. Move your stuff into a managed repository as a replacement for shared drives. Holy Crap!!! The vendors dig this stuff. The consultants love figuring out a migration strategy. The analysts love another data point. The professional associations love another case study. The client loves … well they love nothing because they’re not getting any real value other than ticking a checkbox.

Who the hell manages information for the sake of managing information? Don’t you want something that leverages information to create value? What if someone just said that there’s a bunch of stuff they need to do that relies on information and that they need to secure that information? What if they could do that without running out and financing some account exec’s BMW or Caribbean vacation?

I’m not suggesting that organizations not buy ECM related software and services. I’m just suggesting that before they do they actually figure out what the end game is and what they’re missing to achieve it. The longer I stay in this game the more I’m certain that achieving ECM-ness is really a matter of processes and will, rather than spending tons on software licenses.

If an organization doesn’t have the processes and will to get their information under control and leverage it, spending butt-loads on software will get them nowhere. If they do have the processes and will, they’ll be able to make stuff happen without the big spend (they’ll likely have to spend some coin, but not what you’d think – integration is wonderful).

Which brings me to …

Cloud. Oh yes! Cloud services are here to stay and we need to figure out how to make them work within all the rules and constraints that apply to us. Jamming our fingers in our ears and ignoring things is not going to work. Going forward, cloud services and mobile devices are part of the mix. We better dump the outdated ECM model and wise up to the fact that the model has changed (for the better, IMO). Cloud services and consumer devices are going to be the norm, but they are not going to be the only thing. There will, for the foreseeable future, also be on premises components. The key is going to be to stop thinking about the enterprise. Really, it is. Any organization is an agglomeration of businesses, each with their own needs in terms of information, governance, processes, tools, etc. Why then go for an enterprise play? Solve stuff one business at a time, one opportunity at a time. Connect the dots as you move along.

Industry research has shown over and over that organizations run multiple content repositories from multiple vendors. They run them for different purposes driven by different factors. What makes any vendor, cloud or otherwise, think that this is going to change? I actually think the vendors secretly agree, but it makes for crappy marketing to say it out loud.

Organizations are hybrids of various businesses. Why can’t this industry understand, then, that managing content requires a hybrid approach? I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.

Claims processing, mortgage approvals, patient diagnoses, learning material production, repair manuals, safety procedures, employee onboarding … tell me how to make these things better, cheaper, easier, and more efficient, without compromising confidentiality and privacy. Tell me how I can execute these things wherever I or my colleagues happen to be. Tell me how your stuff is gonna work with stuff I already have to make this happen. Don’t tell me that I need to buy 3,000 seats of something and you’ll build me something.

Bottom line … make the customer the center of your universe. Focus on what the customer sees as value. The proportion of organizations that operate purely on fear and risk is pretty small compared to organizations that need to focus on value. Focus on selling me something and I won’t sign anything until the last day of the fiscal quarter; I used to work for a couple of vendors, I know how the game works.

Here’s a couple things you ought to read:

  • Joe Shepley wrote this piece in late November; heed his words and you will actually accomplish something.
  • Chris Riley wrote this earlier this week; he’s as fed up as I am. Maybe a little more.

To wrap things up:

  • ECM isn’t
  • Policies, people, and procedure are way more important than tools
  • Offence (value) before defence (risk)
  • Cloud and on-premises are like wine and cheese; better together but don’t always smell so good and sometimes give you a headache
  • Information is like wine; better when shared. But share according to who’s got a palate refined enough to appreciate it.

25 Comments on “ECM Isn’t

  1. Chris, you are the first guy outside of family I would hug. The only reason to manage records is to milk its value for all it’s worth. If that’s not your first reason, then you will continue to get what you always got. OOoooohhhh but what what about law, what about litigation, blah, blah, blah? So who said you cannot get value while following any requirements? But for too long the worry is put in front of value and if the litigation tail wags the business dog, you give the advantage to competitors who don’t.


  2. ” (which is not a synonym for records management, as a certain professional organization would have you believe)”
    and that “certain professional organization” does not say it is a synonym for records management although many of its members wrongly believe that is the case


      • dont’ know about bandwagon jumping since they have been at the front of IG for a couple of years now. those thinking it is synomous with RM are generally RM practitioners who don’t know the difference between RM and IG. would love to see examples where you think they are saying it is synonomous with IG


  3. pak152 – many vendors and orgs define IG based on what their niche under the IG umbrella is. Could be RM, could be discovery, could be security, could be could be could be.


  4. Preach.

    Sigh. I can’t believe I’m commenting on an ECM post, when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.

