Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ECM the next ERP?

I am convinced that in market terms ECM is the next ERP - look at it this way, when ERP came along it just seemed like a collection of mainframe processes layered by workflow. And it was, I used to say that SAP was the worlds largest workflow vendor....

But what ERP recognized was that data centric processes were repeatable, that they were often inefficient and that many manual processes could be streamlined and automated. ERP and BPR went hand in hand.

ECM and the emergence of CEVA's (content enabled vertical applications) are really no different. In its early days, ECM was really just repository management, then structured content management, then it was repository management with a bit of compliance thrown in, and now increasingly it is process centric. It was the process centricity of ERP that lifted it, and it will be the process centricity (if such a word exists) of ECM that does the same for it.

Where the difference will come is in scale, ECM will on the one hand ultimately dwarf ERP - simply in terms of data volumes (unstructured data volumes are rising at an order of magnitude higher than structured data volumes), but it will be less visible to the user - as in many respects ECM will simply take ERP and Business Apps in general to the next generation of sophistication, rather than displace them.

My research and writing for the forthcoming ECM Report makes me believe this more so by the day, for I have the priviledge of studying the players, products and the industry full time. And what I can say for sure is that peaking under the covers at IBM, Oracle and Microsoft for an old timer like me, shows me an ECM world I have not seen before. The sheer scale of the operations, the resources and the perspectives differ radically from the industry just so recently dominated by smaller and mid tier software vendors.

Who will be the winners and losers I don't know - I like many others still speculate on SAP's ultimate moves in this area. Will it be a swift and dramatic acquistion of technologies, will they try to do it themselves, or will they remain on the sidelines and miscalculate?

What is for sure is that nothing is sure, remember DEC and NetScape? Things change and the unleashing of rich unstructured content into the business will be a turning point for many...


Marc Andrews said...

Great insights here! Process is truly the differentiator in the ECM world. Content management alone is just a specialized repository for unstructured information. The higher value comes from being able to incorporate content into various business processes across an organization, and leverage content to improve decision making, enhance customer support and reduce business risks. It is thus critical that process management capabilities are tightly integrated into the content management services. FileNet was actually at the forefront of this (a major reason for IBM's decision to acquire them). I'll be curious to see if any other vendors can really come close to delivering the same level of content centric process management capabilities.

Ed said...

I could not agree more! I have been working for the past 8 years wrapping ERP with ECM/BPM for some very large organizations with increase efficiency, productivity, and much better customer service. In most cases the ROI is under one year. Now by adding content life cycle to ERP organizations can greatly lower risk and increase compliance.
As for the future who knows, but at this time one vendor has all the parts to make a big impact in the combination of ECM and ERP. That is Oracle. But time will tell, the market is just getting accustom to ECM and to combine them my just cause more confusion. Maybe a much quieter change is best.
Ed Rawson
ECM Architect / Business Analyst
C. Edward Rawson Group, LLP