Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sun Setting on ECM?

ECM isn't dead, but it's certainly on the way out - or is it? Frankly I can't make my mind up. There was a telling picture at the AIIM Expo and Conference in Philadelphia, as the imaging side of things continues to grow and grow, yet ECM seems to shrink. Yet ECM in the enterprise is clearly growing at a pace. Its all a fuddled mush.

Managing unstructured data is clearly high on the agenda, and I have no doubt it will continue to maintain this status over the coming years. Yet the role of ECM specific vendors seems to be retreating. I wonder if it is a little like Records Management. A couple of years ago in the wake of Sarbanes Oxley and a slew of new regulations, Records Management vendors were being acquired at a pace, and all looked set for huge growth. But it never happened. Or rather RM took it's rightful place on the Boards Agenda, but this didn't translate into increased sales of RM technology.

Seems the same is happening in ECM. Some long time vendors are losing market share to the likes of ECM Documentum, who like FileNet seem to keep on growing briskly. But its more like the same size pie, with a few players taking ever larger slices at the expense of tier 2 and 3 vendors.

There can be no doubt now that the infrastructure vendors will eventually own this space - and it makes sense that they do. Technology is technology, data is data. After the event I received a wonderful and thoughtful email from George Parapadakis of FileNet (ex CapGemini - and founder of ocument Avenue - an excellent early source of DM related commentary on the internet) in which he states (far more eloquently than I) that we have been fooling ourselves for years that ECM is in anyway different to regular data management. He is of course right.

But ECM and ERM are still vitally important topics - even if we buy into the fact that most major ECM deployments could be just as effectively built using App Server and Database Technologies as they can with dedicated ECM Suites - ECM remains very important.

And this is what I worry about most - for even if data is data, and IT is IT - managing documents in the enterprise is a highly specialised and mission critical skill set. Understanding how people interact in complex business processes with documents (be they digital or paper), enabling that process, and yet also understanding underlying regulatory, file structure, retention and destruction requirements - with a profound understanding of how to architect information is not for everyone. Those who can build an ECM system, are not neccesarily (seldom in my experience) the same as those who can design or deploy an ECM program.

In my speech at AIIM (huge personal relief at the big turnout at what was the graveyard slot on thursday!) I emphasised again and again that these 'soft' skills are few and far between - and yet essential to the success of any ECM or WCM deployment.

Somehow we need to stimulate more of a discussion and more activity around the business implications of ECM & WCM, encourage more to learn how to analyse business processes, design solutions and learn to architect information in creative and innovative ways that have a major impact. Without this work we will continue to see ECM & WCM deployments fall way short of expectations and requirements.

It was wonderful to see so many old friends at AIIM, I see ECM as my second career and it was not one of choice but at the time of financial neccesity (I was a photographer and writer in my first career). It is now my career of choice, I remain because I have developed a passion for the topics that ECM, ERM & WCM embrace. The challenge now is to forcibly separate the 'hard' tech work from the 'soft' business analysis and solution requirements in this area.

I would love to publish Georges email in full here - but believe it deserves a bigger audience (Editors take note!). From now on I will personally lead my practice with this mind set. IT is IT - managing unstructured data has its unique issues, but at the end of the day Data is Data - and the technology of ECM should be in the Architecture and Infrastructure practice. The business of analysing document centric processes also has its own unique issues, and to date they have not been separated out cleanly enough from the demands of the technology. I suspect I have the Worlds best job at times, I lead a small ECM business consulting practice, that is supported by the Worlds largest team of ECM & Portals consultants (approx 2000). That brings with it a responsibility to understand the technology and its limitations, but to recognize that the value we bring is in understanding core business needs and designing processes and systems that will meet those needs. Common sense really - but as I say ad nauseum, common sense is not as common as we like to think.

So not sure where this is all leading, or what clear conclusions to draw, beyond this years AIIM was personally a bitter sweet affair. I saw the sun setting on an industry I have lived with for many many years, yet I can see the sun rising elsewhere. Leading our clients in the right direction will be a major challenge.


russ stalters said...

Well said. You may be right about the sun setting. Or maybe a better metaphor is that the industry is transitioning with the infrastructure vendors gaining core functionality and capabilities that complement unstructured data where traditional ECM vendors need to becoming specialized providers who leverage the new infrastucture.

It will be an intresting time. Clearly the traditional mid-size ECM vendors will have to change their business models and who know about the viability of the pure play RM vendors left.

Great job on you "ECM 10 Years Out" presentation last week. I really enjoyed some of you ideas and they made me think. I am still digesting everything from last week's AIIM Expo.

alan pelz-sharpe said...

Thanks Russ, yes me too - still digesting I truly think it was a turning point of sorts.
I guess by 2007 in Boston we will know for sure :-)

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