ECM could be more a name than a real solution

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I've been thinking lately that no company can truly claim to be an enterprise content management vendor because there are so many types of content out there today and it's pretty much impossible for one vendor to cover them all--and do it well.

That last part is the key. While many vendors have tried to place a checkmark next to every content management feature you can think of, the hard part is doing a lot of things well and it's not easy. That means most customers don't lock in with a single vendor, and never have. Instead, they look at a variety of choices to meet the needs of each set of users.

Of course, sometimes it isn't quite as organized as that makes it sound. More often than not, one department picks up one solution and another a different in one. One organization gets purchased and brings its tangle of solutions with it, and that gets added onto everything else. Even in smaller companies, if they are around long enough, newer solutions get layered on top of older ones--and the old ones never seem to get shuttered. So, we end up with silos of data and different systems spread across the organization, sometimes multiple ones in the same department, and it's very difficult to get these systems talking to each other.

ECM was supposed to solve that, but it could never really meet its promise. As Lubor Ptacek wrote it in his blog a couple of weeks ago in the post, These Filler Words, maybe it was more of a marketing ploy than an actual solution. He wondered if marketers thought up the name ECM so they can have a three-letter acronym more than a desire to differentiate itself from consumer content management (which isn't really a concept, but maybe should be).

Then we have SharePoint, which tries to be the answer to this problem, but in the process created a hugely complex piece of software. Yet, it has a couple of things going for it because it's deployed just about everywhere and it recognizes it doesn't do everything well and lets its partner ecosystem fill in the blanks. The complexity is killer here though and many companies get lost in it.

And of course I haven't even mentioned Web Content Management yet. SharePoint wants to be that too, and for a while the so-called ECM vendors wanted to include that under the ECM umbrella, but somewhere along the way--maybe as we developed the concept of Customer Experience Management also known as CXM for short (there's another 3-letter acronym)--we have seen that separated out increasingly. Most vendors at this point recognize that the website is run by the marketing department and have stopped selling to IT.

In fact, in a recent interview, Jive CEO Tony Zingale suggested the best way for his company to sell software was to bypass IT and sell directly to the business units. Jive isn't content management software, but the sentiment is clear. Business units know what they need better than IT. It's certainly true for WCM.

Which brings us to the the cloud, which offers a way to break down many of those departmental silos by providing a central place above the fray where you can store and grab content, regardless of where you are, on any device. Yet, the cloud produces its own set of problems even while solving some long-standing ones.

We think it should be simple enough to solve this problem, but there is nothing simple about managing content today. There are more choices than ever and more architectural approaches and the sheer amount of content continues to grow unabated. While choice is great, it brings complexity and makes it easy to lose sight of your goals--to get lost in the forest looking at the trees. Perhaps it's time to step back and redefine content management in 2012 requirements instead of managing content like it's 1999. There's got to be a better way than the promise ECM has left unfulfilled. - Ron