What is ECM?
I find it fascinating (and slightly disturbing) that the topic of defining Enterprise Content Management (ECM) keeps recurring. Here are some discussions I’ve kept track of over the years, as well as some recent blog postings on the topic that are causing me to write about it myself. I am sure that this is not an exhaustive list of all conversations on the topic:
Alan Pelz-Sharpe – CMSWatch - http://www.cmswatch.com/Trends/1771-Document-Management-Not-ECM
Russ Stalters – Better ECM Blog - http://betterecm.wordpress.com/2007/03/09/disillusioned-with-the-current-definition-of-ecm/
John Mancini - AIIM Digital Landfill - http://aiim.typepad.com/aiim_blog/2010/01/ecm.html
Greg Clark - C3 Associates - http://www.c3associates.com/2007/03/ecm-resources-and-thoughts-on-the-definition-of-ecm/
Laurence Hart – Word of Pie - http://wordofpie.com/2009/12/28/turning-the-ecm-definition-around/
As Alan pointed out in his posting, AIIM originally coined ECM as a term to describe an overarching approach to managing all forms of content. I also agree that the term has been royally misused since its inception. I think for most of the user community, the term means a big technology platform or a suite of integrated tools. Vendors of this software also seem to support this definition on their web sites and other marketing material. It becomes more evident they support this definition in the way that some sell their product.
I lean more toward the definition that Russ proposed almost three years ago in the blog post referenced above. He talks about ECM being a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, and management practices and oh, by the way, software tools to manage the lifecycle of information. I believe his new definition answers the question he originally asked in his blog posting – “How do we effectively manage the content across the enterprise and create a culture of information sharing?” What I like most about it over the AIIM definition he was comparing it to at the time he blogged about it is less emphasis on the technology part and more on governance. AIIM's definition has since been changed to emphasize strategy over tools.
Several people have commented in John’s blog that we haven’t done a very good job of selling what ECM is as consultants and vendors. It is still a relatively unknown term in a lot of circles. Google it and you find Every Child Matters, Equity Capital Markets and Europen Common Market in addition to Enterprise Content Management. One comment said the terminology is confusing because there are few true enterprise-level deployments that have really taken place. Most of the implementations are at a department level. I think this happens when software vendors are driving the process and trying to make a sale, and not talking about the governance and the change management that needs to be part of the equation. After an organization has done a pilot at a departmental level, they then realize that the other parts that need to be in place to take it to the enterprise level will be a lot of hard work and negotiation with their peers in other parts of the organization. Unfortunately, that is where a lot of people stop and organizations never move beyond a departmental implementation.
ECM is not just about the software tools and technologies. It’s about enterprise-wide information policies and other governance structures to help you manage information throughout its lifecycle, whether it is structured or unstructured, electronic or physical. If you get that part right, you can be more successful in finding and implementing the right ECM software solution.