Making the “E” in Enterprise Content Management actually mean something

Starting the theme on the Future of ECM (next 5 years), trend #1 …

The disconnect between ECM and Business Applications

By its very name, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has a grand ambition to provide a means to manage the lifecycle of all the content in an organisation. Indeed, the market for ECM continues to grow at an average compound rate of 10% with many analysts expecting the ECM software license market to reach close to $6 billion by 2014.

In order for the “E” in the name ECM to truly mean something then ECM needs to be genuinely used to manage a significant proportion of content across the organisation. However, for most organisations, this is not currently the case, despite the reality that every business process and business application “touches” content – the majority of operational activities involve creating, capturing, collaborating around, reviewing, reporting, publishing, and preserving that content. However, most business applications have their own repository and means of managing the life-cycle of their content; they don’t utilise ECM systems, which specialise in exactly that role.

This has created a disconnect between the content that is broadly managed within ECM from the more transactional content that is managed within business applications, making it more difficult to find information, share it, secure it, apply records management to, archive it, and so forth, which fosters content silos across the organisation. However, there are clear indications in the market that this “status quo” is changing.

How things are changing

Most leading ECM vendors have now begun to open up access to their core functionality and content via open, standards based web services. For example, the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard, ratified as an official standard by OASIS in May 2010, will open up access to content in different ECM systems in the same way that SQL opened up the relational database. CMIS has been jointly proposed, endorsed and developed by all of the leading ECM vendors in the marketplace and defines a vendor and platform neutral way of developing applications that can access content stored in any CMIS compliant repository. All of the leading ECM vendors have either already released a version of their product suites that support CMIS (such as Alfresco and Open Text) or are plan to do so very soon.

The increasing adoption of industry wide, open ECM standards, especially when utilised within an overall Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach, will:

  1. Fuel the increase in the number of new “composite content applications” (a phrase coined by Gartner) on the market, such as Case Management, Claims processing, and Patient and Medical records applications. Such applications are not tethered to a specific content repository and will be faster to build (especially when built as a composite, SOA application) and more commercially viable to sell as they will work with any underlying ECM. The more “composite content applications” that are built, the more money that will be spent on ECM, utilising ECM to solve real business problems rather than merely as a platform for managing content. Gartner estimates that 75% of all applications developed in the next five years will be service-oriented applications, using a building block approach to assembling applications, which CMIS will play a key role;
  2. Create a “tipping point” whereby enterprise line of business applications will gradually replace their native content management functionality and/or repositories with best-in-class ECM systems. When this happens, we will edge closer to having an ECM system that truly manages enterprise content.

This idea is illustrated in the diagram below.

ECM integration with business applications

Already started?

The momentum for this trend has already started:

  • SAP has a strategic partnership with Open Text whereby all documents and records within SAP can be stored, managed and archived in Open Text, but transparently accessed from SAP;
  • Oracle has announced its strategic intent for its ECM product, Oracle Universal Content Management, to be the content backbone for its eBusiness suite. In addition, Oracle Universal Records Management can manage records in-place within native business applications through the use of customised adapters;
  • Oracle has announced its strategic intent for its ECM product, Oracle Universal Content Management, to be the content backbone for its eBusiness suite.
  • Autonomy provide solutions to apply a single set of rules to centrally manage documents and data in-place within their native applications.

Perhaps we are on the edge of a tipping point whereby it will be possible to start intelligently connecting and cross-referencing all of the content in enterprise business applications with the wider content stored within a corporate ECM solution? Perhaps enterprise line of business applications will also gradually start to replace their native content management repositories by integrating with best-in-class ECM services, and the “E” in ECM will be a reflection of reality in the not too distant future?

This trend towards unifying content between ECM and enterprise business applications has also been discussed in a recent paper from AIIM entitled “Connecting ERP and ECM: Measuring the Benefits”.

I would very much welcome people’s views and experiences of how you’ve seen ECM and enterprise business applications being used in a much more integrated manner.

4 thoughts on “Making the “E” in Enterprise Content Management actually mean something

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