    As you know, I’m a big fan of “you’ve gotta call it something,” but I can say that once I stopped reading posts on content versus inbound marketing (my profession these days), my life improved. Because, really, I don’t give a shit. What I care about is writing and creation tips; measurement strategies; tools that’ll make my life easier; and suggestions for how I help my audience. The definition stuff is nice mental masturbation (you can do it on your own, also fun in a group).

    I like where you’re going there at the end, screw the definitions; focus on the problems.

    I also blame Google and everyone’s technology fixation for the state of ECM (not to excuse some piss poor direction from industry leaders to their consumers). Google for making people think that it’s just easy to search for stuff and hiding their complexity (and for doing such a genius job of making everyone think they’re a search engine). Consumers are to blame for thinking that technology is going to fix their problem.

    ECM is hard in that you’ve got to figure out all that content you’ve got. As you say, that’s process and people.


    Good stuff, sir.


    • Beyond the fact that you’re stating the obvious, paradigm shifts don’t happen by stating what things are not but by stating what they could be. It is in the envisioning that change happens.


      • Ah, the “art of the possible”; that’s what some of my former colleagues sold to their clients. I’m not certain this is a matter of a paradigm shift as much as it’s abut an industry that’s in dire need of some honest introspection.

        Any shifting of paradigms is going to be as a result of the people we’re here to support, not us.


  5. I don’t disagree with the ‘organizations are hybrids of various businesses’ nor with the idea that ‘doing ECM for its own sake’ is a waste of time, but without a unification component built in to it, ECM will fall short like a lot of other iT (little i big T) projects and for the same reason: lack of glue.

    The ‘unification component’ I refer to is a technique that recognizes that all data was information first and information is expressed, formally, as representations of a limited number of classes of concepts.

    Get that nailed down and you don’t have a problem with multiple expressions (applications) of the same things.


      • Process gets a lot of play because it contains many of the unification components: The Status of some Thing is subjected to several Activities, Tasks and/or Procedures in a sequence of Events involving one or more Agents in given Roles and at set Points (or Spans) in Time. The net result is the desired change in Status.

        At every stage, content is referenced, consumed and created. Manage the components and the assembly of components around that and you’re good!


  6. Chris, you keep echoing my thoughts. Just to add to the message that your rants put forward, I believe that ECM is and has always been a support tool to other tools that are more core to business, like ERP. Now these systems work based on business functions and business processes that help the organization operate. ECM is perhaps best working as a parasite riding on these systems, fine tuned to address governance relevant to information managed by the ECM systems. A better synergy perhaps?


    • I’m not certain that I’d call ECM platforms parasitic. However, they should certainly support the business. Whether that support is indirect (as a repository for content needed by LOB or other enterprise systems) or directly (as the platform upon which apps are built) depends on the business needs and tool gaps.


  7. Ok you know I adore you Chris but what most peeps don’t get is that when done properly and fully understood is Enterprise Content Management or ECM must deal with all aspects of the way a business manages info/data (content). That is from governance to solid and understood policy, process and procedures to the support and automation where possible by whiz bang technology. Peeps actually drive real ECM and are helped and rules often enforced by bits and bytes. And cool BI tools drive us leveraging additional smarts from its sound capture and management.

    Where software vendors have made it all about them and the glitter of technology (and the CIO buys into it) the recipient enterprise is always screwed.


    • Thanks, Jill. I agree with what you’ve written, I just don’t think that ECM tools are the be all and end all for defining the solution architecture. They absolutely have a part to play and can add tremendous value if given the chance. That said, end-to-end an organzation is going to need bits from many different toolkits to make things work well.


  8. Quit beating around the bush Chris, tell us what you really think 😉
    Seriously, well said. We can always count on you to tell it like it is.


  9. Thank you!~ I have done this for many years and all the ECM, RM, ERP, etc., wil do no money in justice unless there are clear policy and procedures that apply accross the board to everyone. The answer is not a “ECM” or any other management tool with out the policy and guides to lead it! Thank you for your posts!


  10. Man, I can’t wait for the people-less office.

    I won an award for digital government once for fully digitizing the dictation and translation process for healthcare.

    Only problem was, the final product / output was printed on paper and scanned into the ECM system because HP were too effing cheap to write 10 lines if code.

    There are too many idiots in the industry.

    Did you hear about the time Lee Roberts told us he’d run a truck over our business for writing a UI that users loved?



  11. Pingback: Enterprise File Sync & Share – It’s Not What You Think It Is | The Info Gov Guerrilla

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